Case Studies

Peck Peck & Associates

For government contracts, a ‘devil’s advocate’ approach works best

Alexis Peck knows that with tighter budgets, shorter timelines and the occasional political situation to weather over, nothing in government projects is ever set in stone.

As vice president of design for Peck Peck & Associates (PP&A), an architecture firm based in Woodbridge, Virginia, she has seen budgets and schedules change overnight with the signing of an executive order, or projects dropped because a milestone wasn’t met.

Instead of fighting these inevitable setbacks, she says PP&A has learned to embrace the challenges that accompany government work.

Peck Peck & Associates

“I always say we want to play devil’s advocate,” Peck says. “We assume that something is not going to be what we think once construction starts, so right from the beginning we always ask ourselves how we can modify the design.”

This adaptability, along with 20 years of experience designing interiors for embassies and government agencies, won the firm its current five-year contract with the Department of Energy (DOE), which has since charged the firm with designing office spaces, parking garages and a cafeteria.

Never enough time

In early 2016, a year into the contract, PP&A was asked to design a collaboration area in the DOE’s James V. Forrestal Building in downtown Washington, D.C., a tall order Peck says considering time constraints of just three months for a project that would normally take a year.

The DOE saw the collaboration space as a showpiece; a place where employees could go when they needed to step out of their offices to gain perspective or work in teams without having to book a conference room. It was a lot to ask of a space of only 300 square feet, and even though it would add more pressure to the firm’s timeline, PP&A knew the first order of business was asking the DOE for more space.

Little by little, the DOE agreed, ultimately providing 1,800 square feet for the final project. With each allocation of more space, PP&A provided an updated design that not only added furniture, but took into account the safety requirements of the growing room.

PP&A also had to design the space using a percentage of sustainable materials made in the U.S. or U.S.-friendly countries, per DOE guidelines.

“But we decided early on to go a step beyond,” Peck says. “Because if this is going to be a showcase for the DOE it should be as sustainable as it can possibly get.”

In six short weeks, PP&A presented a final design where everything from the ceiling tiles to the furniture fabric was made of recycled material or was recyclable, in time for the DOE to begin construction and meet its three-month deadline.

In October 2016, PP&A even began the process to get the Collaboration Center a LEED Silver certification from the United States Green Building Council.

The purpose behind design

Whether designing an interior for the DOE, a school system or public safety facility, PP&A always takes into account the function of a building or space.

When, in February 2016, the firm began redesigning the fire station in Stafford County, Virginia, PP&A had to address the concern that firetrucks and firefighters sometimes return from an emergency covered in contaminants. The 27,000-square-foot building could not be expanded, so PP&A designed a space that cut this area off from the rest of the station, protecting the rest of the people in the building without changing the response time of firefighters.

For over 40 years, the firm has used its experience designing public spaces to provide “space needs studies,” says Peck.

“Basically, we go in and analyze how a company or agency is using their space, such as the conference rooms, storage, open versus private offices, and talk with them on how they function as a group and how they could use their space better,” she says.

In the past five years, PP&A has seen an uptick in the need for these services, especially from government projects, because as the population grows in counties and cities across the country, government agencies have to continually rethink how to use the limited spaces they have.

In 2014, PP&A completed one of these studies for all the government buildings in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. The county was experiencing a steady increase in population and used PP&A to understand how it can better utilize its existing government buildings to accommodate its growing number of citizens.

The firm also did projections for the county on what the population would be in 2017, 2020 and 2024, and how the government would have to adapt, “which allowed them to set their budgets for those years by being able to look ahead and plan for the changes,” Peck says.

Importance at every level

Twenty years of high stress projects has taught PP&A to value its employees.

Peck remembers one day when the firm was getting ready to send a marketing proposal, and everything was going wrong.

“The computers had stopped working, the printer had jammed so we were really getting down to the wire when we finally handed the proposal over to our intern to deliver,” she says.

The intern raced to the client’s office and delivered the project with time to spare, and when he returned he was hailed the hero of the office.

Peck thanked him over and over again, and when he couldn’t understand why, she told him, “No, you don’t understand. Out of all the people here you were the most important person in the process right now. It doesn’t matter how hard we worked on a proposal, it could be the best proposal in the world and knock everyone’s socks off, but if it didn’t get to the client it wouldn’t have mattered.”

“That’s what makes everyone a critical part of our process,” she says.

Published on: May 8, 2017

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