Now in its third decade of service, StudioGC Architecture is a Chicago-based, midsize firm with a portfolio of diverse projects both in the private- and public-sector markets. Led by founding partners Michael Gilfillan and Patrick Callahan, StudioGC offers services in planning, programming, architecture, interior design, cost estimating and specialized building information modeling (BIM).
Founded in 1992, StudioGC relies on four key principles to define its mission; the firm provides a studio culture and work products that are healthy, respectful, balanced and rewarding. With 75 percent of its architectural staff LEED certified, StudioGC completes a fair amount of green building projects for schools, municipalities, libraries and public entities. With the associated costs of applying green technology to new construction projects, a challenge is often presented to firms like StudioGC to help clients understand the value of LEED and sustainability.
“We have spent a great deal of time getting our clients to understand the context in which sustainability applies to the work we do for them,” says Callahan. “A lot of what we do is save operational dollars by leveraging products or geothermal technologies to reduce long-term costs.” Working in a market that includes school districts and municipalities, many of StudioGC’s clients are working with tight budgets. This allows the company the opportunity to be creative with its solutions and provide value for its clients.
Applying the technology
One of the bigger school system projects that StudioGC has been involved with recently was a referendum for the West Aurora School District 129. StudioGC played a leading role in designing and implementing the effort for the only successful referendum in the area during the spring 2015 election. As part of the $84.2 million building bond referendum, West Aurora School District 129 will receive a brand-new elementary school, new geothermal heating and cooling systems at 11 schools and $10 million worth of additions at five schools.
With this project, the challenge was presented to StudioGC to not only convince the client of the benefits of geothermal technology, but to also educate the community. The firm turned to an example of geothermal technology through a pilot project that it had completed at one of the district’s elementary schools a few years ago. “We demonstrated the viability of the system, its efficiency and ability to reduce operational costs,” recalls Callahan. “The utility costs of the building were reduced by 50 percent.” As of April 2016, the project was within budget and is on schedule to be completed for the start of the school year this fall.
As a company focused on green building and a member of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), Callahan says that a major benefit of membership is educational factors that the council presents not only to the industry, but to the public as well. “I feel that there are more firms out there now that are willing to share their thoughts and ideas on sustainability,” he shares. “Also, with a much more broad exposure, we are able to explain the value to clients in layman’s terms.”
In dealing with the recession, StudioGC faced many of the same challenges as other firms throughout the industry. Due to its reputation and strong portfolio, the company was able to maintain a steady workflow and, despite some layoffs, keep a majority of its core staff on board. “We’ve experienced some growth since then and have hired a few folks back on,” says Callahan. “The real challenge that we have overcome was drafting a business model that allowed everybody to participate in the sacrifice so that when we came out of it everybody could participate in the rewards.”
As co-founder of StudioGC, Callahan is responsible for leading the firm’s technical initiatives and ongoing staff training. As a registered architect in numerous states, Callahan has 27 years’ experience. Reaching beyond the limitations of the two-dimensional AutoCAD platform, Callahan was among the first Chicago-area architects to migrate to the BIM platform. His pioneering work for the utilization of technology to his clients’ benefit has garnered much recognition and he is frequently asked to speak at municipal conferences and architectural seminars.
In terms of sustainability and the future of StudioGC, the firm’s trajectory will be to continue to provide high-quality design that is considerate of the building occupants. “In order to achieve that, sustainability has to be a part of the conversation,” says Callahan. “Our outlook is to continue to serve our current markets and leverage our existing clients to gain more.”
With its high-quality design combined with sustainability efforts, StudioGC Architecture remains an example of the future of green building.
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