Engineering Skyscrapers: With Brandon Rich
You have worked on over 10 high-rise projects in the last 13 years. Why do you enjoy working on skyscrapers?
There are a lot of reasons! For one, I enjoy working with the teams. We get to work with the best teams and people in the industry. I also enjoy the challenge of getting everything to fit, especially when you consider that all the systems need to fit vertically. And it’s always cool to see how the final project impacts the city where it was built.
What are some of the unique engineering challenges presented by skyscrapers?
There are lots of challenges, like working with the local amendments to building codes. As with any project, you also want to make sure that you achieve the owner’s goals for overall aesthetic and function. Skyscrapers are like solving a vertical puzzle; you have to figure out how to get systems up through the building where, normally, you could go across horizontally.
“Skyscrapers are like solving a vertical puzzle; you have to figure out how to get systems up through the building where, normally, you could go across horizontally.”
How do you solve the puzzle?
We solve it through a lot of coordination among team members. There’s a lot of discussion and iterations as we work through ideas and challenges together. You think you can put something on one level and then you have to move it somewhere else because a different system, or structural element like a beam, needs to go there. This is especially true for transitions because, while they’re essential, you want to use the least amount of space as possible. That way there is more useable space left for things like tenants or amenities.
What unique opportunities do skyscrapers present?
Visibility – the building becomes iconic, a symbol that everyone knows and can use to recognize that city. Like Northwestern Mutual has become a symbol for Milwaukee and River Point an icon in the downtown Chicago skyline. Skyscrapers also keep urban areas dense and contribute to good land utilization, especially mixed-use towers that serve multiple uses like providing residential, office, and restaurant space all in one building.
What was your favorite skyscraper to work on?
I would still say River Point because I got to see it go all the way through development. I started working on it as an intern and then the project was put on hold. I got the opportunity to work on it again when the project resumed, not only seeing it through finished design, but seeing it built. And that was the most rewarding thing about River Point – to go from not knowing if the tower would ever be built to having it featured on Chicago River tours.
Brandon Rich, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Fitwel Ambassador is a licensed electrical engineer at Alvine Engineering with 12 years of experience. His LEED, WELL, and Fitwel experience enables him to design cost-effective, sustainable, and healthy building solutions. Brandon guides project success from design and construction administration to startup testing and owner training. His notable projects include: Northwestern Mutual Headquarters Campus, BOK Park Plaza at 499 Sheridan in Oklahoma City, and the Fifth + Broadway Development in Nashville.