Firm takes seriously its opportunities to create amazing spaces.
On the corner of Washington and Main streets on the eastern edge of Downtown sits an understated brick building with tall windows and an urban-industrial façade.
Inside the DesignGroup headquarters, architects and designers are collaborating with clients to create the civic, commercial and cultural spaces where we live and work every day.
“As designers of the built environment, we have tremendous responsibility. People spend the majority of their time indoors, inside buildings. And a building may occupy its location for 100 years or more,” says CEO Sherm Moreland. “When we engage clients to help them develop a project, we always say, ‘We have the opportunity to build something amazing. Let's make the most of it.'”
The Columbus Museum of Art has stood on E. Broad Street since 1931. Its expansion and renovation, led by DesignGroup principal Michael Bongiorno, was named one of the four best pieces of American architecture by The Wall Street Journal when it opened in 2015.
“Michael completely understood that our building project was about significant architecture that enhanced what was going on inside the building, not signature architecture that focused attention on the outside of the building,” says Nannette Maciejunes, executive director of the museum.
“In the case of our Margaret M. Walter Wing, we were fortunate to get a stunning interior andexterior,” she adds. The museum's latest survey results show a favorable impression among 88 percent of museum visitors.
“Myself, our Board of Trustees, and our Art Matters donors could not be happier with our final results.”
Client satisfaction is paramount in every DesignGroup project, says Moreland, “but particularly with the museum, those kinds of accolades are truly satisfying and extremely humbling. We're very excited and proud of the work that went into that.”
Local projects include the Columbus Metropolitan Library Northern Lights branch, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Brain and Spine Institute and Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute, and the city's Michael B. Coleman Governmental Center on Front Street, scheduled for a December completion.
In 2016, DesignGroup worked on projects with a total construction cost of $1 billion. The firm opened an office in Pittsburgh in March.
During Moreland's first major project with the firm after joining as an architect in 1998, he learned the value of its “listen and lead” culture.
He was working on OSU's Ross Heart Hospital and recalls, “The client commented to us often that our ability to both listen and lead was key in the development of this world-class hospital. (It's) something we hear over and over again from our clients, and it's become a hallmark of our work at DesignGroup.”
Moreland became CEO in 2009.
Architecture and design clients want subject-matter experts who can raise a project to its full potential through research and experience, he says.
“While we have to be incredible listeners to what they want, there's a high demand on their end that we lead them every step of the way through that process.”
Its work has evolved greatly since the days of two-dimensional renderings, and DesignGroup now employs a number of sophisticated, interactive technologies to improve the design process. Virtual reality helps develop, model and execute clients' visions.
Clients can “tour” their projects using DesignGroup's VR technology, giving designers direct feedback on what's working and what isn't. That allows improvements to be made much earlier in the process, which results in lower project costs.
“Simply put, designers and clients are more on the same page and there's much less room for ideas or intentions to be lost in translation.”
Moreland, who spent his middle-school days sketching buildings, embraces technologies such as Building Information Modeling, another 3-D program that helps clients design and maintain their buildings.
DesignGroup has talked with Google about integrating Google Maps technology into building navigation.
“As we integrate that map technology, you'll be able to continue your journey once you exit your car. You'll be able to (use your smartphone to) go to the specific room or building inside the campus that you're trying to find,” says Moreland.
“Just like Uber a few years ago didn't exist, these innovative design technologies are emerging all the time, and DesignGroup is really excited to help shape that future.”
Although its office in Pittsburgh is new, the firm is no stranger to that city, where it has completed healthcare and higher education projects over the last decade.
“Like Columbus, Pittsburgh, too, is a great city with strong economic development. Both cities have vibrant arts, sports and cultural communities that closely align with our values,” says Moreland.
Kitty McConnell French is a freelance writer.