Articles Tagged with: Q&A

Q&A: Building on a Tradition of Model-Building, Ballinger Launches B:Fab

Ballinger: Fabrication (B:Fab) is a new Ballinger group formed to document and share modeling techniques while elevating the firm’s technical capabilities.

Ballinger summer intern and Syracuse architecture student, Lia Margolis (LM), caught up with Ballinger architect and B:Fab member Raymond Sova (RS) to discuss the group’s formation.

LM: I understand that B:Fab was launched by a few passionate designers and architects and serves as Ballinger’s internal digital fabrication group. Architecture is an art form that relies on drawings and models to communicate meaning. Where does Ballinger fit in to that tradition?

RS: Ballinger prioritizes model-building as a core piece of the design process, and has since before 3D printers, laser-cutters and all of the technology that we now have immediate access to. The office has standards and preferences for building models with a high level of craft and precision. Over the past few decades as we’ve moved into more laser cutting, 3D printing, CNC routing, and other fabrication technology, we’ve learned that more attention and specialized knowledge is required to use and operate the tools effectively.

LM: What led you to form B:Fab?

RS: I share Ballinger’s philosophy that model building is an integral part of the design process. When I was considering working at Ballinger that was something I was drawn to, and I’ve had a lot of experience in model building since I’ve been here. I have been involved in a few interesting models and dabbled in all kinds of fabrication technology. I saw an opportunity to help standardize and share information in a way that is easily accessible to my colleagues and to articulate the level of quality we expect from our models. The B:Fab team is testing and documenting how to achieve the best results from a variety of materials and technologies.

LM: When did B:Fab get started?

RS: The official group is still pretty new but it’s always been here in spirit. We came up with the idea after encountering some challenges while creating a large scale 3D model for a new project. The model turned out great but logistically there were a lot of headaches in getting things assembled property. We conducted a debrief and decided to take a closer look at how to best ensure these kinds of issues don’t reoccur. That led us to form a team of dedicated people who can act as in-house fabrication consultants. The goal is to avoid mistakes we’ve made in the past and ultimately achieve a better result in less time. It’s also an opportunity to experiment and test new ideas and technology.

LM: So you identified a group of skilled people within the firm and centralized resources.

RS: Yes, however the most skilled people in the firm are often the least available because they’re in high demand. What’s nice about these newer technologies is that students know them right out of school. The B:Fab group is generally on the younger side, and we’re readily available as a resources to others.


LM: The marketing team is fascinated by the UW-Madison Chemistry façade model. The model is particularly intriguing because the creation process involved both technology and hand-crafting skills. Can you explain how you made it?

RS: That one was a lot of fun! It was an ambitious scale and it definitely played into why I wanted to formalize B:Fab. I built the wood ‘skeleton’ by hand and built structure to support the additional weight and complexity. It’s about 12” by 48” by 44” tall, and weighs about 60 lbs. It required a ton of 3D printing; we used the powder 3D printer and made pretty convincing terra cotta panels with custom extrusion profiles. We utilized the plastic 3D printer for all window mullions and frames. It has a much higher level of detail than a typical model – it was more about actual building components and details rather than traditional massing studies.

LM: Right, it’s way beyond a simple massing concept.

RS: A fun fact about that model is that we’ve also been able to use it for not only presentation purposes, but also for coordination with other architects and engineers. We took detailed photos of the model to convey the design intent to the local architecture firm we’re teaming with. Beyond communicating the design to our client, the model has been valuable in communicating with our team.

LM: Do you think scale models are helpful in the design process? Do you prioritize those?

RS: We use a variety of different scale models and mock-ups at different points throughout the design process. For example, when designing healthcare and lab environments we 3D print furniture and equipment, and bring them with us to user workshops to help clients gain a better understanding of early planning choices. We’ll go to a workshop with a kit of parts and allow users to explore the most efficient use of spaces. Models can be as large as full scale or high fidelity mock-ups. For our healthcare clients we’ll sometimes make mock-ups of headwalls and other elements within a patient room. With a one-to-one scale user groups can interact with the space and experience how it will be arranged. I see potential for models of all sizes/scales to be used for communicating with clients and team members, engaging users, and achieving the best design possible.


HUP: Q&A with Russ Neithammer

Ballinger’s electrical engineers are celebrating the completion of a long-term project to replace the 15 kV medium-voltage power switchgear in Penn Medicine’s Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine was the nation’s first medical school and remains a renowned center of research and clinical excellence. HUP is the oldest university-owned teaching hospital in the country and sees over 72,000 patients per year. Ballinger has worked with them over the last ten years on the planning and implementation of several major electrical power projects, with the end goal of replacing the 15 kV medium voltage main service entrance switchgear for this prestigious institution.  Chief Electrical Engineer, Russ Neithammer explained Ballinger’s approach to this monumental project.

What was this project all about?

RUSS NEITHAMMER: The overall goal was to upgrade the over 70-year-old 15 kV medium voltage utility service entrance switchgear, leading to an improvement in overall reliability, simplified maintenance, and a reduction in exposure to catastrophic failure. We started with a feasibility study in which we identified a number of approaches to replacing the switchgear and to upgrading lighting, HVAC, fire sprinkler protection, and egress provisions in the hospital’s main electrical equipment vault to meet current code requirements and to be consistent with other University electrical service facilities.

What sort of options did you consider?

RN: Each approach had its pros, cons, and risks.   For switchgear replacement, we considered many options. For example, we looked at a vacuum circuit breaker retrofit into existing switchgear cubicles, installing the new switchgear in the existing location, and installing it in an adjacent transformer vault location.

How did you decide which approach to take?

RN: It was essential that there be no disruptions to hospital operations in the process of replacing the service entrance switchgear.  This meant that we had to have a design that minimized the time required for any single outage as we changed over from the old switchgear to the new, while also allowing for the option of temporarily backing out to existing conditions if we encountered problems during any of the outage work.  Continuity of operations and constructability were the key drivers that informed all major design decisions.

That sounds complex. What methods did you use to make that possible?

RN: We designed the switchgear installation with constructability in mind right from the start.  The design option that resulted in the least amount of risk to hospital operations was the one that allowed for installation and energization of the new switchgear in the adjacent transformer vault before removal of the old.  This allowed us to move loads from the existing to the new switchgear via separate, sequential outages for each of the feeders.

The initial challenge was that before we could address replacement of the main switchgear, the active 2400V transformers in the transformer vault had to be removed from service.   This meant that the entire existing 2400V distribution system (a holdover from the early 1900’s) had to be eliminated.  We accomplished that by executing two predecessor enabling projects.  First, we replaced the 2400V switchgear and transformation (to 480V) in the Dulles building portion of the HUP complex.  Our second enabling project involved the construction of a new building that houses transformation (to 480V) and distribution to the three oldest buildings of the HUP complex.  As with the replacement of the main substation, each of the enabling projects had its own constructability issues, which were addressed in a similar manner to the main substation project, i.e., install and energize the new equipment before removing the existing equipment.  Completing the enabling projects eliminated all loads on the existing 2400V transformers, thus allowing them to be removed from the transformer vault and freeing up the space we needed to completely install and energize the new switchgear and move the feeders.

With an empty transformer vault, construction work leading to installation and energization could go forward, requiring only two short utility outages to tie in and energize the new switchgear and make it ready to accept load as the feeder moves were executed.

What takeaways do you have after 10 years on this project?

RN: Overall, communication throughout the process was the key to executing the project with minimal disruption to hospital operations. The design and construction staff, operations staff, clinical staff, construction manager, design assist electrical contractor, design engineer, and PECO (the electrical utility serving HUP) were all involved throughout the entire process. Likewise, although this project had a heavy electrical focus, architecture and all of Ballinger’s engineering disciplines played significant roles.

Approaching the project with this level of communication meant that the design constructability was understood by all parties.   This understanding led to detailed outage planning for the best possible coordination with hospital operations. The result was a process with minimal design changes or surprises and a project executed on-time and well within budget.

Reading HealthPlex: Q&A with Senior Electrical Engineer Ben Medich

In January 2017, construction was completed on Tower Health System’s new Reading HealthPlex for Advanced Surgical + Patient Care. At first glance, the Ballinger-designed 465,000 SF facility is notable for its 88,000 SF green roof, which serves to visually minimize the massive 115,000 SF operating platform footprint and provide patients with an environment that promotes healing. Equally important to patient experience, however, are the advanced systems employed by Ballinger’s engineers to ensure that the hospital is able to provide seamless care under any circumstances. We sat down with Ballinger Engineer on the project, Ben Medich, PE to learn about how the engineering team approached the unique challenges of this project:

What factors need to be considered when designing a power system for a hospital as large as the Reading HealthPlex?

BM: It’s crucial for all hospitals to have reliable power supplies in case of power outage. At Reading HealthPlex, everything from the technologically advanced machines in the surgical suites to the lights in the patient rooms are critically important to patient care. We drew from our previous hospital experience and also considered reliability strategies employed in data centers when designing this power platform.

What sort of solutions did you come up with?

BM: Our system employs fully-redundant UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) systems. Each UPS has N+1 flywheels for energy storage to back-up all of the lighting and receptacle power in the building and ensure no disruption to the medical equipment or patient care during a power outage. The systems are employed in conjunction with the paralleled backup-generators to provide both short-time ride-through of transients and intermediate-term power backup.

So what would happen if there was a power outage?

BM: Our design allows for 96-hours of on-site fuel storage for the generators. The system will function without interruption to the power of emergency and life-support systems. Even if the UPS units were not online, the power system would still meet The Joint Commission’s requirements for back-up power to critical and life safety systems within 10 seconds of power loss. This allows us to design the system without requiring the UPS units to have a UL 1008 listing, which is not available in large sizes.

In the event of a natural or man-made disaster that could impact the power supply, the hospital can continue to fulfill its commitment to emergency preparedness and patient safety.