Roger Schwabacher, AIA, LEED® AP
M. Arch., University of Maryland, 1999
B.A. Northwestern University, 1992
Roger Schwabacher is a Senior Associate at HOK in Washington, DC. His latest project is the NOAA National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in Riverdale, MD, on track for completion in 2009.
The new 280,000 square-foot office and research building will house 800 people, including staff of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service, the National Centers for Environmental Protection (part of the National Weather Service) and the Air Resources Laboratory. The building will be the U.S. focal point for generating ocean and atmospheric forecasts, including hurricane forecasts.
The design features horizontal sunshades on the 600-foot-long canted and curved curtain wall on the south facade, green roofs, bio-retention areas, a rainwater-fed four-story waterfall, five-story triangular atrium and 500-seat auditorium. The project is tracking to receive LEED Silver certification.
What are your primary job responsibilities today?
I am a designer and project architect, working on anywhere from one to three projects at a time. I work on all phases of the design and construction process, from pre-design to construction administration.
What are the greatest opportunities in your job?
Working for large offices, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects such as corporate and government headquarters, developer office buildings and a number of different types of university buildings. I have been fortunate to work with small teams, getting involved with all aspects of the design.
What are the greatest challenges?
One of the greatest challenges of architecture is to keep a building’s original design intent alive through the construction process.
What has been your career path since graduation?
I have worked with two firms since graduation—five years with SmithGroup and now over four years with HOK.
What are the most significant differences between the practice of architecture and design school?
Design school is mostly about schematic design without a budget; the practice of architecture involves the complexities of satisfying the client and the community, coordinating the wide variety of consultants and properly detailing the building so that it is not only functional but also so that the design intent is realized.
What is one thing that you never expected you would be doing at work when you were in design school?
While I was in architecture school, I did not expect that I would need knowledge of things such as door hardware, security, elevators or building codes. I have learned that the more you can preempt potentially complicated issues, the better the design will become for both the architect and the client.
If you could have taken different courses in school based on what you are now doing, what would they be?
I don’t know if I would change the curriculum; many of the lessons learned in practice are better learned through experience and not in the classroom.
How do you think that your time at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation has most influenced your career?
My years at Maryland taught me a great respect for urban design and that a building’s details should reinforce the overall design concept. My favorite memories are Karl DuPuy’s urban design course, Julie Gabrielli’s studio in Baltimore, Frank Schlesinger’s Scandinavian course, Bill Bechhoffer’s regionalism course, Ralph Bennet’s studio exposing us to a client (for the NSA’s Cryptology Museum) and my summer studying in Rome.
Sustainability is one of the Maryland Architecture program’s four core values (the other three are design, urbanism and craft). Your NOAA project clearly shows a commitment to sustainable technologies and concepts. What are some effective ways for today’s students to learn about sustainable design and apply it to their projects?
HOK has published a book, The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design. I also go to many lectures and product luncheons—new materials and strategies are being developed every year. It is an exciting time to be an architect interested in sustainable design.
Are the LEED guidelines useful as a framework?
The LEED guidelines are a useful framework to follow for a sustainable building design, but it is the way you meet these guidelines that gives a building interest. For instance, collecting rain water allowed the NOAA building to have a 5-story waterfall scupper, with 50 stainless steel turnbuckles and wire ropes creating a rain-chain to the ground. Green roofs can turn into gardens of wildflowers; sunshades can turn into major expressions on facades.
Across the country, times are tough, with economic recession and outsourcing of jobs overseas. Is the Washington-Baltimore region affected by these market forces?
Material prices have already dramatically increased; it is a hard time to keep a project on budget.
How can today’s students best prepare themselves for practice in today’s market?
Students need to become articulate about their designs. The ability to verbally explain design decisions is important; clients who are being asked to fund designs need to be made excited about the building’s direction. Students should also prepare to work in teams; synergy between architects is an important part of the process.
Project image copyright NOAA