Collins Woerman
PULLMAN – When the Empire State Building was constructed in 1930, it took a little over a year.
Building it today would almost be impossible, with layers of bureaucracy and a difficult environment for collaboration, said Arlan Collins and Mark Woerman, principals and co-founders of CollinsWoerman, a Seattle-based architecture, planning and interior design firm.
Integration is the key to improving the building industry, they said. With that in mind, the firm has provided a gift to the WSU School of Architecture and Construction Management for expansion of its Integrated Education Symposium, to be held in the fall.
 
“We have high ambitions and want this to become the signature event for the school and a really valuable experience for students in their careers,’’ Woerman said.
The gift, the men said, is a logical extension of the work that they have been doing since the early 1980s to integrate the industry.
Ahead of schedule, under budget
 
The company, with approximately 100 employees, began as an architectural firm. But from the start, employees worked collaboratively with contractors and others involved on a building project, said Collins: “We provided a different type of service.’’
The company does a broad variety of projects with a basic philosophy that comes down to having designers and builders working together throughout. The firm just completed the design of what will be the most energy efficient hospital in North America – ahead of schedule and under budget, Collins said.
 
CollinsWoerman designed the Benjamin Hall science building at the University of Washington at a cost that was 28 percent less than any other research building on campus.
 
“Buildings are way more expensive and take much longer than they should,’’ said Collins.
In their 24 years as a company, no project has been over budget or delayed, because problems are worked out as a team. In the very competitive Seattle market, he said, “we offer a different kind of mousetrap.’’
 

Working more efficiently

Collins and Woerman decided to support the symposium because its goals align perfectly with the way the company runs its business. The firm has been on the leading edge of bringing integration into the industry and can take a leading role in imparting that knowledge to students.
 
“We want to see if we can help advance the thinking. It’s very authentic to support this because it’s really what we think,’’ said Collins.
 
Working more efficiently in the building industry is not a matter of simply speeding up, he said. The building industry is struggling and basically has not changed much in the past 100 years. Moving toward integration is challenging.
 
In the current business model, silos are too narrow and deep across the industry. Builders and designers don’t want to put themselves at risk by doing something different.
 
At the same time, the economic downturn is re-shaping customers’ expectations. They are demanding more efficient ways to do construction.
 
Reality of the work environment
 
The symposium, which has occurred for the past four years, brings students together from architecture and construction management for lectures and a day-long effort to work collaboratively on a project. For instance, last year students worked on an energy audit of Carpenter Hall.
The symposium offers a valuable opportunity for students to learn how to communicate with each other and to learn what each discipline has to offer, said Gregory Kessler, AIA, director of the School of Architecture and Construction Management.
 
While the symposium only includes students from architecture and construction management, Kessler someday would like to include students from engineering as well.
“We’re grateful to CollinsWoerman for providing this valuable gift to the school,’’ he said. “The symposium is the reality of the work environment that these students are all going to work in. They have to collaborate.’’

“We believe it is our responsibility to advance this type of education,’’ said Woerman. “This is not just a cash contribution. Rather, we’re providing a meaningful opportunity for students to learn about the power of an integrated approach.’’

 
The company is providing three years of support to the symposium with the idea of expanding and broadening it.
 
For more information about giving to the College of Engineering and Architecture, contact Bridget Pilcher, associate director of advancement, at 335-0144 or pilcher@wsu.edu. For information on giving to WSU, see http://foundation.wsu.edu/.
“Transforming gifts” is an occasional series about the ways gifts to WSU have changed and improved how the university fulfills its missions of research/scholarship, teaching/learning and service.