interview by Fred Schmidt
Lowe Runkle is a licensed architect at FSB and has been directly involved in the Chickasaw Visitor Center project in two key roles; one as Project Architect and the other as Construction Administrator.
Let’s reflect back on the project to the point when you found out you would be working on the Chickasaw Visitor Center. What were your thoughts at that time?
Lowe: Well I don’t remember exactly when I first found out. I didn’t start participating until the middle of design or the end of Schematic Design. But of course I was really excited to be working on a project in this price range which does not happen very often. Very high-end, very high design which is a very infrequent opportunity.
Lowe: Yeah, yeah.
Let’s talk a little about your path to becoming an architect. How did that come about? Did you go down some other paths first?
Lowe: Well, you know I worked for my brother’s construction company for several years and knew I loved building and participating in that whole process. And I always loved drawing. It just seemed to be a good combination of all the things that I enjoyed. But I had 10 years of construction experience before starting architecture.
You know that’s a pretty good background for architecture. So, you just went straight into the program when you started school.
Lowe: Actually my first major was electrical engineering, but it only took a semester to knock that thought out of my head. serious laughing
I was going to ask, “how long did that last?”
Lowe: “A” semester, that’s how long that lasted. we had a good laugh over that
So, did you do all your schooling at OU?
Lowe: I did.
Did you grow up here in Oklahoma?
Lowe: I did. I went to Cassidy and was born at boomer Baptist. Lived in Norman and Oklahoma City all my life. Went to do a stint in Seattle after graduation, but other than that, Oklahoma all the way.
So what took you to Seattle, adventure?
Lowe: Opportunity. Honestly the pay scale and the opportunity to work on a variety of things and get compensated for it was much greater up there. I stepped into a PA/PM position right out of school. And was given the opportunity to go for it from day one.
Sounds like you were in the right place at the right time.
Lowe: Well, the challenge to achievement is to be prepared.
What did you see as one of the greatest challenges while you were taking the project through Construction Documents (CD’s)?
Lowe: Probably the finishes would be the greatest challenge. There are very natural finishes such as slate tile so you had to pay particular attention to how these things actually occur; understand their physical properties to make certain that things actually work. When you have things that are unusual and inconsistent you really have to look at the installation process to make sure that it’s actually feasible.
Right. Which is why the construction team should be able to do this metal panel work.
Lowe: Unquestionably. reference to a currrent challenge in the field
You have been wearing more than one hat with taking the project into construction administration (CA). Tell us about the greatest challenge you have experienced once you changed hats.
Lowe: Well, you know when you get into the process and start construction administration you’re dealing directly with a 3rd party over which you have no immediate contractual obligations. Our contractual obligations are to the owner. So, it’s really about how you come together to work as a team to benefit the owner. You just have to kind of step in and tread lightly as much as possible, wear a teamwork hat and come together with someone who you are not actually obligated to directly.
Well, while they are not obligated to us, but they do have obligations.
Lowe: They do indeed. We all have contractual obligations. It’s not so much who is obligated to who but how well you can come together as a team.
There have been challenges but as a whole how to you see the owner, the Chickasaw Nation, as a client?
Lowe: Well they are very challenging (in a positive way), that’s for certain. You know they have very good taste, they like things to be a certain way and they operate on their own timeframe.
So, great people, but a different client type?
Lowe: It’s interesting to see the Native American culture come through. A lot of Native American friends I have had in the past tend to be a little skeptical of outsiders. So, you have to understand the cultural differences and adapt to that.
In your words, expand on what your role is on this project.
Lowe: During the drawing phase, the design development and construction documents, my role is of course to develop the architectural drawings but also to manage the engineering team and coordination between the various trades.
And moving on from there?
Lowe: Moving into construction administration you kind of put a different hat on and your role there becomes coordinating with the contractor to stay ahead of a critical path; working with them keeping the project on track and moving forward.
I kind of see that by the time you got to CA you were juggling 2 roles because your PA role wasn’t over. There is all this in-house CA stuff, like shop drawings and submittals.
Lowe: But you know, I really had this huge advantage in doing both because I had the intimate knowledge of explicitly what’s supposed to be out there. When I review the paper work and go out to the site I know exactly what’s supposed to be and what they are going to be doing. So, I have a great point of reference for inspecting their work.
Good point. Anything else?
Lowe: Well you know the project being LEED Gold adds another aspect that you always have to keep in the back of your mind. When anything changes, you have to work through a lot of things. You have to keep that in your mind so before we make this change, ask how is it going to affect that process, are we going to lose points, are we adding points, or will we be penalized. These are things you have to think about.
Right. We had an FSB LEED coordination meeting you participated in along with the contractor. I think FSB is in pretty good shape; there has been a lot of documentation done on our end since the meeting.
Lowe: Well yeah. I think with the exception of a few civil points we are pretty well complete with our design portion of the points. Now it’s the contractors responsibility to fulfill his portion, and then close the deal.
I hope they are coming along on their part. I know some of their points cannot be wrapped up until the end of construction.
Lowe: Indeed. You know, that’s something that I‘ve always thought that we should be getting into. We need someone in-house who knows LEED documentation including the construction side so we can further entrench our relationship with contractors and do the LEED portion for the contractor as a consultant.
Right. They could hire us for services like we hire them for pre-construction services.
Lowe: Exactly. And with commissioning as well we could offer a good package of services to a contractor.
So, we are slowly coming down the wire. Yet the finish line seems elusive.
Lowe: I will be shocked if we are done by October 1.
Appreciate all your good work on the project…