Behind the Build: Interview with Jake Lester, VDC Manager at Rogers-O’Brien and Andrew​​​​ Schluterman, VP at HKS

"Location, location, location." 

That's likely what most people would say when you ask them what makes a venue successful. 

Of course, while a prime location can put a venue on the map, it's really the experiences that draw people in and keep them coming back. This is particularly true today, where audiences crave experiences they won't find anywhere else. 

That's why projects like Cosm are so noteworthy. Featuring a remarkable 87-foot-diameter LED dome, this venue is set to transform live events by offering a new dimension to audience engagement. Cosm will have locations in Los Angeles, CA, and Dallas, TX. 

We had the privilege of interviewing two key players on this project: Jake Lester, the Regional Manager of Virtual Design + Construction at Rogers-O'Brien Construction and Andrew​​​​ Schluterman, Vice President and Project Architect at HKS, Inc. 

Their firms are currently working on the Cosm venue in Dallas, and they share fascinating insights into the project's innovative design and construction challenges.

In our conversation, we discuss Jake's and Andrew's career journeys, their experiences working on the Cosm venue, and how technology redefines their workflows. 

Check out what they have to say. 

How did you get started in the industry? What inspired you to begin a career in architecture/construction?

Jake: I've always been around construction. My dad's been in construction, and so I went into the carpenters' union out of high school. But then I decided I wanted to be able to walk when I was 50, so I went back to school and got my architecture degree, then decided to go the GC route instead of the design side. 

I started at a small GC and was able to wear all the different hats. When I got to the larger GC, I dove into construction technology and found a passion for it.

So, I transitioned to the VDC world and became a VDC manager here at Rogers-O'Brien. 

Andrew: Academically, I always enjoyed subjects such as art and math, and a hobby of mine to this day is building with Lego. But I also played a lot of sports. It was a big part of my life, and I played sports throughout high school and college. But similar to Jake, I didn't think that would be my career.

So, I decided to put the investment into my education—and what better way to combine all those three things than architecture? 

I went to architecture school and was fortunate enough to come out of that with a position at  HKS in the Venues Group, where I have an opportunity to stay in that sports world while contributing to the built environment of sports entertainment. 

How have design and coordination workflows changed from when you first started in the industry?

Andrew: It's changed a lot on my end. I started in 2015 and back then, we were collating individual models from the architectural side, sending those out to our consultants, and then down the line as it gets to the construction side. For example, when we worked on SoFi, 20+ models needed to be coordinated and designed. 

With modern workflows, the process has changed a lot. While we still probably have the same number of models for projects of that size and scale, it's a heck of a lot easier through the cloud because it just facilitates that workflow and expedites it. 

Jake: When I was first in the carpenters' union and swinging the hammer there, we would always have to go back to our drawing table and figure out what we had to do, where walls needed to be, and everything like that. And when a change happened, we were sitting there for a long time just waiting for the architects to figure out what change needed to happen and to get all the way back out to us. That takes days, sometimes weeks. It really affects the schedule and budget. 

When I got out of school, I could use PlanGrid, which made the process more collaborative. We could quickly get things to the design team and the people in the field. 

And now, before we even get to the install period, we can coordinate everything beforehand. So, instead of us figuring out while we're trying to install or change something, we can change it before we even get to that point. 

Being able to do that in Autodesk Construction Cloud—where the design and construction teams are on the same platform—makes things much faster, which obviously helps with schedule and budget, which is what the client wants.

Tell me about the Cosm Grandscape project. What were some unique challenges? How did your delivery method solve them?

Andrew: It's still a very new concept. Cosm is an immersive entertainment venue. While it's only about 65,000 square feet, from a design perspective, there are some complicated and intricate details and things that we've been able to accomplish.

There's also just a lot of guts to the building. It takes a lot to power these large LED domes and the infrastructure people need for a habitable space. 

It's been a real advantage to have tools that allow us to collaborate. We've been able to expedite the schedule, just like what Jake touched on earlier. We've done things like digital shop drawing reviews, which would be atypical for our traditional reviews. Through that, we were able to get our 26’ tall precast panels erected ahead of schedule, which was a critical path item and prevented us from requiring new cranes and project delays.

There are immense benefits to the approach we're taking, and we're looking forward to leveraging those in the opportunities ahead of us.

Jake: On the VDC and the construction sides, having the more accurate models from the get-go means we can coordinate better and accelerate the project schedule. 

For instance, when we find something that we need to move during our coordination, we can tell the design team quickly, and they can get those changes happening or tell us how we should route things. It's helped expedite our VDC schedule, which ultimately expedites shop drawings and everything else down the line.

Plus, we no longer have to wait until the walls are up or different pieces are up before we do our field measurement because we know everything will go in the model. 

We also don't have as many RFIs now. Before, we could have a project team saying, "Well, I can't get to this measurement from here because you're missing something here." Now, we can get the measurements we need. It also cuts down on Andrew's time, where they don't have to go through and try to measure everything and ensure they get all the measurements we need out there in the field. 

Andrew: It boils down to an immense amount of trust, a shared goal of where we wanted to go, and a vision of how we want the industry to be shaped in the next decades or so. Jake and Rogers-O'Brien were in the design coordination meetings before we issued the documents. And I sit in on the trade partner coordination meetings during construction as things are getting resolved. So, our trust and confidence in each other have enabled us to do something like this and pull it off. 

What are the benefits of designing and coordinating models in 3D instead of 2D?

Jake: From our standpoint, it's the speed. More specifically, the speed at which we can get answers back. We can quickly assign issues to the design team, and Andrew and his team can look at them immediately.

There have been times when we need the model published, and we just send over a quick chat and say, "Hey, can you publish the model real quick?" He can do it with a click of a button, whereas before, it takes more time because he's got to download it, get it over to his email, and send it.

Working in 3D cuts down on the rework as well. We were able to work very collaboratively and see how these things will go together when we get out into the field.

This is what construction is supposed to be like, where it's a team all the way through. It's not just design that is in a silo over here, construction's in a silo over there, and trade partners are in a silo down here. Everybody works together as a team and ensures we get the client the best product possible.

Andrew: We both work for the same client, just on different sides. So it benefits us to work together because we want our client to be happy. 

I would say the leading advantage is being able to collaborate and review in 3D. On the architecture side, we design in 3D. I've always done our consultant coordination meetings in 3D. The benefit is that you can see everything all at once, and you can identify where the problems are pretty quickly.

Having all the trade partners modeling what will be installed is immensely helpful. We get to see the hangers that go on the ductwork. We can see the gusset plates that always cause conflicts. We get to see all that, and we get to make some edits or comments, and it helps us achieve the design we want in the end because we have more control over the process.

Autodesk Construction Cloud has helped tremendously by collating everything. That said, you get what you put into it, which means you get as much benefit as the entire team is willing to utilize it.

What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your project?

Jake: From Rogers-O'Brien's standpoint, we have been working on standardization. I worked in Autodesk Construction Cloud at my previous company and saw that construction is just the transfer of information. You're trying to transfer information from the design team to the construction team to the installers and getting through that whole part of that process. 

Autodesk Construction Cloud helps create that single source of truth, so even when there's HKS and Rogers-O'Brien, we have a lot of trust. Trade partners are still trying to trust that they can build off of the model, but where there's a lack of trust, Autodesk Construction Cloud creates transparency so that they can see, "Hey, this is the latest and greatest. You know that this is what you're supposed to build off of because of that transparency." 

So, for us, it was creating that single source of truth.

Andrew: HKS already adopted Revit and AutoCAD when I started working here. So, for me, it's pretty easy. I've been using Revit since school, and it's also what HKS was using. It's a great collator of all the programs we use. So, BIM and Autodesk Construction Cloud are just a natural progression of how we evolve and integrate technology into our processes.

How has BIM Collaborate allowed you to modernize the coordination processes? What are the benefits?

Andrew: It's been a game changer to work back and forth and live within each other's hubs, as opposed to creating those different silos, where we don't see the issues as the trade partners are doing their layout. 

We can see and react and make changes quickly and in real-time. So, it expedites the coordination process and makes it easier for all parties. 

Jake: I agree with everything that Andrew said. It's that speed of being able to react to both sides, either getting answers back or when clients and HKS make design changes, we're able to react to those as quickly as possible. That way, it doesn't affect the schedule or budget, and we can get things done.

We've also improved our collaboration, and our sign-off process has become more modernized. Before, we would implement sign-offs using DocuSign, which involved signing off on the 2D drawings highlighted, saying, "Hey, this area is coordinated here." 

But then you get the problem with the trade partner saying, "Well, I don't know what was changed and when it was changed."

Thanks to Autodesk Construction Cloud, we can sign off on an area, package that, stamp that time and date, and then compare when things were changed. Being able to do all of the models helps us with the coordination piece of it.

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at HKS and Roger O'Brien?

Andrew: This whole conversation started one day here in our office. I wanted our teams to be able to utilize the model as much as we could. From the design side, we would like to get to the point where we can hand over the model and build from the model. I know we're years away from doing that, but the more we can start utilizing the collector of the information—which is the model—and ensure we're using that with integrity and accuracy, the more we'll get some traction.

I’d love just to hand over a 3D model and say, "This is it. Let's build from this."  

Jake: I completely agree with Andrew. For them to be able to hand over the model to us, and we build from that, it takes a lot of the guesswork out. 

And it allows us to start going into different innovative things—such as robotics and automation where we can do more with less. 

And so that's where it would be nice to get to. We want to be in a place where we can get the model from the design team, and we're taking it and running them with it. By entering it into our automation tools, our robotic tools can build this building and use the model.

That's ultimately where we would like to go. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?

Andrew: Lead with knowledge. We're in a period within the industry where there's a lot of information coming at everyone, and not many people know how to react and utilize it. Topics like AI, automation, Midjourney/ChatGPT and all these other interesting tools are available for architects and designers, but a lot of folks don't know how to utilize them.

If you invest in yourself and your education, you can lead the industry towards innovation. There's a lot that can be done and an infinite amount of things we could do. We just have to take the time to distill everything that is out there and figure out how we can move the industry forward collectively.

Jake: My advice is to stay focused. 

A lot of times—especially on the construction side—everybody sees the next new shiny thing, and they want to grab it. And the next thing you know, all of these companies have these different software, and they've only used one for a month here and another one for six months. 

It’s better to stay focused and get to know key pieces of technology, so rather than knowing nothing about everything, you know a few different things well. 

It's also valuable to learn how to manage different personalities. Construction has a whole range of people from different backgrounds. The younger generation will know new ways to do things better and faster. But those will never be heard if you don't know how to present those to the people making those decisions.

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don't know how to present it to somebody, it's never going to get used, it's never going to get applied, it's never going to get implemented. 

So that would be my other thing. Learn how to articulate your ideas and your knowledge so they can be accepted by a wide range of audiences.

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.