Behind the Build: Interview with Brian Binkley, Director of Design, Gephart Electric

brian binkley director of design gephart electric

This blog originally appeared on the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. 

The world of design has experienced some of the most significant and noticeable changes over the last few decades. Consider the shift of manual drafting to Computer Aided Design (CAD). “I had four years of Architectural drafting in high school and my college graduating class was the last one to have ‘Drafting 101’ on the boards,” comments Brian Binkley, now the Director of Design at Gephart Electric.

In this week’s Behind the Build, we speak with Brian on the changes he’s experienced in his 20 years in construction. Working for the St. Paul, Minnesota-based commercial/industrial electrical contractor, he shares more about his first experiences working in the industry as well as provides advice for the next generation of design professionals.

What first got you into construction?

It was a combination of my father and LEGO that first got me into construction. My father worked for a General Contractor and I grew up with blueprints on the dining room table and getting to see the fantastic buildings my hero helped build with his own hands. At the same time, I loved building my LEGO town and creating all sorts of fun architecture which inspired me to be involved in the vertical construction industry.

Why do you continue to build today?

The pride and satisfaction of being able to see something physically built that you had a hand in creating is incredible.

There's nothing like taking my boys into a building and being able to say, "I designed the lighting system here."

I love seeing a structure and knowing that I played a small part in its creation that hopefully thousands, if not millions in the case of large stadiums, get to enjoy.

What do you remember from your first experiences on the job?

When I graduated from Penn State with an Architectural Engineering degree, my first boss would constantly say, "now these are the things you didn't learn in school.” It didn't take him long to realize that at Penn State, we really did learn a lot about this industry in school. That's why I often boast about Architectural Engineering programs, whether it’s at Penn State, K-State or any of other the AE schools. The knowledge we have walking off the diploma stage is heads above traditional engineering programs when it comes to the construction industry in my opinion.

Looking back, what is your most memorable project?

While there are very memorable projects, I can't help to be most proud of the first project that I signed my name to, the Minnesota Senate Building, located in St. Paul, MN. Designed to be a 100 year, 293,000-square-foot facility, the Minnesota Senate Building includes offices for all 67 senators and their support staff. It provides a workspace for over 360 people in a facility that fosters connectivity and collaboration.

Minnesota Senate Building - Brian Binkley

What do you spend the most time doing at work?

With my role as the lead for our design department, my daily routine constantly changes; however, I by far spend most of my time working in Revit.

How has technology changed the way you work in construction?

I had four years of Architectural drafting in high school and my college graduating class was the last one to have "Drafting 101" on the boards. While I never got paid to use a drafting board, I can certainly appreciate the advancement that CAD and now BIM have provided to our industry. I cannot say it’s always "better,” but it certainly has led to "more and faster.”

When and how did you first start using PlanGrid?

I started using PlanGrid very shortly after the initial iPad app launch in the fall of 2012. I stumbled upon PlanGrid as I was frustrated with how slow many of the other PDF apps were are rendering the large drawings I had. I recall spending a number of times in help chat sessions directly with Tracy Young and blown away by the fantastic support their small team was providing.

How do benefit the most from PlanGrid?

Of course, there are a ton of benefits, but going back to 2012/2013, the biggest benefit that I got when using PlanGrid was the ability to leave a large roll of blueprints at the office when I flew around the country visiting jobsites. The GCs were all in amazement that I had all the drawings at my fingertips on the tablet with the ability to add photos and do a punch list at the same time.

What's your favorite PlanGrid feature?

I love tagging a photo to where I'm standing in a room. Too often I was going back to the office and trying to remember which one of 20 plus identical rooms I was standing in when I took that particular photo. So simple, yet so beneficial.

Do you have any advice to share with the next generation of builders?

If I could have one wish fulfilled for the future generator of builders, and specifically, the architects and engineers, it would be to get field experience.

I had an excellent education in college, but nothing beats having first-hand knowledge of working with tools and physically having to understand the construction processes. It would be my wish that all college graduates in this industry have at least a year of experience out in the field.