Behind the Build: Interview with Gabriela Celi, Head of Innovation, Research, and Development, SEMAICA

Behind the Build: Interview with Gabriela Celi, Head of Innovation, Research, and Development, SEMAICA

"Get used to learning and unlearning."

What drives innovation and change in our industry? Market changes and customer demands are certainly at the top of the list. But there’s another driver required, the power of curiosity. Curiosity pushes us to understand how and why things work while giving us the opportunity to make improvements and enhancements.

Gabriela Celi leveraged the power of curiosity to drive her career advancement at SEMAICA from Junior Architect to Head of Innovation, Research, and Development in less than six years. We recently spoke with Gabriela to discover why curiosity, as a character trait, has had such a positive impact on her career and SEMAICA as an organization. Read her story below.


Tell us a little about SEMAICA and what you specialize in.

Sevilla y Martínez Ingenieros (SEMAICA) is one of the leading construction companies in Ecuador. We’ve been in the market for 65 years. We execute all the stages of a development project (one-stop-shop) in diverse areas of expertise. From construction to renovation and restoration of infrastructure projects, industrial plants, institutional, commercial, residential, and non-residential buildings. In addition, we have expertise in civil engineering, demolition, and earthworks.

At SEMAICA, we have a strong company innovation culture that’s been passed down from the DNA of our founders Gonzalo Sevilla and Ernesto Martínez. We’re one of the most innovative companies in Ecuador. For example, we were the first ones to bring an engineering computer here. It was an IBM and almost the size of a room. The first time it broke, we had to send it back to New York because it was the only one of its kind in the country.

We love to say, give us a challenge, and we’ll solve it. That’s one of our slogans; the other is that SEMAICA is built to last. The reason why we invest so much in innovation and new technology is because we wish to provide our clients the best quality they can have for their project.

"We have tripled the projects we work on, getting important multinational clients for the excellent product that we show we can reach." —Gabriela Celi, SEMAICA

We take good care of our client relationships. For example, we’ve been working with the same production factory for 12 years. They’ll come to us when they need to extend operations, adjust, or build another industrial warehouse. So as the client’s business grows, ours does as well, which only strengthens our relationship, becoming strategic allies.


Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming Head of Innovation, Research, and Development?

Everything started back in college. I’ve always been really curious, and thankfully I attended San Francisco University in Quito, which has a deep liberal arts philosophy. You’re able to sign up for diverse types of classes. So, besides my bachelor’s degree in architecture I got a minor in universal history and took, for example, art, language, and administration courses. This forced me to study and understand different topics rapidly. I took 313 credits out of the 145 needed to graduate as an architect.

Then, after I defended my thesis on a Wednesday, I began working at SEMAICA the following Monday on a construction site as a construction resident of the T6 Building. Even while studying architecture, I didn’t receive many construction classes, but I still learned a lot. They were tough times because I had to manage a group of personnel and different production fronts, but we completed a magnificent building that is now the project that I am most proud to have taken part in.

Meanwhile, one of my bosses saw that I learned Revit at the university. For this reason, at the end of the project's construction, they transferred me to the central office. After 6 months of hard effort, we developed the manuals and protocols as a plan to implement BIM in the design and development department.

"Get used to learning and unlearning. The scenarios you encounter are highly variable, so be versatile in applying your knowledge in the same way you search for solutions." —Gabriela Celi, SEMAICA

In the beginning, I was the only person in the architectural division. Later, we hired more colleagues and got more projects because the novelty of the methodology attracted people. My boss had the vision to provide clients with this method to solve most of their pain points during construction. On the other hand, we empowered the change of mindset of our collaborators because BIM is more of an attitude focused on collaborative work. You can invest in hardware and software, but if you don’t have the right mindset to learn and adapt to fresh technologies, you won’t increase your BIM maturity level. 

Since we already had a solid architecture division, this year we decided to face a distinct challenge. Thus, after being in the design and development department for about four years, I commenced my new position as Head of Innovation, Development, and Investigation in which I am carrying out studies and transformations in multiple departments of the company.

I’ve experienced both worlds, being on-site and off-site. I know that despite having great communications on-site, there are invariably problems to figure out. If you don’t monetize them at a certain point, you may generate problems for your clients. That’s why my first big project in this role was to implement Autodesk Construction Cloud to improve the relationship between the office and the construction site.


What is your proudest accomplishment in your career?

My greatest professional achievement was starting and expanding the architectural design department of SEMAICA. After 4 years, we have tripled the projects we work on, getting important multinational clients for the excellent product that we show we can reach. As said before, we started only with me as an architect but thanks to a lot of perseverance and hours of work invested in growing, today we are 6 architects.

I also led the implementation of BIM in the design department, of which we have achieved a high level of maturity by integrating models that already include all specialties (architecture, structure, and MEP). Methodology that I took to be a process for SEMAICA, now allows them to comply with section 8.3 in design and development of its ISO 9001 certification. Tools that have been key in satisfying my company and our clients.


Tell us about the Hotel Le Parc project your team is working on.

The Le Parc project is one of the largest hotel investments this year in Ecuador. The project is nearly $30 million and will revolutionize the architecture of the city of Quito. Le Parc is an existing hotel, so the project is an expansion. Sort of second phase. It will be completed by July 2023 and has been certified with the international Edge Advanced certification (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies). This certification recognizes sustainable construction focused on efficient use of resources and zero carbon emissions.

Gabriela Summerfield, one of the most respected executives here in Quito, is leading and developing the project. The project is called I Am Beyond the Stars. It will turn the hotel into the first sustainable multi-use building in Quito, combining hospitality, residences, and corporate offices. The work will include 18 floors in a construction area of 25,000 m², 30 hotel suites, 17 corporate offices, and 108 residences. 

At SEMAICA, we’re using Autodesk Build, Autodesk BIM Collaborate, and Autodesk Takeoff on the project. It’s incredible to see the potential. Right now, we’re working on our learning processes and taking classes to learn how the tools work and how to structure information. We’re going to teach and give our subcontractors classes. I’m thrilled with the tool and ready to see what comes next. 


When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity for SEMAICA? 

We currently have 6 ongoing studies in a space called SEMAICA Lab. In which, with the development team, we investigate various paths to solve challenges for both our external clients and the company internally. Some topics that are being developed are visualization and augmented reality, parameterization and standardization, off-site construction and connected construction. We expect that soon these pilot projects will have their implementation plan and go live. I think that as a team we have a great deal of potential ahead of us to implement new things in SEMAICA.

"We love to say, give us a challenge, and we’ll solve it." —Gabriela Celi, SEMAICA

Likewise, I see potential for the general improvement of the construction industry in the use of big data for decision making. A lot of information that could be useful for projects just stays stagnant and archived, and sometimes is even thrown away. If instead this data were processed and analyzed adequately, it could give us interesting perspectives on efficiency, performance, productivity, or really any other improvement that could be used in subsequent projects.


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

I think I can focus my advice on two keywords. The first is versatility. Get used to learning and unlearning. The scenarios you encounter are highly variable, so be versatile in applying your knowledge in the same way you search for solutions.

The second is purpose. Purpose gives direction to our path and meaning to our effort. For example, spending time training on the use of new software and spending money on new hardware always serves a higher purpose. For me, in this case, our strong innovative nature is in the DNA of SEMAICA. We always want to give the best to our clients.


Want more stories like this?

I regularly interview construction leaders to promote knowledge sharing. We cover what works, what doesn’t, and what the future holds. Check out our entire series of Behind the Build interviews, featuring some of the best in construction.

Alyssa Jaber

As Manager of Customer Marketing at Autodesk, Alyssa Jaber has been partnering with Autodesk customers in the construction space for 5+ years to build their brands and powerfully tell their stories. Alyssa is a human-first leader who supports a team of talented individuals who always put the customer experience first.