New Batch of Promotions in Austin

Congratulations to Austin's Brent Arnold, Andrea Bledsoe, Callie Freudenberg and Meghan Taylor on being promoted to Associate! STG greatly values all that you do. Congratulations again on your major accomplishment.

STG Nashville Continues to Go Green

Congratulations to Nashville's Kelli Straub for recently passing her LEED® Green Associate™ exam! We couldn't be more proud of your latest achievement. Congratulations again, Kelli!

STG Design is staying busy in 2017!

STG Design worked closely with developers at Eurus Development to design a 100,000 sf office building and a 450-car parking structure at MoPac Centre located at 8611 North MoPac. The project is scheduled for completion by November 2017.

STG Design worked closely with developers at Eurus Development to design a 100,000 sf office building and a 450-car parking structure at MoPac Centre located at 8611 North MoPac. The project is scheduled for completion by November 2017.

STG Design Remodeling Certain Affinity HQ

We love working with fellow Austin-based companies and Certain Affinity has been no exception! We are looking forward to seeing this completed renovation and how it will benefit both our client and our city. Read the whole story here: Catch our 360-degree rendering of the space here:

Interior Design Giant

STG is proud to make the leap from an Interior Design Magazine Rising Giant to Giant! With recognition as the fifth fastest growing firm on the list, we are very excited for what the future holds! We are honored to make the list with firms from around the world.

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SUPER-TECTURE: How Super Bowl LI Changed Houston's Architectural Landscape

By:  James Glassman

How long has it been since you visited Houston? If it’s been a few years, then you are in for a surprise from the nation’s fourth-largest city. Lots of new, while still plenty of the odd and offbeat. Leading the charge are the rock star chefs and mad scientist bartenders. These visionaries and tinkerers in the hospitality industry have created a vibrant community, and roused the sleeping giant that is Houston pride. Thanks to their innovations, mash-ups, and willingness to experiment with our unique cultural melting pot, we eat and drink better than ever. Fortunately for the rest of us, that mojo has spilled over into so many other aspects of Houston life. The national media has taken notice too, writing countless love letters, and turning the world’s attention to the Bayou City.

In May 2013, Houston was awarded the 2017 Super Bowl (our third time). When we hosted in 2004, it was in exchange for our new team and stadium. This time, we won the right to host the Super Bowl on our own merits! Since we got the good news, city leaders and developers have been working towards that event to complete long dormant projects and to dream up a few new ones. But the truth is, Houston is constantly rebuilding itself. The Super Bowl’s influence is hard to see if you’re already witnessing our mini-boom (don’t jinx it, Glassman). Yes, we still love anything new. In contrast, since we last hosted the Super Bowl in 2004, Houston’s preservation community has created a protected landmark ordinance, established 22 historic districts, and succeeded in rallying to save our beloved, erstwhile, signature landmark – the Astrodome.

The Super Bowl LIVE! Experience is an interactive fan event taking place in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center the entire week leading up to Sunday's game. Photo by Jenn LaPlante

The Super Bowl LIVE! Experience is an interactive fan event taking place in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center the entire week leading up to Sunday's game.

Photo by Jenn LaPlante

Pickard Chilton's 609 Main Building has provided Houston with a signature presence in the city's downtown skyline. Photo by James Glassman

Pickard Chilton's 609 Main Building has provided Houston with a signature presence in the city's downtown skyline.
Photo by James Glassman

In the past decade, we’ve certainly grown quite a bit. Hopefully, with all eyes on us for the Super Bowl, we will remind the world what a world-class city Houston is!

Who will win Super Bowl LI:

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James Glassman has been with STG Design’s Houston office for over two years as an architectural designer. He enjoys projects that allow him to improve the community, whether through new construction or historic preservation. As a fifth-generation Houstonian, James takes great interest in sharing his city’s history, and recently published his first book, “The Houstorian Dictionary: An Insider’s Index to Houston.”

Productive Production: Email Etiquette

By:  W. James Hadden IV, MBA, LEED AP

Hey, it’s me and me again (Just kidding, still don’t have that cloning machine working right. The other me is still learning to tie his shoes; typing will have to wait.). Last time, I talked about meeting culture; today, I want to talk about email etiquette.

As technology - especially mobile technology - has become ubiquitous, the formality of our communication style has diminished. And that’s ok, until it’s not. Informal is (mostly) good; lazy is bad. Here are a few suggestions for keeping your emails professional and stress-free for the reader.

1.  When you change the subject, change the subject.

If you’re going to use an email thread to a start a new conversation (hey, it’s already got all the people I need…less typing!), then change the subject line to indicate the new conversation. While you’re at it, go ahead and delete all the previous conversation so it’s really clear the two topics aren’t related.

2. To: vs CC:

If I’m COPIED on an email, I assume it’s informational. If it’s TO me, then I assume there’s an action I need to take or that a response from me is required. There’s a reason these are different boxes. And let’s all agree to not use the BCC box. If you’re sending information to several unrelated people, then BCC is fine. But the rest of the time, you’re just being shady. There’s no reason to keep anyone’s involvement in the conversation a secret.

3. “Please see the conversation below.”

I receive this email all the time. Heck, I send this email all the time. Someone new needs to be looped into a conversation and I don’t feel like retyping everything I want them to know. But I take the time to summarize the conversation. At a minimum, highlight the pertinent piece(s) of the conversation and delete all the old email addresses. I need to know who sent each email, but that’s all. Scrolling through a ten-email string on a 5” phone screen is no fun, especially when I have no idea what I’m supposed to be getting out of the email.

4. What do you want from me?

Be sure to include your expectation for the recipient’s response in the email. People are much more likely to follow up to a single question than a soliloquy. If you need answers to several questions, then put them in a list rather than a paragraph.

On the receiving side, “Responses in line below.” is a go-to for me. I used to write paragraph responses to a paragraph of questions. And then I’d get sidetracked, go on a rant about the decreasing size of peanut butter jars, and miss half the questions I needed to answer. Putting an answer next to every question or a response after every paragraph helps. After all, no one at work really cares that Jif is charging the same price for three fewer ounces of peanut butter than two years ago.

5. Punctuation, spelling and emoticons

I know I said that informal emails are ok. And they are. But you should know your target audience. Don’t email the CEO three smiley faces and twelve exclamation points and sign off with “Later.”

  • Exclamation points – No one is that excited about work. One exclamation point per email is probably sufficient.
  • Emoticons – If you wouldn’t put it in a memo, don’t put it in an email.
  • Spelling – The computer fixes it for you; there is never an excuse for bad spelling. You have to know the difference between homophones (although Outlook catches most of these nowadays), but that’s elementary school stuff. And unless you are writing titles for pop songs (à la Prince), using numbers to replace words is never ok.
  • Grammar – In general, I try to follow the rules of grammar, but I’m a nerd (experience with the cloning machine aside). I understand that this is less important to other people and even I have been known to not capitalize a word or include the subject in a sentence.

I have so many more of these: Reply all, “Thanks!” as an entire email, read receipts, attachments without text in the body...I could go on for days. Instead, I’ll leave you with these two thoughts:

6. Re-read your email before you send it.

I started doing it because I sound like a jerk in written correspondence. I always have to go back and add things like, “Dear” and “Please” and take out things like, “You’re so stupid; I don’t know why we hired you.” But then I started catching a lot of the mistakes above. I could make sure I answered all the questions, double-check word choice, edit for length, and let the recipients know what I expected from them. Slowing down allowed me to have more effective communication via email, which keeps me out of meetings. Which I love. (2).gif

In closing

Evidently, the word choice for people’s signature line is a pet peeve. “Best regards” vs “Sincerely” vs “Thanks” is as big on the Internet as the peanut butter scandal. I’ve got no opinion on the best way to sign off from an email. I’d just caution you that your auto-signature doesn’t always align with the tone of the email. “You’re fired! Thanks, me” is probably bad form. And it’s typically best to refrain from using “Blessings” unless your workplace is a church.

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Improving your email style is as easy as putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes. If you would hate to get that email you’re writing, don’t send it.

W. James Hadden IV, MBA, LEED AP is STG Design’s Director of Operations. He has a BArch from MIT, an MBA from Duke University and 20 years of experience in the A/E/C world. His passion for improving processes led him to STG almost a year ago to make the business of architecture more efficient. 

AIA Building Connections Congress 2017 Recap

By: Don Rudder

I recently had the great pleasure of being invited by Cory Brugger, AIA TAP Chair, to speak about technology at the AIA National Headquarters in Washington, DC.


Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community (TAP) Building Connections Congress is an annual event for the AIA TAP Retooling Practice where technology and innovative process is the primary focus, as well as how this already is or should be leading to positive change in the AEC industry as a whole. The discussions are not just centered around design and construction, but also the operation and maintenance of the built environment. I was obviously honored to even be considered as a presenter and was delighted to accept.

I’ve given plenty of lectures to large audiences in my career, but this was my first UN-style seating event, where everyone in the room had their very own microphone to use whenever they felt the need. Approximately 100 attendees showed up, all of whom are either technology leaders in the industry or working in a role that is heavily impacted by the progression of technology in AEC.

A one-day event held on January 9, 2017 in the main boardroom at the AIA Headquarters in DC, the conference was comprised of four sessions each consisting of a few 20 minute lectures followed by a roundtable discussion. The four sessions’ themes were Design, Document, Construct, and Manage. The lecture that I gave was under the Manage session entitled “Measuring BIM for Better Management.” I discussed the hands-on Revit skills assessment that I designed for quantifying STG Design’s overall production capabilities and efficiencies in regards to Autodesk Revit.

I opted to use a light comedic approach to keep the room entertained and engaged and it worked quite well. When presenting a topic that might otherwise be boring to some of the audience, I think it is important to be as unpredictable, yet informative as possible; this maximizes the impact your material has on the participants. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun presenting to this group and the discussion that it sparked in the following roundtable was all very interesting and positive.

I was thoroughly impressed with all of the presentations and discussions that each spawned. I left this event mind-blown and excited about the future of technology in AEC. I found the experience to be one that I’ll remember for a long time and will definitely keep future AIA TAP Building Connections Congress on my radar for events to attend and hopefully present at again in the future.

Don Rudder is STG Design’s firm-wide BIM Manager. He oversees company-wide BIM training sessions and is tightly integrated into every project. Don has over 20 years of experience in the AEC industry and has been working in architecture since 2009. He is a recognized industry leader on the Revit Application Programming Interface (API), a four-time published author on Revit topical training guides, and a regular speaker at several annual conferences including Autodesk University and Revit Technology Conference. 

New Promotions Announced in Austin + Nashville

Congratulations are in order for the following employees who were recently promoted in our Austin and Nashville offices: Scott Grubb to Associate Principal in Austin; Kelli Straub and Dan Tansey to Associate in Nashville.

Your hard work has paid off -- congratulations to all!

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AU Guys! A Recap of Autodesk University 2016

By: Darrell Westcott, AIA, LEED AP

As my first time attending a major industry conference, Autodesk University was quite the experience. The bombardment of new technologies (and experts utilizing them) was initially overpowering, but as AU2016 ended, I left feeling more excited than overwhelmed. One of the most concise speeches that helped put the conference in perspective was the opening keynote by Autodesk Chief Technology Officer, Jeff Kowalski. 

"Technology has always helped us express our ideas to the world around us, but the specific tools we use have always been the regulator by which we could adequately express those ideas. They have been the filter through which all of our best ideas had to pass."

The general belief at AU is this is no longer the reality, in fact, I would witness an emerging toolset that helps amplify our ideas.  

Jeff Kowalski gave examples of four radical technologies that are converging right now, changing the future of work, and giving us infinite expressibility: Machine Learning, Generative Design, Virtual Reality and Robotic Systems. Out of these four technologies, I was most fascinated with the portion about machine learning.    

Machine learning, otherwise known as artificial intelligence, has the clearest examples in the gaming industry.  

- More than 60 years ago, a programmer taught a machine to beat humans at tic-tac-toe.  

- 45 years later, IBM's Deep Blue beat reigning world champion Kasparov at chess

- In 2011, Watson beat two humans at Jeopardy. This last accomplishment is an incredible leap when you realize that rather than working from predefined recipes and algorithms, the computer had to use reasoning to overcome its human opponents.  

- This year, a program called AlphaGo, beat the world's best human at the board game, Go. Go is a game so complex, it continues to be a topic of mathematical research and is theorized to have more possible moves than atoms in the universe. To win, the program had to develop a sort of intuition about the game; during the match the programmers were unsure why the program was doing some of the things it was doing.  


“So, in less than a single human lifetime, computers have gone from learning a simple child's game to mastering the game recognized as the pinnacle of strategic thought. With technological advances and increased computing power, we have taught computers to teach themselves.”  

Kawalski used one more gaming example to make this concept hit home. He used the Atari game, Breakout, to draw a comparison between human learning and machine learning.

"We learned breakout by spending hours in front of the computer honing our strategies. This is how a recent program (Deep Q-network) developed by Deep Mind learned breakout- It was told that it could only maximize the score by twisting one knob. Then, it learned how to play the game better than any human had ever played it- overnight. How did it do that? It played in computer time. Which means playing millions of games in parallel in the course of a single night."   

"Compare that to how humans share knowledge, just because your friend learned how to get good at breakout, didn’t mean you did. Once this machine learned how to master breakout, all machines learned how to master it, forever."    

In architecture, there are always things to learn. Our projects are incredibly complex, involving a vast number of industries and people. To do our job well, we have to know a little about a lot of different fields, not to mention codes, systems, building technologies and design processes. It is a profession that (thankfully and appropriately) gives value to experience, and because there are so many complexities, usually experience is the only way people can learn.    

However, technology is now available to allow us to better utilize the vast amount of knowledge existing within an organization and disperse it to more people. This helps relieve the bottleneck created when one or two people become the only people who can do a certain task. The experience of a few individuals can be used to help build tools, allowing more people to do specialized tasks.

Image courtesy of Nathan Miller (Founder of Proving Ground) and Matt Goldsberry (the Digital Design Principal of HDR)  |  AU2016 Class: Computational Design-From Specialized Skillset to Core Capability

Image courtesy of Nathan Miller (Founder of Proving Ground) and Matt Goldsberry (the Digital Design Principal of HDR)  |  AU2016 Class: Computational Design-From Specialized Skillset to Core Capability

But, let’s be honest. Sometimes, trying to learn a new set of tools can feel like another addition to the list of things to do “when I have some free time.” And because learning a new technology is a complex task, seeing the immediate value is extremely tough. So rather than carving out the time to learn the new tool, you commit your focus and energy on getting your project done. Unfortunately, it becomes human tendency to find the quickest solution and move on. When left unchecked, this can stifle one's growth and exploration.

We frequently view new technologies as a scary and even threatening. As Kowalski put it:

"These technologies should not be looked at as a threat, they should be looked at as super-powers. The only threat is that a competitor that adopts these super powers more quickly than you do." 

"The reason the prospects of these machines and technologies is scary is because they are so powerful. These tools of imagination and creation are challenging our thinking. Something we haven't really experienced before. But that is the consequence of exponentiating technology- it stretches our thinking, and, our capabilities. It should be exciting, not daunting."   

As the keynote speech began to wrap-up, Kowalski ended with the last and most important piece- the people that use the tools.    

"Just as we should be embracing new technology, we should be welcoming new kinds of talent. Talent used to be about stability, now it’s about mobility. 40% of the US workforce is composed of freelancers, consultants, and other contingent workers. What does this mean to my industry? All of this mobility means we now have access to a vastly larger pool of talented people than we have had in the past. So now imagine the flexible resources you can now bring to bear on any new challenge we face." 
Image courtesy of Nathan Miller (Founder of Proving Ground) and Matt Goldsberry (the Digital Design Principal of HDR)  |  AU2016 Class: Computational Design-From Specialized Skillset to Core Capability

Image courtesy of Nathan Miller (Founder of Proving Ground) and Matt Goldsberry (the Digital Design Principal of HDR)  |  AU2016 Class: Computational Design-From Specialized Skillset to Core Capability

Autodesk intern investigating new Generative Design technology

Autodesk intern investigating new Generative Design technology

"Today the increased speed of change has created pressure on all of us to learn more quickly. If you're going to keep up with tech and talent you're going to need to up-skill them both at the same pace. If your education stops when you get that one monolithic degree, you're doomed."   
"In this dynamic environment, you can never stop learning. Continual learning is the antidote to fearing technology and new talent. It also happens to be the key to embracing and using it. New technology, new talent, new ideas- for millions of years we have been using this powerful combination to shape our world, but never have we had such an abundance of opportunities, so much to learn, debate, incorporate and create."

AU2016 was proudly described as a time in the earliest moments in an amazing new chapter in the history of making things.  “So, what role will you play in the future of making things?”






Darrell Westcott, AIA, LEED AP is an Associate and Architect with STG Design. He has nearly a decade of architecture experience and is Design Lead for STG's Commercial Practice Group. Darrell enjoys investigating new tools and technologies to help push the limits of design. 

Step into Virtual Reality with STG Design

By: Brent Arnold, RID

Construction drawings contain a bounty of information, spread across many drawings, and can be difficult to comprehend. Architects and designers traditionally use a variety of methods to communicate these designs to make them easier for clients to digest than complex construction drawings: sketches, models and even highly realistic renderings. While these start to convey the idea of the design, they do not truly allow the client to interact with the space. Step into virtual reality (VR).

At STG Design, VR is being used through many phases of a project. Architects and designers are able to use VR during early design stages to fully understand the scale of a space as well as see a realistic implementation of lighting and materials and how they impact the space. Through the life cycle of a project, STG Design’s architects and designers can use VR to explore conceptual designs with clients, building owners, contractors and other members of the team to better set stakeholders' expectations of the project, allowing for a quick and comprehensive review of the full design.  STG Design is excited to have adopted this emerging technology and has used it for a few of our projects and presentations in 2016. Take a look at Contract magazine’s recent article which shows how STG Design has been using VR for our one our clients, National Instruments:

A still from a 360 panoramic image STG Design created for a client's new interior. Click on the image to play around in the immersive environment we created which is also adaptive to a cardboard VR viewer. 

A still from a 360 panoramic image STG Design created for a client's new interior. Click on the image to play around in the immersive environment we created which is also adaptive to a cardboard VR viewer. 

Brent Arnold, RID is STG Design's resident expert in virtual reality. Brent has a propensity for all things related to design. His over five years of experience in interior design are accented by his passion for graphic and web design. Brent specializes in corporate interiors for tech companies where he pulls inspiration from their adventurous nature.