Integrates Visioneering and Experience Design into Civil Engineering Projects
If you walk into the offices of TST in Fort Collins, Colorado, expect to see more than the usual cubicles and conference rooms. In their MindPlay Room, engineers gather for brainstorming sessions. They carry out client dreamscaping sessions in the Sky Room. Other areas feature a fire pit lounge, saltwater fish tank bar, full kitchen, gym, and patio. Perhaps most fun of all, a slide takes you from the second floor to the first, just like on a playground.
While they might give the appearance of a private club, upscale penthouse apartment, or some type of creative play area, such facilities actually foster a unique engineering mission. As a firm that provides land development and municipal infrastructure services, TST designs experiences into new communities that create more sustainable, livable neighborhoods and mixed-use environments. This involves a proprietary visioneering process they have developed, one that has designers working in a stimulating office environment to create experiences in the outside world for their clients.
Ed Goodman, chief experience officer, heads TST’s Creative Service Group, a team of planners, landscape architects, and engineers that come together at the beginning of projects and create a vision. “My role is to help that visioneering, those first steps in the process. Once it gets into the real design, then the technical teams create the plans and final drawings and get it into CAD,” he explains.
“We try to craft ideas we believe are more in tune with the twenty-first century lifestyle and have new experiences that engage the end users, whether they be residential or commercial or education or recreation,” Goodman says. “By doing that, we think we create a much more rich community for people and a more successful project. It’s pretty unique. We’re the only firm I know of that engages in a process like this.”
With 46 employees, TST offers civil engineering, surveying, landscape architecture, sustainability and LEED consulting, master planning, environmental restoration, and cultural enhancement. Community design and development and municipal infrastructure comprise their main focus areas.
The visioneering began about five and a half years ago, as Goodman recalls. “Our private sector clients looked to involve us earlier in projects. Traditionally, in land development, the civil engineers don’t get involved in the project until long after the land plan has been created and a lot of other steps have taken place. That doesn’t result in the best project. So we decided by adding this process we would work with our clients from the inception, the dream stage, as we call it. We created a process to take this idea they have for a new development and move it through the various steps of dreaming and planning and entitlement and then into the design phases and on to actual construction. Experience design is the foundation for all this work.”
As one example, Goodman tells of a residential master plan for a large-scale village, about a 1400-acre project. “We created lakes where there were none in the plan. We created water-based streets in one direction in an island community and walkable and bikeable streets in the other direction on an island. Surrounding neighborhoods mix everything from senior living to more traditional residential communities, championship golf courses, hotels, waterfalls that encompass the complete lake width -- crazy kinds of things people aren’t used to seeing in developments.” In another project, “We created an entertainment district with different kinds of performance technologies, even having environments react to people as they walk through.”
In this process, “the engineer’s job is to figure out how to engineer that into the site design, making sure these can happen,” Goodman says. “How can I be creative with the grading of the site to make this work? Or how can I use low-impact ideas, or green infrastructure technologies, to help emphasize a natural experience? They translate the experience ideas we create into the engineering design itself.”
This brings unique challenges for engineers but also adds to the fun, Goodman adds. “They really enjoy the challenge of figuring out a new way to do something, a new way to look at the same problem, or to be more involved early with the creative process. And they come up with good ideas as well along the way because they were involved early in helping dream up these ideas.”
Some 20-plus engineers populate TST, mostly civil and a few environmental. The Civil Engineering Group works on projects covering commercial, industrial, residential, and mixed-use applications. They serve as a municipal engineer and provide design services for infrastructure including water, wastewater, green energy, stormwater, and transportation facilities.
Don Taranto and two other partners founded TST in 1977 in Fort Collins, focusing on civil engineering for municipalities and private land development companies and also offering surveying and construction services. Taranto remains with the firm today as president and CEO. Over the years, TST grew to have offices in several other states as well as two in the Denver area. But TST decided to focus on Colorado and closed offices outside the state. “Our growth has been steady but more controlled than it would’ve been if we wanted to spread to a much wider territory. We’re working throughout Colorado and to a limited degree in the other Rocky Mountain states,” Goodman explains. But while they may have shrunk geographically, with its unique growth strategy, TST has expanded its services in the last decade to include master planning, community planning, experience design, sustainable design, land planning, and landscape architecture.
In explaining how the firm came up with experience design, Goodman says, “Some of the ideas come from other industries. I had done some work with the Disney company over the years and was involved in a couple of other creative think tank organizations. They use a process not exactly like this, but there were some similarities to how they approach crafting ideas and moving them through the process toward a reality, and I had never seen that applied to engineering or design before and thought there could be a terrific application here. We just re-applied that kind of creative thinking to community development and engineering to create visioneering.”
Goodman has a degree in civil engineering but also studied marketing, advertising, strategic planning, and entertainment. “I came to TST to help move the company from a more traditional form to this newer thinking, more creative kind of design firm I felt would give us a better market position and a chance to do more innovative projects,” he recalls.
On a typical project, Goodman says, “If it’s a land development project, for example, we look at what the topography has to offer. Are there amenities on the land we should take advantage of? Where are we in relation to transit corridors? We look at all kinds of factors, and we determine how we can create an experience-based design that might have things related to, say, nature or the outdoors or those kinds of things. For example, we minimize lot sizes but create open-space amenities.”
It may sound glorious, but Goodman points out that the transition from a more conventional firm to an experience-based model isn’t easy. “It’s a new animal. And sometimes that’s challenging because you have to convince someone there’s more investment involved. Things like that take time in markets like this.” He notes that a couple of the firm’s senior people left when TST started the visioneering because they were scared of it. “It’s not for everyone. It’s challenging in some ways in finding engineers that like the creative side.”
But Goodman says TST is seeing progress. “It’s starting to kick in now. It took awhile for clients to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, and we needed to come up with some concept designs and new master plans for them to see where this could go. And now that we’ve headed down that road, I think they’re receptive, and they’re excited about it.” It offers proof that the funky office environment pays off. Who needs stairs to drop down a floor when you have a slide?
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Send resumes to Ed Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org