by John Nott, PE, CEM, CMVP, BEMP

When we designed our recent office expansion to house the energy team staff, we wanted a design that was modern, welcoming, but unquestionably for engineers.  One of the ways we wanted to bring out the “engineer” feel to the space design was to choose photography from our projects to decorate our open walls.  The typical engineering project photography includes shots of pristine chiller plants with shiny new equipment, freshly painted floors and every pipe properly labeled in coordinating colors.  All beautiful representations of well thought out design and precision, and we do have that,

But that’s not GEI’s core focus, and not representative of our Energy Engineering department.  Don’t get me wrong, our engineers appreciate a good design, and love to see the completion, installation, and operation of our work.  But given our company’s focus on existing buildings, especially on our energy engineering side (performing energy evaluations and auditing existing buildings), that’s just not what we see on a day-to-day basis.  Our engineers are called out to aging buildings with outdated designs and systems that need some love (and money).  Day in and day out we see the worst in the industry, because that is where there is need for a good engineer.

1966 GE Diesel Generator (still in use)
1979 Trane Sidewinder Chiller (Georgia World Congress Center)

It is the goal of true sustainability to make things last, and last efficiently.  In the context of buildings, that not only means efficient operation and material use, but also the care to keep buildings around for the long term.  This is the heart of our engineers. Our goal is to help buildings live on, and we get excited seeing opportunities to improve operations. 

We love working on buildings with a story. I will admit, seeing a pair of 1966 Carrier water cooled chillers humming along in an early 1900’s high rise gives me a joy that goes beyond seeing an opportunity to save energy.  I have respect for the engineering design and care that kept these machines running for over 50 years. I have an appreciation for the ingenuity and advancements that allowed a machine like that to be built 50 years ago and still be working today.

Old Boilers in Baltimore High School
20+ year old Fire-tube boiler open for maintenance

It is this spirit of respect for the aging and determined machinery that gave us inspiration for our office artwork.  With every picture of an old steam boiler or colorfully corroded pipe, there is a story.  A story about where that equipment and building has been, and a story about where we took the systems.  After all, true sustainability is measured by passage of time and the stories that come from it.  

Particulate build-up on AHU fan’s inlet guide vanes (Unit ran without a filter)

When walking around our office, take a chance to admire the beauty of subsistence in that 1979 sidewinder chiller or that 1966 diesel generator from the Vietnam war.  All our pictures have a story too, one that we are happy to talk about. This is what we find beautiful and what makes us excited to work with you on new projects.

Corroded make-up water pipe for a old boiler