Tell us about your latest project. What were the challenges you faced, and were there any aspects you were particularly proud of? We were commissioned for the design and construction of a full size replica of Noah’s Ark based on the biblical account, as recorded in the book of Genesis. 7 Stories tall, 510 feet long, and over 3 million board feet of wood, the modern engineering marvel opened on July 7th, 2016 to the public and is the largest heavy timber structure in the world. We faced many challenges throughout the lifetime of this amazing project given the size, uniqueness,and location.
There are minimal written accounts of the original structure. We were able to take the vision of our client, coupled with extensive research and incorporating expert help on wooden ships of the time, to develop the final project. Designing and building a ship as true as possible to the biblical account and incorporating current code requirements was a major task.
The site topography also presented challenges;the Ark Encounter is located on 800 hilly acres in the Ohio River Valley of Northeast Kentucky. When we took over the site, it was non-buildable; we obviously needed to make it buildable. There were environmental and design issues we had to deal with, resulting in moving over 1.5 million cubic yards of rock and dirt. Site work consisted of accounting for water, sanitary sewer, environmental impacts, and installation of utilities, improvements to the Kentucky highway serving the site, and designing a tram road for transporting visitors from a4,000 space parking lot, including a 130’ long bridge over a deep ravine. Since ’71 we’ve been at the forefront of sustainability and environmental issues, so minimizing our impact on this project was important; reducing the number of trees fallen and impact on local waterways, orienting the actual Ark structure so that it could take maximum advantage of wind and sun for heating and cooling, are a few ways we practiced environmental awareness.
Another difficult challenge was how to interpret the scale of the project. When you have a site that is over 800 acres, you must consider how to best use the land so that it is effectively planned, designed, and built to accommodate the immediate need, as well as plan for the future needs of the attraction. The challenge lies within how you shape the land to provide circulation, good site lines and overall aesthetics for the project, all while providing utilities, that don’t exist on the site.
We are proud of the teamwork and communication which necessary to pull off such a unique project. Without successful communication, the vision, design, and construction may have never been fruitful. It is the efforts and the great working relationship of all stakeholders that allowed the problems to be resolved, the design to be executed and the construction to be completed.
Please tell us more about your approach. What techniques do you employ when you start a new project to ensure that the overall outcome is successful for everyone involved? We have a few main techniques that we employ at the beginning of each project.
Subscribe Our approach is best described as a consensus building effort. The key component with any project is to get all parties involved, to buy into the idea of the project and then to figure out the individual components thereafter. If you don’t have good buy-in then you will struggle with the vision of the client. We try to understand the project by first, listening to our client’s vision, then we begin conducting research, analysing, and putting our thoughts on paper. Then, we revise, rethink, and discuss the process with our clients and available experts to arrive at a consensus on the final product.
Techniques we use are through a charrette process where all parties come together for an intense process where the project components are mapped out and prioritized. Then then the pieces are planned out for overall buy in and then a master plan is generated that outlines the components. From this point the beginning stages of the design begin. From there the engineering, permitting, and approvals necessary for the completion of the project are identified.
You’re only as good as your team We also employ and utilize a team concept as frequently as possible. Many of us are working together form a nucleus of shared and varied experiences and expertise. Listening – which is
always the first step in the process – to the client and their dreams, desires, needs, and end result, are just the tip of the process. One of the first steps as designers, then, is as simple as taking what has initially been developed, a master plan, and taking the next steps. Brain-storming – where there are no “wrongs” and everything is on the table, is another concept we employ in our team meetings. What is needed, when is it needed, who has the expertise to handle this, are but a few of those secondary questions/steps used to discern what will constitute a strong team and a stronger solution for the project.
Trust Projects differ from size to individual team member’s personalities, but our approach is building the trust among all players that we, as a team, all operate from the same basic ground rules. Be timely, be respectful, and tell the truth.
How do you set yourself apart from your competitors in such a competitive industryto ensure that your customers know that you are the best choice for their project? When it comes to competitive advantage, we have reasons why we’re the best.
We pride ourselves on listening to our clients. When we approach a project with the understanding that it isn’t our project it is our client’s project and we are just an avenue through which we assist and guide them with our expertise in the industry to the final product of their vision. So many consultants want to just take the project on as their own and loose site of what the client’s vision is.
We never loose site of the client’s Vision. We understand that our client is first, that if the client is a success we will have a successful project and we in turn will be a success. Too many of our competitors believe that making money is the most important thing, but we believe a successful client and project first makes everything else fall in place.
How we interconnect our wide range of expertise coupled with our teams varied background of experiences is another strength we possess. Clients have noted after observing our sessions with them, that the way we work together to flush out a concept, an idea, and provide a solution using our diverse knowledge, is something that sets us apart.
What is your firm’s mission, and what steps are you taking to achieve this? Our mission is to be leaders in Planning, Design, and Management Services for the Built Environment. We simply cannot tout ourselves as being experts in our fields if we do not act as leaders. We lead by setting the standard of quality and service high, by staying on top of continued education, implementing the latest technologies, volunteering, participating in community projects and industry functions, as well as having affiliations or memberships with local, state, or national organizations representing our professional offerings.
Tell me about your industry currently. Are there any key opportunities or challenges that you are facing, and how do you approach these? Our Industry is very cut throat. We are constantly being undercut on price and to a lot of client’s the bottom dollar is the only thing that is seen. We are faced with educating our clients and our industry that cheaper isn’t always better. Troyer Group pays attention to detail and the execution of the plans that were designed and with that there comes a price. As it is often said, you pay for what you get, and with the Troyer Group you will get a great and unique product.
The architectural field seems to be in a state of flux, still recovering from the economy of a few years ago. Many clients look at architecture as a commodity, not a professional service, which tends to cut into quality and creativity. The profession has a lot to offer and needs to prove their value (opinion).
From a site development standpoint, the business has evolved over the years that we have seen. The Design-build concept has been utilized in greater volume than ever before. Strengths from that is its typically quicker process to get to the construction phase. However, various studies and some personal experience have shown that that can often come at a higher cost. Overall communication between the designer and construction management is decidedly better, more focused on reaching a solution without reacting with the finger-pointing game.
How do you use technology to ensure each project is completed to the highest possible standard? Technology is no doubt vital, but it’s merely a tool. It’s very useful when coupled with quality employees. Both need to be present to realize the value of each individually. We at Troyer Group believe that ongoing quality education blended with the best tools will make our client a success and show them the value of our team.
It’s important to note that technology is still just a tool in which we use to execute the final product. We want our staff to understand how to use the technology to its fullest. If we do not train the staff properly on the technology we use, then we can’t utilize it to its fullest potential. This is why we invest in our individuals.
We then can use the technology to assist us in the design process. Our trained team are now the ones that can make the technology valuable because they know how to use it to execute the vision of our client’s. In the end, it is the experience of our team that provides the client the highest possible standard, because technology is only as good as the individual using it.
We’re also constantly looking at how to utilize the internet to more efficiently to communicate thoughts, plans, and ideas back and forth with clients, the regulators in government, and between ourselves. Various systems have been tried. But the only thing that remains constant is change. And we must be willing to embrace change as a component to doing business and communicating on a project.
What does the future hold for your firm? Do you have any upcoming projects or plans that you would like to share with us? The future is very bright. We weathered the recent downturn very well. We were forced to look at our strengths and focus on them to ensure a strong future. We have found it is important to do things you enjoy, things that help people, and things that challenge you.
Continuing to bring a value of service to our clients and their projects will continue to be held in high regard. Can we continue to innovate? Can we continue to lead? If we can continue to have those as established objectives in a project, we can continue to be leaders.
Is there anything you would like to add? The journey is the reward.