Rogers, Lovelock & Fritz, Inc. (RLF) is the oldest architectural, engineering, and interior design firm in the State of Florida that is still operational. Founded in 1935 in Winter Park, Florida by acclaimed architect James Gamble Rogers II, the firm is responsible for many of Central Florida’s historic homes.
James Gamble Rogers II, whose father was also a well-known architect, was heavily influenced by Spanish and Mediterranean Revival building styles. Fascinated by the elegance of the Old World, a signature of Gamble Rogers II was intentionally aging his homes, with sagging rooflines or imperfect archways.
Commissions were solely residential until the beginning of WWII. In the 1940s, joining with partners Irwin Fritz and Ralph Lovelock, Gamble Rogers II continued to take the business to new heights. In 1960, the firm added engineering services to its repertoire. In 1967, Gamble Rogers II changed the name of what was once a sole proprietorship built on a dream to its current name, in honor of his partners. “At this time, the firm established its strong presence in Central Florida with educational campuses, courthouses, churches, apartment buildings, and retail stores,” Senior Vice President Scott Fote tells us. In fact, Gamble Rogers II designed the beautiful Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee and many buildings for Rollins College in Winter Park.
In an interview with Construction in Focus magazine, Senior VP Fote reveals why he believes the firm has been able to stand the test of time and flourish for 83 years. “Here’s an analogy,” Fote remarks. “You know how there might be a really great restaurant that you like to go to, and though it’s always busy, it’s one of your favorites so you keep going there. Then, they expand. They get bigger and bigger. The food quality decreases. Maybe the service isn’t as good anymore. Eventually, people stop coming.” Though the Gamble Rogers name has been highly influential in Florida architecture, the firm has never overextended itself. “We have always fostered continuous improvement here at RLF; however, we did not want to change our company values—how we treat our clients and our people. The company is very family-oriented, and that has been passed down over generations,” says Fote.
RLF certainly has a unique company culture, but what has truly distinguished the business from competitors are the client relationships it has built over the years. Most of RLF’s revenue comes from repeat business. “What sets us apart is that we attract great clients,” states Fote. RLF not only has happy customers, but happy employees. One of the reasons RLF retains so many talented and distinguished professionals is the firm’s ability to offer creative work. Like a feedback loop, by continuously putting passion into the architectural, engineering, and interior design industry, RLF has in turn attracted unique and meaningful projects that leave a lasting positive impact on the community.
RLF’s mission is to create high-performance environments that inspire and nurture the human spirit in its core markets of healthcare, higher education, religious facilities, and defense. “Our professionals design buildings that provide healing environments. We design facilities that educate our children and our future leaders. We design religious environments that provide a place of worship. We design buildings that provide a sense of home and security for the men and women who serve our great country. We design places that perform,” Fote explains.
Opened in September of 2017, the Weed Army Community Hospital is a case study of the RLF mission. Located in the remote Mojave Desert of California, the 216,000 square foot facility has earned LEED Platinum status, and is the military’s first net-zero, carbon-neutral hospital. The hospital—like other net-zero facilities or homes—produces as much as, if not more, clean energy than it consumes. Designed by an RLF and AECOM joint venture and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the high-tech healthcare facility has a 2.4MW photovoltaic array, that along with other redundant utility systems, can keep the hospital fully operational for up to two weeks even if all traditional utility services are offline.
RLF is a champion of preservation, not only of the environment, but of history and art. When “Casa Feliz,” one of Gamble Rogers II’s original masterpieces, was going to be demolished by a private buyer, RLF rallied to raise community awareness and save the beloved mansion. With a combination of a state grant and donations from the community, the house was moved to its current location and is now a historic home museum listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The beautiful residence has many details typical of the Gamble Rogers II style, including a circular staircase and arched doorways.
Jack Rogers (the son of James Gamble Rogers II and the President of RLF at the time) was instrumental in saving Casa Feliz. A U.S. Navy veteran, and an AIA Fellow like his father, Jack took over the company when James retired in 1980. Today, the house Jack Rogers helped to save is one of Central Florida’s most popular wedding venues. The tourist attraction is also available for public viewing during open house hours.
Jack Rogers used a part of the historic venue as an office during the remainder of his time at RLF. A big supporter of nonprofits and social causes, when he retired in 2006 and the current President Steven Hingtgen took over, he made a very unusual request of the company to which he dedicated his career: Jack Rogers asked for a new home—just not for himself. “When Jack Rogers retired, the gift we provided him was to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. I think that experience really speaks volumes about who we are. Our President and CEO—who was the original Founder’s son—that’s what he wanted when he retired. Instead of giving him a gold watch or something like that, he wanted us to provide a service to the community,” Fote recalls. The philanthropic Jack Rogers even donated “sweat equity” to the RLF-sponsored project, providing his construction and design expertise to the house, which was completed in late 2009. According to a Habitat for Humanity press release, the December completion allowed a family in need to move into their new abode just before Christmas and celebrate the holidays together.
RLF is an excellent corporate citizen in the community and sponsors several charitable functions. In addition to Habitat for Humanity, the team also fundraises for those diagnosed with critical illness. “One of the things that we are very passionate about is the Make a Wish Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, cancer has touched a lot of our family here at RLF,” confides Fote.
The tight-knit team of about 100 employees feels like a family of its own, where the average tenure is between 10 to 15 years. This does not go unnoticed by clients, who are happy to hire a team that’s worked together for a decade or more. Moreover, this company synergy is useful when undertaking internal projects, such as RLF’s 2016 rebranding. “A lot of companies that rebrand hire an outside agency to assist, but we decided not to do that. We have such creative minds within our own firm, so why not do it on our own?” asks Fote. As a part of RLF’s rebranding process, the management decided to update the old company logo. “We opened it up to the firm as a design competition. It didn’t matter if they were an architect, engineer, or administrator. I think we received close to 50 or 60 entries. All disciplines were engaged,” continues Fote. What ensued was a friendly competition that helped to further develop the team’s collaborative spirit, the quality that has drawn so many bright minds to RLF. Fote tells us that the management received many good logos. It was a tough decision, but the result was all the more meaningful. “We ended up with a beautiful, sophisticated logo that represents our wonderful team members, our cherished clients who are the center of the business, and our rich legacy,” says Fote.
Fote himself has been with RLF for a quarter century. Marketing Coordinator Jenifer Wonn, who joined RLF just this year, chose to work there after being pursued by other firms due to the creative freedom the opportunity offered. “There is a great team assembled here that I could already see from the outside looking in – the opportunity to be creative and bring ideas, with an open door policy,” she says. Looking to the future, RLF’s goals are to continue to find and retain highly qualified professionals. “That’s very important and defines who we are. We desire to be an industry leader with a diversified design portfolio. Our specialty and expertise is in healthcare, and we want to continue to be recognized as an industry leader for healthcare facilities. And we also want to continue to be recognized in our community and state, not only as a premier design firm, but as a company that gives back to the community,” Fote says.
RLF has one location, but its reach is international. It has completed work in 15 different countries and 32 states. While the company is open to the possibility of physical expansion, it would have to be carefully undertaken and without compromise of its values and culture. “If we do it, we’ll do it right. We’ve heard from clients who’ve worked with firms that have multiple offices, and they’ve told us that it feels like working with multiple companies. We don’t want that. We want to be mindful so that the culture is the same, with the same quality people, and quality service,” Fote concludes.