A Creative Force in Design

RATIO Architects
Written by Jen Hocken

RATIO Architects’ Founder Bill Browne chose to give his company a meaningful name that would stand the test of time and capture the interdisciplinary, collaborative design approach. The company name is derived from the word ‘rational,’ indicating the firm’s intrinsic value that design should go beyond appealing aesthetics…

The founding of RATIO in 1982 was rooted in the desire to be a creative force in design. In today’s construction industry, many players are reaching into the field of design as a result of advancing technology and fragmenting the industry.

This international interdisciplinary firm offers services in architecture, preservation, interior design, landscape architecture, and urban design. Working on diverse project types, RATIO utilizes specialized expertise in each of these markets, including education, community, life sciences, workplace, lifestyle, and cultural work.

RATIO is working its way towards its fortieth anniversary. It has grown to approximately 190 employees spread across five locations in the United States and is particularly excited about its newest location in Denver; this came about as a result of a merger on August 1 of this year – the single largest acquisition in the firm’s history.

The staff enjoy the work environment. “All of the studios follow our interdisciplinary approach to design, but each studio is uniquely suited to their location and finds their own way,” says Principal and Vice President Rob Proctor. RATIO’s studios develop their own culture while remaining consistent with the brand. Individual locations participate in their own passion projects and get involved with the community in the region as they see fit.

The employees balance a combination of autonomy and collaboration in the workplace. While teamwork is essential, individuals are empowered early in their careers to explore the process of design without restrictions. This method gives future leaders the opportunity to grow at an accelerated rate.

For example, RATIO’s studio in Raleigh, North Carolina is very involved with the YMCA and the local schools, and in Denver, there is a special interest in preservation, learning environments and housing.

RATIO is proud to have been named one of the top fifty architects in the United States in 2018 by Architect Magazine. “While we enjoy being ranked and recognized, we aren’t seeking a certain size. We’ll let that come as it may depending on where the services are needed that we provide. Design accomplishments, recognition, and awards will continue, regardless of our size,” says Proctor.

Diversity and inclusion have always been important here. “We continue to advance the firm to be a mosaic of different voices and interests and at the same time, the industry in certain areas of the country are not as naturally diverse right now, so we have to work to grow beyond what even the industry is doing to become more diverse,” explains Proctor. In 2018, RATIO had a 35.2 percent increase in percentage of women architects, designers, and leaders on staff.

RATIO is continually striving for faster delivery, which is something every client could benefit from. It responds quickly, and this speed is an advantage. “The traditionally insulated design process cuts out feedback from the end user, leading to wasted meetings, cost overruns and design concepts that don’t respond to the many challenges a client faces. LiveDesignSM puts designers and decision makers in the same room, breaking down communication barriers and facilitating meaningful conversation about each concept and its effect on cost, program and the end user.”

Powerful digital tools can be rapidly edited to visualize and investigate the consequences of design decisions in real time, and most importantly, LiveDesignSM allows project stakeholders and decision makers to voice their opinion, establish priorities and build consensus around the best solution for their challenges and needs.

Indeed, the company goes out of its way to establish an engaging design-oriented environment. “When clients are fully involved with the design process, they can see the benefits of decisions in real time that result in unique solutions to fit their needs,” says Communications Coordinator Abby Fox. “It strengthens the design, making it more meaningful.”

RATIO chronicles this exceptional ‘experience of design’ with photo documentation rather than taking laborious word notations, and it shares the encounter with stakeholders of the project who are not able to be in the room.

In addition to its design process, RATIO differentiates itself in the industry with its vast experience and ability to solve complex problems. The company enjoys completing projects that excite its clients. Its innovative designs connect layers of purpose within the client’s set of needs to create sustainable buildings that will remain relevant for years to come.

“We really consider architecture, interior design and landscape design as being a strong art form, one of the most publicly shared art forms,” says Proctor. “It is our responsibility to make sure that the design work and the building spaces we create are meaningful and can be interpreted over the generations.”

The company’s portfolio inherently incorporates sustainable and environmentally conscious design. “We are often pushing our clients in regard to high-performance design, and we see that as our responsibility,” says Proctor. The higher education and workplace buildings demand a particularly functional and healthy workplace that promotes the wellbeing of its users.

At RATIO, a ‘successful’ project is delivered on time, on budget, and meets design excellence and project performance goals. Sustainability is given equal weight as the company evaluates its projects. This requires a cultural shift, moving beyond a basic level of performance-based design. Every RATIO project, whether pursuing certification or not, is designed to meet basic sustainable design best practices. RATIO’s pledge to the AIA 2030 Commitment advances and strengthens the firm’s dedication to sustainable design.

In 2017 RATIO formalized a Director of Sustainability role, which helps teams to identify goals, develop sustainable strategies and improve performance across all projects. This individual helps guide and build the firm’s knowledge and integration of best practices in sustainable design across all disciplines, and also leads the firm’s efforts on the AIA 2030 Commitment.

Preservation is one of the values upon which the firm was founded, and it relates directly to sustainability. The reuse of existing building stock is one of the most sustainable actions any firm can contribute. RATIO leads this charge with its preservation team, making sure buildings do stand the test of time through proper renovation and repurposing.

On August 26, the company unveiled a project for the University of Colorado Boulder. The Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences building features roughly 180,000 square feet of space and hosts numerous programs that advance scientific research. The AES building meets the university’s environmentally conscious design and construction standards, built to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

Another exciting project is the renovation of Cummins Inc.’s corporate office building (COB) in Columbus, Indiana. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kevin Roche in 1983, the COB had about 1,200 employees, although it was designed for 700 to 800 employees. The COB, one of Columbus’ renowned architectural gems and Cummins Inc.’s flagship office, is under renovations to make it more functional for today’s workplace needs and more inviting for employees. The revamped COB will utilize the Smart Office Space concept and provide clarity in circulation, connectivity and flexibility/scale all while maintaining the historical character of the iconic structure as a recruitment and hospitality tool.

Above all, RATIO is grateful is to have the opportunity to partner with its clients and create innovative and sustainable projects using its creative design skills. “When we step back and list our values, we have maybe eight that range from the opportunity of design to our intentionality, our commitment to communication, gaining and sharing knowledge, our values of diversity and inclusion and resilience,” says Proctor.

The top priority of these values is the opportunity of design. It is considered a privilege at RATIO and is highly appreciated and respected. “We think that as we approach every project, providing the experience of design with our clients is just as important as providing good design. Not only do we create great structures and spaces, but we require the client or owner to enjoy in that experience with us.”



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