Daessub and Faz

The two were not evenly matched.

Faz, an upper-level leader with a nationally respected structural engineering firm, had dozens of major projects to his credit and a doctorate in structural engineering (in the A/E consulting industry, Ph.D.’s are few and far between). Daessub, a recent structural engineering graduate working as a junior technician, was on his first substantial assignment.

We were part of a large team of architects, engineers, acousticians, and theater planners working on a multi-phase performing arts center that was to occupy an entire city block. As one of several project architects, I had the plum assignment of coordinating architecture and engineering of all performance venues. The centerpiece of the completed Phase 1 effort was a sparkling new concert hall, designed with acoustics to rival the world’s most renowned halls. Phase 2’s quite different objectives included historic renovation of a 1928 movie palace originally designed for the silent movie era.

The renovated Oscar Mayer Theater, rechristened as its original name: The Capitol Theater. Even without the removable screen wall in place, the darker-colored upper balcony seats blend into the curtain backdrop.

Aesthetically, we were to refresh the opulence of the Oscar Mayer Theatre, affectionately called “The Wiener” in homage to its namesake’s signature product. Over time the Wiener had declined, appearing run-down and having many functional deficiencies per modern-day standards. We were to make the theater suitable for its primary tenant, a local chamber orchestra, with these metrics for success:

  • Improved patron comfort, as 1920’s era seating was narrow and cramped
  • Reduced seat count, to better suit a chamber orchestra’s audience size and intimacy
  • Improved sightlines to the stage from the balcony

The designers planned to “re-rake” the balcony, which in theater parlance meant building a steeper balcony structure above the gently sloped current balcony, with wider row spacing for more comfortable seating and reduced seat count. Our theater consultant determined the change would also improve visual sightlines to the stage, to complete the trifecta of improving all metrics. The logic was simple enough, though designing a structure that accomplished these goals while maintaining the historic character posed numerous engineering challenges.

Daessub, Faz and I discussed the various complexities. Daessub proposed an unconventional solution with a daring cantilevered balcony. At first, Faz dismissed the concept as impractical. Daessub persisted, explaining his ideas in detail. Like the proverbial fly on the wall, I quietly listened as Faz began first to understand the concept and then to become equally excited. Soon they delved into complex engineering concepts, brainstorming how the system could be successfully designed and engineered – silently, I cheered for the junior technician’s concept to prevail! It was intriguing to witness Faz’s initial skepticism evaporate as they bounced ideas off one another, not as principal and intern but as equal partners.

I like to think Daessub’s bold concept would have withstood rigorous and complete engineering analysis. We never found out, as our client directed us shortly thereafter to recommend cost savings to offset Phase 1 overruns. Balcony reconstruction was eliminated from the scope; the low-cost alternative was an elegant, removable screen wall to visually close off the upper half of the balcony, to achieve the desired seat count and intimacy. Wider seats were installed in the lower half of the balcony.

Our entire team embraced the once in a lifetime opportunity given by extraordinarily generous benefactors and, like Daessub and Faz, routinely went above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy ambitious expectations. Far from being wasted effort, the intellectual rigor and analysis displayed by Daessub and Faz reflected a healthy dynamic of genuine camaraderie and collaboration; results of many such efforts were manifested throughout the completed performing arts center. The junior engineer-in-training had the confidence and initiative to propose engineering solutions far beyond his stated job requirements; the established leader had the respect for his staff to encourage outside-the-box thinking and the foresight to recognize client benefits and career growth opportunities inherent within such freedom of exploration.

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