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Designing the Future: Insights and Advice from Architectural Engineer Brenan Pool

Brenan Pool

Brenan Pool

Architectural Engineer

  • AE grew out of the need for a new discipline that knew the design and drafting skills needed for elegant architecture, but also the logic and strong engineering skills needed to support these designs in reality. So, we’re engineers first, but we have some perspective on architects’ needs.
  • Old ideals of doing things won’t solve future needs of architectural engineers. Always search for a new idea or way of doing things and challenge the status quo… you might just become a world-changer.
  • One of the most rewarding aspects is realizing the intimate difference you make in future occupants’ lives – we design and create places where people will spend 90% of their day.
  • Interpersonal communication skills are essential for success in architectural engineering. Far too many engineers focus only on their technical expertise but then fall short in properly conveying their ideas or designs to architects, clients, the public, or others.
  • It’s quite important to have a mentor, especially in this industry to bounce ideas off of, ensure proper career advancement, or simply find community amongst our niche profession.
  • No matter what area you specialize in, there are plenty of AE’s at your side in communities such as Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI) to help you advance in your career.

What first sparked your interest in architectural engineering, and how did you begin your career in this field?

“Like others in my field, I was fascinated from a young age with buildings in general. A common denominator amongst most of us building professions is our love of LEGOs as kids: seeing how they go together, challenging ourselves with new designs or projects, or perhaps chasing that desire to help others with our skills (i.e. LEGO minifigures with their houses, spaceships, cars, etc.) This grew into my love for designing efficient spaces and challenging conventional means of creating systems. I was initially interested in architecture… but decided toward the STEM fields upon my high school success with technical classes and becoming fixated on a newer field called architectural engineering (AE).”


Can you walk us through your educational journey? What inspired you to pursue dual majors in architectural and civil engineering at Missouri S&T?

“I think it’s absolutely insane the amount of graduating high school seniors first choosing a college or university to attend, THEN deciding on a major or range of majors to study. Perhaps it’s a niche for STEM majors to stick with their chosen discipline going in, but I was no different.

I graduated from a small-town high school in Central Illinois, yearning to “get out” in the world to a good profession. While now I realize the world’s a lot bigger than the Midwestern United States, moving 4-hours across the river to another middle-of-nowhere town in Missouri was a huge step. Having crossed straight architecture off my list, I was limited to either Missouri S&T, IIT, or Kansas schools for nearby programs offering AE degree work. Upon my research and partially growing up down the road in Rolla, I chose S&T for the highly reputable programs offered, growing rankings, but strong emphasis on real-world engineering experience better preparing S&T Miners compared to other programs.

The beauty of AE is it’s strongly based on coursework in civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering, with some programs emphasizing more on others. S&T offered a fast-track program to obtain your typical AE degree in 4 years plus a CE degree in another semester given the strong structural and materials classes that both AE and CE’s take. Many alumni I spoke to encouraged me to go ahead with the dual degrees, becoming more valuable and knowledgeable on other civil subjects compared to my peers.”


What initial hurdles did you encounter as you entered the architectural engineering profession?

“Imposter syndrome, hands down. The common phrase we (as students) used to hear a lot was:

“Everything you learn in college is relative; on-the-job training accounts for more than two-thirds of your day-to-day job.”

This wasn’t to discount our education but to emphasize the ongoing need to keep learning and take the principles we learned and apply them to everyday engineering situations. Whilst my undergraduate education didn’t quite prepare me for conducting site visits, audits, or submittals, it did set me on the right path towards taking the initiative of my future career and consistently learning new things, especially with the broad-based concepts covered in building systems engineering.”


What’s Life as an Architectural Engineer


Could you describe a typical day in your life as an architectural engineer?

“Most AE’s fall into two camps: construction or consultant. If you’re like me, you work in the office most of the time drafting designs with computer-aided design (CAD) software like Revit, calculating proper mechanical loads for equipment to adequately heat or cool a space, laying out and circuiting lighting, or piping plumbing throughout a building. For existing buildings that are renovated, we have to conduct site visits to see for ourselves the existing ductwork, panel feeds and service, and other items before moving forward with our designs. After we heavily coordinate with structural engineers, architects, civil site engineers, interior designers, and others, we submit our drawings to the authority-having jurisdiction (AHJ) who sends back comments to fully comply with codes and ordinances, and then submit them to the construction team. These AE’s then take our plans to do field and construction engineering.”


What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of working in architectural engineering that you’ve encountered?

“Working primarily on Missouri and Illinois jobs, one of the most challenging aspects is properly referencing the correct codes and ordinances. Compared to other states that adopt statewide building codes, MO and IL are enforced at the county-level with all counties having various versions of the International Building Code (IBC), National Electric Code (NEC), and more. Another one that all design engineers will relate to is how architects or interior designers underestimate the space requirements or leave inadequate room for design revisions for building engineers (i.e. leaving 6 inches of ceiling space in apartment units when 12 inches in diameter spiral ductwork is needed.) This also humorously bleeds into the structural side with structural engineers frequently “messing up” architects’ initial plans with spaces to adequately support roof or wall structures. This is all remediated with strong communication and collaboration amongst project disciplines throughout the project.

One of the most rewarding aspects is realizing the intimate difference you make in future occupants’ lives. I recently heard this explanation of a chef, who takes strong pride in making great food for people as it nourishes people’s bodies and can be perceived as an artwork or a way to communicate with others. I find this similar to my profession, where we design and create places where people will spend 90% of their day in; we need to have good heating and cooling, great electrical and lighting, or sustainable plumbing solutions. Especially considering our primary markets include multifamily and hospitality projects, creating spaces for future occupants is particularly rewarding knowing what we design matters.”


How do you stay current with industry trends and technologies in architectural engineering?

“Professional organizations that offer up-to-date technical training, local webinars or credentialing, and a sense of community for like-minded professionals are invaluable to all engineers. Personally, I’m heavily involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI) on the societal and local levels, which extensively give back to my professional development through a variety of lunch-n-learns, professional development seminars, conferences and regional events, and more.”


What are the most common misconceptions people have about your profession?

“Person: “What do you do for work.” Me: “I do architectural engineering.” Person: “Oh, so you’re an architect?” This happens 90% of the time… so I’ve reverted to get specific and say I do “building design engineering” to others unknowing to AE. Despite being around for over 30 years, AE is still a fairly new field in terms of other engineering professionals. With an annual small pool of architectural engineering undergraduates and the highly specialized nature of our profession, others naturally assume we’re architects versus engineers. It should be noted AE grew out of the need for a new discipline that knew the design and drafting skills needed for elegant architecture, but also the logic and strong engineering skills needed to support these designs in reality. So, we’re engineers first, but we have some perspective on architects’ needs.”


Tips and Advice for Aspiring Architectural Engineers


What skills do you believe are essential for success in architectural engineering?

“Interpersonal communication skills, next to none. Far too many engineers focus only on their technical expertise but then fall short in properly conveying their ideas or designs to architects, clients, the public, or others – either verbally or nonverbally. This is the key to standing out against other engineers, as managers and peers will clearly see you stand out amongst others in our industry. I believe anyone can do engineering, but it takes some time to learn the ins and outs of communication.

My other strong recommendation is to be willing to change the game or look outside the box. Far too many times I hear the worn-out saying, “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” or “Why should we change what isn’t broken?” The problem with these ideals is not accounting for the fact that our industry is changing faster than ever before. Old ideals of doing things won’t solve future needs of architectural engineers. Always search for a new idea or way of doing things and challenge the status quo… you might just become a world-changer.”


Are there any resources, such as books, courses, or professional networks, that you would recommend to others starting in the field?

“Particularly in our industry, becoming knowledgeable in green building credentials such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) will set you up for future success as we inevitably revise our building codes and cut down on various building operations emissions. Besides LEED, which is mostly known industry-wide and still relevant a decade later since its inception, I’d highly recommend others towards the WELL Standard. LEED primarily looks at how projects affect the environment, but WELL looks at how buildings affect their occupants. Indoor air quality, proper lighting, essential services… these are currently underappreciated but immensely important as humans spend close to 90% of their time indoors.”


What advice would you give to students or young professionals considering a career in architectural engineering?

“Don’t underestimate your potential. I’ve seen architectural engineers do mechanical design, electrical and lighting design, plumbing design, construction and cost estimating, structural, building enclosures, building assessment, acoustics, fire protection, sustainability solutions, sales engineering, military applications, and more. A well-rounded degree in a profession such as architectural engineering will never limit you, taking you further to jobs or careers that are yet to become mainstream. No matter what area you specialize in, there are plenty of AE’s at your side in communities such as Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI) to help you advance in your career.”


Reader Q & A with Brenan Pool


“One project that comes to mind is when we recently redesigned the whole mechanical design we initially proposed. Basically, the building operations manager suggested we should only replace the mechanical boilers and pumps servicing the facility. A few months later, the scope of work was widened to include replacing the rooftop units (RTUs). Then, more mechanical systems were proposed to be replaced. We got it all buttoned up and ready to go… then, we changed everything to a different design based on the client’s need and cost projections with new equipment.”


“You learn as you go there’s a fine line between a great design and impossible real-life designs. You could design a perfect system or design on paper… but the contractor will laugh at you knowing the “perfect condition” scenarios won’t happen in reality. You have to learn through practice and talk with the people on the ground installing these systems to see what works the best!”


“It’s funny, I was just invited to take part in a mentorship program! It’s quite important to have a mentor, especially in this industry to bounce ideas off of, ensure proper career advancement, or simply find community amongst our niche profession. Professional organizations such as ASCE, AEI, ASHRAE, and others have extensive mentorship match programs to get you plugged into similar individuals with your interests and career.”



Brenan Pool

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