Work-Life Balance in the A/E/C Industry

By Julie Olson

Balancing work and life isn’t hard to do when you work for a company like GRAEF. An employer that supports a balance of a career, family, hobbies, and health is essential. Finding a balance is decidedly the responsibility of the individual, but the added perk of a supportive employer is sought after in today’s workforce whatever the industry or market.

Collaboration02_Planning Table Nicole and Erik 2014

Maintaining a balance according to personal needs and wants is a goal for many employees. Equally important in the architecture, engineering and construction industry is balancing the needs of our clients, stakeholders and “team members.” Working out timelines, expectations and preferred methods of communications are all great places to start. Discussing these needs will enable you to make independent, fully informed decisions at the right time. After all, that is our focus in the industry: problem solving.

Ideally, one works with a client often enough and close enough that one is in sync with the client’s expectations. Though other aspects of life are not as predictable, anticipating a client’s needs and exceeding their expectations should be second nature. One’s colleagues, manager and other support staff can and are willing and able to help. On can use these outlets from time to time when needed to meet a client’s goals.


One’s family, on the other hand, can be a very different story. From our individual experiences, we all know that things come up at the most inopportune times. Whether work went well or not, shifting into family mode upon arrival at home can sometimes be difficult. This takes practice. Being fully present in one’s family life and keeping up at work are two major life concerns. One way to alleviate the stress of finding a balance is to set schedules for both work and home and stick to those schedules.

Family, career, and health are all essential to a balanced life, and holding a steady balance between them day-to-day can certainly be a struggle. It is an ongoing challenge that is universal, not just in the AEC industry. Surely we all can admit to experiencing this struggle! Having that balance in life with little to no effort on our part is the objective. And so we continue our efforts every day with the support of a great employer.

Incentives – The Catalyst to 100% Energy Independence

By Gino Bernardi

PV Solar

PV Solar


There is no doubt that government subsidies increase the adoption rate of sustainable construction.  Everyone is attracted to “free money.” Some subsidies can significantly affect the financial outlook on projects such as photovoltaic (PV) solar installation. For example, there are some reports of PV solar projects achieving internal rate of returns greater than 20%, which would not have been possible without the subsidy. The most exemplary government subsidy in this regard is Germany’s Feed in Tariff program. Germany’s policies became the status quo of the PV industry. They were so powerful that many financial analysts and economists believe that the financial collapse of the PV manufacturing industry was triggered after Germany began scaling back their Feed in Tariff program in 2010. That is an extreme example of a government subsidy which had such a profound effect on adoption that it created an artificial and unsustainable glut of global PV modules.

From data collected up to 2010, the volume of PV solar capacity in Germany was 17 gigawatts (GW), while Spain’s volume was 3.7 GW (2010 Solar Technologies Market Report). Most surprising, is that Germany’s total level of solar radiation is comparable to that of Alaska. Surely, Germany would not have achieved such a huge level of PV capacity without their popular Feed in Tariff program. All of these facts are important because they clearly demonstrate the power that regulatory action has over adopters of clean technology.

This particular example has shown how incentives do speed up the adoption rate of sustainable technology, but would a slower adoption rate be fast enough without incentives? The answer to that question requires a step back in history at least 10 to 20 years ago.  Sustainability is not a new concept. We have had an understanding of sustainability for quite a long time now. It was once referred to as socio-environmental-economic impact. Furthermore, we have been well aware of the global warming trend (a likely derivative of unsustainable construction) for the last 20 years or so. Yet, 10 – 20 years ago solar panels were more like tech toys for scientists, while the US was spending a huge amount of time, money, and focus on securing unsustainable foreign energy. Developing energy “at home” was not on the priority list.

The result of this lack of regulatory incentives demonstrably led to slower adoption of clean technology relative to today’s adoption rate. Whether it be considered too slow is likely still up to debate by critics on both sides. Personally, I find the improved quality of sustainable technology a major improvement over the past alternatives. I would like to see a future of 100% energy independence and until that day happens, the adoption rate will never be fast enough.

Alabama Crimson Tide

By Joe Pepitone

Aerial View of the University of Alabama’s Newly Designed Track & Field and Practice Facility

Alabama just won a national championship, not only was it back-to-back with last year’s, but it was their 15th championship! Thousands just gathered over the weekend to celebrate with a parade.

With an outstanding college football team who is at the top of their game, having the best practice field possible is one of the keys to help them be successful.

Enter in GRAEF…

GRAEF was part of a collaborative design team, along with Davis Architects, Inc., responsible for the design and engineering for the replacement of the natural turf football practice fields at the home of the 2011 NCAA Collegiate football champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

University of Alabama’s New Practice Field

The project consisted of the replacement of three practice fields with two full size Bermuda grass practice fields along with offensive and defensive blocking areas, lighting, irrigation and a building addition to the existing training facility.

View of the University of Alabama’s Newly Designed Practice Field

GRAEF provided civil engineering, landscape architecture and irrigation design for the replacement fields. The project construction documents were completed in less than two weeks in order for the project to be constructed prior to football practice sessions which began in late summer. The project was completed in July of 2012.

GRAEF was also a part of a collaborative design team, along with Davis Architects, Inc., responsible for the design and engineering of the University of Alabama’s new NCAA Division I collegiate track and field renovation.

View of the University of Alabama’s Newly Designed Track & Field

The project consisted of replacing and reconfiguring the existing nine lane track, field event areas and infield with a new track and field complex within the Sam Bailey Track and Field Stadium.

University of Alabama Track & Field


From the Edge of Space to Your Living Room

Felix Baumgartner

By: Joe Avram

One hundred eleven years ago man-kind could barely get off the ground. Now, there is a man that can say he jumped toward earth from the edge of space. Not only that, but he set 5 world records including becoming the first person to break the sound barrier during free fall. On Sunday, I anxiously sat on my couch with my computer on my lap, waiting for a man to get the OK to step out into space.  Of all the sporting events I have participated in and watched, nothing has ever been as nerve racking as Sunday afternoon.  I watched with over 8 million others around the world as Felix Baumgartner took a leap out of a perfectly good capsule and calmly proclaimed to the world, “I’m going home now.”

I grew up hearing countless stories of what it felt like to see the first man walk on the moon, hear the first news of Sputnik or watch the launch of Apollo 11. It fascinated me how far science and innovation had come and left me wishing I could witness something similar in my lifetime. So now, it feels incredible to have watched a human shatter expectations and move science forward on such a grand stage. To me, the numbers are mind blowing. Baumgartner jumped from 128,000 feet, reaching a top speed of 833.9 mph during his free fall from the edge of space. So, what type of suit could withstand that force and protect the human inside? One created by the US company, David Clark, that has been making suits for astronauts and high-altitude aviators since 1941. Baumgartner’s suit was based on those worn by pilots of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, but it had never been used in a free fall setting until Baumgartner began testing it. It had four layers consisting Gore-Tex and heat and flame-resistant Nomex. All these layers had to keep him safe, comfortable, and mobile under such extreme conditions. As an engineer, it’s impossible to not be inspired by the innovation that made the jump a success.

In case you missed it, check out the amazing piece of history:


Engineering and the Community: How Governor Quinn’s Decision Can Affect You

By Joe Avram

As a transportation engineer, I was obviously thrilled to hear that Governor Quinn approved $1.6 billion in transportation work throughout Illinois. Naturally, any engineer would be excited about the prospect of new business and new opportunities. However, this news also acts as an excellent example of why I chose a career in civil engineering. Engineering helps communities and improves the lives of the people and businesses that reside there. So, wondering how these changes may affect you?

Resurfacing and Roadway Improvement

Potholes damage tires, crack rims, and ruin a car’s alignment…just to name a few. Imagine how much money could be saved on car repairs if 100 miles of old Chicago roadways were resurfaced? We’ll, that’s just what the state has planned. On top of that, smooth roadways can even help improve your gas mileage too. Come on, who doesn’t want to save a little money on car repairs and gas?

Easing the Intersections of Roads and Railways

Everyone hates getting stuck by that freight train when you’re in a time crunch, but those inconveniences can put significant stress on local businesses. It isolates them and decreases the overall traffic past their storefronts. That’s why the State has allocated funds to modernize rail infrastructure with an overpass separating trains and vehicles at 25th Avenue in Bellwood.

Improving CTA and Metra Transportation

Public transportation is a quick and affordable way to travel, but realistically it isn’t always the most reliable. Railway issues often causes delays, leaving passengers packed on crowded trains not going anywhere fast. If you’ve been stuck on a packed el train in the summertime, you’ll be happy to hear the state plans to repair the Wells Street Bridge over the Chicago River that supports both the Brown and Purple Line CTA trains.  Money has also been allocated for improvements that will be made to the Red, Blue and Purple Line, as well as to Pace routes.

Creating and Improving Pedestrian Crossings and Walkways

In 2010, 32 pedestrians were killed in Chicago after being hit by a motor vehicle. So, it’s no surprise part of the State’s plan includes creating and improving pedestrian crossings and walkways. Some of these projects include a 35th Street bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive and vaulted sidewalks and accessible ramps on parts of Michigan Avenue and State Street.Roadway Improvements

In general, these transportation improvements will help individuals save money, support local businesses, improve travel times, and protect the safety of travelers. As an engineer, I’m proud to say it’s my job to make these improvements happen.

Want to read more about Governor Quinn’s decision? Check out these articles from The Chicago Tribune and Sun Times.

Legos, Legos, Legos

By Andrew Slater 

This R2D2 is one of many scuptures featured at this years legofest

My family attended Legofest last weekend. This event was really a lot of fun! The day was filled with activity and featured very interesting Lego sculptures constructed by the master builders. The scupltures included characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and many super heros such as the Hulk and Batman. The event provided an opportunity for everyone to build their own creations and to walk around to observe the various stations. One station for the kids focused on building & racing their own lego car, while another station was set up to create something using only a single color. I am pretty amazed how this toy can bring some creative and beneficial possibilities. 

My creation with the single color legos atLegoFest

Being a newer Dad, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to share one my favorite childhood past times with my children. At home, we are only building with Duplos. Currently, I am the tower creator and my son, Evan, plays the role of Godzilla destroying them. Eventually my kids will move on to the “big boy” legos and then we can have some real fun! I am also hoping their interest grows enough for us to maybe move on to the Lego automation series. I think it will be pretty cool to build a rube goldberg machine. It is amazing how these interlocking bricks can let the imagination grow. My childhood lego adventures led me to create futuristic worlds for spaceships, space stations, and intricate objects such as the robot character “John 5” from the movie “Short Circuit“. The endless pieces, options, and accessories allowed me to continuously expand my creativity.

My oldest son, Evan, playing with his creation

I always wondered if Ole Kirk Christiansen, the Lego Creator, had any idea that his toy would be this popular when he designed them in 1940. Would he have been considered a visionary in 1940 similar to today’s computer tycoons like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? I am sure Ole did not visualize that his toy would bring so much fun that included so many positive benifits. Many researchers indicate that legos refine detail motor skills and open the worlds of imagination. I want to believe Legos probably had some influence on my career choice as an engineer. I would like to believe my creativity for finding solutions to difficult challlenges was enhanced with my childhood hobby of legos. I look foward to taking my old lego collection and adding to it with new collector sets that are now  available. Legos are a timeless hobby that my kids, and millions of others, will continue to enjoy for years to come.

Triathlon Resonates Importance of Helping Your Team

Kevin Henning, structural engineer with GRAEF, during the run portion of the Alcatraz Triathlon.

by Kevin Henning

I spent the past weekend in San Francisco preparing for and racing in the 2012 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. In the sport of triathlon, the Escape from Alcatraz is an iconic race. Staged for the last 32 years running, the race consists of a 1.5 mile open water swim in the icy water of San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz Island to shore, an 18 mile bike ride through the hills surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge, and an 8 mile run that includes narrow trails, steep uphill climbs, winding narrow descents, dirt trails, and a climb of over 200 feet up a “sand ladder” cut into a bluff on the Pacific coast.

After completing 14 prior triathlons and countless running races the experience was unlike any other race I have competed in. The course was punishing, the scenery was breathtaking, and the high of crossing the finishing line was worth every ounce of suffering. What I will remember most, however, was the deep and genuine camaraderie among the 2,000 athletes. I met men and women from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and points all across the USA. Every one of them was there not only to mark their own accomplishment but to enjoy the company of and offer whatever help and encouragement they possibly could to their fellow athletes.

Henning during the bike leg of the triathlon.

Henning takes the leap to start the swim leg of the Alcatraz Triathlon.

As I fly back to Chicago and return my mental focus back to work and family I hope to bring as much of that positive energy with me as I can. At GRAEF, that will mean never losing sight of the firm’s collective goals, sharing the benefit of my experience with my colleagues, being open to learning from the experiences of others, and offering support anytime, anywhere, and to anyone in the firm. If perfect strangers are willing to lend a spare pair of swim goggles, help another athlete change a flat tire, and take the time to cheer each other on as they make their way up that last hill, we can all do a little more every day to help each other accomplish something great as professionals.

Life is GRAEF!

John Kissinger, P.E., President & CEO of GRAEF

Welcome to Life is GRAEF!

This is our brand new blog from GRAEF.

In the coming weeks and months, you should be seeing a number of blogs from GRAEF staff. Some of these will be about the work we do and love, some will be about hobbies we love. I can’t promise that you will find all of these blogs to be interesting, but I am sure there will be some new information in each of them.

We are going to try and have some fun with this blog. While many of the topics will be technical or business related, a few will be whimsical, topical, opinion pieces, or just plain silly.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming blogs to see what springs up…I hope that you will stay engaged and involved, and please give us your feedback when you can.

Remember, Business is Good, but Life is GRAEF!              

John Kissinger, P.E.