Not Your Father’s Design Studio

Many would be surprised at the youth of the Arizona office, says Kranz, which leads to a healthy, competitive environment where ambitious, talented designers can make a contribution much earlier than in more traditional offices.

Kranz and Roddy themselves are fairly young compared with other senior designers in SmithGroupJJR offices around the country, says Michael Medici, president and managing director, who credits the two with much of the success the firm has seen over the past decade. "We can have what appears to be the most mundane project, and somehow these guys pull off something that is absolutely wonderful and contextual."

Occupying a repurposed former food court in a downtown Phoenix open-air mall, the SmithGroupJJR office is essentially one open, integrated design studio, with architects, engineers, interior designers and urban planners working side by side.

"I don't have to call an [outside] design consultant, I can go over to one of our engineer's desks and talk about a design idea that I have, and what the implications are from a functional, performance standpoint," Roddy says. "As we push the sustainability envelope, that's critical, because the design decisions we are making are so connected to the engineering side and how the building performs."

While the firm designs some large-scale projects, such as the LEED-Platinum-targeted $100-million National Renewable Energy Laboratory Energy Systems Integration Facility in Denver, the day-to-day projects normally fall into the $5-million to $20-million range. Design is performed by teams of five to seven people per project from various disciplines.

The firm has found a lot of success through its formal internship program—in fact, Kranz himself was an intern in 1999 from the Arizona State University graduate program. Every year up to seven students are immersed in one area of the design practice. "We get them involved as quickly as possible in a project team with folks that are three or four years ahead of them, so they can understand how to market and pursue interview work in a very competitive environment," he says.

Four Corners

Because SmithGroupJJR covers four main market sectors out of the Phoenix office—higher education, office, health care and science/technology—the diversity has helped the firm weather the recession of the past three years. Key past projects in these sectors include ">The ASU College of Nursing, ">Mesa Community College-Saguaro Building, ">Papago Gateway Center">Apollo Riverpoint Center and the ">Banner Ironwood Medical Center.