Chute Gerdeman Millennial Makeover? Top 5
Fall 2012 Issue
Q & A Innovation
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Q&A with David Birnbaum

In its continued quest to get inside the creative and business minds at Chute Gerdeman, The Gist sat down with David Birnbaum, Director of Architecture.

A Cleveland native, David is organized and passionate when it comes to his work. He’s easy to get along with and focuses on getting it done right the first time around. He’s also a family man who is obsessed with the latest gadgets and technology. The environment is a big concern to him—not only is he LEED accredited, he’s serious about being green in his daily life. He drives a Chevy Volt and loves to share his journeys with anyone he meets. When he’s not working, you can likely find him grilling out in his backyard or sipping a Manhattan, Don Draper-style.

What are you passionate about? What is it about your job that brings out your passion?

I feed off the energy of the people around me. My expertise is technical; I thrive from the creativity of my co-workers and am passionate about bringing their designs to life. Some folks can work with people they don’t like as long as they respect them. I need to like AND respect my coworkers if I’m going to be at my best—I’m fortunate to be in that position at CG.

What’s on your desk?
Neatly stacked piles of project work, architectural reference books, a continuously refilled stainless steel cup of high-octane, weapons-grade coffee (cream and sugar, please), a mug with pictures of my kids and a Lego model I built during our Swiss Farms project that I was involved with a few years ago. I’ve never taken the model home; I have to admit I’m a bit superstitious and somehow feel that having this model at my desk brings our firm good luck. Did I just go from “cool technical guy” to “nerdy technical guy” by admitting that?
What’s the secret to the successful projects on which you work?
Client trust. When a project switches over from design to implementation, the design team steps back and my role is front and center. It’s critical that the trust that the design team has built is maintained into the latter phases of the project. There are many new players involved—plan reviewers, contractors, the construction manager and landlord—so the client needs to know they can count on us to see their project through to the very end.

What is the “CG Magic?”
I think the CG Magic is the healthy blend of our firm’s talent, skills, experience and personality; these things are harnessed and organized through our rigorous project process. We’re also incredibly resilient in our response to the market’s ups and downs and changing trends.

What’s your role at CG?  
As Director of Architecture, my responsibility is to ensure quality control and faithful implementation of our designs. Playing an active role in the design development phase of our process helps to guarantee that documentation is completely integrated into construction documents. An important part of my job is conducting site visits and issuing field reports in regards to construction progress to keep projects on time and on budget. I also work closely with chosen consultants and nurture our relationships with outside architectural partners.

What is the most inspiring thing you have seen in our industry lately?
Technology coming to the forefront. I’m a gadget guy at heart, and state-of-the-art electronics integrated into today’s retail environments has become a must-have instead of a nice-to-have. It doesn’t have to be an electronics store, either; food trackers and order kiosks in fast-food restaurants, animated digital menus at convenience stores, digital signage that customers can interact with—these are some of the projects we have been involved in that integrate technology into the design in the earliest stages—very cool!

Since becoming LEED accredited, how has that affected your approach to a project?
It’s become a mindset that creating an environmentally friendly project is the norm and is now best practice. We have seen the range and options of available reclaimed/recycled materials and energy efficient components (lighting, HVAC) explode over the last few years. The challenge is to keep up with the product offerings and change in technology. The best example I can think of is lighting. The emergence of high-quality energy efficient LED lighting has allowed retail environments to comply with stringent energy codes without sacrificing color rendition or intensity. It’s only getting better.

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