By Steve Frandzel
Toward the end of his sophomore year, James Mazzagotte III changed his major from civil engineering to architectural engineering. He was attracted by the breadth of the curriculum and the potential for a career that allowed him to practice multiple facets of building design and construction.
“What really drew me to the major is that you have to understand nearly all aspects of building engineering,” said Mazzagote, who is president of the Steel Bridge Club. “I’ve learned about the structural elements of the building envelope; about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; about electrical and lighting systems — just about everything. It’s like engineering’s jack of all trades.”
Oregon State University’s College of Engineering added its architectural engineering bachelor’s degree program in 2019 — the first in the Pacific Northwest and only the second west of the Rockies. In June, its inaugural class of five students will receive their degrees (one more student graduated in the fall of 2020). Dozens more will soon follow: Eighty-one students — 30 women and 51 men — are enrolled in the program.
“The number is higher than I expected,” said Kevin Houser, professor of architectural engineering. “I’m delighted by that, but I’m really not surprised. It’s a versatile, interdisciplinary major, not a single, monolithic discipline. That’s a big reason why it offers so many interesting career opportunities, and why it’s attracting so many students.”
Day to day, architectural engineers deal with a number of different constituents, said Joe Fradella, senior instructor. “They work with architects, civil engineers, design engineers, subcontractors, and building owners. They have to speak all the different languages of various engineering subdisciplines involved in building construction and understand the interactions between all of a building’s major systems.”
That variety appealed to Tim Pregill, another student about to graduate with the first cohort. Pregill was a senior in mechanical engineering when he hit “pause” to take stock of his fast-approaching transition to the workplace. Something was missing — something he knew he’d need to be fulfilled in his chosen profession. With the help of academic advisors in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering, he learned about a soon-to-be-offered major that sounded just right.
“Architectural engineering has been a good match for me,” he said. “It not only satisfies my interests in creative troubleshooting and working with my hands; it also offers opportunities to practice design, which is something I really wanted to add to the mix.”
Pregill, a nontraditional student with a son (and twins on the way), learned a lot about construction long before enrolling at Oregon State: He completely remodeled his house, which included designing the electrical and plumbing systems and conducting a structural analysis before removing part of a wall. Alongside his father, he turned a duplex into office space, and he’s volunteered for several Habitat for Humanity construction projects.
Another motivating factor in his decision to change majors was the keen interest and high level of skill he had developed in 3D modeling, which he learned mostly in design courses at Oregon State. The experience piqued his curiosity about the prospect of incorporating modeling into his work — a realistic possibility for architectural engineers. For one assignment in an engineering and design class, Pregill had to create a 3D model of Kearney Hall’s exterior. He knocked it out in half the allotted time and kept going, adding interior walls, floors, stairs, elevators, landscaping, and even furniture. Then he created a video walk-through of the virtual space. He wound up as a teaching assistant for the instructor.
Mazzagotte, too, was captivated by the 3D modeling skills that he picked up at Oregon State. Like Pregill, he felt that architectural engineering would offer a better chance of applying that skill. He did just that for four and a half months with BNBuilders in Seattle during summer 2020 — a rare in-person internship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I worked with the innovation and design team, and my responsibilities included taking building plans and turning them into 3D models for the field engineers,” he said. “Everything starts with plans, but the actual construction may have to be changed because of various complications, and those changes are reflected in the ‘as-built’ 3D models, which I also made.”
The College of Engineering as a whole is also poised to benefit from the new program, said Judy Liu, the Glenn Willis Holcomb Professor in Structural Engineering.
“It serves the college’s strategic goal of being a partner of choice for industry,” she said. “Builders and engineering firms in the Pacific Northwest have very few sources of architectural engineering graduates in the region to meet their needs, and the industry people we’ve spoken with are very excited about tapping into this new source of talent coming out of Oregon State.”
One of them is Oscar J. Zuniga Jr., president of Marquess & Associates, an engineering firm in Medford, Oregon.
“The scarcity of architectural engineers and programs that produce them has missed the fact that there are individuals with the desire and the skills to integrate the design of a structure, its function, its systems, its aesthetic, and its comprehensive fit into the built environment,” he said. “These factors have traditionally been handled by separate professionals and then merged at various points in a project, but not always smoothly or effectively. Architectural engineering recognizes and applies multi-dimensionality to design and construction processes — something that is greatly needed in the industry.”
In addition, the curriculum draws women in relatively high numbers, which serves another of the college’s goals.
“The percentage of women who enroll in architectural engineering is higher than in most other branches of engineering, and that’s true at Oregon State as well,” Liu said.
Houser has big hopes for the program and predicts that graduates will find a growing number of employers who eagerly seek them out.
“These graduates have a solid understanding of the relationships between various elements of a building,” he said. “Within the design and construction community, that type of big-picture, integrated understanding of building design and construction is highly valued. Part of our mission is to be an economic engine for the state and to be responsive to the needs of the building industry. The addition of architectural engineering dramatically expands our capacity to do that.”
Also getting their degrees are Bryaunna Kostelnik, Logan Strohl, and Logan Taylor. Kristina Lind received her degree in December 2020.