Friday, March 1, 2024

EXP: Engineered to succeed

EXP delivers decades of consulting on projects around the world

by Gene Jeffers

“We are a collection of talented professionals with diverse experiences,” says Dan Christman, VP, Entertainment + Sports market sector, about EXP’s decades of success and growth in the highly competitive world of engineering consulting. “We’re built to handle engineering challenges anywhere in the world.” Considering the wide variety of successful EXP projects, chances are high that you’ve walked across, worked in, driven on, slept in or been entertained in a facility or environment upon which the company has consulted.

Exploring possibilities

It is not by accident that EXP has survived decades of international and regional booms and recessions as well as a global pandemic. The firm and its people embody a culture that nurtures existing markets while exploring new opportunities and technologies.

“I wanted to do the cool stuff,” confesses Bill Weinaug, VP of the firm’s Hospitality + Gaming market sector. “When I started at the company in 1986, I was a jack-of-all-trades, an architectural engineer handling mechanical issues for a variety of civil and commercial projects. Then I got a taste of themed entertainment work. That excited me the most.” EXP soon formed a unit that became today’s Entertainment + Sports section. As the entertainment industry moved to hi-tech, low- voltage applications and away from Weinaug’s strengths in mechanical challenges, he shifted gears and focused on creating the Hospitality + Gaming vertical.

Shortly after Christman joined the company in 1996, they began working with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment on Discovery Cove, initiating just one of the firm’s many long- term relationships. “Since then, we’ve consulted with SeaWorld in Orlando, San Diego, Williamsburg, Tampa, etc.,” he notes. “They introduced us to many design firms who we have lasting relationships with.” Nurturing connections with long-term partners has always been a priority at EXP. Familiarity and trust grown over time can raise client confidence in a firm’s ability to deliver.

Garrick Hansen, Principal and Senior Technology Design Engineer for Entertainment + Sports, points to SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica project as a prime example. “We were tasked with seamlessly bringing visitors in from the hot, humid air of Florida into the cold, very dry environment of the penguin exhibit – one of the toughest, most complex projects we’ve worked on,” he says. “And by the way, let’s add a trackless dark ride to the mix. This work is challenging, and challenging is fun.”

Depth and data

From the O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. in Minneapolis to aquariums in Gulfport, Branson and St. Louis, from the thundering Niagara’s Fury experience to the Thibault GM Sports Complex in Sherbrooke, Canada, the diversity of EXP’s entertainment and gaming work can be overwhelming.

Hansen emphasizes the value of having an enormous portfolio of completed projects. “We have information on engineering solutions, cost values, operational values, energy consumption, going green,” he says. “No matter the project, it is likely we have done it or something similar before.”

“The OneEXP program emphasizes connecting and cooperating across more than 100 offices and nearly the same number of disciplines,” says Christman. EXP leadership encourage project managers and service heads to find the right personnel for each job regardless of department or location.

The OneEXP approach is critical for practices at EXP including Buildings, Infrastructure or Sustainability, Resilience + Regenerative Design. “A great advantage to working in one of the service lines at EXP is our exposure to a variety of projects,” says Aram Ebben, Principal & Director of Lighting Design, a specialty unit within the Buildings group. “Theme parks, museums, roadways and bridges, hotels, schools, casinos – every day, every project is different.”

The multidisciplinary expertise at EXP allows for flexibility with clients. “Let’s say one of our lighting design clients wants to do a mine experience,” Ebben notes. “My unit doesn’t have experience with mines, but EXP has an entire Mining market vertical we can access for guidance.”

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort’s collaborative, multi-year renovation project provides a unique, high-end gaming resort experience that draws from tribal tradition, encompassing earth, water and sky. Cherokee, NC, USA. Image courtesy of EXP

At Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel & Casino Resort, Ebben’s team worked with outside scenic vendors, EXP’s technology design team, and the Hospitality + Gaming market to infuse the complex’s rotunda with a central water screen and massive, illuminated trees whose lighting shifted to reflect the casino’s themes of Earth, Sky, Wind, Mountains, changing seasons and to events within the casino itself.

Reawakening two century-old Chicago elevated train stations into a single, 21st-century architectural landmark found the lighting design team working with EXP’s Buildings sector. The new CTA Washington/Wabash station is now an iconic gateway for Millennium Park and many of Chicago’s downtown attractions. EXP designed the entire station. “Most rewarding for my team is what former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the grand opening,” recalls Ebben. “‘If you think this station is beautiful in the day, you need to come back and see it in the night.’ Can a lighting designer ask for a better compliment?”

Diversity in multiple dimensions

Christman sees the many, diverse disciplines with which the company operates as key contributors to EXP’s longevity. “We have smart engineers of all types, and when we have unique problems, we can throw two or three or more of them from different areas into a room with a whiteboard and they come at it from different angles,” he says. EXP’s specialty groups – spectral thought, sustainability, lighting design for example – add more diversity to the firm’s solutions.

Engineering for a sustainable future

Sometimes one single project has a lasting impact on an individual or an entire organization. “We were working on Seuss Landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure,” says Weinaug. “That project hooked me on going green, on the importance of sustainability.” He has led in advocating for EXP to emphasize sustainable approaches in all their projects. Today, EXP’s Sustainability, Resilience + Regenerative Design service is driving advances in eco-conscious engineering. “Engineers have to lead, have to find ways of reducing our impact on the planet while still delivering solid solutions,” says Weinaug. “We have to develop approaches that make economic AND environmental sense for EXP to continue to grow and thrive.”

With thousands of creative professionals across 90+ offices worldwide, what is EXP’s secret for maintaining its position at the top of the engineering consulting world? They nurture current markets and explore new ones. Invest in diversity in many dimensions. Find and retain talented people. Work in diverse markets and geographies. Focus on a sustainable future. Have a structure that can flex and adapt. Above all, they encourage people to chase their passions while feeling part of a whole. • • •

The Indigenous Peoples Experience is a first-of-its-kind, immersive exhibit for gathering and exploring life through the diversity of the First Nations’ and Métis peoples’ histories, cultures, experiences, and perspectives, local to Indigenous life in the Beaver Hills, or Edmonton region. Edmonton, AB, Canada © Christophe Benard Photography
Gene Jeffers
Gene Jeffers
Gene Jeffers, former (2001-2013) TEA Executive Director, is currently serving as a Board member for the Greater San Gabriel Pomona Valleys American Red Cross and serves on the Board of the Historical Novel Society. He continues to write in a variety of genres. Based in Pasadena, Gene and his wife Carol (also a writer) are looking forward to traveling again and spending more post-COVID time with their two daughters, son-in-law and three grandchildren.

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