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Laboratory Design spoke with Christian Matthews, PE, PMP, CEM, LEED AP, Associate with Dewberry in Raleigh, N.C.

Laboratory Design (LD): What made you decide to pursue your particular career?
Christian Matthews (CM):
I’ve always had a healthy curiosity for how things work and are constructed. I grew up in rural North Carolina where my lengthy periods of boredom were consumed by taking things apart, learning how they functioned and then building something new from the parts. While completing my mechanical engineering degree at North Carolina State University, I decided to heed the advice of a trusted professor to enter an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) student building design competition. Our team was chosen to represent the region, and although we didn’t win the ultimate prize the experience gave me a strong appreciation for building design and engineering. After graduation, I joined a local engineering firm where I dove headfirst into healthcare facility design. Ever since, I’ve been solely focused on laboratory design because I enjoy “geeking-out” on multi-trade engineering projects that include the latest technologies and serve as the forefront of rapidly changing research and testing.

LD: If you had to do something else for a living, what would it be?
CM:
I’ve always had a passion for creating, making lots of noise and getting my hands dirty. I would love to become an industrial artist that worked in metal, wood or any other scraps of material to create non-traditional pieces of furniture and sculptures. Instead of buying a car at age 16 like my classmates, I bought a mig welder and some scrap metal. I’ve since created several pieces of furniture, and luckily my wife has let a few reside inside our house.

LD: If you could give just one piece of advice to others in your field, what would it be?
CM:
I would encourage facility owners and architects to listen more to their engineers at the very early stages of project conceptualization. Engineers are inherently self-motivated to solve the impossible and they are hard-wired to provide the best possible solutions. I would also suggest that engineers are a penny-pinching group of folks; so if anyone can help keep a project on budget, it would be the inherently money-conscious folks that are really good at math.

LD: What’s a common misconception about your line of work?
CM:
The most common misconception is that many facility owners believe that lab projects—especially renovations—should always be led by architects and that engineering is a subcontracted service. My experience is that on many complex lab projects, in particular fully occupied renovations, the critical factors of projects frequently revolve around the building engineering systems that are vital in keeping the labs safe and continuously operating without disruption. I would suggest considering an engineering lead design team that could deliver an alternative project approach to meet these unique challenges of lab projects, while also taking nothing away from the focus and vision of the architectural discipline. I believe this minor shift in design team roles, to best compliment the project needs, will only continue to progress as more projects are driven towards design-build or turnkey approaches, and as more engineering firms provide these construction services.

LD: If you could redesign a famous building, which would you choose and why?
CM:
I think New York City deserves a more fitting “front door" than the current entrance that LaGuardia Airport provides. With the incredibly high volume of traffic that LaGuardia Airport experiences on a daily basis, I think reworking its design could help with the flow of passengers and make traveling a more efficient and pleasurable experience.

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