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BLDUP Spotlight: John Swift 10/08/21

john swift bldup spotlight

The BLDUP Spotlight is a weekly feature where readers gain insight into high-profile developments around the city and get to know local industry leaders. Today we chat with John Swift, P.E., CEM, LEED AP, Partner at Buro Happold. John is the science and technology practice leader for the engineering/consulting firm. For more than 25 years he has delivered solutions for research, commercial and academic facilities that require effective and reliable infrastructure for the optimization of occupant health, safety, and comfort while minimizing energy and water consumption.

BLDUP: What is the last book you read that you would recommend as a "must-read" to the construction and design community? Why did you find this book so important?

John Swift: The books “Abundance” and “Bold” by author Peter Diamandis address the challenges that the world faces with a positive and constructive approach. We need more of that, especially in the world we live in today.

BLDUP: Do you have a daily or weekly routine that you follow? If so, how do you feel it has contributed to your success? How has this routine changed/been adjusted given the current situation?

John Swift: I exercise four or five times per week. It clears my mind and helps my back stay flexible enough to play golf. For my entire life since I was in grade school I would go to the local YMCA, but once the lockdowns started I shifted to a home workout that revolves around the Peloton bike. It’s funny because I never was one for the home workout. I always liked going to the gym. But now I prefer the home workout.

BLDUP: During the course of your career, what was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it? What other accomplishments hold a special place in your heart and why?

John Swift: The biggest challenges are those instances at the end of a project when something goes wrong, and it costs everyone money and frustration. Luckily it doesn’t happen often, but the few times that it does you feel like you let the client and your team down -- even when the reasons for the issue are complex and multifaceted. That said, the engineer winds up in the hot seat on occasion, and then it is important to do what engineers do best: solve the problem in an optimal way. Regardless of how the question of responsibility shakes out in these situations, I try to focus on solutions, which has always resulted in a positive outcome.

The thing I am most proud of in my career is the team that we have built in Boston. They are the best group of people I could ever imagine working with. We all get along and we help and support each other, driven by a common purpose: to design innovative, high-performance buildings and provide excellent client service. Everyone is a hard worker, they are friendly and smart -- it is just such a treat to work with this team every day. I really missed seeing them in person during the depths of the pandemic. 

BLDUP: The COVID-19 pandemic brought on a unique set of challenges, how has this affected your business in the short term. Do you expect to see long-term effects on building design/engineering going forward?

John Swift: When the lockdowns first started, I was concerned that the team and the client base we had built could unravel. But the opposite happened. Our firm was well prepared to shift to the work-from-home scenario, and our team did a tremendous job in adapting and continuing to work hard and smart. Fortunately, many of our projects continued forward, along with a number of new ones in the commercial research lab sector.

There is no doubt that the hybrid work scenario is here to stay, and we should embrace it. The hybrid model will allow us to be more flexible, and to hire talented people who may not live in close proximity to our physical office. That said, I think it is especially important for young engineers and designers to spend time in the office with their mentors as much as possible. It's an important aspect of career development for younger professionals.

BLDUP: How is your firm working toward mitigating climate change?

John Swift: Buro Happold has been at the forefront in providing sustainable, high-performance solutions for cities, districts and buildings since we were founded. We have made internal carbon-reduction commitments, so we are confident that we "walk the walk." We have contributed to drafting carbon-reduction goals for entities around the world, and we have worked with some of the most talented designers and visionary clients to implement design solutions that not only meet these goals but are beautiful, too.

BLDUP: As Boston's life science sector continues to boom, what solutions for new construction or building retrofits are you and your team utilizing/recommending to create the high-performance buildings these cutting-edge firms require?

John Swift: Every project has its unique set of goals and challenges, but there are some consistent themes that our design solutions are focused on. For example, every solution has a multidisciplinary baseline, so we don’t just implement a simple heat recovery system without looking at all elements of how it can be optimized. We design a flexible infrastructure, and clearly communicate the level of flexibility provided to optimize the value of the building for the landlord and the tenant or end-user. And we work out the details of the infrastructure distribution by iterating with the architecture and the engineering team to provide the robust systems and flexibility desired, as well as to support the envisioned aesthetic.

BLDUP: What upcoming projects are you most excited about?

John Swift: Every project we work on in this sector excites me, and many of them are confidential so I can’t provide details on most of them. But what I can say is that Buro Happold is a value-driven organization. We value human wellbeing, and we care about the legacy of our work. We strive to be an influencer in the shaping of the world. There is no better way to do this than to contribute innovative solutions to the development of programs, building environments, and communities that support the scientists, healthcare specialists, and technology engineers who will solve the greatest problems of our times.

BLDUP: What do you hope for the future of your company in the next 30 years? What legacy do you want to leave?

John Swift: Buro Happold will continue to focus on people-driven solutions for our building projects and the communities they support. I hope that our influence expands geographically and also through our industry in areas where we are already working. The legacy I personally would like to leave is for the people who I work with and who come after me to be as excited and proud of the work we do in the future as I am right now every day.

BLDUP: Have you had a mentor or someone who has helped you during your career? What are the most valuable lessons you learned from that person?

John Swift: I have had many mentors and people who have helped me in my career. My parents laid the foundation for all of this: My dad emphasized hard work, never quitting, and showing up every day, and my mom was always smiling and kind to everyone, no matter their attitude or circumstance, and ready to lend a helping hand. I try to live up to these values, which they exhibited every day. The other mentor who impacted my approach the most was Mark Mendell, the president of Cannon Design for the ten years I spent working there. He instilled a passion for building design in me, and emphasized that engineers can have as much input and impact on beautiful buildings as architects can. And he shared a perspective that I carry with me every day: He once told me that we should treat everyone like they are our client. I’ll never forget that advice.

BLDUP: What is a favorite quote that inspires you or you strive to live by?

John Swift: I always liked the saying, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses…” I am not sure who said this originally, but while I am always looking to and planning for the future, I also try to embrace everyday pleasures and experiences.

Contributor Bio

buro happold

We are a world-class global practice of engineers, consultants and advisers. Through integrated thinking and a truly interdisciplinary, interconnected community of passionate experts, we create transformative outcomes for clients and communities alike. 

Our founder, Sir Ted Happold, believed that it was out of the different skills and bodies of knowledge we have across our firm, that the quality of what we do really emerges. 

This culture of collaboration and respect is as strong today as ever and drives us to deliver elegant solutions that leave a positive lasting legacy for the communities we work in and the environment. We value human wellbeing, embrace mutual responsibility and understand that a sustainable future is intrinsic to the economic and social impact of our work.  

Work with us to deliver a truly transformative future.