Five Decades of Designing, Building and Imagining
When a company cuts its corporate teeth on the design and engineering work for some of the most technically complex and challenging structures in the country, that experience establishes a certain culture and DNA. The structures were built to withstand not just hurricanes, but the impact of rockets being prepared and then launched into space. It is a field where there is no latitude for mistakes, and it leads to a unique niche and reputation in the industry. For 50 years, BRPH has perfected these principles.
“The uniqueness of our firm is our diversity of expertise,” commented Brad Harmsen, the company’s chairman and CEO. “One day we might be lifting an 82-ton space vehicle into place, 30 feet off the ground.” Having enjoyed a long relationship with Delaware North, which operates the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, BRPH was asked to design the support system for the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit. “The next day, we’re putting the final touches on a one-million-sq.ft., state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.”
The facility Harmsen is referring to is the Final Assembly Building for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston, S.C. The massive building required 18,000 tons of steel and one million cubic feet of concrete for its construction. It also features thin-film solar laminate panels that provide up to 2.6 megawatts of electrical energy, enough to power 250 homes, making it one of the largest LEED Gold-certified buildings in the Southeast.
Though BRPH’s reputation now stretches around the world, having grown to six offices, employing nearly 250 people, and completing projects in 16 countries, it is firmly planted in the community that gave them birth and birthed America’s monumental space endeavors.
A Legacy of Specialization
The company was founded in 1964 by three engineers: Ernie Briel, Harry Rhame and Lyle Houser, who came to this area to work on NASA projects, along with architect Raymond Poynter. It is the first letter of their last names that forms the company name: BRPH. Though all of the founders long ago retired, the legacy of tackling highly specialized and technically complex projects for the aerospace, federal facilities, commercial/industrial and educational sectors lives on.
“They were engineers with Brown & Co. out of Huntsville Ala., and came down to work at the Cape,” explained Brian Curtin, BRPH president, who has been with the company for over 24 years. “When their initial job was over, they decided to stay in the area and started the company. These men were extremely dedicated to aerospace and the high tech field. That genesis is a part of the legacy that is with us today, as we are known as aerospace experts. It is a skill set we transitioned into aircraft manufacturing facilities and it remains a major part of our core business.
That type of work requires the best educated and the most specialized professionals, because there is essentially no margin for error. We do extremely detailed, one-of-a-kind types of projects, which we have been able to leverage into a variety of applications.”
Harmsen, whose background is in architecture and who earned an MBA as he advanced in leadership, makes no apology about what attracted him to BRPH. “I was from the Midwest and lived in upstate New York. The premise of moving to Florida and working for a high caliber firm wasn’t a difficult decision,” Harmsen recalled as he glanced out the conference room window, with a spectacular view of the Indian River and south Merritt Island.
“When CEO Larry Shaw retired, I took the reins. Larry was an architect and with our company’s background in engineering, we were able to integrate the two. Most companies we might be compared to are primarily architectural and they have to hire the engineering component or vice versa. For us, that is a competitive advantage. In very complex projects, that combination is vital. Historically, you had architects, engineers and contractors joined by a contractual relationship, which kept the lawyers busy,” Harmsen said. “We moved to a design-build model of integrating these three disciplines. All of a sudden you get rid of all those organizational inefficiencies, to move toward more of a team approach,” he explained.
BRPH was involved in nearly every building at Kennedy Space Center and on the Cape. In fact, they have been involved in every American rocket launch site. Beyond master planning the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and Cape Canaveral Spaceport, they designed structures such as Launch Complex 17A and 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Orbiter Processing Facility, and nearly 40 more.
In a pattern that has developed in all of BRPH’s areas of expertise, major space companies at all of the major launch complexes around the country began to seek out the aerospace design experts. Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC) selected BRPH to define, design, and administer construction at the Kodiak Launch Complex, Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority turned to BRPH to oversee the program management of a $100 million construction effort in support of the Antares Space Launch Vehicle on Wallops Island, Va., and the Boeing Company contracted BRPH to provide ongoing engineering and design services at Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in support of the Delta IV rocket.
“In each case, the common thread is complexity, either in their technical intricacies, their function or from a schedule-driven standpoint. There is almost always something very unique about them,” Curtin said, beaming with the same technical/design pride and precision that one remembers when Steve Jobs would introduce his latest Apple device.
Following the Market Flow
Before the Space Shuttle was retired and the inevitable slowdowns were occurring, BRPH was already well positioned in the next nexus of growth and innovation in Brevard County: the Melbourne International Airport (MLB).
As the airport began to turn its focus to the corporate side of the aviation and technology sector, BRPH, having designed the new airport terminal and with their extensive background, became the go-to design firm as companies began to migrate to the airport.
General Electric’s corporate headquarters, with its circular blue glass building, houses its prototype laboratories and manufacturing areas. The facility focuses on technological innovations for GE Transportation, one of the world’s largest suppliers of diesel electric locomotives and associated products. Harris Corporation, whose headquarters are also across from the airport, looked to BRPH to design their $100 million, 464,000-sq.ft. High-Tech Engineering Center on the company’s Palm Bay campus. The center is expected to be completed in late 2014.
Northrop Grumman, quite possibly one of the largest business recruitment success stories for Central Florida in 2014, has also turned to BRPH to help them with their local reorganization and growth.
Another company that captured not only regional, but national and international headlines, was the relocation of Brazilian corporate jet manufacturer Embraer to MLB. BRPH provided master planning and pre-construction services for Embraer and designed their 89,000-sq.ft. manufacturing/assembly facility and adjacent 23,000-sq.ft. paint building. This project was part of a multi-phase effort which also featured a Design and Delivery Center.
Embraer’s ultra-modern 58,000-sq.ft. Design and Delivery Center enables clients purchasing an Embraer Phenom 100 or 300 jet to visit this facility to see their final selections come together. The master plan was configured so that clients approaching the courtyard from land or air are greeted with a dramatic view of an executive jet being prepared in the delivery hangar. In addition, they designed Embraer’s Engineering and Technology Center, a 67,000-sq.ft., $24 million facility that will house research and development for the company’s executive jets division.
Aside from physical buildings, BRPH is also a master relationship builder, as evidenced by the fact that they were recently selected to design a fourth project for Embraer at MLB, the new production facilities which will support the company’s Legacy 450 and 500 aircrafts.
Education and Diversification
One of the arenas where BRPH has also developed a strong market presence is education. According to Harmsen, “If you go back seven or eight years, education was one of our largest markets. Today, the school design market is rebounding after a number of economic fluctuations, but it isn’t as in demand as it once was. So having the strength in this market enabled us to go with the tide, to find other markets that fit our strengths and to ride those waves and find where these cycles overlap.”
Though the Great Recession hit the school construction market almost as much as the home building market, BRPH’s design expertise is seen throughout the state. BRPH counts Eastern Florida State College, Florida Institute of Technology, and the Brevard County School Board as premier clients, and regionally, has designed facilities for Daytona State College, University of Central Florida and University of Florida, as well as hundreds of schools within nearly every school district in Central Florida.
Though the school market has become soft, again BRPH was able to leverage its knowledge and experience to land projects like JetBlue’s training center in Orlando. JetBlue University is large enough to accommodate the training of 300 people on any given day. In addition to the facility’s four Airbus A320 full-flight simulators, two Embraer E190 full flight simulators, and two cabin simulators, JetBlue University includes control rooms, cabin-crew and firefighting training areas, and a specialized, heated outdoor emergency slide/raft training pool. Today, BRPH is moving forward on JetBlue’s next facility at Orlando International Airport, the JetBlue Lodge, which will provide crew quarters and socialization in a hotel-like atmosphere to traveling pilots and flight support personnel.
“One of the things that helped us was our understanding how to build spaces where students would interact – not cloister themselves away. This was something JetBlue wanted, because they saw the need to develop a team attitude with employees and that doesn’t happen just during training, but in personal time,” observed Harmsen.
And it’s translating into mega-projects which require a design team that can execute a nearly flawless design in a nearly impossible timeframe. The firm is known by the world’s largest aviation, defense and manufacturing companies as the team that can deliver on its promise of Speed to Market, referring to the effort to produce a building faster, ahead of the client’s competition, in a responsible manner. In fact, BRPH counts four of the five world’s largest global aerospace and defense companies as clients and was recently named the No. 1 manufacturing design firm in the Southeast by Engineering News Record (ENR), considered the bible of the construction industry.
In 2011, when Boeing’s massive 787 Dreamliner facility was designed and built in just 18 months, shaving a year off of the aviation giant’s production timeframe, it led to even more work for BRPH. The firm that started here, and still operates from here, now has a Northwest regional hub in Seattle to manage the next generation of Boeing’s 777X program facilities, a five-year program currently underway.
The Future and Beyond
The growth and diversification continues as BRPH has built partnerships within the region’s most critical assets, including executing design components on five of Port Canaveral’s cruise terminals. Most recently, this includes Cruise Terminal 6: a two-story $22.5 million, 111,000-sq.ft.terminal, as well as providing program management to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority as they seek to grow the commercial presence at both Orlando International Airport and Orlando Executive Airport.
Curtin also sees a growing movement in the entertainment sector. “As the economy continues to rebound, and consumer confidence returns in the form of travel and vacations, we’re seeing a real shift in the number of new attractions-related projects on the horizon.”
BRPH has yet another impressive body of work in the entertainment arena, counting leaders like Universal Studios and Delaware North Companies as long-time clients. The seamless flow of Transformers 3D, Rip Ride Rocket, and Poseidon’s Fury at Universal are all courtesy of BRPH. And if you plan to marvel at the 164,000-pound Space Shuttle Atlantis, seemingly suspended in mid-air from the ground floor level, you’ll have a BRPH structural engineer to thank for being able to do so safely.
However, no one can set limits on what BRPH might tackle next, as in Hallandale Beach, Fla., where their team transformed the 67-year-old Gulfstream Racetrack into a palatial megacenter of horseracing, gaming, dining and shopping complete with a 110-foot tall, 716-ton bronze Pegasus & Dragon statue currently being constructed in a delicate, orchestrated effort. Whether it is designing launch complexes, aviation manufacturing facilities or the school your children may attend, you know that attention to detail, technical innovation and harmonious design will all be part of it.