One on One: Hoelscher drawing on success at RTA Architects

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John Hoelscher is a principal at RTA Architects with 40 years of experience working on healthcare, governmental and educational facility projects. From hospitals to centers of education, RTA has designed some of the Pikes Peak region’s most prominent projects.

What drew you to architecture?

I had always been intrigued by building things, and had wanted to have a job that would not tie me to a desk. When I was a junior in high school I had the opportunity to meet with George Kassabaum. After talking with Mr. Kassabaum I was convinced I wanted to be an Architect.

How did you get started with RTA?

In 1993 I was working for a St. Louis Architectural Firm who was doing a project for Penrose St. Francis Hospital. The hospital wanted me to team with a Colorado Springs Architect to handle the site observation work. Bob Fling with Penrose suggested that I team with Randy Thorne or RTA. The rest is history.

What are some of RTA’s biggest local projects?

The new St. Francis Medical Center located on Woodmen and Powers is RTA’s largest local project. The Total Project Cost was approximately $207 million. The campus also included to medical office building that we designed. The Penrose E-Tower Addition and the University Village Retail project are two other large projects we have completed in the last several years.

What particular challenges are facing the architecture industry these days?

I have heard that 40 percent of the Colorado architects working in 2008 are no longer working in architecture. The design and construction industry have been particularly hard hit by the recession. There are few signs of a quick recovery. As RTA looks to the future we are convinced that we need to find ways to add value for our clients’ projects. We need to develop services that separate us from other design firms. Architecture is increasingly becoming a “commodity” where low price is driving many owner selections. Our challenge is to find ways that will take us out of the commodity status and bring real unique value to our clients.

What are the biggest technological advancements that have shaped your industry in the last decade?

The advancement of computer drawing software (REVIT) that allows architects to place 3-dimensional objects rather than drawing “lines” has changed how we design and communicate with clients. It also has changed the skills set necessary for those who use the software. The role of the “draftsperson” has changed. They now need to have a much deeper understanding of design, construction and how buildings are put together.

How will the architecture industry change in the next 10 years?

I think there will be two distinctly different paths for architectural firms to pursue. The first will be down the “commodity” road where clients don’t see much difference from one firm to the next. Good service will not be a differentiator but rather low cost will drive the selection process. The second path will be the path that some firms will travel that look creatively at architecture and redefine design services. They will find ways to provide unique value for their clients and their projects. One example that we have seen developing is to help our clients find different financing options for their projects. This path will require a great deal of creativity and the development of new skills and knowledge.