Bailey Thompson / ZGF
The PAE Living Building

PAE names new Living Buildings leadership, launches Innovation Group

Jan. 31, 2023
PAE, the engineering and design firm that oversaw the PAE Living Building, SBT's Smart Buidling of Year award winner in 2022, this month announced that Christian J. Agulles, PE, is taking the helm as PAE's new president and CEO.

PAE, the engineering and design firm that oversaw the PAE Living Building, SBT's Smart Building of Year award winner in 2022, this month announced that Christian J. Agulles, PE, is taking the helm as PAE's new president and chief executive officer.

Agulles will be the fifth leader since 1967 at one of the West Coast’s largest independent engineering firms specializing in the design of regenerative mechanical, electrical, and plumbing building systems.

According to a press release, leading the 350-person firm, Agulles will focus on positioning PAE for a new era of addressing decarbonization through engineering and design. The management-owned firm is a pioneer in the design of Living Buildings such as the Bullitt Center, Rocky Mountain Innovation Center, the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech, and the PAE Living Building.

PAE delivers projects of all sizes and across several sectors, including the Port of Portland main airport terminal expansion. The firm houses a robust technology design team as well as LUMA Lighting Design, a future-forward lighting practice and one of the largest architectural lighting design teams in the U.S. Further, the firm's Regenerative Design Group provides thought leadership and develops fresh, new strategies to advance net-zero carbon and beyond.

Agulles is a talented mechanical engineer with 30 years of experience designing a broad range of project types from affordable housing and high-rise mixed-use buildings to sports arenas and U.S. embassies. With a reputation for great client service, he will continue to work on select projects in his new role with a priority on developing talented engineers into future leaders. Agulles began his career in New York City and has expertise leading offices in major markets such as Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. He brings a focus on consistent improvement, a drive for sustainable design, and a passion for his community and family.

Agulles commented:

“As I take on this new role, I will lead PAE to create space for curiosity and invention and to leverage the passion, creativity, and ideas of our talented staff. Our vision is to help solve the planet’s energy and water challenges. Through our services and our advocacy we will continually ask ourselves, Are we doing enough?, and What more can we do?”

President Emeritus Paul Schwer, PE, will remain active at PAE. While his tenure of 18 years saw the firm through two recessions and a global pandemic, he helped grow the engineering portfolio to hundreds of highly sustainable buildings and increased the staff from a 39-person firm in 2004 to a 350-person Certified B-Corp today. The firm has impacted the industry with trailblazing policies like paid family leave, sabbaticals, and a triple-bottom line that focuses equally on people, planet, and profit.

Schwer remarked:

“The PAE Living Building and buildings like it demonstrate how the built environment can achieve the deep and immediate carbon emission reductions required to mitigate the most severe impacts of climate change. It shows the world what a regenerative future can look like while providing the roadmap for how to get there. I am excited to mentor the next generation and focus on select, highly innovative, and regenerative projects in the coming years.”

Innovation Group

As the firm grows, so does its commitment to innovation. As such PAE's newly formed Innovation Group seeks to create a framework for all in the firm to imagine solutions to challenges and have the time to incubate them within a supportive culture. Principal and chief innovation officer Allan Montpellier, PE, has three decades of mechanical engineering and building performance consulting experience. His charge is to identify and remove barriers to innovation and set the stage for our ideators to test their thoughts and explore. Ultimately, PAE said it seeks to strengthen its reputation as thought leaders in the built environment and have a greater impact toward our vision of solving the world’s energy and water challenges. To that effort, the firm said it continually looks for outside collaborators and partners who share a similar interest and passion.

Montpellier remarked:

“Innovation begins at the edge of your comfort zone. We are encouraging our colleagues to get a little uncomfortable in a supportive environment that promotes thought leadership and collaboration.”

More Living Buildings

Over the next decade, PAE said it is committed to designing and developing more Living Buildings across the nation—described by the firm as "circular ecosystems with grid-adaptive features and no waste." Living Buildings are designed to meet the world’s most rigorous sustainability standards with PAE’s most recent project, its Portland, Oregon headquarters, which opening its doors last summer. The five-story, 58,000 SF mixed-use building, located in the city’s historic Old Town district, is the first developer-driven and largest commercial urban Living Building in the world, contends the firm.

“To address the climate crisis, we must make the use of cutting-edge technology and innovative design routine, not an exception to the rule. Living Buildings put these principles into action and is a model for others to follow,” U.S. Congressman for Oregon Earl Blumenauer commented.

PAE has demonstrated that Living Buildings are possible in temperate, cold, and hot and humid climates. The firm has Living Buildings in Georgia, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington with talks in the works for projects in California, Utah, North Carolina, and Virginia among others.

“A Living Building produces more energy than it uses, has no toxic materials, and collects rainwater for all water use including drinking water,” explained PAE chief marketing officer Julie Satterwhite. “We have proven that our Living Building projects are valuable, replicable, and even financially viable. We are convinced that with ingenuity, Living Buildings are possible in all climates.”

To achieve Living Building certification by the International Living Future Institute, project teams must meet seven key performance areas that address every aspect of design, construction, and operations to achieve a resilient and self-sufficient building. The certification comes one year after occupancy, a unique requirement compared to other certifications.

“The goal of a Living Building is not to be less bad. We need to move to regenerative thinking and create structures and systems that actually give back–like nature does,” principal and project manager of the PAE Living Building, Marc Brune, PE, said.

PAE said it is working on over 25 projects in Southern California and has a robust presence in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

“We continue to expand our local presence to better serve our clients in Southern California,” PAE's new president and CEO Agulles concluded. “As all-electric building codes are passed, we have an opportunity to leverage our extensive experience on nearly 100 all-electric buildings. Our staff in Los Angeles and San Diego look forward to partnering with like-minded architecture firms, developers, and owners to decarbonize the region.”

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