Senior Architect Rob Harding’s Reminiscences

Rob Harding

Rob Harding has seen a great deal in his 25 years of helping Robert E. Lamb’s utility clients build state-of-the-art control centers and operational facilities.

As he retires, he shares his favorite stories.

What are you most proud of from your career at Lamb?

Primarily, two things. I am proud of the fact that the projects in which I was involved had an impact on millions of people all over North America. I was a part of a group of Lamb professionals whose work essentially “helped keep the lights on!” I am also proud that the projects we created were able to perform in the adverse conditions they were designed forfrom an EF-5 tornado in Alabama to a tsunami in Hawaii.

What are the oddest requests clients have made?

I have three categories for this answer:

Requests that AT THE TIME seemed unusual but have now become a standard for Control Room Design:

“Nap Rooms” for operators who are on extended shifts to take a brief rest. In today’s language we label them as “Alertness Recovery Rooms.”

Control Room adjacent to an exterior patio area with a grill.

“Scotopic Lighting,” which was a first version of a lighting system keyed to match, in level and brightness, the daylight track of a normal day in order to better sync up with system operators’ circadian rhythm.

Requests that were NOT accepted for various reasons:

A window in the toilet room for uninterrupted visual access to the Control Room floor and telephones in each toilet stall so that the operators could always be reached.

“Light tubes” from the roof down through the building that would terminate in the ceiling of a below-grade Control Room to distribute light onto the floor. In addition to cost, it would not have performed as conceived.

A personal favorite – a periscope in the Control Room to view weather patterns surrounding the Control Center.

Requests that were incorporated into the design, but not executed:

Design the entire Control Center facility to evoke a “Mediterranean Style” architecture (per a City Ordinance) AND be hurricane resistant. The project was never built, but to this day, it’s still one of my favorite designs.

What was the most memorable challenge you had on a project?

Every project has its unique set of challenges. However, one that sticks out was a client’s need to locate their new stand-alone System Control Center within an existing concrete parking garage. The space was very tight, and the new facility had to be independent from the garagenot only structurally, but mechanically and electrically. A tough but rewarding project!

What was your favorite part of the job?

I always loved the planning phase, because that’s when I got to meet new clients and explore their vision of the project. Crafting those interviews into a conceptual design that set the tone for the rest of the project brought great satisfaction to me and our clients.

Do you have any tips for clients to stay abreast of ever-changing industry trends?

Utilities can do a number of things to “keep up”:

Attend annual industry shows, such as DistribuTECH and Infocom, for the latest and greatest tools available.

Visit newer Control Centers to see what is (currently) being done in the Control Arena environment (we can arrange for you to visit some of our recently completed projects).

Understand how the next generation of System Control operators integrates technology into their everyday life, as well as their physical workspace.

Visit Lamb to “kick the tires” of our proven approach to System Control Center Design and get to know our experienced team.

What are some of your favorite stories?

Well, since you asked:

Human remains were uncovered during excavation for a greenfield project. A priest performed a blessing for the presumed native ancestor with representatives of the client, contractor, media and local politics in attendance. The project resumed shortly afterwards as if nothing happened. We later learned that the remains had been inadvertently buried just outside the border of the adjacent cemetery!

— I, an electrical and a mechanical engineer arrived in San Francisco from Philadelphia about noon local time, picked up  a rental car and drove directly to the site for a 1 pm meeting. The mechanical engineer, having never been to San Francisco, asked if we could see some sights after our facility survey, which would be his only chance, as we were scheduled to return on the red-eye after work the next day. Our engineers completed their survey, I finished my interviews and we left the site just before 4:30 pm for our whirlwind tour:

  • A drive across, park and walk about half-way out onto the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Drive up to the bridge/city overlook on the Sausalito side of the bay
  • Drive back into the city
  • Walking tour of Chinatown
  • Dinner at the Golden Dragon
  • A cable care ride to top off the evening

We checked into our hotel at 10:00 pm (1:00 am eastern time)!

Lamb was redesigning and renovating a Maintenance Control Center for a major airline. Following an on-site design review meeting, our client contact invited me and a colleague to see something cool. Of course, we said yes and off we went, out and around the ramp areas to a huge maintenance hangar the airline uses to refurbish its fleet. This hangar could easily hold two large passenger jet liners. The first thing I saw in this cavernous space was an L1011 (which tells you how long ago this story occurred). Then, in the shadow of the L1011 tail section, I saw a smoke-gray B-29 Bomber! It was one of the World War II “Warbird” collection belonging to the Confederate Air Force out of Texas. The airline allowed the crew to land the plane for repairs after in-flight trouble. We not only got to walk around and under the plane but were allowed to climb into the cockpit. For a kid who grew up loving WWII “Warbirds,” this was truly a dream come true!

After 25 years, what will you miss the most about working at Lamb?

My coworkers, without a doubt! I have had the privilege to work with the finest group of professionals, across all disciplines, that one could hope for. We are not only colleagues, we are family. *cue Sister Sledge*.

Put Lamb’s process to work for you

Rob has been part of a team that implements Lamb’s signature methodical process, which we apply in every control center project. Contact Lamb to see how our process can help you.

Call Rob or send an email
to wish him well in retirement!