Ronald Budzinski is president of Phillips Swager Associates and has management oversight responsibilities for their offices in Peoria, Naperville, Chicago, Orlando, and Washington, D.C. Budzinski is very active with the American Institute of Architects’ National Committee on Architecture for Justice and was appointed to vice chair on their five-person Advisory Group. He’s chaired numerous conferences and is a frequent speaker on architectural criminal justice issues. He and his wife, Cheryl, have two daughters.

J. Thomas Seymour is chief executive officer and a senior principal at PSA, responsible for their national practice. His architectural expertise spans many building types in the fields of health care and higher education. Since 1985, a focus of his practice has been in the design of wellness, fitness, and recreation centers. He’s served as principal-in-charge on several that have received local, regional, and national recognition for design. Seymour speaks frequently on health and wellness issues at conferences throughout North America. He and his wife, Kathy, have one daughter.

Tell about your background, schools attended, family, etc.

Ron: I was born and raised in the Peoria area, went to St. Phil’s and then to Blessed Sacrament in Morton. I graduated from Spalding Institute and received my architecture degree from the University of Illinois. I had a good family life, a solid foundation. My father was a painter for District 150, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I have one brother, Stan, who works for Cat and was recently re-elected to the Peoria Park District board.

My wife, Cheryl, and I have been married for 28 years and have two daughters—Nicole and Annie. Cheryl helps me a lot with Habitat for Humanity, of which I’m the local tri-county chapter president. Outside of work, I love to cook. My other obsession is golf, but I cook much better than I golf. I’m also active in the Cursillo program and serve on the board of the Peoria Art Guild. We’re planning a future joint event with the Art Guild called “Art in Architecture,” which should be very interesting for those who want to know more about what goes into buildings beyond bricks and mortar.

Tom: I was born in the Quad Cities and graduated from Moline High School. I went to Iowa State for my architecture degree, and after moving to Peoria received my MBA from Bradley. My wife, Kathy, and I have been married for 31 years and have one daughter, Erin.

I’m interested in a lot of different things outside of work. I’m a runner and something of a novice wine collector. I also like gardening, music, and spending time with my family. I’ve been involved with the local YMCA board, the Center for Prevention of Abuse, and the United Way.

Who or what influenced you to become an architect?

Tom: I wish I had something profound to say, but I can’t think of any particular event or person. The design of buildings and how they were constructed always fascinated me as I was growing up. Plus, I always liked to draw—not in an artistic way, but with more of a mechanical bent—so an education and career in architecture seemed a logical choice.

Ron: A friend of mine, Bill Bishop, who now runs Bishop Brothers Construction in Peoria, turned me on to architecture. We worked together at a fast food place all through high school. He went to Richwoods, which had a really good drafting/architecture program. He even got to build a model of a house. I was fascinated by all that. He said he was going to the U of I to be an architect, so I said, “Okay, I’ll apply there, too, and maybe we can be roommates.” By some miracle I got into the program.

Tell about the history and growth of PSA, which now includes offices in Naperville, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

Ron: PSA was started in Peoria almost 50 years ago by a group of World War II military buddies, a number of them pilots: Gene Swager, Forrest Phillips, and a few others. For the first 25 years, we focused a great deal on education and health care projects. In the early 1970s, the criminal justice market began to emerge, and by taking on project commissions in this arena, we gained a base of expertise and were able to capitalize on it—not just in Illinois and the Midwest, but throughout the United States.

This diversification and expansion led to a more collaborative approach in the planning and design of projects. We began to develop partnerships with other firms and consultants throughout the country. Really, it’s this ability to collaborate with other architects, engineers, and specialty consultants that’s earned us recognition and respect from our peers and from clients. It’s also laid the groundwork for our expansion into other areas, where we’ve developed national profiles in the design of libraries, wellness and fitness centers, law enforcement facilities, and courts facilities.

Our five offices are like five children—each has different energies and interests, but there’s an underlying loyalty to the overall PSA “family” because we have a very solid culture of teamwork, consensus, open communication, and honesty here. Our D.C. office has a lot of expertise in courts and health care; Dallas specializes in libraries, religious facilities, and law enforcement; Chicago is focused on health care and wellness centers; and Naperville does a great deal of engineering work, as well as libraries and fitness centers. Our Peoria office has the broadest base of experience and expertise because it’s the national headquarters and the largest office in terms of number of employees and size of facility.

Our videoconferencing technology really helps to connect all of our offices as one company. That enables us to approach projects with the best possible team in place. If we were designing a laboratory in Peoria, for example, we could pull in architects skilled in lab design from any of our five offices and collaborate to achieve the best possible result. That’s one major benefit of having multiple offices. We can draw on the talents of world-class designers located all over the country for projects right here in the Peoria area.

Tom: One reason for our growth and expansion nationwide has been a desire to give our employees more chances to grow, develop their skills, and work on a variety of projects. With offices in five very distinct locations, our people have the opportunity to do exciting and significant architecture both locally and around the country. That’s important in recruiting and retaining high caliber architects and engineers, and both our clients and we benefit from that.

Our multiple office structure also gives us access to the talent pool in each of these five locations. It may be trite to say, but people are indeed our most valuable asset, and we’re very proud of the number of incredibly talented employees on our staff. Some people, like senior principal Jim Matarelli, have been with PSA for more than 30 years. Others have only just joined us, but they’ve come from outstanding schools or from some of the best-known and well-respected architectural firms in the country. We’re making that talent available to our clients here in Peoria and nationwide, and that’s a key reason for our continued growth and success.

Phillips Swager Associates will celebrate its 50th year in business next year. To what do you attribute this longevity? 

Tom:
Like any building, PSA had a strong, solid foundation established by founders Gene Swager, Forest Phillips, and people such as Chuck Blye, Bill Gramley, Ron Harris, and Guy Johnston. Their long-term vision for the firm was grounded in a well-balanced approach to both the design and business goals of their practice. A key element of that vision was the foresight to plan for a controlled transition of ownership. Few design firms survive the retirement of the founding partners. Obviously, PSA has not only survived, but has continued to expand and grow thanks to their planning and business acumen.

Building on this great foundation is our current leadership team. And, as with Gene and his partners, PSA is fortunate to have a very capable and talented group of professionals within its management ranks. Most of the corporate leadership team is based in Peoria—in addition to myself and Ron, Jim Matarelli as director of architecture, Roger Lakin as CFO, and Ray Lees as director of marketing. This group is accountable to a seven-member board of directors, of which Jim Matarelli is chairman, elected by the firm’s 63 shareholders. Ron and I are also elected by the shareholders and serve at their discretion. Carroll Ringelestein, as the Peoria office director, oversees local operational issues.

Ron: While commitment to the highest standards of design and business practices is critical to the ongoing success of any architectural/engineering firm, so is the commitment to the communities from which we sustain our local, regional, and national practices. Gene Swager and Chuck Blye are well known within the Peoria area for their decades of involvement in, and philanthropic support of, many community institutions. That culture of involvement and giving back continues today by senior and junior staff members alike. Ray Lees, for one, is passionately committed to our community. From serving the City of Peoria for more than 10 years on the planning commission to the Children’s Home and Chamber of Commerce, Ray continues to stay plugged into a wide range of organizations and community initiatives. And our culture seems to be in good hands as our younger staff members take on major public responsibilities.

Discuss the services PSA offers. Are people aware of the breadth and depth of the company’s capabilities?

Tom: I doubt many people here in Peoria are truly aware of the extent of our practice. Some of our clients aren’t even aware of what we do in other building types or geographic areas. In terms of architecture, we’re a diversified firm with expertise in a range of building types—health care facilities, fitness centers, schools and higher education buildings, libraries, religious facilities, and criminal justice facilities, to name a few. We’ve tried not to specialize too much. We enjoy the variety, and we always learn things from one building type that may apply to others. In fact, our depth of experience in a particular building type, combined with our breadth of experience in many building types, is a key reason many clients choose to work with us.

We also offer a full complement of engineering services—civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing—primarily out of our Peoria and Naperville offices. The ability to integrate engineering into architecture is easier when engineers and architects are able to physically work together, sharing an office and a computer network. The work goes more quickly, and there’s less chance for mistakes. That said, while some clients appreciate this sort of one-stop-shopping, others don’t need it. They may have well-established relationships with other engineering firms. We’re happy to work either way. In fact, we have our own established network of outside consultants with whom we work on a regular basis, depending on the scope of a project and the expertise required.

We also offer interior design, landscape architecture, and technology services (cabling, audio-visual, security, networking, etc.). As for planning, all of the architecture we do requires planning. It’s part of the continuous process of design that goes into any building. There are firms that offer urban planning and city planning services, and we don’t do that per se. By the nature of working in this business for so many years, though, we understand many of these planning issues, so we can participate and, in some cases, lead our clients through these processes.

Ron: One aspect of our work I’m not sure people are aware of is our ability to serve as either the lead architect on a project or as the supporting—or local—architect. In fact, a great deal of our work involves collaboration with other architects or consultants. For the Illinois State Museum project in Springfield, for example, Tom and his team are working with Pei Cobb Freed and Partners. That’s the firm that designed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Jim Lemon is currently leading the team collaborating with Cesar Pelli on the University of Illinois School of Business project. Pelli is probably best known for designing the world’s tallest buildings, the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Both of these firms are known and respected worldwide. We’ve learned a great deal from working with them, and I think it says a lot about our reputation that they chose to work with us.

Numerous buildings designed by PSA have won awards. Tell about some of them.

Ron: The Central Illinois Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) selected us as its firm of the year last year. That, better than any one project, shows how we’re viewed and respected as a firm, both by our clients and by our peers. The award was based on our portfolio and what we’re active in as a firm—both in the architectural arena and in our community. It was the first time this award was given by the Central Illinois Chapter, so we’re very honored to have been selected as the inaugural recipient.

Tom: A number of wellness and fitness facilities designed for medical centers, park districts, or universities have been recognized recently. Athletic Business is a national publication that each year recognizes 10 facilities nationwide, and we’ve been featured the past two years—for the Good Shepherd Wellness Center and the Buffalo Grove Wellness Center, both in suburban Chicago. Several of our local projects for school districts in Dunlap, Pekin, and Metamora have received recognition through statewide design competitions and publication in national educational magazines. Our current home office space and building at 401 Water also won a regional design award in Chicago a few months ago—selected from a field of 59 projects from throughout the upper Midwest.

Which buildings in central Illinois were designed by PSA?

Tom: 401 Water, of course. The new CityLink facility downtown. Almost all of the recent work at Illinois Central College, plus Olin Hall and Cullom-Davis Library at Bradley. RiverPlex. The new WTVP building on the riverfront. The Methodist Atrium. Two new schools in Dunlap. Proctor’s new emergency room and lobby addition (our civil engineers did the new entrance drive). Historic renovations at the Hartmann Center and Dingeldine Music Hall at Bradley. The new addition at St. Thomas Church. The Peoria County Courthouse addition. The new Peoria police headquarters. These are just the first few projects to come to mind.

Ron: Some recent examples outside of central Illinois are two major library projects in Southfield, Mich., and Naperville. We just finished the Dallas police headquarters and also designed several police stations in Denver and the public safety complex in Gilbert, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. We’re currently serving as the oversight architect for the entire public library system in Shreveport, La.—more than 20 libraries total. We aren’t designing each library, but instead are acting as a consultant to oversee the different architects’ work on each project.

Tom, talk about your expertise in the fields of health care and higher education. What unique considerations must go into the design of these buildings?

Tom: Health care facilities, like all of our projects, are driven by two main factors. First is the building must be functional to provide the right kind of working space. Second is it must be user-friendly. Being functional isn’t enough anymore. Today, health care workers and patients have options—they’re consumers who can choose where to work or where to seek medical treatment. Some features that go into a user-friendly health care facility include convenient parking, good signage, lots of natural light, easy way-finding systems (how to get from one place to another), and good use of color.

In higher education, we’re skilled in designing libraries, wellness centers, science buildings, and some housing—mostly specialty facilities. In the last few years, there’s been a real movement by universities toward quality of life for students. Again, it’s a marketing issue. Universities are competing for students, and the student today views education as a consumer. Where will I live? Where will I eat? How far is it to retail? Here’s an example: we’re in the process of designing a student recreation center for the University of Illinois at Chicago. Recently, the client asked us to take on an additional but related task—master planning for a living/learning center as part of the same building. If it takes form, a student will be able to live, eat, take classes, and exercise all in one building. It’s an interesting trend.

Ron, your expertise is in courthouse and correctional projects design. What unique considerations must go into the design of these buildings?

Ron: Criminal justice facilities aren’t the bland, box-like structures people may view them as. With the help of architects, clients in this market have come a long way in the past few years in realizing the impact space can have on people in these settings. Correctional facilities, for example, are very much like health care facilities. They operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s a need for a great deal of high-tech and security equipment. Inmates, like patients, don’t want to be there. And often people are in an extreme state of emotional vulnerability when they step inside. Architecture—in terms of light, space, and color—can help influence how people behave and enables employees to get work done.

In the past 30 years, we’ve truly established ourselves as one of the top criminal justice experts in the country, and today we’re being sought out by some of the leading design teams in the nation for our expertise. As an example, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer—a well known New York City-based architectural firm that designed the renovation of Radio City Music Hall—asked us to team with them to enter a national design competition because of our courts planning and design expertise. Our team won the competition for the design of a new federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss. I think that says a lot about our reputation in the industry.

Ron, tell about serving as a juror for the national AIA Justice Facilities Review. How were you chosen? What are the juries charged with?

Ron: This year I’m the vice-chair of a five-member advisory group nationally elected to represent the AIA’s Committee on Architecture for Justice. One of my responsibilities as the vice-chair of the advisory group is the annual Justice Facilities Review. This year the Advisory Group chose a six-member jury—three architects and three practitioners—to review the more than 50 projects entered. The jury selected 23 to publish, and awarded two for special design consideration. The only downside is that because of my role as the jury chairman, PSA couldn’t submit any work.

Next year, I’ll chair the advisory group, and I’ll be responsible for the 5th International Conference on Justice Design in Chicago and London. It’s a lot of work, but as a firm we get an unbelievable amount of exposure to, and involvement with, other architects.

Since September 11, 2001, is there more consideration given for design, safety, and strength of a building structure?

Tom: Security has become an all-encompassing issue for many of our clients. It impacts not only the incorporation of systems for surveillance monitoring and intrusion alarms, but the very structure and architecture of buildings themselves. The psychology of security also presents interesting challenges for our architects, engineers, and technology experts. Sometimes people want to see the measures taken to assure their personal safety. Other times they don’t want to be encumbered or inconvenienced by them. Regardless of the situation, our architects are experts in hardening buildings, planning sitelines, and otherwise using the architecture to enhance the safety and security of people and property.

Ron: In addition to architecture, technology has always been a key component in any security plan. As our practice has grown, so have our capabilities in technology, and that service area has become even more important since 9-11. We have a group that provides expertise in the areas of security, audio-visual, computer technology, and cabling. The need for these services is expanding as people today are much more concerned with security. A year or so ago, our technology group completed a threat assessment and security upgrade for a Fortune 500 client’s sprawling corporate headquarters facility on the East Coast. Everyone is seeing the need to focus on security issues these days.

How have architectural trends changed in the past 20 years? What future trends do you anticipate?

Ron: Some things never change. People will always want a quality project delivered on time and on budget. What’s changing is how we deliver that. E-mail, the Internet, and videoconferencing have revolutionized the way we work. They allow us to draw upon the resources of all of our people, which is especially important in our firm, where we rely on the teamwork and talents of individuals in five locations. I’ve also noticed students coming out of school are different. They’re so technically savvy that they do their work differently and think differently. They have a different set of pencils, so to speak. All of this will allow us to deliver work with greater and greater speed and accuracy.

PSA was one of the first tenants at 401 Water. What went into your decision to move from your existing building to renovating one on the riverfront?

Tom: In addition to a need for more space, we wanted to demonstrate our commitment to Peoria and its vision for a vibrant downtown area. We began looking downtown in the mid-1990s and were involved with several plans linking downtown to the riverfront. In fact, without our commitment to move into 401 Water, Kurt Huber’s development might not exist as it does now. 401 Water is arguably one of the most significant developments on the riverfront because it’s truly a mixed-use building with commercial, office, retail, and residential users all in one structure. I’d like to think PSA helped start some momentum that led to other successes on the riverfront.

The idea of historic preservation was also appealing to us as architects. We’re artists of a sort, and as the architect of record for this building, our people thoroughly enjoyed transforming this warehouse space into a modern living and working space. We invite anyone who hasn’t seen the interior of the building to stop up to the 17th floor and visit us.

What’s your vision for continuing development of Peoria’s riverfront and downtown?

Ron: Our involvement in the planning of the riverfront actually began in the early 1990s. We were working with the late Leonard Marshall, who was president of Bank One and a real proponent of riverfront development. He was one of the first to get the business community organized and focused on the riverfront as an asset that needed to be developed. We turned his early vision into images the community could see. Leonard subsequently got us involved in what was known as the Heartland Riverfront Master Plan. PSA was the architect on the team that conducted a study and developed this conceptual plan completed in 1994. We’ve been participating in downtown and riverfront development projects ever since.

We’re keenly interested in advancing the commitment we made by moving to the downtown area. Several of us participated in the Duany charette process for Peoria’s recent community plan. We want to use our time and talents to continue enhancing downtown Peoria—whether that’s the Civic Center, the Sears block, or other projects. These are our neighbors, after all, and with our national talent and deep commitment to serving our hometown, we’re sure we can help spur another level of development for the riverfront and a rebirth of downtown.

Tom: Between the RiverPlex, 401 Water, and WTVP, we’ve had a strong role in developing the riverfront so far. We’d all like to see that continue. We’re actively involved in the regional museum’s preliminary concept, representing Lakeview as they look at the Sears block. We’re also currently serving as the Civic Center’s architect and engineer and hope to remain involved with them as they plan future facility enhancements. These are two projects that will really change the way our downtown looks.

What else would you like our readers to know?

Tom: We’re proud to have our headquarters in Peoria. This is a great place to be, and we’re not going away. We have an awful lot of resources and knowledge we can bring to bear for clients here. We’re one of Peoria’s great and, to some degree, untapped resources. Our employees have been involved with landmark buildings and planning projects from coast to coast. We’ve won design awards in many market niches. And we’re dedicated to the community at every level. We welcome the opportunity to serve clients in our hometown, and we’re being proactive to give people in Peoria and nationwide a more accurate perception of who we are, what we do, and why we’re different and better.

Ron: We’re a national firm and proud of that, but we’re also a group of five regional offices passionate about doing work in our communities. In Peoria that means we’re passionate about continuing our long-term relationship with the Civic Center. We’re passionate about the Sears block, our public libraries, new projects for the medical community, area school districts, and so on. What we can bring to these projects is the experience gained in our national markets and design talent that can go toe-to-toe with any firm in the United States. We have so much to offer and want to continue using our abilities to make this a better Peoria. IBI