2021 Award – Industry Era Review: Smith LaRock Architecture P.C.

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-Mike Smith


Smith LaRock Architecture was incorporated partially out of frustration, mainly out of a need expressed by past Clients. As a managing partner in a previous Architectural practice, Smith saw many project opportunities be rejected by the other partners for no reason other than they did not fit into a business plan that was too narrowly focused on one project type, while the firm’s second pursuit was an emotional decision not in the firm’s best interests.

Departing that firm in 2002, Smith bought a small local firm in Denver, and at the encouragement of a past major energy company client, agreed to also offer the missing design services in the command-and-control field.  “I turned the firm’s business plan and design philosophy in the direction of our 24/7 mission critical wheelhouse capability:  the Control Center markets, but we also took on those design projects previously left by the wayside for those same process control clients,” says Michael.

“QC Laboratories, Maintenance Shops/Warehouses, Offices, Emergency/Medical Services structures to name a few- projects that often also needed our blast-resistant design capabilities for the industrial environment. We approach the design of all these facilities from a ‘user-centric’ design approach, putting the Users at the center of the design focus and then applying pertinent industry best practice ‘human factors’ to those facilities as well.”



As Founder and Principal Architect, Mike Smith adapted and applied the concept of the 80:20 rule- Pareto’s principle- to the firm’s business practices, specializing the company to focus on a specific client-type where few architects practiced, thus eliminating competition from many other architectural firms.

Within that niche, Smith expanded their project-type offering to include a range of project types needed, providing their specialized capabilities to these industrial clients.  Smith LaRock also saw the value in applying a new type of Computer Aided Design: “Building Information Modeling” or BIM, and SLA became an early adopter of REVIT, a 3D Modeling platform in 2005 long before it became the industry standard it is today.

Investing in both training and software, Smith LaRock Architecture found it could do more with fewer professionals in the firm, another decision to maximize SLA’s effectiveness and by remaining agile, allow Smith to be involved in each project. “REVIT further streamlined our design process and deliverables to offer better and more consistent design deliverables, communication, and 3D walkthrough and rendering capabilities.

Overall REVIT became an immense digital communication aid since nearly all our projects require travel, and today the benefits include Virtual Reality design review methods using Oculus VR Goggles to immerse a client/stakeholder into their project rather than review flat 2D drawings,” adds Michael. “We walk through a design with our clients to assess design efficacy far earlier in a project’s design cycle, a huge leap forward for our clients needing to ‘see’ these projects before the big dollars were spent.”


Rather than generalize their practice, seeking whatever projects they could find, Smith LaRock Architecture augmented their skills to offer additional knowledge and design capabilities that their ‘Process Industry’ clients required in their 24/7/365 world. Smith LaRock deliberately avoided competing locally on residential, commercial, and municipal projects,terminal control buildings instead realizing we had found the type of client we could build a practice around.

We developed a better understanding the specialized needs of the 24/7 shiftwork environment, improved our design capabilities for an environment where toxic releases of chemicals and gases could occur, or where the risk of explosion was present and what we could do to help protect the people within those environments.

In this niche, our stakeholders must be able to continue working in the face of that upset to gain control of an industrial process in distress to prevent it from harming the plant workers or spreading to another unit within the plant confines,” explains the steadfast leader. “The overpressure forces that are possible within certain distances of a process act in a manner fluid dynamic can predict, so we can design that structure in a manner that most architects do not have to consider in the commercial design world.”


Smith LaRock Architecture have been ahead of the transition to BIM CAD systems with fifteen years of completed projects behind them, and are doing more with those BIM capabilities today, adding Augmented Reality (AR) and deeper Virtual Reality (VR) capabilities to their offering, creating “digital twins” – a duplicate of a built facility in digital format to again leverage their effectiveness and ability to help these Fortune 100 clients excel within their markets.


A current project Smith LaRock Architecture has under construction at this writing is a good example of some of the design techniques they have developed over the years to help 24/7 Control Centers. It embodies the human factors of proper control room illumination and acoustics combined with best practices of HVAC delivery, ergonomics, and indoor air quality.

Also, by adding a visual connection to the exterior of their control building, as well as including a daylight-simulating skylight in a ceiling lit to a vigilant level of illumination and adding wall panels printed with local landscapes from the area, the control center has a serene quality, enhancing the quiet nature of the space.

Creating ‘windows’ within a blast-resistant building using technology, not expensive and risky blast-resistant glazing gives their Operators that connection to the outdoors they need: they can see when it’s sunny or raining when one normally would have no idea what’s happening outside, a few feet away. This situational awareness is part of what’s needed when dealing with the daily control regimens in the control center, and only one example of some of the benefits available from Smith LaRock’s design solutions.

Smith LaRock Architecture is presently addressing inquiries about applying their 24/7 control center design knowledge to other ‘Process Control’ industries. With two decades of experience working with the hydrocarbon sector, we are excited to apply this 24/7 knowledge to other process control industries like the Power Generation / Distribution / Smart Grid vertical within the Process Control Sector, as well as Pipelines, Mining & Metals, and Pulp and Paper for example.

Our two decades of experience designing control rooms that focuses on the control room environment is important as the evolving technology used in these rooms. In combining the two, the design elevates the Operators to a level where they can avoid the physiological issues that come with working in these types of often stressful spaces.


“We have helped our clients in the higher-risk environments- those having potential for explosion or toxic releases – who have spent a great deal of time and money over the past two to three decades developing best practices with us for these types of facilities.”

Learning how the room environment can aid in keeping their Operators alert and reactive to potential upsets in the process, vigilant for their entire shift, productive in their results. Despite their wheelhouse expertise in control center design, “Smith LaRock Architecture is not solely about designing Control Buildings.”

We have also addressed our client’s requests to apply those design techniques to the other facilities they require in the same plant environment:

  • Laboratories
  • Maintenance / Shop Facilities
  • Warehouses
  • Offices
  • Emergency / Medical Services structures… to name a few.

Safety, situational awareness, and vigilance in these other types of facilities are just as important.


We are even developing a new paradigm in control center furniture, departing from the traditional console design to embody more modern technology like AI, AR/VR, and digital twin modeling to help immerse Operators in their process control roles and put SLA on the forefront of modern control interface design and distribution methodologies.”


Link to the magazine article:  10-Best-Tech-Companies-of-2021

Certificate of Award:  Smith-LaRock-Architecture-P.C.


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