The basement of the Pentagon in 2001 was 1.6 million square feet. So says Charlie Rodenfels ’73, and he should know.
“The renovation of the basement of the U.S. Pentagon was the hallmark project of my career,” says Rodenfels, a longtime architect. “We finished that in 2000, just in time to have a plane fly into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.”
Fortunately, Rodenfels was not at the Pentagon that day. But because he served as principal of the sensitive renovation project, which began in 1993, he got a phone call from federal officials shortly after the plane hit.
After all, the basement houses five Department of Defense command centers and the National Military Command Center of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“However, the success of that project preceded September 11,” he says. “It was a lot of very talented professionals working collaboratively on a project that’s like performing open heart surgery on someone running a marathon. It’s very intricate, and it goes 365 days a year.”
Rodenfels always has enjoyed watching his colleagues address architectural, design and engineering challenges. However, early in his own career, he developed a passion for architecture’s business side.
“I always wanted to be on the business side,” he says. “I absolutely love the development of ideas and how the engineering side brings those ideas to life.” Rodenfels’ interest in architecture took root during his junior high drafting class. At Gilmour, ceramics teacher Joseph Turkaly recognized Rodenfels’ passion, and he stoked it by working with his student on more advanced drafting.
But the summers Rodenfels spent working at Cleveland architecture firm Dalton-Dalton-Newport awakened his passion and talent for architecture’s business side most of all. And it started for him a long career with the company, even after it was acquired by URS Corp. in 1984.
Cal Dalton, president of Dalton-Dalton-Newport, “had a soft spot in his heart for me,” Rodenfels recalls of his mentor. “He saw I had the ability to embrace the profession, and I’ve found it difficult to find someone else who embraces the business side as much as I do.”
As a partner at Columbus-based EMH&T, a civil engineering firm, Rodenfels seeks out institutions, such as hospitals and universities, in hopes of helping them effectively plan for their facility development programs.
“You have to help them create an environment that best suits their day-to-day function in that space,” Rodenfels says. “By doing that, you can help bring solutions for clients and help them with their business.”
The way to formulate solutions is by communicating with clients, a vital part of Rodenfels’ job. “I like participating and working in a nurturing role with professionals who understand what their goals are as they sit down,” he says. “We just sit down and collaborate, and if we’re successful, the project is successful.”
Rewarding, says Rodenfels, is getting involved with smaller projects early on and watching them unfold as they become a reality.
Throughout his career, just as Cal Dalton mentored him, Rodenfels makes it a point to mentor aspiring architects, especially those who show interest in the profession’s business side.
“I tell them that they have to have a passion for the profession, because there’s a lot of emotional and psychological reward as opposed to financial reward,” he says. “If you don’t have that passion, you’re probably going to get lost.”
After more than 35 years in the business, Rodenfels surely has found his way. On his journey, he’s perpetually inspired by one reality: “I love to win.”