Q&A May 31, 2024

A View on the Future of Architecture for Data Centers: A Q&A with Robert Mehall

Design Principal will continue to grow our Jacobs business through project delivery, a robust approach to our data center practice as well as solving our clients’ most difficult challenges

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We live in an era of the Internet of Things, cloud computing, virtual universes and AI-powered chatbots – all made possible through data centers. 

It’s estimated that by 2025, every person will have at least one interaction with a data center every 18 seconds. As applications for data and demand for bandwidth continue to grow, so does the demand for data center services.

Our history is long when it comes to delivering sustainable, resilient data centers. At Jacobs, we understand the need for a global network of expertise and knowledge to design for scalability, adapt for market demand, and innovate to remain several steps ahead. 

For over 30 years, high-technology, mission critical design has been at the core of our practice. Ranked No. 1 Data Center Design Firm (Engineering News-Record) and No. 1 Data Center Engineering Firm (Building Design + Construction), in the past ten years, we've delivered over 17 million square feet of data center white space and 3,600 MW in power demand, worth more than $30 billion in construction value.

But we can’t deliver these impactful solutions for our clients without our global teammates and their unmatched knowledge in integrated planning, architecture, engineering, project and construction management and commissioning for data center facilities. 

In this Q&A, we connect with one of these teammates, Robert Mehall, a visionary architect at the forefront of data center design and innovation. Robert’s unique approach to architecture combines cutting-edge technology with sustainable design principles. He’s created data centers that not only meet the practical needs for clients but also set new standards for architectural excellence.

Hi, Robert. Tell us about your role. 

I am a design principal specializing in architecture and data center design. My days are typically filled with client and team engagement efforts where we review the latest project information and assess our path forward. I’m constantly working on new solutions for my projects and checking in with various team members to ensure they have clear direction. I also engage in site visits, review drawings, and go into the office about once a week. I enjoy my time connecting with other team members and helping mentor staff and the next generation of thinkers and doers. 

What are some of the key design and architecture challenges we’re solving for our data center clients?

One challenge is that technology is always changing, adapting and evolving. This means, we must do the same. To keep up with technology, we’re creating custom solutions for our clients that combine the flexibility of tried-and-true traditional designs with the ability to accommodate higher demands required for artificial intelligence (AI), by using plug-and-play solutions. This limits the up-front costs for clients until they are ready to implement the design. The key to managing this challenge is designing adaptable buildings that are flexible enough to accommodate future infrastructure expansion and design without embedding too many options or solutions as technology is constantly changing.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing in data centers lately?

With the emergence of AI and their production load requirements, our data centers are working hard to keep up. Therefore, we’ve been providing sufficient cooling for these technologies. Traditionally, data centers have relied on air-based cooling methods, but this is no longer sufficient. The biggest push has been for direct-to-chip liquid cooling, which dissipates the heat much better than air. A hybrid solution of air-based and direct-to-chip (among other bespoke solutions) are deployed to support whatever unique design requirements are needed. 

Share a bit about a cool project you’re working on these days.

We’re delivering various colocation data centers including several build-to-suit centers ranging from 120,000 square feet (ft2) to 370,000 ft2.  Each center has different requirements and not one project is the same as the next, even when we work for the same client. The designs are always evolving as we continue to improve and refine. These types of bespoke projects keep my work life interesting and full of intrigue.

How will data and digital technology change how we deliver design going forward? 

As AI becomes more integrated with our design process, it will allow us to augment our traditional process by reviewing and testing solutions faster. Currently, we can use evidence-based design and lean design, but the review of data and design testing takes time. Augmenting this process with AI will provide us with the ability to develop new or hybrid solutions that we may not have seen before. I do not believe it’s significantly different from working alone, to now collaborating with colleagues across the world – working together seamlessly. AI can do this at a much larger scale, applying even more data instantaneously. This will allow us to focus on other complex issues and develop the next innovative design.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

What sets Jacobs apart is that you develop working relationships with individuals in each discipline and work with the same people on multiple projects. This allows us to constantly improve our team’s communication and processes with each project and allow us to immediately start projects instead of redeveloping best practices and procedures from scratch.

About the interviewee

Robert Mehall headshot

Born with a natural curiosity and a gift for problem solving, Robert Mehall is one of Jacobs’ architects for our Cities & Places market and overall design practice. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for blending functionality with aesthetics, Robert has made significant contributions to the world of architecture. Whether he conceives the initial design or collaborates one-on-one with our clients, Robert leverages communication and collaboration to bring the greatest potential of a project to fruition. With a proven track record of success and a passion for pushing the boundaries of what is possible, Robert continues to make a lasting impact on the world of architecture, data center design, and other markets where technically complex buildings are delivered though design excellence. 

Get to know Robert

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