Tag Archives: AEC industry

The Future of AEC

Teaching the second year undergraduate construction sequence of courses is challenging.

Students, already smitten with studio, see required tech courses as unnecessary evils.

BTES car apart

They have had so few architecture courses at that point, it’s like teaching students how to put a car together before teaching them how to drive.

BTES car apart 2

While the courses serve as a wake-up call that there’s more to architecture than the making of form, not everyone is happy about it.

So, how best to spark and engender a lifelong love affair with building technology?

BTES BIM Figure-7-3

One model is mutual mentoring.

In this model, emulated from practice, senior team members (TAs, the course instructor) work with emerging professionals (students) on building technology, while the emerging digital natives (students again) share what they discover in their digital models.

In a perfect world, this is how things would work.

Due in part to the 2008 economic downturn, when many senior firm members were let go, this model doesn’t materialize as often as one might expect.

In class, I play the surrogate seasoned firm member – the technology principal – teaching my students building technology in lecture.

Ideally, students incorporate what they learn in lecture in the lab section of the class.

The teaching assistants redline their work, the students pick up redlines, and in doing so some facsimile of the office workflow is recreated.

The problem with this model is that there is no evidence that students – let along emerging professionals – always understand what the redlines mean.

So, this past semester, I tried an experiment.

What if students learned building technology at the same time that they learned to work in BIM?

What if, in other words, these two activities occurred simultaneously?

The convergence of building technology and digital technology

Each student was provided with a set of architectural and structural CAD documents to work from.

BTES 308 E Green

By the end of the semester, over 100 students, mostly sophomores no older than 19 years old, each completed a 30pp set of BIM documents of a 16-story high-rise under construction near campus – a student apartment building with duplex units.

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This was no drafting exercise in construction documentation: students had to think, and make critical decisions, every step of the way.

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The course’s fabulous teaching assistants offered in-class tutorials, and Lynda.com was made available to students.

Revit Architecture was offered free to students from Autodesk’s education community.

By the end of the semester, our students

  • compared/contrasted the CAD documents with those produced from their BIM models;
  • visited the construction site, met with the architect and contractors, wrote a field observation report and compared as-built conditions to their BIM model;
  • redesigned portions of the façade; they redesigned the tower’s units;
  • learned how to collaborate in BIM, create BIM standards and families, and how to leverage BIM as a searchable database.

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Most importantly, they demonstrated that they learned how to put a large-scaled, complex building together as they were still learning the digital technology, bridging the lecture/lab divide along the way.

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Did students really need to produce 28-30 sheets of documents to demonstrate that they learned how to put a building together?

If they were drafting in pencil or in CAD, then the answer would be “no.”

But with BIM, the question is irrelevant, because the documents are merely snapshots of the model, slicing it this way or that.

This in itself was a revelation for many students.

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As the instructor, my motivation in conducting this experiment was

  • To teach students how to put a large, complex building together
  • To help them to learn from each other
  • To help them recognize the benefits of just-in-time learning
  • To encourage them to ask questions
  • To have them understand how BIM differs from other tools
  • To have them create a set of BIM documents

As demonstrated in their work, students learned

  • the difference between BIM and CAD tools
  • that BIM is not just a super-charged version of SketchUp
  • that in BIM, unlike CAD, a wall knows it’s a wall
  • that you must know what wall type you are modeling and why
  • that a change in one place is a change everywhere
  • that the model it is a searchable, mineable database
  • that the higher uses of BIM are where the spoils are
  • that you cannot fake it in BIM the way you can in other tools
  • BIM standards and the value of clear communication
  • that they are capable of accomplishing a lot in a short period of time

HereGallery-Exterior

What about collaboration? Why didn’t students work on teams? Teamwork is critically important, starting in school. But in terms of learning the fundamentals early in their architectural education, I felt it was important to assess each student individually.

Doing so teaches students self-sufficiency so that teamwork and collaboration becomes a strategic choice, not a crutch to lean on due to a perceived weakness in one area or the other.

The ultimate goal is collaboration.

The general wisdom goes something like this: due to increasing complexity of buildings, no one person can possibly know it all.

Or can they?

With this experiment, I decided to find out.

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Too Complex and Fast? Slow Down, But Don’t Oversimplify

oversimplifyTo lead our collaborative future, architects need to decentralize or risk being further marginalized.

Architects know that they need to collaborate to succeed. But how will they go about doing it? How, in other words, will they make collaboration happen? As importantly, how will architects make the changes necessary to become not only more collaborative, but leaders of this effort, amidst disruptive change?

AEC leaders already do a great deal to encourage collaboration amongst their teams, providing vision, collaboration-conducive work environments, collaboration technology, and by removing obstacles – including themselves –when necessary, gladly getting out of everyone’s way. They encourage diversity, discussion – even disagreements – as a basis for moving the project forward. By telling their collaboration stories, leaders paint a picture of what collaboration looks like when it is done well. Most importantly, AEC leaders make sure every team member is making the same project. But AEC leaders cannot assure this happens in every meeting on every project. Who, then, on the team will lead the day-to-day collaboration challenge?

Barriers to Collaboration

We know collaboration is hard and takes time — to build relationships, to clear-up misunderstandings, to listen and to get things done. Past experience can hold teams back, and one of the barriers to collaboration remains organizational silos.

Brand erosion is also an impediment to collaboration. For a designer whose singular voice is her expression through her work, collaboration is equated with joint authorship, to some the antithesis of creative expression, muddying the message of the work, dispersing and diluting the voice and design intent of the creator. This thinking is of course mistaken, as leaders need to make clear. One only needs to compare a Beatles tune with any of the band member’s solo efforts to recognize that teams make better decisions – and importantly, results – than individuals. The real fear in collaborating is that we – and our work – will be mediocre, a race toward the lowest common denominator, and with it, irrelevance: we will be seen as just one more designer among designers.

The truth, of course, is by not collaborating architects become marginalized. Not knowing how to effectively collaborate will lead to their irrelevance.

Complexity and Speed

Of the trends impacting our new world of work – including digital tools, collaborative work processes with attendant blurring of roles and responsibilities, working remotely and together earlier – two trends have made all the others a necessity: complexity and speed. Our technology has an impact on the anticipated speed of decision-making. When still hand-drafting, while facing a construction-related question or dilemma, architects would say: We’ll work it out in the field. This was the architect’s go-to VIF: where the contractor on the architect’s behalf would be expected to Verify In Field. Later, working in CAD, architects would say: We’ll work it out in shop drawings. With little bim: We’ll work it out in CDs. And today, with social BIM, We need to work it out NOW!

In the face of increased project speed, we will be tempted to slow down. And we are well advised to do so. Studies show to make decisions that stick, we’re better off delaying choices for as long as practically possible. According to Frank Partnoy in Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, the best professionals understand how long they have available to make a decision, and then, given that time frame, they wait as long as they possibly can: “we are hard-wired to react quickly. Yet we are often better off resisting both biology and technology.” Since our current technology and integrated work process does not accommodate our waiting – in fact, it discourages it – leaders need to make it safe for their teams to make assured, unrushed decisions.

Likewise, despite construction being wickedly complicated, we should not be tempted to oversimplify. We need to take the complex and make it seem simple – without oversimplifying – resisting the temptation to treat a complex task as simpler than it is, potentially leading to oversights and mistakes.

Decentralize or be Marginalized

Architects continue to see themselves as central to decision-making, whether at the top of the project pyramid or a prominent point of the team triangle. Contracts notwithstanding, architects are not the point. For collaboration to work, architects need to get off the pyramid and go wherever and whenever they are needed.

Decentralization implies the transfer of authority from central to local offshoots who represent the firm and serve as its public face, whether as project manager, project architect or project designer – sometimes any two, or all three. These offshoots – like starfish arms – contain the complete DNA and trust of the organization.

Although collaboration requires the architect to decentralize, it has to start at the top, where firm leaders entrust employees to lead teams. What will it take for architects to decentralize? Successful collaboration requires facilitative leadership. For the architect to take on this role, they must play the part of process facilitators over content creators, becoming in essence co-creators. When each teammate contributes as a co-creator, no single person has to carry the load, including the leader. Decentralization allows architects to join the project – and be immediately effective – midstream. Ideally, the architect is called in before the owner even considers undertaking a building project, but the reality is – due in no small part to their own making – the architect is often called upon when the project is already well underway.

Given the collaborative nature of today’s project teams, consideration needs to be given to the firm representative’s leadership and communication style. As proxy stand-ins for the firm, each team leader needs to be able to communicate effectively at all times, with all in the room. Architects’ often-unconscious communication habits will be increasingly scrutinized and decreasingly tolerated in these tight-knit groups. Architects, working more closely with others from every facet of practice, will need to become more familiar with their communication style, paying particular attention to the ability to adjust one’s style to those of others from other work cultures and walks of life.

FOCI: Multiple-centered – not centerless – leadership

Architects – seeing that others have helped narrow their options significantly – narrow them further by opting to see themselves as single purpose entities. One example of this is described in Victoria Beach’s salvo in the newly published 15th edition of the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice where she asks architects to see themselves more as design-focused celebrity chefs and less as engineers assuring the health, safety and welfare of the public. For architects, it’s a both/and, not either/or, proposition.

In fact, architects in the coming years will be needed less as content providers of design intent than as facilitators, orchestrators, collaborators and integrators (or FOCI) of this information and process. Architects will have an opportunity to lead this process if they can learn to become better listeners, aggregators and refiners of the information that arises during the various stages of design and construction.

With the blurring of roles brought about by working collaboratively on integrated teams, the architect’s job is to keep decisions – often multiple decisions – in play. Collaboration and digital practice require a formwork on which to base multi-faceted decisions on increasingly complex projects. One such formwork is that of the rubric FOCI: in lieu of a singular central focus of the center, think of the multiple centers of the ellipse. A redefinition of decision-making that takes digital technology and collaboration into consideration creates such a formwork that will help the architect to communicate effectively with multi-disciplinary teams. To move from a circular to an elliptical model, the architect needs to decentralize.

To decentralize, architects also need to move away from the spotlight where they are the central focus. Many architects are introverts and would gladly succumb the spotlight to others. Architects don’t need to be the loudest one in the room to lead, just the one who listens best. To accomplish this, architects need to focus less, and FOCI more, by serving as project facilitators, orchestrators, collaborators and integrators. By decentralizing, the architect is no longer decision-maker so much as facilitator of project information and decision-making process. As facilitative leaders, architects can become experts in knowing how to find information as opposed to what the information is. When collaborating, it is not about how much any one person happens to know: projects today are too complex for any one person to know everything. Knowing from whom – and where – on the team to find information is more important than one’s ability to store and retrieve it. Architects will also serve as strategic orchestrators of large teams from the earliest stages, often made up with primary, secondary and even tertiary players. The C in FOCI is in flux: the C can represent collaborators or creators or controllers or coordinators. Architects, of course, are component and system integrators.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Deutsch’s article How We Can Make Collaboration Work: How architects can decentralize rather than be marginalized in the Jan-Feb 2014 Trends issue of DesignIntelligence journal.

Read and visit DesignIntelligence.

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What Will You Do That’s Extraordinary?

onelifeArchitects and others in the AEC industry are well-aware of the forces at work changing the way they go about their business.

Forces brought about primarily by the advent of the computer.

When in all pares down, there are three approaches you can take to participating.

You can work by hand, collaboratively with machines, or allow machines to do most of the heavy lifting.

In other words:

1. Analog

2. Man-machine collaboration, and

3. Machine

While in 2014 it is still possible to design a building and complete a set of documents by hand, you can also add, subtract and multiply on an abacus.

Doing everything by hand is a legacy from a bygone era.

While hand drawing is still a desirable skill to have in one’s toolkit, it’s an unrealistic proposition if you are going to compete in an industry where the only hand drawing is done primarily on tablets.

Working without the tools that are available in our era is an act of protest.

And regret, for living in an age dependent on all things digital. So going analog is no longer an option.

At the other extreme, firms like Aditazz recognize that computers can be put to use to help design projects – and discern the best alternatives – in less time, using less manpower.

An approach that can be especially useful when addressing complex building assignments.

Most architects, engineers and construction professionals today fall somewhere between the two extremes of analog and machine.

They recognize that computers have helped them to become more effective at what they do.

But that computers can’t make all the calls – ethical, contextual – at least not yet.

Working digitally today is a given, even if the AEC industry itself hasn’t become more productive or effective since the 1960s despite the introduction of computers into our workflows.

Computer Aided Drafting/Design (CAD) never lived up to the hype or promise to make architects, engineers and contractors more productive.

In many ways, CAD just became a digital version of what architects had long done by hand.

Even with BIM, when I ask architects how they are being more productive or effective working in BIM, they’ll mention that they create templates for repeatable portions of their projects (for example, in housing, kitchen and bath templates – with rules of thumb, building code and ADA constraints indicated.)

Which is great. A process that should be automated in the near future.

But one wonders if this is just the digital equivalent of the “sticky back” boiler-plate details we used to attach to mylar sheets in our documents back in the 80s?

As the saying goes: Measure twice, draw once – and use it over and over if you can.

Thomas L. Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times discusses Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s new book, “The Second Machine Age.”

Authors of Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, their new book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives our economy…and our industry.

The book focuses on three massive technological advances that recently reached their tipping points, advances they describe as “exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

A commenter at the Times website wrote:

A time is coming when most routine tasks can and will be done by computers.

This is really how computers can best support design and construction professionals.

Becoming an architect, for example, was never about aspiring to address routine tasks.

Routine tasks – whether running prints, drafting bathroom or column details – were in the past taken-on by architectural interns.

Today, due to their considerable smarts and technological know-how, these same emerging professionals are working on entire buildings.

They’re the first lookers and early responders inside digital building models.

All the more reason that routine tasks ought to become automated.

Freeing-up design and construction professionals to do what they do best.

The article commenter continued:

What happens then to the average people in the world? Extraordinary people will find ways to take care of themselves, but not everyone can be extraordinary.

Not everyone.

But you can.

You can be extraordinary. In fact, for those who want to work in the AEC industry, it’s a requirement.

Being extraordinary at what you do doesn’t change due to the technology you use.

Being extraordinary is all the more important in the workplace and at the jobsite today.

To distinguish oneself.

To differentiate yourself.

What will you do that’s extraordinary?

Bringing your weaknesses up to a level where they’re not so glaring, where they can no longer trip you up and undermine your career ascension, will only get you so far.

Working on your weaknesses will only make you ordinary.

Not extraordinary.

This year, identify a strength and develop it.

Take it as far as you can.

Seek help. Get training.

Track your progress.

Share your results.

Most AEC professionals today who are gainfully employed are already extraordinary people who are extraordinary at what they do.

The trick is in remaining so.

Heed the words of poet Mary Oliver, and ask yourself:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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For AEC Industry, Is Trust the Killer Mobile App?

An online discussion asks: What is the mobile killer app for the AEC industry?

Mobile Apps for the field and jobsite appear to be where the industry is headed.

It’s only a question of which ones and when.

In the discussion, various technologies are proposed:

.

  • a Navisworks-like app with an ability to mark up the model
  • ruggedized iPads and Xooms
  • Artra, a FIELD-BIM & 3D CAD Facilities Management solution for AEC & BIM
  • virtual desktops to run 500MB models in the cloud

While others are rejected:

  • I don’t see people walking around on the site wearing goggles
  • There is nothing you can do to ruggedize iPad

The consensus is one of people walking around, viewing the model, taking pictures on site, adding notes and comments, setting attributes and syncing that with the model on the server in the trailer.

Or is the consensus doing what we’ve always done: scribble down notes and sketch?

There’s the commenter who has been working in the future for some time now and doesn’t see anything new.

Implying that the rest of us ostensibly have been living in the past with our heads under a rock.

Inevitably, one commenter accuses another of promoting an app they represent.

And it’s monkeys at a tea party.

There’s technology,

There’s just no trust

We’re all worried about how we’re going to build buildings when we ought to be focused on building trust.

In discussions about IPD we’re all for sharing risk and reward.

But when it comes to putting yourself on the line to support someone else

(the very definition of sharing risk and reward)

Where is everybody?

With BIM, you team with those with experience.

With IPD, you team with those you know and trust.

Right?

You don’t need IPD experience to do IPD,

You need trust

Yes, you need an owner who asks for IPD.

But you can’t deliver what they ask for, when they ask for it, without first building trust.

Trust is the real integrated project delivery method.

Trust is a prerequisite for IPD.

Others attest that trust in integrated design and teams is a result but not a prerequisite.

“It’s not about trust—it’s about process,” says Scott Simpson. “If the process is set up properly, trust will follow.”

With IPD, you do need to find others who:

  • Can work with you, and
  • Want to work with you

Selecting the right people to work on IPD teams.

And who are the right people?

Those who have trust in each other.

Trust is an achievement. Trust takes work.

To build trust requires an investment of time.

And not everyone will see this investment as worthwhile.

Who will take the first step?

Trust can be a difficult subject for those in the AEC industry to discuss.

Especially when there’s the implication that one party—or their work effort or product—cannot be trusted.

One thing is certain—trust speaks to the need for meaningful social relationships among people who work together.

So who will take the first step?

Some believe the owner has to set the stage for a trusting working environment and process:

However you define it, trust is one key to working collaboratively.

Without trust, there’s just coercion in one of its many forms.

Trust is the Killer Mobile App

In the book, Love is the killer app, Tim Sanders believes love is the crucial element in the search for personal and professional success.

Sanders sees “business love” in clear, behavioral terms: “the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles with your business partners.”

And what are those intangibles? Sharing

  • knowledge, with as many people as possible
  • our network, our rich web of working relationships
  • compassion, to reach out to others authentically

Before you build the building model, build the trust model

Another book takes a different approach to building trust. Building the High-Trust Organization: Strategies for Supporting Five Key Dimensions of Trust, provides an easy-to-administer model and instrument for measuring and managing trust in organizations.

The five critical dimensions from the title are Competence, Openness and Honesty, Concern for Others, Reliability, and Identification.

Creating an environment of trust is at the very heart of team success.

High-trust teams have increased value, accelerated growth, enhanced innovation, improved collaboration, stronger partnering, better execution, and heightened loyalty.

This book answers the question: how do you create and build trust in your team?

Trust crash

As one commenter put it:

In a time of unprecedented mergers, government sponsored buy-outs, the collapse of financial institutions, organizational restructuring and layoffs has resulted in a “trust crash” among employees and stakeholders.

So, before investing in mobile Apps for the field and jobsite,

Invest in building trusting relationships.

Because trust appears to be where the industry is headed.

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Learning to Be Roughly Yourself

From the moment you meet at the big table in the big room with the big team of stakeholders and fellow professionals, you’re there for one reason and one reason alone.

You’re an expert at something.

You didn’t get to where you are because you’re “well-rounded.” You’re there because of your deep skills, because you’re good at something. That something – whether it is in BIM management or BIM coordination, building design or building detailing – I wrote about in an earlier post.

For projects that were traditionally delivered – whether in BIM or not – that was well and good.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent that being an expert at what you do isn’t going to cut it in the BIM and Integrated Design world.

Moving forward, with BIM and Integrated Design, you are still required to present your best and highest self, working from the place of your core competency, however you – or those you work with or for – define that.

But just as importantly, while working in IPD, the person who shows up to the table needs to be a little less well defined. Something or someone closer to a rough approximation of yourself.

Why?

Because there – at the table – you’ll be wearing more than one hat. You’ll have more than one title and you’ll be playing several roles. In fact, your title and role when you enter the big room become blurred.

You’ll still need to be yourself and play your part as you always have – it’s just that your margins are a little less well defined, your guard will come down.

And the hard line that formerly defined you is perforated and permeable.

You will be able to do this because for the first time you’ll be able to – completely and unconditionally – trust those you are teaming with.

In BIM and Integrated Design you have to be more than just your role.

You have to see ideas, possibilities and actions from multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

And make a concerted effort to not only couch what you say with your audience in mind – something you have been doing for ages – but consider the consequences for your line of action when it still just a line of thought in your mind.

It is a higher order of operating that is expected when you are at the big table.

The other day at a BIM-IPD/RUG meeting, I listened as several design professionals discussed their concerns about where the profession and industry is headed – while each spoke from their own perspective.

That may be well and fine for CAD. But with BIM and Integrated Design there is a constant need to keep others in mind as one speaks. With one ear focused on what you are saying and another on the meta message – the message heard by others at the table, and what that message might mean for them, and why it is they are sitting there silent at the table, not participating. Perhaps they are bored. Or frightened or even threatened by what they are hearing. Or perhaps something is stewing inside that at any moment might bottle up and explode.

Whether you are working with an IPD Facilitator or not – and until that day comes – it is up to each of us to develop this ability – to facilitate ourselves – in ourselves.

And we are completely capable of handling this. While the brain is hard at work putting our ideas out there, or thinking up the next thing to say, the mind is aware – on another level – of the potential impact – positive, negative or indifferent – this will have on those seated around you.

One eye focused on the BIM model while the other is on the reactions of those seated around  the table – who together have the will and power to make your suggestion a reality.

You do this by thinking about your concerns from others’ perspectives – potential clashes before they even occur in Navisworks, when they’re still in your mind

Think of it as the virtual conversation you have before it is acted upon, becoming real. You’re having a VDC – Virtual Design Conversation.

To adjust our communication style to that of the group, you first need to assess and know your own. If unsure or what to re-assess, here’s a good place to start.

My wife used to work at a company where employees walked around with coffee mugs that announced their communication style and language preferences to each other – so that, with your coffee, you could adjust your speech to whoever you ran into in the kitchen or in the hall.

I myself am an expressive. If I just talk – without adjusting what I say to my audience of 1 or 20 financial types don’t know what to do with me. To negotiate, to sell my design ideas, I have to talk in their terms.

Is this disingenuous? No, nor dishonest. It is about communicating – what you need to do – to talk, to think, in other’s terms. We do this all the time with those we  are closest with – and professionally with clients and owners.

Phil Bernstein – in a recent AIA podcast with Markuu Allison – spoke of the need for those at the table in IPD to be roughly an architect, roughly a contractor, and so on.

It is about architects developing their inner contractors and contractors developing their inner architects.

It  is also about letting-go – of our self-limiting titles and roles.

Be who you are – yes.

Maintain your expertise – certainly.

But be open to others.

Architects in particular are used to playing many roles – or at least thinking like others – from the start of projects onward.

As a senior designer – in the go/no-go early phase of projects before the fee could support a full team – I would often have to play project designer, project architect and project manager until the project was given the green light.

In BIM and Integrated Design, it is almost as though you have to embody the characteristics of each of those at the table. And the list, in Integrated Design teams, can be considerable. Start with the core team of owner, contractor and architect – and move out from there.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion at the knowledge architecture/knowledge management KA Connect group for the AEC industry (which I highly recommend you join,) group and KA Connect founder Christopher Parsons suggested that

You’ll meet three types of people in a knowledge-driven firm – writers, librarians, and teachers. Writers create. Librarians capture. Teachers share. The teaching part, the commitment to systematically sharing, is what’s missing. We are two-thirds of the way there. We just need to finish the job. “Go the distance.” 

While this may be true for the way things have been done in firms up until now, with BIM and Integrated Design teams there’s no time at the table to be “just” a librarian, “just” a writer or “just” a teacher. You have to nurture the development of all three within yourself.

Perhaps James L. Salmon of Collaborative Construction (another LinkedIn group you ought to be a part of if you aren’t already) said it best when he said you achieve IPD in 3D by leveraging existing skills on a cross disciplinary basis.

How you learn to do this – cross-pollinate cross-discipline – is just starting to become apparent in the AEC industry. What we do know, though, is that it is becoming increasingly clear that this is a skill, an ability and talent we cannot survive without. Learning to be roughly ourselves – we must.

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