2 Mar

Driving Change to Change Faster

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A mixed picture for architecture: getting worse nationally, better globally–but changing increasingly fast regardless.

In many ways, these are tough times to be an architect in America. The Post War expansion of the suburbs has largely ground to a halt and has lessened the resources available to potential clients for construction projects. There is talk that the health of the profession is not good. Economic malaise still colors much of the overall construction industry and while some established or niche firms may be sailing through the choppy waters of the recent economic recovery, a great many of us in the industry still carry a constant anxiety over where the next client or project will come from.

Globally and technologically, however, these are truly exciting times. Scientific advances in material sciences and structural engineering such as in composite structural elements, cross-laminated timber, and ultralight insulation products open up the possibilities of buildings which are more efficient, more resilient, and more sustainable.  Premanufacturing techniques, such as structural insulated panels, have enabled construction projects to be executed quickly and with a high degree of material efficiency, while technological advances in mechanical engineering have allowed for smarter, more comfortable, more energy-efficient buildings. The world is rapidly urbanizing, or reurbanizing as the case may be, and the drive to make more efficient, clean, and livable communities has become a clarion call for both developed and developing societies seeking better environments for healthier, freer societies.

Necessarily, at the center of all this is the building per se: whether a modest single family home or a  state-of-the-art high rise, our communities – and how we live within them – are largely defined by the aggregate condition of their individual architectural elements. Long gone are the days where a certain continuity was inherent from the Zeitgeist of local craftsmen utilizing conventional materials and construction techniques to erect individual buildings haphazardly integrated into a city as need demand. Modern sensibilities demand the integration of each individual working component of that building into an intelligent system and of each individual building into an at least semi-coherent cityscape. It is therefore no longer sufficient to continuously in an ad-hoc manner agglomerations of buildings and infrastructural services to meet ever-changing demands, but to consider a building, it’s use, systems, and environment as all part of an integrated, resilient, ever-changing whole.

High sophistication in needs mandates a correspondent sophistication in design and the execution of that design. In many ways, the construction industry is the most archaic of the major industries: designers design and builders build. While often a useful and still functional paradigm for division of labor and managing construction liability, sophistication tends to breed over-specialization of skill. Architects of old, as a master builder, ran crews large under his direct supervision. He didn’t have to coordinate a team of discrete organizations on the same scale as is necessary today with the complexity of contemporary buildings. Contractors today may have in excess of several dozen second and subtier contractors working below them. Every one of these specialties is necessary, but each from design through final acceptance by the owner MUST be coordinated in order to ensure that what is possible is executable and that it is executed well.

Fortunately, as is often the case, technology presents solutions for the problems it has created. In this case, enter Building Information Modeling (BIM). This idea digitizes the design and construction process so that a building may be first created and coordinated in simulation before tangible material and financial resources are expended in actual construction. This is the advent of an age of operations made increasingly smarter and more prone to change. It is likely that not only will the fundamental methods and management of construction change over a contemporary career but that the demands of the industry of the future will be substantially different than those of today. The world continues to become wealthier, more urban, but must more carefully manage the resources and space available to it in a more livable and more sustainable manner. In an era of developed world reurbanization, efficient repurposing of the existing built environment will be a crucial need. The specific technology of BIM in this case is accessible laser scanning in which it is possible to efficiently approach renovation projects and for the quick reuse of existing structures through scale models of existing 3-dimensional spaces within which to design and build.

Likely, little of this is really news to the savvy or those involved in the construction industry. We hope to use this, our inaugural blog post, as a way to share our excitement for the possible; we envision environments that are cleaner, greener (in every sense of the word), and more livable. We want to explore a construction process – from conception through commissioning – that is smarter, more intuitive, and more resilient.

We invite you to contribute, to debate and to share your ideas and hopes as architects and builders. We thrive on sharing views, techniques, and insights – what can contemporary design achieve in helping to realize this vision of a more livable world – and  our mission is to advance the instructions for building – design, construction, or building management – as an efficient, information driven process. Our passion is to make technologically sophisticated tools available to all stakeholders who share our desire to turn the possibilities of today into the built reality of the future.

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