A Chance to Rethink the Practice
The legacy of a recession on the design world is seldom evident while firms struggle through it. But there is potential for big changes in the disciplines. “In downturns, in recessions, even in the Great Depression, different ways of doing things emerged, says Rick Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York City chapter.
The downtime presented by lighter project rosters gives designers of all stripes time for “introspection” and a chance to “reexamine their process and look at ways to seriously improve the process of design and construction,” says Guy Geier, senior partner at FXFowle of New York. “So you’re seeing, I think because of the slowdown, people embracing things like [building information management] and integrated project delivery and other process improvement ideas that, when things were go-go-go, nobody had the time to figure out.”
And Geier says he believes these efforts will translate into implementation when work picks up –faster than if there had been no recession.
Integrated project delivery is particularly positioned to advance, says Diane Harp Jones, CEO and executive v.p. for the AIA Connecticut chapter. The idea is to bring together project players at a much earlier stage and require much deeper coordination, pulling in even construction subcontractors. She says it’s costly and intensive, requiring software and training, and to be effective it requires buy-in from all team members. But with some local governments seeing the method as a cost-saver, Harp Jones says there’s hope it will spread.
Project delivery changes could be in store in New York as well, as the state AIA chapter lobbies for adoption of changes to require more partnering and sharing of responsibilities between architects and contractors, says Burton Roslyn, the chapter’s president. “Architects are going to have to take a much more active role in the project delivery side of it,” he says, adding that the downturn is spurring the idea forward, especially if the state government adopts the model.
Another tool that could grow faster now is BIM – software systems that design and monitor projects in three-dimensional format with highly detailed, information-embedding capabilities. Firms are now training staff, installing systems, and developing expertise in BIM technology, says David Williams, partner at Davis Brody Bond of New York.
But like any innovation, BIM presents challenges, Williams says. Firms still have to learn the best time to apply it. “We’re finding out that in some of the projects, we started right out of the gate using BIM and it’s proven to be a little bit of a hardship because of the constant modifications that you see during schematic design,” he says.
Another concern is how complex layers of information can actually slow simpler projects, sometimes holding up materials fabrication while awaiting input of additional detail.“You need to figure out where you want to stop on the detail,” he adds. “The software starts to control the design rather than the design controlling the software.”