Interoperability Panel Warns ‘Get It or Quit It’

The May 20 plenary theme session focused on a movement across building design, construction, and operations referred to variously as interoperability and Building Information Model. Based on the need for 3D graphic databases that accumulate and store all detailed information on a project, the Building Information Model concept is in demand by clients, fabricators, and constructors alike. The call to action that Friday morning—including from panelist Thom Mayne, FAIA—was for architects to embrace the marvels of this technology, too.

From preliminary site-selection criteria to interior finishes, and everything in between—including model studies, scheduling, pricing, systems specifications, framing and cladding details, and all the concomitant decision trails—the design and construction process of tomorrow is finally here today, five expert panelists made abundantly clear.

The other side of your brain
“Yesterday, we looked at the power of architecture from the perspective of community values,” said AIA President Douglas L Steidl, FAIA, as he kicked off the discussion. “Now, it’s time to switch on the other side of our brains, the side that focuses on technology and the tools that are shaping the future of building design and construction. Increasingly, we are aware that the application of advanced digital information and imaging techniques is changing practice, especially how we communicate with clients and our partners in the building trades.” Steidl introduced McGraw-Hill Construction President Norbert W. Young Jr., FAIA, to begin the session.

The way we are doing things now, “traditionally,” Young said, is very different from the way the process could be working. The Building Information Model allows space, form, and time to be represented in a single interoperable model.

To illustrate how thinking in four dimensions—3D over time—is not a philosophy but a state of mind, began panel moderator Daniel Friedman, PhD, FAIA, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. The panel he moderated brought together five innovators, all with architectural backgrounds yet each with a different perspective on the Building Information Model, Friedman explained. Tools that will help us implement the full dress rehearsal of 4D design (i.e., 3D over time) exist, he said, and the day’s discussion will offer a glimpse into what the coming world of design and construction will look like. But, he warned, true team interaction through technology will require hard work on the architects’ part.

Owners and interoperability
Representing the owner’s perspective was William P. Tibbett of Johnson & Johnson. Change is now, and clients are demanding a new way, he said. They no longer tolerate mistakes, delays, and team members not being able to share their networked information. “Owners, clients, corporations like mine won’t put up with this situation any longer,” he said. And it is the architect who best understands both process and results of process, which puts them in a position of having the earliest and longest relation with the owner. So it is architects who should most welcome the opportunity to adopt 3D modeling to meet these client’s demands.

As immediate past president of the Construction Users Roundtable, Tibbett shared four recent CURT findings on what that owner’s group wants from the design/construction team members:

  • Engage the owners as the leaders of the team, recognizing that they want the proper use of technology from every team member
  • Integrate the project team, including constructors, which may require new legal tools to facilitate new intra-team relationships
  • Appreciate the business models involved, which require open seamless data flow and elimination of errors
  • Build an information model based on endorsed techniques of document workflow and decision making.

The large-firm viewpoint
It might be hard to follow such a tough-minded owner, quipped HOK CEO Patrick E. MacLeamy, AIA, “but I’d follow an owner anywhere.” He immediately launched into a continuation of Tibbett’s message of imperative with a declaration that architects are losing ground in the design and construction industry despite their hard work. The big projects are almost to completion by the time many architects become involved. One reason, he said, is that architect documentation doesn’t give contractors all they need. Traditionally, architects’ services were heavier in construction document production than in schematic design and design development, he said. And, yet, it is in SD and DD that the most strategic impact can be made on saving cost and time and increasing project quality.

And now we have litigation as the final phase, “something I never learned in school,” he said. The audience laughed, MacLeamy did not. He exhorted those in attendance to use the software innovations now available up front to coordinate and analyze iterative options to provide the real-time cost estimating the client wants. Only that will allow architects to take their place as shapers of he built environment by working smarter, not harder, he concluded.

A software developer weighs in
Phillip G. Bernstein, FAIA, of Autodesk shared his insight that it is not the architect’s role that is changing. Instead, it is the pace of change that is increasing and swirling around the profession so fast that architects appear to be in stasis. Building Information Modeling is a practical, proven means of enabling the architects to keep pace. Generating an intelligent 3D database only once that supports fabrication and assembly drastically transforms project delivery, and the whole team works differently; more closely. For the architects, this means leaving behind the concept of master builder and taking on the new role of master controller. The new software capabilities are re-fabricating architecture, Bernstein said, so that architects can provide better service and manage risk. “The possibilities are there,” he said. “Do we want to take part?”

An architect/engineer’s case study
Joseph G. Burns, FAIA, PE, SE, vice president of Thorton-Thomasetti Engineers, used the Adaptive Reuse of Soldier Field (Lohan Caprile Goettsch, architect) to illustrate the benefits of using 3D modeling to keep a large, complex project on time and budget.

Most industries have grown twice as fast as most architects in adopting the use of 3D interoperable modeling, and steel fabricators have been moving even faster than that, he said. He showed how 3D framing modeling allows precise planning of shapes and connections so that fabricators can efficiently produce parts that constructors can assemble with speed and assurance.

On Soldier’s Field, the steel fabricators’ coordination with the cladding manufacturer, also using 3D modeling, was smooth and efficient, Burns pointed out. Coordination with the precast provider, which worked in 2D drawings, proved problematic. The silver lining, he said, is that precasters are currently looking to 3D modeling to cut their delivery time to a sixth of what has been the case till now—very ambitious and commendable, Burns said. This process is revolutionizing the whole A/E/C industry, Burns said.

The view from a Pritzker Prize recipient
“Prepare yourselves for a new profession in coming decades” warned Thom Mayne, FAIA, this year’s Pritzker Prize winner and Morphosis principal. There now exists a medium that can allow the architect to start with land forms, develop and test design concepts, and move through millions of bits of information to final form, capturing all of those decisions in a database useable by fabricators, constructors, and owners.

It is the embedded process, not the end product that fascinates Mayne. The new tools, he said, allow him to concentrate on design rather than the much-more-mundane physical aspects of building and analyzing models. This allows him to produce spaces it would have been impossible to conceive 10 years ago, much less build. And this increase in performance allows U.S. architects to compete in the ever-tighter global markets. Architects should be demanding these capabilities, Mayne exhorted.

Using the San Francisco Federal Courthouse he is currently developing with the General Services Administration as an example, Mayne showed how 3D modeling design blurs the line from design to prototyping and fabrication/construction. It also allows micro and macro iterations during design development through computerized modeling. It is possible to develop a model, have it thoroughly analyzed, and reevaluate its design within a day without a hand ever touching a physical model. Thus, design development moves much more in keeping with the speed of the creative, critical, iterative mind, with very high specificity, Mayne said. “Anything you can imagine is possible.”

Take ‘try’ out of your vocabulary
In concluding remarks, Friedman paraphrased AIA Executive Vice President /CEO Norman L. Koonce, FAIA, by reminding the audience that “Excellence does not come by chance, it comes by choice.”

This is a call to immediate action for architects, panelists agreed. There is perhaps a five-year window of opportunity for the architectural profession to embrace this technology if they are to stay relevant to their clients. Further, this is not an onerous task or limiting technology, but an opportunity to free themselves from the tedious, slow, and error-prone nature of traditional construction-document production and put more concentration on creative problem-solving and design.

This is “total Gestalt,” Mayne concluded. “This is a complete rethinking of our work.” He referred to the formal design demands, such as the work of Frank Gehry, FAIA, opining that “adherence to accepted Classical forms is limiting.” He also pointed to the waste of talent of concentrating on arcane, traditional skills, such as “drawing plants in school.”

How do you learn to use the new technology? By doing it, Tibbitt said. Identify hurdles, find solutions, and determine what is available on the market to facilitate those solutions. What clients such as Johnson & Johnson need is precise operational information.

Steidl concluded the discussion by telling the assembled that the AIA Board has heard messages brought out during discussions such as this over the past year. The Board believes, he said. “We believe we have three to five years to achieve this.”

Copyright 2005 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved. Home Page


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