Phillip Bernstein, FAIA
Vice president, building industry division, Autodesk
In chemical engineering, something is said to act as a “catalyst” when
it significantly lowers the energy required for a reaction to occur.
The catalyst is not the reason the reaction takes place—it is simply
the missing ingredient that makes a reaction practical and energy-efficient.
At the end of the process, the catalyst remains unchanged, but it has
helped to create a desired result.
precisely the role technology is playing in one of the most dramatic
changes in the profession of architecture in decades, perhaps longer.
I’m talking about the vision of creating an “integrated
practice,” moving from traditional ways of doing business into
fully collaborative, highly integrated, and productive teams that include
all the stakeholders in a project’s lifecycle. It’s a vision
of a building process where information flows freely and can be used
where it is most needed. In integrated practice, projects are optimized
for client outcomes, rather than for the individual business objectives
of designers, constructors, and owners. (Click image for Bernstein’s
comments during a 2005 panel discussion on BIM; 8MB)
A business reality
The most important factor behind this evolutionary change is not technology,
as some speculate, but business reality. Technology is just a catalyst
to effect a needed change that addresses failures that have long been
recognized in the building industry.
Traditional methods are too costly, too wasteful, and don’t take
into account the full life cycle of a building. Traditional industry
practices do not provide sufficient access to sufficient information
for everyone involved to make crucial decisions under today’s pressures
of time, budget, and accountability. Traditional methods do not deliver
the outcomes clients demand in today’s business climate.
There are three major reasons for this state of affairs:
- The gap between the activities of design (the process of defining
the intent of the project) and construction (the actualization of
that intent) has widened to the breaking point
- The specific business interests of each player in that process,
where thin profits must be fiercely protected and risk transferred
rather than mitigated, have become as important as successfully completing
- We’ve created silos of expertise and liability, resulting
in an overall process that was once aptly characterized by a colleague
at Stanford as “sub-optimized to the point of failure.”
It’s no wonder that AEC risks remain high and margins low, with
clients dissatisfied in the main with our results. A recent client survey
of owners highlighted one such painful point: 70 percent felt that document
quality was declining, and a stunning 98 percent felt that architects
should be held more responsible for increasing document quality. That
to me is an indictment of our current processes.
Greater insight needed
What the industry faces can be summed up as a demand for greater insight into the increasingly complex collections of information that make
up what we call a design. It’s crucial that this insight be available
as early in the creation process as possible—that’s when
there is the greatest potential to affect the building’s cost
and function with the least cost in dollars and time.
In addition to creating insight early, we need to establish a context
in which this insight can arise throughout the various business processes
that create a building. This new context blurs roles, changes responsibilities,
shifts potential liability, and demands new contract models and instruments
of service. While technology might create the mechanisms for such a context
by allowing the sharing of digital data, it can only catalyze the necessary
changes in business approach that yield progress.
Integrated practice is therefore as much a philosophical change in the
business of architecture as it is a method or a process. So, fundamentally,
technology is not causing—in fact, it cannot cause—this change
to happen. Rather, it creates the platform that makes it practical and
efficient for architects and everyone else involved in the creation of
a building to do business under this new set of rules.
This point is best driven home by the diagram and photo below that explain
how the “CAD revolution” of the past 20 years has failed
to catalyze significant change. The chart plots the rise and fall of
project knowledge through the basic phases of project development.
Despite the extensive use of computer-aided drafting tools throughout
the various phases of this process (at least, until building operation),
this technology has failed to create needed continuity. Between each
phase of development, those wonderful technology tools are used to reduce
project information to its least useful form: paper. The result is a
loss of quality and signal strength.
This technology has created very few fundamental changes in AEC process. And while the typical design workstation now has a computer on it, some
argue that it is surrounded by even more paper than 20 years ago. It
is this process that needs to change if our practices are to survive,
whether we choose to employ technology or not.
Technology is just the catalyst
In fact, technology, strictly speaking, is not an essential component
of integrated practice. It is possible, at least theoretically, to
incorporate the elements of integrated practice without digital technology.
But, as chemical engineers understand, the difference between the ability
to synthesize something and synthesize it profitably at industrial
scale is the use of the right catalyst. So it is in the best interests
of architects to adopt new technology now and put ourselves in a position
to drive what is an inevitable process of evolution toward integrated
But simply “adopting technology” is not the same thing as
adopting an integrated practice approach. There is no “Integrated
Practice Ware” that you merely install to transform your business
the next day. Necessary first is an understanding of how technology can
serve as a catalyst in this thermodynamic definition; that is, how the
use of building information modeling tools and their capabilities can
lower the “energy”—be it time or cost—that’s
required to move to integrated practice.
The next insights come with adopting any new philosophy: examining some
knotty issues that need to be resolved along the path. Resolving those
non-technological problems will be the greatest challenge. At least
seven bear special scrutiny:
- Efficiency: How do we create business processes that maximize
efficiency while minimizing waste and the inevitable tensions that
exist among various players? Redefined business processes that address
these matters are not necessarily technological, although technology
can help. Technology, for example, can be used to create building information
models that truly represent a building’s full life cycle and reduce waste
during construction as well as operation. But tensions will remain if
the process of employing the technology doesn’t appropriately
address the needs of stakeholders to share the decisions that inform
the model. These processes go to the heart of the design-bid-build
approach that typifies U.S. construction projects where few incentives
exist to share information across the boundaries of the sawtooth diagram
- Defining roles: What are the new definitions of responsibility
for each participant (especially the architect, engineer, and contractor)
in the building process when it is integrated? This is the central
question in the philosophical change embodied in integrated practice.
In the tension-filled current model, architects and engineers typically
provide services; contractors provide products. In an integrated approach,
these roles will blur, taking best advantage of the available insights.
This blurring will change the client’s expectations for which entity is providing a given aspect
of the overall building project. If responsibilities remain unsettled,
efficiency to be gained from the new practice model can’t be
realized. Here is an area where technology only creates an opportunity
for redefinition, but does not resolve it.
- Information value: An integrated approach implies a free flow
of information among the project participants. But that information
has huge value throughout a project—whether it is the unique character
of the design solution or construction materials pricing and availability
analysis. The definition of this information, its ownership, and the
obligations to provide it must be dealt with in both legal and technical
spheres. Without a resolution, the concept of a shared, digital building
model is untenable in the context of integrated practice. Here is an
area where technology serves as a pure catalyst: digital tools make it
feasible to share information and create a free flow, and can even provide
protection of ownership where boundaries are agreed. It cannot compel
anyone to provide anything; it can only permit the agreed ownership model
to operate smoothly. Once you’ve got that potent building information
model, now what?
- Business value: Buildings are delivered by a constellation of
businesses in our industry, and each participant is paid according
to market principles. When there are utterly clear delineations among
those players and an accepted marketplace value on their contributions,
computing compensation will be a straightforward task. As with any
industry undergoing structural changes, the current value definitions
in the AEC world will be altered by those same marketplace forces as
they react to the evolving realties in the industry. That will in turn
result in changes to compensation to the various members of an integrated
team. It’s crucial to understand
that these value definitions and compensation levels are independent
of the underlying technology that makes collaboration possible and
likely depend on the redefinition of the fundamental value of the contributions
made by each team member towards the end result.
- Risk: Liability is top of mind for all exploring integrated practice.
When digital information created collaboratively is the basis for construction
and fabrication, who assumes responsibility for failure? Remember,
a client’s expectations in this new world are not proper “design
intent” but “successful outcomes from construction.” Current
models of design versus product liability don’t function in an
environment where information is shared and decisions are made jointly.
And, although a building information modeling platform may be able
to identify the specific author of a piece of design data, it cannot
track the decision-making process that brought it into existence. This
may be the single greatest conceptual hurdle to integrated practice
and will require cooperation between AEC professionals and clients
- Contract models: Existing contract models that define the roles
and responsibilities of the players are based on legal precedent
and established case law that is, by definition, backward-looking.
This approach, long endorsed by the AIA through the Contract Documents
program, has lent great stability, predictability, and standards to
the AEC industry for 100 years. And the AIA Documents continue to be
the best guideposts available for tested practice approaches. Clearly,
as the industry adopts integrated models, existing contractual structures
must persist. Yet how are new models established? Who will be willing
to test them?
- Sustainable design: Understanding the sustainability of a design
is a rigorous analytical process that is well supported by BIM approaches.
Evaluating a project’s use of materials, energy consumption,
lighting, and so forth are tasks easily accomplished with a digital
model. Yet generally accepted methodologies to certify sustainability
are evolving, as is understanding of the direct financial benefits
of the results to the owner and potential rewards to the design team.
In its best sense, a green building is a logical outcome of an integrated
process, requiring not just that the design and construction process
connect, but an understanding that the design itself be integrated
across its lifecycle. Does sustainable design require integrated
If the difficulties posed by these and other questions deter you from
considering this new philosophy, a word of caution. Technology is the
catalyst, but the “reaction” is a fundamental business demand,
a direct result of marketplace forces. If nothing else is clear, the
marketplace obviously is demanding new approaches for building. The catalyst
of technology is a reality and is widely available. Therefore, the marketplace
can and will function and, inevitably, solve these problems faced by
the industry. The widespread dialogue across the industry under the general
umbrella called “BIM” is evidence of this. Integrated practice,
catalyzed by technology is a tremendous opportunity for architects. But
unless architects seize the opportunity to lead—in the words of
Pritzker Prize recipient Thom Mayne, FAIA—we will not survive.
Copyright 2005 The American Institute of Architects.
All rights reserved. Home Page
G. Bernstein, FAIA, teaches professional practice at the Yale School
of Architecture and is vice president of Building Solutions for
Autodesk. He is the current chair of the AIA Contract Documents
Committee and a member of the AIA’s Integrated Practice Strategy
you have questions about what the AIA is doing about BIM, integrated
practice, interoperability, or other related topics, contact Markku
Allison, AIA, 202-626-7487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is integrated practice?
Integrated practice leverages early contribution of knowledge through
use of new technologies, allowing architects to realize their
highest potentials better as designers and collaborators while
expanding the value they provide throughout the project life
At the core of an integrated practice are collaborative, integrated,
and productive teams composed of all project life cycle stakeholders.
Building on early contributions of individual expertise, these
teams will be guided by principles of true collaboration, open
information sharing, team success tied to project success, shared
risk and reward, value-based decision making, and use of full technological
capabilities and support. The outcome will be the opportunity to
design, build, and operate as efficiently as possible.