March 6, 2009

Milwaukee Firm Offers BIM Training to Out-of-Work Architects
Downturn and opportunity to gain new skills

by Tracy Ostroff
Contributing Editor

How do you . . . lend a hand to fellow architects?

Summary: Kevin Connolly, AIA, has long-embraced Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). Now he and his firm have teamed up with BIM experts to provide free training for out-of-work Wisconsin architects who want to prepare themselves to emerge in the new economy with the skills they need to design in 3D environments and to work collaboratively in all design phases with industry partners.

Architects displaced by current economic conditions are turning to education to boost their skills and augment their training and résumés. Connolly Architects Inc., Milwaukee, and CAD Consulting Group LLC, joined with Graphisoft North America to provide free BIM training to Wisconsin licensed architects who are currently “between opportunities,” the architects report. Connolly Architects opened up their offices in mid-February for the three-day session.

President and Owner Kevin Connolly, AIA, was the event host and organizer. He says he saw the slowdown in work as an opportunity to give time and space to a program that could help the local architectural community. His criterion for attending the seminar was that participants had to be out of work. Ultimately, because they had some last-minute dropouts, some Associate members who still had their jobs were added to the program.

“Let’s use this time well to prepare to serve our customers better when things turn around,” says Connolly, an AIA Board member. “We are all in this together, and we will all get through it together,” he says, paraphrasing lines he’s heard over the years that seem apt for this current market drawback.

“Many architects are still working in a 2D environment. This downturn is an opportunity to retool and gain new skills in the emerging 3D BIM environment. That is why we are teaming with Connolly Architects to support these initiatives,” Rick Stallé of CAD Consulting Group, the local Graphisoft reseller says. They also donated their time. “It’s where the technology is going in terms of the construction industry as a whole.”

What we’re all about
BIM and IDP are how Connolly says he has helped develop his firm, which primarily works in the commercial, health-care, and corporate sectors, including projects for Miller Brewing Company. “It’s what we’re all about.” According to a press release issued in October, the firm is working on a set of guidelines for architects and engineers to design new state projects in BIM.

3D boot camp
During the three-day training session, the architects learned the basics of ArchiCAD, Graphisoft’s BIM software, virtual modeling concepts, and simultaneous documentation coordination. Connolly complemented the technical knowledge component with a presentation on BIM and IPD and how these practices can quickly create automated construction documents and more efficient business practices. The participants received a one-year trial version of ArchiCAD to begin designing projects.

Connolly says he’s never seen business conditions this bad worldwide. All the more reason, he says, that it is a good time to take advantage of learning opportunities. “It’s good to get out of the rat race and take a break and look at all the things going on around you.” It’s also an opportunity for architects to “regroup, retrain, and reengineer themselves,” for a world where integrated practice will require new technical skills and the ability to negotiate a business world and a design atmosphere where all the players are working at the same table.

The program was well received. Within two days of announcing it, the seats had filled up with eager participants. It also turned into a networking event, with people who had been laid off reconnecting with former colleagues and making new contacts, as well.

Career connections
AIA Wisconsin helped promote the event, Connolly says, and got word out to the chapter members through the component Web site.

Further down south, AIA Dallas is another AIA component working to help their laid-off or “just-looking” members by hosting a career fair March 5. “It’s part of the chapter’s response to economic turmoil and one way the chapter is reaching out to members in this time of economic uncertainty,” says AIA Dallas Communications Coordinator Kerrie Sparks. The chapter is also offering continuing education sessions for $15 a credit hour to help those who lost their job keep up with requirements for licensure. AIA Dallas offers a class every Tuesday, along with lunch and an hour of CES.

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Connolly Architects hosted and helped sponsor a BIM training seminar for Wisconsin architects to expand their skill set as they look for new jobs.