Contract - Design Practice: Reading the Tea Leaves of Future Design

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Design Practice: Reading the Tea Leaves of Future Design

02 April, 2010

-By Jan Lakin


We know we’re living in a “new reality” when even our totemic prognosticators—Ouija Boards, Magic Eight Balls, and tarot cards—are iPhone apps. It’s a reality where cherished fundamentals feel antiquated and predictions feel quaint. In this economy, the design industry is feeling the shock of obsolete processes and protocols, and a clear picture of the eventual outcome is elusive. Many remember recessions of the recent past, but this one feels more intractable and consequential. There’s a sense that this time the profession may emerge a very different animal than it was just a year and a half ago.

A renewed buoyant economy a few years down the line might restore a more familiar landscape, but some of these conditions are here to stay. Designers who succeed in the long term will be those willing to embrace radical changes occurring within the practice and to actualize the expanded role it offers the profession. This emerging reality includes a fundamental shift from linear to concurrent design processes, a wider array of partners and collaborators, and increased use of technology for designing and communicating.

Disorienting as it is, the new reality comes with some explicit givens. Designers are having to produce work faster than ever before, are required to be more virtual, mobile, and flexible, and feel challenged to expand their expertise beyond their comfort zones. There are more competitors for work nationally and internationally, and allied businesses such real estate developers and manufacturers are competing for design services. All while fees continue to shrink.

And the bar is higher. Strategies and approaches that differentiated designers just a few years ago are now status quo. Sustainable design is becoming standard practice, and multidisciplinary capabilities as well as expertise in multiple industry sectors—a savior for firms during the last recession—are considered “best practices.”

Not surprisingly, to manage and thrive right now, designers from firms of all sizes are streamlining their operations and targeting active sectors and markets. They’re also strategically courting new kinds of clients and partners as well as striking out into unfamiliar sectors and services. Even though there’s no higher education work on the horizon locally, the Los Angeles architecture firm Pugh + Scarpa is reaching out to this market with the goal of building relationships for when that sector picks up. This strategy has served the firm well—its affordable housing expertise, developed during the last recession, is one area that is busy now.

Many designers are expanding into strategic planning opportunities. Mergers and acquisitions and the new entities emerging from bankruptcies are creating a bewildering jumble of properties for large corporations that designers can help assess and reconfigure. To capitalize on this, Gensler has shifted personnel from its slow aviation practice to its consulting services. Building repositioning work has stepped up as well, with developers and building owners recasting newly acquired properties or struggling to attract tenants to existing buildings. Washington, D.C.-based design strategy firm Lehman Smith McLeish has seen a big increase in this work, which comprises 35 to 40 percent of the firm’s current activity.

To presage our future, many designers look East. The Hong Kong-based workplace strategy firm, M Moser has honed its ability to deliver corporate interiors quickly via its experience in Asian markets such as Delhi, Beijing, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. “The fast pace of things in that part of the world has driven us to figure out how to keep doing things more quickly,” says Bill Bouchey, design director of the New York office of M Moser. By providing clients a comprehensive range of services from design, engineering, and construction management, the firm is able to overlap phases and compress design and building cycles. Far from limiting a project’s creative potential, Bouchey feels this approach, also known as “Integrated Project Delivery” (IPD), allows the designer greater control and flexibility over the entire process and schedule. This in turn allows the designer to allocate time to design elements that matter. IPD interiors projects are much less common in the United States, but M Moser currently has three such projects in New York, and its ef_ ciencies are likely to drive an expansion stateside.

The design-build approach is also gaining popularity in this economy, also among designers who are less likely to snub these opportunities. Pugh + Scarpa, a practice with many design awards under its belt, including the AIA’s 2010 Firm of the Year, is picking up more design-build work. “I think it is going to be more of a way that people are going to have to practice,” says principal Larry Scarpa,

The design-bid-build sequence is feeling more and more like a relic. For larger firms especially, concurrent design, engineering, specification, and construction phases for big projects are becoming realities both abroad and in the United States. Undoubtedly, the increased prevalence of Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is helping to drive that. Due to its investment in Revit about three years ago, HOK was able to deliver the 6.5-million-sq.-ft., 26-building campus for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia in a remarkably condensed 2.5 years. Revit, virtual meeting technology, and proprietary software for interior specifications, enabled the firm to simultaneously execute processes that traditionally occurred sequentially, such as programming and architectural design.

Sustainable design is yet another accelerator of BIM adoption. LMN, an 81-person urban design, architecture and interiors practice in Seattle, uses green BIM early in design to analyze the environmental results of design solutions and concepts. “Using technology to hone sustainable features of our design is a strong focus for us,” says Wendy Pautz, partner, at LMN. “We’re also using it as a documentation tool and are actively looking at ways to leverage it as an integral part of the design process,” say Pautz.

Are all designers embracing BIM? IIDA Board member Steve McCollom feels, “In the short term, larger firms with resources to fully implement BIM might squeeze out smaller ones.” But, he notes, “It will be like the old days with CAD. Eventually everyone catches up.” Until then, what’s the fate of smaller practices? Lisa Henry, ASID president elect, feels that small firms have a competitive advantage with less overhead costs, more flexibility, and experienced designers who are more accessible to clients. Additionally, it may be argued that the small firm or independent consultant will benefit from greater technological adoption, since it can make it easier and cheaper for separate entities to work together.

Similarly, technology might foster specialization. Pam Light, senior vice president in HOK’s Los Angeles office, says, “Virtual meeting capabilities support more experts who can be made available to the rest of the firm.” She also finds that Revit helps create teams with more breadth.

Ray Clark, managing director of Perkins + Will’s Chicago office, is passionate about the role of “project integrator,” essentially a project manager who is responsible for pulling together a range of capabilities for a project at the front end of complex projects. Strategic planning, branded environments, urban design, facility master planning, and architecture are all potentially relevant to a healthcare or education project, for example. While he concedes that bundling services is by no means new to the profession, he feels technology makes bringing synergies among different disciplines easier to bear on a project. “It is more of a reality now,” Clark says.

Just as firms are aiming to gather experts internally, designers are collaborating with their competitors and disparate industry partners with greater frequency. Lehman Smith McLeish has worked with its own coterie of consultants for a while, such as mechanical engineers and implementers, but these relationships have increased with their volume of European and Asian work. “We try to keep the team cohesive, and we supplement the team where required so that we aren’t starting from scratch in any one location,” says Lehman-Smith. Perkins + Will pursues public/private partnerships, teaming opportunities on design competitions, and design/build competitions. “These are usually consortiums of architects, contractors, and even real estate developers,” says Clark.

It’s hard to imagine these complex alliances existing without BIM technology. But BIM adoption hasn’t been an easy path. The technology requires complete transparency and sharing of the design model by all partners, and the profession is struggling to resolve ownership and liability issues. Clark, however, is optimistic that these problems will resolve themselves over the next few years.

With the speed at which designers are embracing all forms of technology to better communicate internally and externally, Clark may be right. Lehman-Smith says her far-flung teams are constantly working virtually, using Webcasts for meetings with clients and project reviews. Bouchey notes that M Moser is able to overcome the hemispheric distances with programs such as Sketch-up and virtual folders accessible to all offices. HOK has embraced social media in a big way, with an entire community of bloggers and Tweeters. While HOK initiated this program for recruiting, the firm is exploring social media for documenting project work and processes as well.

And designers seem eager for technology’s continued evolution. Clark feels we are quickly headed towards Internet-based project processes that will occur in real time. Light is looking forward to Second Life technology, with virtual space for project teams and clients to meet in. McCollom envisions manufacturers of the future producing holographic representations of products that can be “tried out” in a designer’s virtual space.

As alliances and collaborations combine with more frequency, and technological possibilities accelerate and designers increasingly adopt them, how designers work and what the profession will look like will change profoundly. At the least, these forces will provide designers with more tools to design with and a broader range of opportunities in which to design. They might also influence the creative process itself in compelling new ways. Hopefully, they will empower the industry to make a greater difference in society. For Clark, these forces present an “ambrosia of opportunities.” Now if our iPhone app could only tell us exactly what’s on the banquet menu.


Design Practice: Reading the Tea Leaves of Future Design

02 April, 2010


We know we’re living in a “new reality” when even our totemic prognosticators—Ouija Boards, Magic Eight Balls, and tarot cards—are iPhone apps. It’s a reality where cherished fundamentals feel antiquated and predictions feel quaint. In this economy, the design industry is feeling the shock of obsolete processes and protocols, and a clear picture of the eventual outcome is elusive. Many remember recessions of the recent past, but this one feels more intractable and consequential. There’s a sense that this time the profession may emerge a very different animal than it was just a year and a half ago.

A renewed buoyant economy a few years down the line might restore a more familiar landscape, but some of these conditions are here to stay. Designers who succeed in the long term will be those willing to embrace radical changes occurring within the practice and to actualize the expanded role it offers the profession. This emerging reality includes a fundamental shift from linear to concurrent design processes, a wider array of partners and collaborators, and increased use of technology for designing and communicating.

Disorienting as it is, the new reality comes with some explicit givens. Designers are having to produce work faster than ever before, are required to be more virtual, mobile, and flexible, and feel challenged to expand their expertise beyond their comfort zones. There are more competitors for work nationally and internationally, and allied businesses such real estate developers and manufacturers are competing for design services. All while fees continue to shrink.

And the bar is higher. Strategies and approaches that differentiated designers just a few years ago are now status quo. Sustainable design is becoming standard practice, and multidisciplinary capabilities as well as expertise in multiple industry sectors—a savior for firms during the last recession—are considered “best practices.”

Not surprisingly, to manage and thrive right now, designers from firms of all sizes are streamlining their operations and targeting active sectors and markets. They’re also strategically courting new kinds of clients and partners as well as striking out into unfamiliar sectors and services. Even though there’s no higher education work on the horizon locally, the Los Angeles architecture firm Pugh + Scarpa is reaching out to this market with the goal of building relationships for when that sector picks up. This strategy has served the firm well—its affordable housing expertise, developed during the last recession, is one area that is busy now.

Many designers are expanding into strategic planning opportunities. Mergers and acquisitions and the new entities emerging from bankruptcies are creating a bewildering jumble of properties for large corporations that designers can help assess and reconfigure. To capitalize on this, Gensler has shifted personnel from its slow aviation practice to its consulting services. Building repositioning work has stepped up as well, with developers and building owners recasting newly acquired properties or struggling to attract tenants to existing buildings. Washington, D.C.-based design strategy firm Lehman Smith McLeish has seen a big increase in this work, which comprises 35 to 40 percent of the firm’s current activity.

To presage our future, many designers look East. The Hong Kong-based workplace strategy firm, M Moser has honed its ability to deliver corporate interiors quickly via its experience in Asian markets such as Delhi, Beijing, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. “The fast pace of things in that part of the world has driven us to figure out how to keep doing things more quickly,” says Bill Bouchey, design director of the New York office of M Moser. By providing clients a comprehensive range of services from design, engineering, and construction management, the firm is able to overlap phases and compress design and building cycles. Far from limiting a project’s creative potential, Bouchey feels this approach, also known as “Integrated Project Delivery” (IPD), allows the designer greater control and flexibility over the entire process and schedule. This in turn allows the designer to allocate time to design elements that matter. IPD interiors projects are much less common in the United States, but M Moser currently has three such projects in New York, and its ef_ ciencies are likely to drive an expansion stateside.

The design-build approach is also gaining popularity in this economy, also among designers who are less likely to snub these opportunities. Pugh + Scarpa, a practice with many design awards under its belt, including the AIA’s 2010 Firm of the Year, is picking up more design-build work. “I think it is going to be more of a way that people are going to have to practice,” says principal Larry Scarpa,

The design-bid-build sequence is feeling more and more like a relic. For larger firms especially, concurrent design, engineering, specification, and construction phases for big projects are becoming realities both abroad and in the United States. Undoubtedly, the increased prevalence of Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is helping to drive that. Due to its investment in Revit about three years ago, HOK was able to deliver the 6.5-million-sq.-ft., 26-building campus for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia in a remarkably condensed 2.5 years. Revit, virtual meeting technology, and proprietary software for interior specifications, enabled the firm to simultaneously execute processes that traditionally occurred sequentially, such as programming and architectural design.

Sustainable design is yet another accelerator of BIM adoption. LMN, an 81-person urban design, architecture and interiors practice in Seattle, uses green BIM early in design to analyze the environmental results of design solutions and concepts. “Using technology to hone sustainable features of our design is a strong focus for us,” says Wendy Pautz, partner, at LMN. “We’re also using it as a documentation tool and are actively looking at ways to leverage it as an integral part of the design process,” say Pautz.

Are all designers embracing BIM? IIDA Board member Steve McCollom feels, “In the short term, larger firms with resources to fully implement BIM might squeeze out smaller ones.” But, he notes, “It will be like the old days with CAD. Eventually everyone catches up.” Until then, what’s the fate of smaller practices? Lisa Henry, ASID president elect, feels that small firms have a competitive advantage with less overhead costs, more flexibility, and experienced designers who are more accessible to clients. Additionally, it may be argued that the small firm or independent consultant will benefit from greater technological adoption, since it can make it easier and cheaper for separate entities to work together.

Similarly, technology might foster specialization. Pam Light, senior vice president in HOK’s Los Angeles office, says, “Virtual meeting capabilities support more experts who can be made available to the rest of the firm.” She also finds that Revit helps create teams with more breadth.

Ray Clark, managing director of Perkins + Will’s Chicago office, is passionate about the role of “project integrator,” essentially a project manager who is responsible for pulling together a range of capabilities for a project at the front end of complex projects. Strategic planning, branded environments, urban design, facility master planning, and architecture are all potentially relevant to a healthcare or education project, for example. While he concedes that bundling services is by no means new to the profession, he feels technology makes bringing synergies among different disciplines easier to bear on a project. “It is more of a reality now,” Clark says.

Just as firms are aiming to gather experts internally, designers are collaborating with their competitors and disparate industry partners with greater frequency. Lehman Smith McLeish has worked with its own coterie of consultants for a while, such as mechanical engineers and implementers, but these relationships have increased with their volume of European and Asian work. “We try to keep the team cohesive, and we supplement the team where required so that we aren’t starting from scratch in any one location,” says Lehman-Smith. Perkins + Will pursues public/private partnerships, teaming opportunities on design competitions, and design/build competitions. “These are usually consortiums of architects, contractors, and even real estate developers,” says Clark.

It’s hard to imagine these complex alliances existing without BIM technology. But BIM adoption hasn’t been an easy path. The technology requires complete transparency and sharing of the design model by all partners, and the profession is struggling to resolve ownership and liability issues. Clark, however, is optimistic that these problems will resolve themselves over the next few years.

With the speed at which designers are embracing all forms of technology to better communicate internally and externally, Clark may be right. Lehman-Smith says her far-flung teams are constantly working virtually, using Webcasts for meetings with clients and project reviews. Bouchey notes that M Moser is able to overcome the hemispheric distances with programs such as Sketch-up and virtual folders accessible to all offices. HOK has embraced social media in a big way, with an entire community of bloggers and Tweeters. While HOK initiated this program for recruiting, the firm is exploring social media for documenting project work and processes as well.

And designers seem eager for technology’s continued evolution. Clark feels we are quickly headed towards Internet-based project processes that will occur in real time. Light is looking forward to Second Life technology, with virtual space for project teams and clients to meet in. McCollom envisions manufacturers of the future producing holographic representations of products that can be “tried out” in a designer’s virtual space.

As alliances and collaborations combine with more frequency, and technological possibilities accelerate and designers increasingly adopt them, how designers work and what the profession will look like will change profoundly. At the least, these forces will provide designers with more tools to design with and a broader range of opportunities in which to design. They might also influence the creative process itself in compelling new ways. Hopefully, they will empower the industry to make a greater difference in society. For Clark, these forces present an “ambrosia of opportunities.” Now if our iPhone app could only tell us exactly what’s on the banquet menu.
 


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