Practice 2.0: The Elephant in the Room*

Practice 2.0: The Elephant in the Room* - Image 1 of 4

By Steve Sanderson

The following Practice 2.0 article is an edited transcript from a presentation that Steve gave at the Intersections: Building Interdisciplinary Pedagogy | Building Integrated Practice symposium organized by the New York City College of Technology.

I’m happy to see so many familiar faces and honored to be included with such an esteemed panel. In fact I feel a bit under-qualified. If my Google searches serve me well, all of my fellow panelists have both undergraduate and advanced degrees in architecture and have held noted academic positions for several years. I, on the other hand, pursued a “non-traditional” path into the industry by first studying interior design then industrial design to doing one year of a MArch program and finally receiving a ME from John’s program at Stevens.

Practice 2.0: Championing the young architect's career, a lesson from technology startups

Practice 2.0: Championing the young architect's career, a lesson from technology startups - Image 1 of 4
ICON's 20 Young Architects, photo via anarchitecture

By David Fano and Steve Sanderson, edited by Julie Quon

A well-known and often cited truism of architecture notes that forty (as in years) is considered young for an architect and most don’t start hitting their stride until they’re seventy. This may partially explain why well-known architects seem to live forever… they’re simply too busy to die. What is often omitted from this narrative is how the architects spent the first twenty (or so) years of their careers as freshly minted graduates prior to being recognized by their peers in the profession as “making it”.

If you approach any architect about their early-career experience in the profession you will get slightly different versions of the same story. They are all, in essence, about paying your dues.

  • Taking a low-paying position for an A or B-list architect, where the compensation for long hours is the privilege of anonymous design on important projects, and in return a few hours are spent outside of the studio (usually with a group of similarly indebted classmates) on open design competitions that pay trifle stipends.
  • Taking a low-paying adjunct teaching position, ideally in a design studio, where compensation for long hours is the privilege of working on your design interests with students in order to become a part of the elite tastemakers and to one day be shortlisted for an exclusive cultural competition.
  • Taking a slightly better paying position with a corporate firm and spending your hours outside of work designing kitchens and bathrooms for wealthy friends and family with hopes that their social reach is broad enough to lead to additional commissions that will one day be substantial enough to make a living.
  • Taking a slightly better paying position with a corporate firm and slogging through the incredibly tedious intern development and professional registration process in order to move up the corporate hierarchy. The goal is to eventually become a principal or partner with an established firm or even break off on your own with some of the established firm’s clients.
  • In each of these scenarios, the only path to a significant commission is to spend the few hours outside of these paying jobs in the pursuit of establishing credibility and reputation through exposure in architectural publications. In any case, it seems that around the age of forty is when all of this hard work finally begins to pay off with consistent commissions. For the vast majority that never succeed by following these models, there is usually a ‘pivot’ (in startup terms, a change in approach) that leads to a stable corporate position, a full-time teaching post, or an exit from the profession altogether (we did the latter, see Fed’s post). The difficulty of ‘being’ an architect is branded about in schools (oftentimes by people with little to no actual experience in the field) as a source of pride, a perverse hazing ritual intended to weed out all but the most dedicated adherents to the ideals of architecture as a pure form of expression, a rationale which further reinforces architecture as an intellectual pursuit for the privileged (that topic is for another post).

    Practice 2.0: BIM Myths and Building Truths

    Practice 2.0: BIM Myths and Building Truths - Featured Image
    Construction Coordination Model / Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame / Trahan Architects / Image courtesy of CASE

    By Steve Sanderson

    My inbox was hit recently by a couple of posts painting a bleak picture of the impact of BIM on the AECO industry. Thoughtful and objective criticism of BIM is helpful and necessary to counter vendor marketing overreach and fanboy zealotry. Unfortunately the criticisms I read are neither thoughtful nor objective. Instead they rely on sensationalist titles, sources outside of the building industry, and nonexistent relationships between cause-and-effect.

    The first, A Cautionary Digital Tale of Virtual Design and Construction published in Engineering News-Record (ENR), describes the construction of an undisclosed building at an undisclosed university that resulted in an undisclosed contractor suing the undisclosed owner, who then sued an undisclosed architect, who brought an undisclosed MEP engineer into the mix. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount by an insurance company. Tellingly, a VP at the insurance company is the only source for the article. The point seems to be that if you use BIM you could be sued.

    Practice 2.0: 4 Take-aways from Chicago's BIM Forum

    Practice 2.0: 4 Take-aways from Chicago's BIM Forum - Featured Image

    By Federico Negro

    Last week I had the pleasure of presenting our work on the construction of the Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame by Trahan Architects at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) BIM Forum in Chicago. The event is meant to “facilitate and accelerate the adoption of building information modeling (BIM) in the AEC industry lead by example and synchronize with counterparts in all sectors of the industry to jointly develop best practice for virtual design and construction (VDC).” I also got a copy of Chuck Eastman’s new edition of his BIM Handbook which served as entertainment during the trip and which I’ll refer to later in this post.

    It was my first time at the forum. Here is what I learned about the adoption of BIM by the industry and how it is understood.

    Practice 2.0: Work Smarter Not Harder

    Practice 2.0: Work Smarter Not Harder - Featured Image

    By: David Fano

    Have you ever had the experience of sitting through a graphics standards committee meeting? It’s where happy and ambitious thoughts go to die. What starts as a good cause for your firm quickly devolves into very long and highly subjective arguments about things such as title blocks, line weights, line styles, fonts, font sizes, tags, symbols, and of course… naming conventions!

    I’m not in any way trying to devalue documentation standards or the importance of title blocks. What I am saying is: We spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects held about 141,200 jobs in 2008 (source). Hypothetically, if each architect in the U.S. spends 30 minutes a year on average working on standards, as a profession we spend 70,600 hours on standards every year. Just for reference there are 2,080 hours per year in a standard full-time work week (52 weeks x 40 hours). That’s like a firm of 34 full time architects working on nothing but standards every year.

    Practice 2.0: We’re Not Ready… Yet

    Practice 2.0: We’re Not Ready… Yet - Featured Image

    by Steve Sanderson

    A lot has happened in the world of sustainable design since my last post, all the way back in April. I had the pleasure of attending my first AIA National Convention, in my second favorite city in the US, New Orleans. In between my time sampling the local culture with the Davids (don’t let the prep school attire fool you, these guys know how to throw down), I managed to attend a number of sessions, all of which strongly adhered to the theme of Regional Design Revolution: Ecology Matters. One of the unexpected threads that emerged in nearly all of the sessions that I attended was the role that architects can, and should, play in energy conservation by more accurately predicting and measuring building energy performance. As a topic that has enjoyed scant attention outside a relative fringe audience since I’ve been alive (I came on the scene just in time for the second oil crisis), it was pretty exciting to see it so prominently featured. It appears the relentless efforts of organizations such as Architecture 2030, USGBC and the AIA, are finally beginning to pay off, with many architects becoming aware of their role in averting (or contributing to) greenhouse gas emissions. Politicians (from both sides!), are even beginning to pay attention. Without a doubt, this confirms it… the Mayans were right. The world will end in 2012.

    Practice 2.0: Why the maker movement is good for architects

    by Federico Negro

    Earlier this year I had the following experience. Two friends, the first a lone (and successful) entrepreneur whose company brings kids books to the iPad, the other a banker, both asked what I knew about 3D printing… on the same day!

    What was going on? Where did the sudden interest in 3D printing come from? 3D printers had been a staple in architecture schools and many offices for years, so I assumed everyone knew about them, no? Confused, I did what I usually do when faced with the unknown. I asked Google.

    Practice 2.0: Dear Architecture school, please tell us it is ok to do this

    Practice 2.0: Dear Architecture school, please tell us it is ok to do this - Featured Image

    by Federico Negro

    It seems as though a week doesn’t go by these days without someone asking me if I miss design…

    Two and a half years ago I made the decision to leave the traditional path, and cross over to the dark side. I became a consultant (cut to dark stormy clouds and lightning). A technology consultant nonetheless… As such, my contributions to Practice 2.0 will focus on the impact of technology on issues of management during the latter stages of building design and construction.

    Since then I’ve had the privilege, the luck even, to sit across the table from designers working for some of the biggest names in building design, engineering and construction both in New York and beyond. I’ve reviewed innumerable sets of diligently constructed documents and building models. I’ve crossed paths with many fascinating designers creating real impact through their work. And most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside many brilliant young professionals, a few of which will no doubt lead the New York design scene in the coming years…

    More after the break.

    Practice 2.0: BIM is an opportunity, not a problem

    Practice 2.0: BIM is an opportunity, not a problem - Featured Image

    by David Fano

    Practice 2.0 is a regular series of posts guest authored by CASE (@case_inc), focusing on technology and innovation in the building industry.

    At CASE my efforts focus on the strategic implementation of new technology, software development and learning. As a regular contributor to ArchDaily, I hope to touch on how firms of all sizes are dealing with change and how I think embracing new technologies will enable new forms of practice and create opportunities. If there is interest, I can also chime in on how to start a consulting firm and alternative forms of practice in the building industry.

    I give a lot of presentations on BIM. Understandably, there is a certain level of anxiety that comes along with any new process. But I’m frequently confronted with the same set of fears, which really have no solid footing in reality. In this article, I would like to address those fears and in the process debunk three commonly held myths about BIM: that a firm’s size should be the deciding factor in whether or not to implement BIM; that the size and type of project limit opportunities for BIM; and that BIM requires a wholesale change of tools and processes. BIM adoption is making its way through the industry at an amazing pace and I hope to ease some of the unrest around taking the plunge and point out where we can capitalize on the value it provides.

    More after the break.

    Practice 2.0: Are we ready for the Challenge?

    Practice 2.0: Are we ready for the Challenge? - Featured Image

    by Steve Sanderson

    This is the first in Practice 2.0, a regular series of posts guest authored by our friends at CASE (@case_inc), focusing on technology and innovation in the building industry. While we all share tremendous enthusiasm for the opportunities afforded by technology, my particular interests are on gaining better, more timely access to information and improving building performance through informed decision making. Given the proximity to Earth Day (better late than never), I’m going to start things off with a related post. You can expect future posts to focus on building simulation and evidence-based design, with an emphasis on energy, validation and standards. You can also expect to hear a lot about Passive House.

    Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of seeing Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 speak at Cooper Union. For those that don’t know, Mazria and his organization have been instrumental in raising awareness of the enormous impact of buildings on climate change. His initiative, The 2030 Challenge, has been adopted (in varying degrees) by the most influential organizations on the built environment in the United States, including: the Federal Government, US Army, State of California, AIA and ASHRAE, among others. What does that mean? It means these organizations will require (or encourage) all new construction and major renovations to be carbon neutral by the year 2030.

    Sounds good right? Frankly, it sounds awesome, but when you dig deeper into how this is received by the industry, you come away with a different perspective. As a building technology consulting firm, we interact with a diverse group of stakeholders from across the industry, representing all of the organizations noted above. In conversations with these individuals about the goals set out by The 2030 Challenge, you can basically group nearly everyone into one of two groups: The Blissfully Ignorant or The Fearfully Aware.