Who's Worried About Technology?

April 30, 2007 · by DesignIntelligence

Physical boundaries have never been a hurdle when it comes to team collaboration, so what if this same team, now playing computer games, grows up to be architects, engineers, and construction managers?

I watch, mildly awestruck, as my brother, seven years my junior, plays one of his favorite computer games. In this particular game his internationally diverse team, half of whom he has never met, is making its way through a virtual battlefield, strategically seeking players from the opposing team, to gun them down one-by-one. None of my brother’s team is in the same state; two players are on the other side of the world. One member of the team is on the east coast, one on the west, and one is somewhere in the Midwest. Jon and I are in New Mexico. All of the team’s communications are performed in real-time over headsets like those worn by mission control personnel coordinating space shuttle launches. The whole exchange leaves me wondering what the future holds for this emerging generation, with college degrees finally in hand.

Physical boundaries have never been a hurdle when it comes to team collaboration, so what if this same team, now playing computer games, grows up to be architects, engineers, and construction managers? Imagine these same players coordinating a single computer model and putting together a bid for the latest sustainable, zero-carbon high-rise on the newest manmade island off the coast of Dubai.

Bridging the gap between generations X and Y, the newly licensed, emerging professionals, and new graduates all have something in common: thinking, designing, and building in three dimensions has never been a new idea. Computers have always been a viable and effective communication tool. The latest 3D software (all varieties of Building Informational Modeling included) will never be considered a change in technology or practice, but a common tool integrated into their own versions of traditional and non-traditional practice. As a graduate student in 2002, I learned, with an odd sort of ease known to those growing up with video games, how to build a computer model in five very different programs; because inevitably, one program never does everything one needs it to do. This new class of potential architects has adapted quickly to the shortfalls of the latest technology while pushing the limits and waiting for programmers and software developers to catch-up with their ideas. There is a very short learning curve, if any at all, and for this new generation of architects, the computer, much like the refrigerator or microwave, has always been considered a common household item.

The impact on practice management
New graduates likely know much more than the majority of senior employees regarding the latest techniques in the BIM program releases. Most new graduates, however, as the prototypical stereotype holds, may not necessarily have the experience to put together a working set of detailed drawings, including, for example, the variety of means necessary for keeping moisture out of a building. The scenarios that new technologies create mean a requisite change in the hierarchical structures of firms, but doesn’t necessarily mean new strategies altogether. This new paradigm could very well revive the idea of the apprenticeship in the practice of architecture, with more consistent, collaborative working relationships between the more senior staff and the new class of juniors.

The latest development in BIM technology may very well bring back the architect as the master builder, and the emerging architects relish the opportunity. The new class is learning virtual modeling. The laser and water jet cutter are becoming obsolete against CNC and vacuum form machines. Actively working with sub-contractors and manufacturers while still in educational settings, this new class is dynamically learning to build with the latest in innovation.

Both Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne have openly embraced technological integration in their firms, taking full advantage of all the latest and greatest available to the built environment. Perhaps this is why their designs are arguably some of the most talked about and debated works in the profession.

A New Level of Competition
For the newly emerging or newly licensed architect, a tacit knowledge of the latest computer and communication technology gives them the ability, as small start-up firms, to immediately compete for major work on a global scale. With knowledge of the latest modeling technology, the once necessary role of the drafter becomes obsolete, as does the man power necessary to complete construction documents for large multi-phased, billion dollar projects. With the knowledge of the latest communication technology making the right global connections, even finding reliable consultants and engineers, is almost as simple, and as enjoyable, as finding an internationally diverse team of players for my brother’s favorite computer game.

The next generation of architects also knows best how to interact with their peers and the new architecture client. Not only can they offer three dimensional models built with incredible precision and detail, they also possess the know-how to walk clients through buildings in virtual space. Technologies in several accredited schools have taken modeling yet another step, allowing users to walk, virtually, through buildings at a 1:1 ratio, putting the designer or the client inside the building. In a world where the new clients have grown-up with the same technology as the incoming generation of architects, it’s important to be able to give each client the opportunity to interact with technology in ways that are familiar to them. Why simply look at a model when you can walk in the model?

Gone are the requisite social networks of professional conventions, cigar clubs and the putting green. More efficient and affordable networks are found online, available in the adult version of the working professional’s MySpace, on burgeoning sites such as LinkedIn, Collective X, and Ryze. Online social networks not only provide a place to find the necessary support staff of engineers, design consultants, and manufacturer’s representatives, but they’ve become a place to meet potential clients, developers, and CEOs. At the time it was published online (January 2007), an article entitled “MySpace for Professionals”: A Social Networking Site Geared for Careerists,” executive-level professionals from 499 of the Fortune 500 companies could be found on LinkedIn. Here the virtual playing field is cluttered with resumes, recommendations, and open solicitations for new jobs, request for proposals, and inquires from a variety of professionals.

So who’s worried about technology?
The X and Y generations are up and running, obtaining licensure and graduating from accredited universities, excited to apply a newfound knowledge gained through school and internships. For the new practitioners, implementation of technology is matter-of-fact, having grown-up without knowledge of a world where the professional’s toolbox was limited to vellum, pencils and face-to-face networking mixers. From their perspective, optimizing technology as a tool for production and communication not only improves the bottom line, but also streamlines efficiency in practice. Professional, client, and social networks are not limited to county, city, or even state, but are ebullient and burgeoning organically, on the internet, a mere plane ride away from a face-to-face meeting. So who’s worried about technology? Not the new class of practitioner. And if practice mangers are just now considering whether or not to wholeheartedly embrace these new technologies, it’s really too late, because as technology often outpaces itself so again will the next generation of architect, perhaps only a few years our junior.

REFERENCES/LINKS
Collective X
Linked In
Ryze

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