Friday, December 11, 2009

Doer's Profile: Dan Bankhead, AIA Houston

by John Gendall
Volume 16, AIArchitect, Dec. 4, 2009

As president of the AIA’s local Houston chapter, Dan Bankhead, AIA is closely invested in the organization and in its capacity to respond to the recession. When he was elected president, he set out to expand local AIA membership both in terms of numbers and diversity. Then Wall Street cratered. Despite financial challenges facing architects and design firms, the chapter has grown. And for good reason, argues Bankhead, since the chapter provides tools and the venue to practice amidst a recession.

Asked about the value of joining the AIA when finances are strained, Bankhead, an AIA member for more than 10 years, says, “I definitely think it is important to do so—absolutely. In this kind of economy, the AIA has so many resources.” He cited the larger, more systemic efforts at the national level to stimulate the industry, but he emphasized the critical role that all the local chapters play. In Houston, like in many local AIA components, the AIA has responded quickly and assertively, organizing business symposia, networking events, and making available resources directed at economic concerns.

To this end, Bankhead assembled a series of business seminars this year aimed at addressing many of the questions architects are facing in this current economic climate. “We developed this program to help teach firms to become more economically sustainable,” he explains. They cover issues ranging from business practices, marketing, and project acquisition.

He has also tailored the program for the local market. “Houston has one of the largest healthcare centers in the country, so this forms a significant part of the architectural business here,” Bankhead explains. “Earlier this year, the local AIA held a meeting about the healthcare market, and over 400 people attended. This was a case of the AIA giving practical tools to help with an important market.”

Though the session was informative and well received, its benefits went beyond the opportunity for education. “There was a lot of great material discussed in the meeting, but it also put architects in front of potential clients,” explains Bankhead.

For Bankhead, the AIA offers a clear competitive advantage for job seekers. “When there are just a few jobs that everyone is chasing, and if someone is looking at a stack of resumes, it’s going to help to have the ‘AIA’ behind your name,” according to Bankhead. But it goes beyond credentials: “The AIA network will put you in front of potential employers,” he elaborates.

He has organized a series of networking forums, including a “Speed Networking Event,” where firms that are looking to interview are matched up with interviewees in rapid fire succession. The event was a big success, with more than 200 people participating. “The event went very well, but what we noticed,” explains Bankhead, “is that people got a chance to network outside of the program itself. We got people together, and we hosted the program, but people had a chance to meet folks on their own, too.”

Bankhead is committed to the architectural profession’s vigor not only as an architect and local AIA chapter president, but also as an educator. He also teaches courses in professional practice and construction services at Prairie View A&M University. There, he reminds his students to get active in the profession and to chase down opportunities.

“There is an entire generation of architects that we can’t afford to lose,” he cautions. For this reason, he considers it important for younger, emerging practitioners and students to get involved with the AIA—and for more established professionals to encourage and mentor them. “The Assoc. AIA is a great way to get into the network early, and to get access to folks.”

“It’s been a tough year,” concedes Bankhead. “But altogether, it’s been a great ride. We just need to stay involved. And the AIA has a lot of resources to do that.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Austin Event: Open Architecture East

Join the members of AIA Austin, Saturday, Dec. 12, from 1-5 pm, for the first annual OPEN ARCHITECTURE event, an "open house" of architects' studios.

See inside these creative East Austin businesses, hear plans for future projects and developments straight from the architects themselves, and experience the unique styles and personalities of each studio.

Maps will be provided so you may tour the studios at your own pace. Refreshments will be served.

For more information, click

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Digital Fabrication Education: The Tex-Fab Initiative

Digital parametric design is the linking of variables to geometry within 3D CAD software relative to constraints defined by the designer of a project.  The control of dimensional criteria within a part of a system can be associatively linked to the entire model.  A modification to the whole project has its repercussions on the constituent parts of the design without rebuilding the entire model. 

Digital Fabrication is the ability to cut and form materials directly from digital information extracted from virtual models.  Laser cutting, water-jet cutting and CNC routing are just some of the processes readily available to the designer to go directly from file to physical reality.  These techniques are not new to the automotive and industrial design where rapid-prototyping is used in the design process and increasingly in the production of products.  The application of digital fabrication to architecture appropriates and transfers technology from the petrochemical and aerospace industries as it scales up.  Its has to potential to drastically increase the accuracy and efficiency of the construction process as well as open new territory for innovative structures and patterns in design.

The confluence of these techniques of design thinking and making is driving the innovative work in schools of architecture and is becoming a pervasive part of practice with the proliferation of BIM software and integrated project delivery practices.  Texas is uniquely positioned to become a leader in the application of digital technology to building processes due to its pervasive and atomized light industrial manufacturing capabilities and the relative ease to get things done through its “can-do” attitude.

The New Harmony Grotto, a digitally fabricated reimagining of Frederick Kiesler’s design for the Grotto for Meditation currently under construction at the University of Houston College of Architecture, image by Metalab.

TEX-FAB Initiative

A new initiative called TEX-FAB seeks to elucidate these processes to a wider audience and create a forum for networking between allied Texas designers applying digital fabrication in practice and academia.  The first TEX-FAB event will be the Parametric Modeling Workshop planned for February 5th and 6th of 2010 to be held at the University of Texas Arlington School of Architecture. The workshops, featuring some of the leading software developers, designers, and instructors in the field of parametric design, are open to current architecture professionals, faculty and students.

In addition to the workshop, two public lectures will be presented on the top of digital fabrication. Axel Paredes from the Universidad Francisco Marroquín will speak on February 3rd at the University of Texas Arlington and Scott Marble of Marble Fairbanks in New York will speak as part of the Dallas Architecture Forum at the Magnolia Theater in Dallas on February 4th.  On February 5th the exhibition entitled “Partial Architectures” will open concurrently with the workshop and provide a venue to exhibit work done by designers from the region who have utilized digital fabrication in the design process.

For more information or to register for the workshop you can go to

-Andrew Varna

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2009 TSA Convention a Great Success

Over a thousand TSA members attended the 2009 convention in Houston, Oct. 22-24. Total attendance was close to three thousand, which made the event a great success. Thanks to all the volunteers, exhibitors, speakers, sponsors, and attendees. We hope to see you next year at the 71st Annual Convention in San Antonio.

Photos courtesy of Britt Stokes, Acme Brick Photographic Services.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Koolhaas and Foster in Dallas for Unveilings

by Stephen Sharpe, Editor of Texas Architect

Once in a generation, if not a lifetime, do architectural events occur such as 
those that took place on Oct. 15-16 at the Dallas Arts District. Two Pritker Prize-winning architects – Rem Koolhaas and Lord Norman Foster – were on hand to help unveil their long-awaited additions to the Arts District. Both made individual presentations to gatherings that filled their respective buildings. A third lecture was presented by Josua Prince-Ramus, who designed the Wyly with Koolhaas before departing Koolhaas’ firm OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) and completed the project through his own firm, REX (Ramus Ella Architects) .

(Photo of the Wyly Theatre at right by Stephen Sharpe.)

Media tours during the morning on Thursday, Oct. 15, allowed architectural journalists to walk through the completed projects with the three architects. Texas Architect was represented by Willis Winters, FAIA, who serves as one of the magazine’s contributing editors. (Also on the tours was Michael Malone, AIA, a member of the TSA Publications Committee who covered the events for, an online collaboration of two theater critics based in Dallas. In the photo of Koolhaas on the right, Malone stands in the background.)

(Photos below by Daylon Walton courtesy

On Thursday afternoon I joined the celebrations, arriving from Austin in time to catch Koolhaas’ lecture in the main performance space of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Deedie Potter Rose, a member of the search committee that selected Koolhaas for the project, introduced Koolhaas. Rose, well known for her largess within the arts community in Dallas and statewide, and her husband, Rusty Rose, have given $10 million to the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts (now called the AT&T Performing Arts Center), the umbrella organization that funded the construction and operations of the Wyly and Winspear. Their gift led to the naming of the Wyly’s main performance space as the Potter Rose Performance Hall.

Koolhaas, adorned in a bright green long-sleeve knit shirt, filled the 600-seat theater. Having burst on the international stage with 1978 book, “Delirious New York,” Koolhaas pretty much stuck to the same script he has presented to audiences for the past three decades—how he was seduced by the vertical city after he moved to NYC in the early 1970s. While he included a few slides of the Wyly, Koolhaas only spoke about the project as it adhered to his interest in stacking a project’s programmatic elements. I was not the only one who was disappointed that Koolhaas did not engage the audience in a question-and-answer session following his speech.

While some pundits report that Koolhaas and Prince-Ramus do not speak to each other, observers said there was no obvious tension between the two designers during the tours earlier that morning.

Prince-Ramus, who served as OMA’s project architect for the Wyly and then continued in that role after leaving Koolhaas’ firm and opening REX in 2006, had his turn on Friday afternoon to speak about the Wyly to a packed house. Prince-Ramus spent more time on the Wyly than Koolhaas, even answering a few questions at the end of his talk. 

Earlier on Friday, Norman Foster (both a “Sir” and a “Lord”) spoke to a large group in the main performance hall of the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. Unfortunately for everyone except those at the very front, the first half of his lecture was almost completely inaudible due to a poorly synched public address system—a distressing malfunction for the opening of such an otherwise exquisitely crafted fine-arts project. Alerted by audience members of the snafu, Foster, resplendent in an orchid-hued sport coat, seemed unfazed despite the echo that reverberated through the room as he clicked through slides illustrating his collaborations with Buckminster Fuller and the early projects of Foster + Partners. The problem was fixed by the time he reached the topic of the Winspear, which he discussed only slightly in the context of his firm’s latest work.

Extreme Collaboration: Working With Subcontractors

by Dean Barnes
Associate Principal
Morris Architects, Houston

We're designing a lot of projects in BIM. That's proven valuable within the design team. Architects, mechanical engineers, and structural engineers are working together better, creating a coordinated design model. But then, for the most part, we're printing 2-D drawings because that's what most general contractors are looking for. It is frustrating to be unable to share all your efforts as the project is bid and moves into construction. You find yourself trying to find someone- anyone- to take the model.

On the recently completed Rice University South Plant project we found, for the first time, a subcontractor who wanted our model.

On a central plant project, the mechanical systems are even more critical than they are on a typical building. MEP doesn't support the program; it is the program. During the design process, we used the mechanical engineer's model to make sure the systems fit in the building. That was invaluable. But the designer's model will always be a design intent model. Without all of the equipment selected, without the detailing of pipes completed, it’s a useful approximation, but still an approximation.

When we found that the mechanical contractor WANTED the model, we were, of course, eager to share it. We thought it would help with the coordination drawings and the submittals, making our job easier. Little did we understand, they intended to model the entire mechanical system. Their goal was to create a highly detailed model of the mechanical components including specific equipment, valves, gauges, pumps and other accessories. We understood this level of detail would enable the mechanical contractor to fabricate as much of the system components off site as possible, reducing their field assembly, modification, and adjustments. The BIM model became a three dimensional shop drawing.

What we learned was this level of detailed modeling also provided the opportunity for the University’s operators to review and understand where different components of the mechanical system would be located, as well as how components could be accessed for repair and replacement if needed but also for operation. The University knew how to operate the system before any piece was fabricated or installed.

We brought not just the university’s planners and architects but also the central plant operators into the process. We walked them through the virtual model and discussed the details of operating the plant: ladders and catwalks, access to valves and gauges, and how components could be changed out. That feedback lead to several design changes, including a new catwalk in the boiler room.

But, thanks to the precision of prefabrication, that did not impact schedule or cost. The university got a better building, on time and on budget. It also had the early knowledge to eliminate the “Not what we expected” experience upon completion of the construction.

Because BIM is a fundamentally different way of designing a building and its components, we should continue to seek collaboration with contractors, subcontractors and fabricators. As the South Plant project shows, that will lead to better buildings. Architecture is ultimately about the building- the space people will experience and use- not about the plans, which are just a way to get there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Countdown to TSA Convention in Houston

Boxes are packed and are stacking up as the TSA office prepares to head to Houston in anticipation of the 70th Annual TSA Convention, Oct. 22-24.  Awards ceremonies, continuing education sessions, tours, and a host of other activities are planned during the three-day event. Click here for more information.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

Promoting BIM and the Dangers of Overselling
by Andy MacPhillimy
Morris Architects, Houston

Does you firm need more work, more backlog? Are your markets more competitive than ever before?

In the various markets for architectural and engineering consulting services, competition has gotten very tight. Many firm qualifications and selling points look very similar. To achieve a competitive advantage, firms continue to seek unique ways to differentiate themselves and stand out. The advent of Building Information Modeling, for those firms who are early adopters, has given these firms just such an opportunity.
About 10 years ago, the growing interest and awareness of sustainable design and the LEED rating system gave firms a similar opportunity. Many firms geared up by getting their staff LEED accredited and by developing their “green design” knowledge and skills. When they took this to their clients, they were disappointed to find a very skeptical reception. Selling clients on sustainability was difficult as most saw green design as too touchy-feely and too costly, with benefits difficult to validate or appreciate. It has taken a while to reach that tipping point where clients and building owners recognized the market benefits and understood the economics of sustainable design. Now there is wide acceptance and adoption of green and sustainable design across many markets. Sustainable design knowledge and skills are fairly widespread and no longer serve as a strong differentiator for firms.

Selling BIM to clients in this early stage of adoption has met similar skepticism and produces comments like: “OK, as long as it doesn’t cost me more” or “I don’t care how you do it, I still want my record drawings in DWG files!” But with the benefits being easy to understand-- and it is fairly straightforward to demonstrate economic benefit to the client-- willingness to accept BIM’s use will likely be much swifter… and herein lies the danger to the consultants and contractors sharing their BIM knowledge and skills with clients – the potential to unduly raise expectations and oversell BIM.

For those enlightened firms and individuals who have gained knowledge of BIM (and a clear vision of where BIM will lead the consulting professions and the AEC industry), it is easy to want to share that knowledge with each other and with our perspective clients. In an earlier blog, we discussed “lonely BIM” and “social BIM.” Though BIM benefits the lone adopter, the benefits multiply tremendously as we begin to share the models, completing class detections, allowing real-time coordination, the opportunity for continuous tack-offs and estimating, constructability reviews, early visualizations and more….

When you reach that magical moment and see the future that BIM will create, you want it to be here now. But that day is not here yet. There are many technical gaps, legal canyons, or huge entrenched processes that will challenge this ultimate BIM world of our future. When we share our own firm's capabilities and paint this marvelous future that BIM will bring, we need to control client expectations. Once our clients hear of the great successes- or claims of successes by comrades or competitors on other projects - such as zero field changes due to mechanical equipment clashes, or a dramatic reduction in RFI’s, or reduced schedule and costs of change orders due to both the previous items….clients are going to rapidly move from skeptic to believer and expect…or maybe demand these same results.

There are also software vendors selling their product capabilities to not only the consultant world; they are also selling BIM’s capabilities to major clients in an effort to get them to demand that their consultant teams ramp up and produce their projects in BIM. Their desire to sell product similarly leads to the tendency to sell the strong points and leave out the remaining challenges facing full and effective adoption.

The potential challenge is that they are not familiar with impact of BIM on the design process, as well as implications on timing for decision making. They have heard the promise of BIM from each hopeful consultant. Yet, they have not yet begun to change their own internal thinking to relate to the current state of capability in the industry in general, and the particular group of consultants and contractors that serve them.

If you are lucky enough to be an early adopter and have now developed great internal BIM skills, have an increasing community of consultants and contractors that share these skills - it will only benefit you and the industry to go out and tout BIM and its great promise to clients and the AEC industry. But remember to take time to properly frame the status of the industries’ adoption and properly set expectations. Take time to let the client know the current state of capabilities, the challenges ahead, what the industry is doing to meet those challenges, and most importantly, help the client understand how BIM can ultimately help them better meet their business goals and what particular steps and approach are appropriate for them to participate in the continuing adoption of Building Information Modeling!

Look for our future posts: we're working on upcoming installments, including:

· BIM coordination with Subcontractors
· Model Ownership
· BIM and Architecture Schools
· The Pain of your First BIM Project

We'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts. If we get some good stories, we'll add them to our posts. If you have topic ideas, we can address those. Contact Andy MacPhillimy or Christof Spieler at: or

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guest Blog: "What Happened to Drawing?"

Michael J. Malone, AIA
Studio Director, The Michael Malone Studio
WKMC Architects, Inc., Dallas

Last year at the 2008 TSA Convention in Fort Worth, I presented a program that addressed a question that had been nagging at me for several years, What Happened to Drawing? Specifically, I wanted to initiate a discussion regarding the role of hand drawing, both sketching and drafting, in our profession and whether or not it was still relevant to what we do as architects in the creation and documentation of our work. More importantly, I wanted to know if it was becoming something quaint and precious that was going the way of negative photography, record stores, and newspapers…something that we’d all tell our children and grandchildren about, one of those “back in my day” reminiscences like when my grandfather used to tell me about riding a horse to school. The program last year was so well attended and the ensuing discussion and questions so engaging and animated that I am offering it again this year in Houston.

It’s my belief that unless we discuss it and as a profession we have a consensus about it, there won’t be anyone who draws by hand left in our profession within a generation. If you think about it, the way we as a group of professionals have defined ourselves for literally centuries has been by our almost unique ability to draw and our use of drawings as a communication tool.

I started architectural school in 1976, and one of the first classes I took in college was freehand drawing. My earliest design studios required keeping sketchbooks as a way to begin to record the world around us and to develop our skills and facility at drawing. In part I went to architectural school because I loved to draw and in college was surrounded by people of like mind and inclination.
I do a fair amount of interviewing potential hires for intern positions in my studio and have a wider exposure to young architects through my mentoring efforts in conjunction with our local AIA chapter. For the last several years, I have reviewed portfolios of young people with no hand drawing at all to represent their projects, even as concept sketches. If I ask them if they’ve done any hand drawings as part of their architectural education, I basically get two responses: the first is that their professors have told them that we in the profession only want to see computer drawings as a condition of considering them for a position or second that hand drawing wasn’t required for them to develop or present their projects in school. Both answers concern me because they suggest there is an inclination away from hand drawings in the academy. I am curious if this is because our collegiate schools of architecture feel that’s what they need to do to prepare young architects for the profession or if it is the inclination of the schools themselves? Either way the results are the same and drawing as a tool, a means of expression, a way to develop an idea, an artistic expression, and a means of communication is both diminished and in danger of being lost.

I am interested in knowing if the changes we are seeing are necessary, a sign of the times and the progress of the world, or if they are driven by forces outside our profession and the way we practice. It’s my intention to find this out through discussion and dialogue with as many people as are interested in the discussion itself and who feel they are vested in any of the possible points of view and outcomes.

Add your comments on this topic to the TSA blog and be a part of the ongoing discussion. Attend the TSA Convention in Houston and sign up for CE Session 109059 to hear more on this topic from Michael Malone, Saturday, Oct. 24, at 1:30 p.m.

Sketches by Michael Malone.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

Interns in a BIM World
Lauren Stassi
Associate and ACA BIM Manager
Morris Architects, Orlando, Florida

BIM is quickly the changing atmosphere of many architectural firms. BIM can affect every facet of architectural work, from design through construction, when used to its full advantage. Architectural interns have a much different set of skills to develop early in their career when working in BIM instead of only 2D drafting. There is great opportunity to use BIM to teach interns and young architects to think in 3D. BIM however is only a tool; in order to complete an accurate model, interns need guidance in building design and construction (as well as the software) from the day they begin.

The typical role for an architectural intern on a project team producing documents in 2D starts with a manager passing down simple ‘red line’ tasks for the intern to complete with basic guidance. Often these tasks will not involve much knowledge of design or construction. At the beginning, an intern only needs to understand how to change the 2D line work to match the ‘red lines’. As an intern continues their development by learning the software and increasing their understanding of building design, documentation and construction, they will complete involved tasks like coordinating changes between plan section and elevation and developing details. During the construction phase, an intern will see how their 2D drawings apply to the 3D world and will often uncover issues that were never resolved in the 2D drawings.

BIM gives an intern access to see the coordination of a project far sooner than they would in a 2D world. By working in plan, section, and elevation simultaneously, an intern, and the entire project team, is able to understand how to put together a building. Since the intern is generally the team member who will become the most skilled in 3D modeling, they are also the most likely to discover unresolved issues as they build the model. The great benefit of BIM is that this discovery can happen as soon as modeling starts, instead of lingering until the construction phase. BIM allows an intern the opportunity to see these issues and learn how to resolve them much earlier in their career than 2D drafting did. The greater the intern’s knowledge of building systems the better equipped the intern will be for this new responsibility.

BIM is only a tool; it cannot make decisions or choices, it does not know correct from incorrect, it can defy gravity and constructability, and it does not have a 'Finish Construction Documents' button. It is important for the success of a project that an intern has direct communication with team members with technical design and construction experience to guide them to model pragmatically in order to complete accurate usable documentation.

In 2D, an intern could pick up changes with a basic understanding of the software and without much supervision. In BIM, an intern has a much longer learning curve before they can complete tasks on their own because redlines are not a simple task of moving or trimming a line anymore. An intern needs to understand the software to determine if they need to adjust an object's location or type in order to ‘delete a line.’ They need to ask themselves and their team members - what are the impacts of editing an object- did every object of that type in the entire project just change? If the object is adjusted, will there be a gap in the model? Is it necessary for that object to be modeled in that location, but the display in plan needs to be adjusted? Because so much of the documentation is tied to what is built in the model, an intern needs to develop not only their software and building technical design skills at a much quicker rate in order to complete what were once simple 'red line' tasks.

Interns need a team that will assist them in learning how to use the software and how to build the model accurately as soon as they are on a project. There needs to be a team member who has construction experience that is also familiar enough with the software tools to guide the intern to make appropriate decisions and choices on how to model accurately. Without timely communication between the modeling team and the manager, the model can quickly get far off course. It will be too late if the manager waits until the week before the deadline to look at a check set.

Interns can use BIM to further their own education about building design and documentation at a much faster pace than ever before. To use this tool, interns also need to accept responsibility for modeling and documenting accurately. BIM cannot make decisions, and if an inexperienced intern makes decisions beyond their level of knowledge, the domino effects can be considerable. The ease to change object types globally for a project has great efficiency, but it becomes the intern's responsibility to understand all of the impacts of that change to a project. If a door size is changed globally, will the design still meet code? Are all of the clearances and required widths still met? As an intern learns to think through these impacts, they will quickly become an indispensible asset to the project team. Interns need to learn what can be modeled, but more importantly, they need to learn how and what should be modeled. An integral part of BIM's success will be the dedication that interns put towards learning the responsibilities of building design and construction, and not only focusing on the complex objects that can be modeled.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Texas Architect E-magazine Now Available

The Sept/Oct 2009 Design Awards issue of Texas Architect has been reinvented online to complement the print edition. Read the full issue in beautiful, new e-magazine format on the TSA Web site. Flip through Texas Architect pages, gaze at full-size images, and read as if you had the magazine in your hands. This new online format allows the entirety of the editorial content in the print edition to be presented—exactly as seen in the print version.

Through the end of 2009, all editorial content will be available to the public in the new format. Starting with the Jan/Feb 2010 edition, as a TSA member or Texas Architect subscriber, you will be able to view the entirety of Texas Architect’s editorial content by logging in to the TSA Web site with either your AIA member number or subscriber ID number if you are not a TSA member. (Subscriber ID numbers will be assigned and printed prominently on the subscriber’s magazine mailing label.) If you are neither a TSA member nor a Texas Architect subscriber, you will see a sample version of the current magazine online in e-magazine format. Once you subscribe online, your subscriber ID will be generated and sent to you via email, allowing you to then log in to see the entirety of editorial content.

As a TSA member or subscriber, you will also be able to access complete online archives beginning in 2010. Archives will be in user-friendly e-magazine format with easy access from your own desktop.

Starting reading the current issue online now.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Tunnel and TSA Beckon You to Houston

Gayle Pickering
TSA Senior Director

Did you know that underneath Houston’s central business district lies a world unto itself of shops, eateries, and connections to corporate skyscrapers, banks, and retail establishments? Probably not. It’s one of Houston’s best-kept secrets, but in fact, most of downtown’s 150,000-person workforce–and thousands of visitors–go subterranean every day in what Houstonians continue to call simply “the Tunnel.” The Tunnel and the Hyatt’s convenient access is one of the reasons TSA is headquartered at the Hyatt Regency Houston for its 70th Annual Convention, Oct. 22-24. (To reach the George R. Brown Convention Center and TSA activities there, it’s about a 15-minute walk to The Shops at Houston Center where you go above ground, stroll across Discovery Green, and enter the Center at Entrance C.)

Rockefeller Center inspired Houston’s first tunnel, located beneath Fannin Street between Texas and Capitol connecting former Texas Governor Ross Sterling’s 1926 Post-Dispatch Building (now the Magnolia Hotel) with another one of his buildings, the 1931 Sterling Building. It is interesting to note that the architect for each building was Wyatt C. Hedrick, Ross Sterling’s son-in-law.

Over the years, other downtown buildings were connected by tunnels until in 1971 a total of thirteen buildings were accessible underground. Houston’s construction boom of the 1970s and 1980s inspired private developers to expand the Tunnel to most of its present form of about seven miles and 77 buildings. Most of the Tunnel is owned by building owners who lease space in their buildings’ lower levels to retailers. Many owners design their sections of the Tunnel with unique recessed lighting, display windows and art, so you can usually tell when you are leaving one building for another.

Just about every service is available via the Tunnel, and it is monitored by safety personnel and cameras. In addition to food courts, you’ll find dry cleaners, shoe repair shops, quality restaurants, gift shops, boutiques, copy and printing services, post offices, flower shops, doctors, drug stores, salons, and barber shops. The Tunnel is also connected to the Theater District’s performance halls and Bayou Place. The Tunnel is open during business hours Monday through Friday (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.); the city’s portion linking the theater District Parking Garage to Bayou Place and performance halls remains open 24/7. For a current map and more information about the shops and services in the Tunnel and downtown Houston, check out and look for the Above & Below Map. Come to Houston in October and experience the Tunnel, a feature that certainly adds Power to the city’s downtown vibe.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Texas Architect Features 2009 TSA Design Awards

The September/October issue of Texas Architect, featuring the 2009 TSA Design Awards, is hot off the press! Keep an eye out for this outstanding edition that highlights projects by Dick Clark Architecture w/Michael Hsu; Corgan w/HKS and HNTB; Buchanan Architecture; Cunningham Architects; Elliott + Associates Architects; Laguarda Low Architects; Poteet Architects; Dillon Kyle Architecture; Jackson & Ryan Architects; Overland Partners Architects; HKS; and MJ Neal Architects.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

The First Line
Douglas Oliver
Director of Design
Morris Architects, Houston

I spoke to the TSA conference two years ago about BIM and its impact on the design process. I saw the incredible potential of BIM as a documentation tool, but I had my doubts it was flexible enough for the conceptual and schematic design phases to effectively address the back and forth of client reviews and approvals.

But the software has come a long way in two years. So, earlier this year, we consciously set up an experiment: we took a new project – a transportation center for a community college -- and decided to use only BIM software – no AutoCAD, no Rhino, just Revit. This was a beta test: the first project we started from ground zero in BIM in order to better understand the software’s effect on our typical process of design in the early phases.

We started with program cubes – colored masses that represented the classrooms, workshop bays, offices, and support spaces we needed. We rearranged them to find a unified plan, site, and landscape configuration. To my surprise, the software was enormously helpful: we were able to find a way to cut almost 4,000 square feet of circulation space out of a 75,000 square foot program in a plan that the client was very pleased with. The software allowed us to study the program at a very detailed level that bred efficiencies without damaging the integrity of the design’s intent.

The program and structure were highly modular so we were able to address the building’s masonry exterior very early on and those modular dimensions drove the detailed development of the entire envelope. Sometimes, I’ve seen those dimensions get lost in the transition from schematic design. By drawing our first line in the same software we’d produce CDs in, we could keep the dimensional logic in place.

Design is a process of zooming in and out, from macro relationships of plan to the details of the exterior and back again. We established out material palette early on, and we built that into the model. We modeled one bay in detail to produce a client rendering; meanwhile we massed out low and high spaces to understand the roof and the overall fenestration patterns.

The key was the amount of detail added at the appropriate time: we didn’t want to model too much, too quickly. I was concerned that BIM software wasn’t flexible enough to do that and we would have to make detailed decisions out of sequence. But because we had a deep understanding of how the software worked, we were able to not create redundant or unnecessary detail.

The design phase is now complete and we’ve moved into construction documents. We were surprised at how effective BIM was in schematic design. Our senior design staff in this office was suspicious in the beginning, but we were greatly encouraged by this case study. Clearly, the software has evolved: I don’t think we could have done this two years ago. The question now is whether the larger, more complex projects we do will benefit in the same way.

I’m speaking to the TSA convention on BIM again this October. Two years ago, my prejudice was that the software wasn’t nimble enough and would be too prescriptive. To our surprise the Revit software augmented nicely our typical process and as the software continues to evolve, it will become more and more intuitive as a tool of design.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Architects Meet with Hutchison

On Aug. 8, about 20 people, including 16 affiliated with the Texas Society of Architects/AIA, gathered at the home of TSA Public Member Director Gail Thomas (and her husband, Bob) for an intimate visit with U.S. Senator and 2010 Texas gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Senator Hutchison has been a special friend to architects for years, most recently in 2004 when she was the first to sponsor an amendment to the federal JOBS bill to protect a tax credit for design firms. By the time the JOBS bill was passed and signed into law by President George W. Bush, over half of her Senate colleagues had joined her as co-sponsors of her proposed change.

In discussing items of importance to Texas architects and TSA, Senator Hutchison noted measures of general benefit to the state, such as initiating (along with Congressman Kevin Brady, R-TX) a change in tax law that allows citizens that do not pay a state income tax to deduct other state taxes (i.e., state sales taxes, etc.) when figuring their federal income taxes. More details about this event will be published in the October issue of TSA’s CheckSet newsletter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

Building Information Modeling Goes Viral
by Andy MacPhillimy
Morris Architects, Houston

In our first blog installment, we outlined the change that Building Information Modeling (BIM) is making on not only the world of architecture, but the deep impacts it will have on all aspects of the AEC Industry.

So how does change go from fringe to mainstream?

As our firm began developing our strategy for implementing BIM, we quickly realized that once we reached internal competency with the software, we would be limited from further benefit unless we found equal partners – first in our immediate group of consultants, then in the contractors we work with, and ultimately in knowledgeable owners eager to receive and use the BIM model for their benefit in the management and operations of the building. Though the use of BIM software has benefits if adopted and used internally in a firm, we know that the real power to affect the speed and quality of delivery comes with the general and complete adoption of BIM by the entire team of players and stakeholders.

We concluded that the implementation of BIM across the AEC industry is happening in stages:

First, vanguard firms – which can be in any industry segment -- commit to BIM implementation.

Then those Vanguard Firms draw in and mentor affiliated firms.

And thus, the pool of firms knowledgeable and experienced in BIM grows.

Further delving into this adoption process sees that the drivers are first individuals that see the future clearly and know that eventually the industry as a whole will both embrace and will be transformed by BIM. There are inherent drags on implementation – disruption and change to current design and management processes, sheer cost for software and training, legal concerns on the dropping of boundaries and sharing of information.

BIM software has been around in some form or another for over 20 years and had its origin in the high-tech industries such as aerospace and automobile manufacturing. In these settings that required tight coordination and high tolerances where many multiples of a single product were manufactured – the investment in software was of clear benefit. Even it there were multiple vendors creating product for the plane or auto, sharing of detailed drawings and information for the benefit of the team was common. But the AEC industry has multiple silos of activity that operate largely independently with their own culture and engrained processes that do not necessarily play with anyone else’s.

Building Information Modeling as software and as a new “design and delivery” process will only reach its true full potential when everyone from the product suppliers, to the design professionals, the contractor, and the owner all embrace and become competent and comfortable in the world of BIM.

In future posts, we will look at the different blocks to implementation including what is and is not happening in the schools of architecture and engineering to prepare students for this new world, resistance from the top to take on the challenge of transforming a firms established delivery processes, and more…

Monday, August 10, 2009

AIA Asks: "Is Lack of Financing Hurting Your Projects?"

AIA, The Angle, July 30, 2009 - 

Since the economic crisis exploded onto the front page last fall, the biggest issue facing policymakers has been ensuring that credit is available for businesses, homeowners, and others looking for capital. The Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), created by Congress in late 2008 to buy up so-called “toxic assets,” was quickly re-oriented toward injecting liquidity into financial institutions so they would lend again.

Now, nine months later, many banks are healthier, and some are even repaying back their TARP money – but are they lending again?

According to last March’s Architecture Billings Index survey, eight in 10 design firms reported that credit availability was more restrictive in the past. The result is that projects on the board are being stalled, delayed, or outright canceled.

The AIA is looking at proposals to bring to the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and Congress to free up capital for large projects, recognizing that every $1 million spent on design and construction creates 28.5 full time jobs.

We want to hear from you: Have your projects been sidelined because your clients can’t access capital? What kinds of projects and how large? How long have they been delayed? And what is the impact on your bottom line? Tell us at The Angle blog.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Membership Spotlight: Rebecca L. Boles, AIA

Rebecca L. Boles, AIA, is the Program Director of Interior Design at The University of Texas at Arlington. A registered architect and interior designer, she is a past officer and executive board member of AIA Fort Worth and currently serves on the TSA Publications Committee. Rebecca graduated with M. Arch degrees from Columbia University and UT Arlington. She has a B.S. in Zoology from Texas Tech.

TSA recently caught up with her, and she enthusiastically agreed to answer the questions below and share a few images of student work from SEED/Architecture 2009, a two-week summer program for high school students interested in architecture, hosted by The University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture with instructors Rebecca Boles, Wanda Dye, and Jeff Whatley.

Q & A with Rebecca Boles, AIA:

Who or what inspired you to become an architect?

As an undergraduate at Tech University, I had a battle choosing a major. I graduated as a Zoology major with a year's worth of art basics. After working for a year at UT Southwestern Medical Center in a kidney transplant lab, I decided that a medical career was not in my future, and perhaps architecture was a profession that would appeal to both of my interests, the scientific and the creative. I was hooked by the study of architecture from the first day of graduate school!

My grandfather Edler, who was a contractor in Lubbock, showed me the importance of craftsmanship and a reverence for quality materials. He died before I entered architecture school, but he would be proud to know that I came to admire his skill, precision, and knowledge in building.

What single work of Texas architecture inspires you?

My heart still chooses the Kimbell Art Museum. Even though I have lived in Arlington for the majority of my life, I always feel privileged to experience this building. It delighted me as a youngster, and it continues to instruct me as an architect today.

What's your dream project?

My passion is riding Arabian horses. Recently, I had an opportunity to propose some preliminary design schemes for a new barn for my horse trainer. I had such a great time working on that project, I vowed I would never design for humans again! My dream project would be to blend my knowledge of architecture, interior design, and all things equestrian into a ranch design that would delight both man and beast.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing an architecture career?

My colleagues at UT Arlington are always surprised how few significant works of architecture our students have seen. I advise all lifelong students of architecture to develop a curiosity about the designed environment. Nothing can really take the place of experiencing a building firsthand.

What's the best place you've ever visited and why?

The temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia create the most awe-inspiring place I have visited yet. The temples have both ancient and modern importance, both as a place for continued worship since the 12th century and for displaying the extent of the destruction of the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s. Many of the temple compounds in this region have such amazing tree growth covering them that it's impossible to determine which has the most influence, nature or the intricacy of the stone architecture. Angkor Wat is a real testament to the enduring grandeur of nature and to the building achievements of man.

What new skill do you want to learn?

Welding! Metal is always my material of choice.

Check back soon for the next Spotlight.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

TSA Announces Honor Awards

The Texas Society of Architects has announced this year’s Honor Award recipients. The awards recognize significant contributions to the architectural profession and the quality of the built environment and will be presented during the 70th Annual TSA Convention, Oct. 22-24, in Houston. Click here for a list of the honorees.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

We Have Been Living in a Paper World
by Christof Spieler
Director of Technology and Innovation
Morris Architects, Houston

This is the first installment in a biweekly feature on the TSA blog on how technology is changing the process of architecture – and how we can drive that change to everyone’s benefit. We want to begin a discussion, and we want you to join in.

We are at the cusp of an epic change in our business and our profession.

The way we deliver architecture projects today dates back around a century. That was when consulting engineering established itself as a separate profession, when general contractors started bidding on projects, and when sole practitioners evolved into architecture firms. Thus began a structure of practice that we now take for granted.

This structure was based on the specialization of technological skills, on the integrity of the hard bid, on a military command-and-control model, and, above all, on paper.

Consider how a structural steel beam was designed, fabricated, and erected: an architect designed a building and drew architectural drawings to document it. Those drawings went to the structural engineer, who pulled out relevant information and assembled a set of paper calculations to size members. Those member sizes, along with the geometry of the building, were then transcribed onto the structural drawings. These went to a steel detailer, who mentally assembled them into a 3-dimensional framework and produced a detailed set of erecting drawings. These then went to the steel fabricator, who looked up the dimensions and transcribed them once again, in crayon, onto the steel.

The same piece of information – a gridline dimension – was transferred from paper to mind to paper again at least four times (and that doesn’t even count the transfer from conceptual design to construction documents.) Every one of these transfers cost time and money. Every one of these transfers was an opportunity for error.

The advent of CAD didn’t really change the picture. The structural engineer might be able to use that architect’s file as a background. But the process was still dominated by paper, by transcription, and by possible error.

But all that changes fundamentally with Building Information Modeling (BIM). 2-D CAD was just a different tool for the same process. BIM is a whole new process: a three-dimensional, information-rich, digital prototype of a building that’s shared among the entire design and construction team.

We are in the early stages of BIM adoption right now. We have the architect and the engineer working in the same model, sharing the same data, coordinating as they work. And the engineer’s analysis model comes from the same data. This saves multiple transcriptions and avoids multiple opportunities for error.

That’s what some are calling “lonely BIM.” It’s only the first step. The steel detailer is already working with 3-D models; why should we send him paper drawings? And the saws and drills on the floor of the fabrication shop are driven by a computer; why not feed them digital data? Already, on a few projects here and there, architects, engineers, contractors, detailers, and fabricators are working in the same model. Data is entered once and used many times by multiple disciplines, but never transcribed. That’s “social BIM,” and it will be the norm soon.

BIM alone would be a significant change. But BIM doesn’t come alone. Fundamentally, BIM isn’t a production tool; it’s a communications tool. And when we change how we communicate we change how we work.

The relationships we’ve gotten used to – the cyclical coordination between the architect and the consultants, the RFI blame game between the engineer and the contractor, even the hard bid itself – were based on a paper world. The more readily we can share information, the more we can rethink how we work. We can build truly integrated teams, collaborations between owners, end users, architects, engineers, contractors, and fabricators. We can simulate environmental performance, structural behavior, operations, even emergencies. And, as relationships change, so will legal contracts.

Buildings, too, reflect the old process. That ceiling cavity above your head, the empty space between architecture and structure that gets handed over to the MEP engineer, is a physical coping mechanism to deal with a lack of coordination. It’s full of empty voids that exist only because architects and engineers can’t really figure out how their work interacts and because we’re designing much of our buildings in the field as they get built. If you look at products from industries that have been building digital prototypes for a while – a BMW motorcycle, a Boeing jetliner – you will see very little wasted space. This is not a zero-sum game: we can build better buildings for less.

We are all figuring out the shape of this new world. This will be a biweekly look, from the perspective of the staff of one architecture firm, at how BIM, and everything that goes with it, is reshaping how we make buildings. How is it changing your practice? Tell us in the comments, and ask questions, too – we’ll do our best to respond.

Monday, July 27, 2009

TSA 2009 Cornerstone Award: John and Dominique de Menil

Dominique and John de Menil, 1967. Photo courtesy of The Menil Collection.

In 1973, Dominique de Menil directed the architect Renzo Piano to design a museum for Houston that was “small on the outside, but big as possible inside,” where the visitor “would never know museum fatigue.” The result is The Menil Collection, a world-renowned building and art collection that is a legacy from Dominique and John de Menil’s lifetime of dedication and patronage to architecture and the arts. 

For their distinguished commitment to promoting art, architecture, education, and community, the de Menils will posthumously receive the 2009 Texas Society of Architects Cornerstone Award and will be honored during TSA’s 70th Annual Convention in Houston. TSA President Bill Reeves will present the couple’s son, Francois de Menil, AIA, with a specially engraved commemorative gift during the Presidents’ Gala, Fri., Oct. 22. In addition, the Society will make a donation to a charitable organization in their name.

Established in 1999, the Cornerstone Award is presented in recognition of outstanding contributions that enhance the quality of life by elevating architecture and the arts, promoting the value of community, or preserving the natural environment.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Studio Awards Recognize Eight Projects

Eight unbuilt projects were selected for recognition in the 2009 TSA Studio Awards program after this year's jury reviewed the 109 entries. The jury met July 22 in New York City in the offices of Hariri and Hariri Architecture. Jurors were Gisue Hariri, a partner in the host firm, and Marc Tsurumaki, a partner in Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis Architects.

The projects recognized with Studio Awards are:

• Sorensen Bridge by Fernando Brave, AIA, of Brave/Architecture in Houston

• Extreme Birding, Costa Rica & Alaska by Chris Hudson, AIA, of Morris Architects in Houston

• Flow City/Valencia by Hernan Molina, a student at Texas A&M University

• Kurdistan Transformational School by Christian Owens of SHW Group in Austin

• Lift: Home by Bart Shaw, AIA, in Bedford

• Light Modulation by Nicholas Richardson, a student at UT Arlington

• Museo Nacional de Textiles del Peru by Jeremy Olbrys in Austin

• Yarauvi: A Necropolis in the Dead Sea by Miguel Rivera, AIA, of Miró Rivera Architects in Austin

The awarded projects will be featured in Texas Architect later this year and celebrated at the TSA Convention in October.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Membership Spotlight: Michael Morton, AIA

Michael Morton, AIA, is principal of m ARCHITECTS, an award-winning Houston architecture firm that focuses on projects where people heal, learn, work, and gather.  A graduate of the University of Houston College of Architecture (1994), he recently served on the Boards for both AIA Houston and TSA. Currently, he is chair of the 2009 TSA Convention Committee.  

Michael is a past recipient of the AIA Houston Young Architect Award (2006) and the TSA Award for Young Professional Achievement in Honor of William W. Caudell FAIA (2007).

TSA recently caught up with him, and he graciously agreed to answer the questions below and share a few images of his firm's work. 

St. John’s School – Scotty Caven Field Press Box by m ARCHITECTS.

Houston Public Library - HPL Express by m ARCHITECTS.

Q & A with Michael Morton, AIA:

1. Who or what inspired you to become an architect?

My older brother took a design studio at UH, and I was fascinated by his drawings and models. I signed up a couple of years later and never looked back.

2. What single work of  Texas architecture inspires you?

The Menil Collection by Renzo Piano, who accomplished so many of the objectives architects strive for on a project (i.e., innovation, functionality, context, natural lighting, and detail) without ending up with a building that looks like the result of a checklist.

3. What project have you most enjoyed working on and why?

We have recently completed the first in a series of projects for the Houston Public Library called HPL Express. These facilities provide visitors access to email, Internet, and computer training, as well as books. It is very rewarding to work on a project that empowers people without a computer by giving them access to information that many of us take for granted.

4. What's your dream project?

Any project that is not low-bid and does not have a project manager. I’m serious.

5. What is the biggest challenge that architects face, and how do you think the profession can overcome it?

The biggest challenge we face is teaching future generations to be leaders, to take responsibility, and to work hard. Firms must develop a “no-slacker” policy and insist that interns get licensed and accept that being an architect means being a leader and taking responsibility for their work.

6. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing an architecture career?

I would advise them to spend a day at a firm and see what people are actually doing.

7. What's the best place you've ever visited and why?

I love Italy’s architecture, landscape, food, and wine.

8. What new skill do you want to learn?

I want to learn a martial art.

9. What product or service can you not live without?

I cannot live without the calendar on my PDA. It tells me when to get up, what to wear, and where to go; just like my mother used to do.

Visit the TSA blog Mon., Aug. 3, for the next Membership Spotlight.