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.