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 TheaterJones.com, 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 TheaterJones.com.)

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:   andy.macphillimy@morrisarchitects.com or Christof.spieler@morrisarchitects.com