The Future of Professional Practice: DC Smorgasbord had Something for Everyone

Event: The Future of Professional Practice
Location: Capital Hilton Hotel, Washington, DC, 12.02-04.07
Organizers: American Institute of Architects; AIA Practice Management; AIA Technology in Architectural Practice; AIA DC; AIA Delaware; AIA Northern Virginia; AIA Educator/Practitioner Network; AIA Integrated Practice; AIA Design-Build; AIA Small Project Practitioners
Sponsors: Victor O. Schinnerer & Co. Inc; Adobe; Newforma; Graphisoft; Bentley.

Future of Professional Practice

This chart shows changes from 2006 to 2007 in the readiness of staff at several levels to take on progressively more sophisticated 3-D/BIM tools (numbers at left show years of experience).

Source: The Fergus Garber Group, Palo Alto, CA

Perhaps the most telling riff played on the conference’s basic theme was that new employees know more about technology than seasoned partners, that information technology was galloping ahead at a prodigious rate, and that the conference was here to let the younger, avant garde strut their stuff on integrated delivery, leveraging emerging technology, and innovative practice management.

As it turned out, this umbrella conference drew value from every generation, from baby boomers to GenYers. James H. Timberlake, FAIA, of KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia, kicked things off before a Washington, DC gathering of 260 from 39 states, the UK, and Australia with a two-hour keynote in which he gave a not-so-flattering picture of productivity changes in the construction industry. Whereas productivity in non-farm labor (including construction) rose by 215% between 1964 and 2004, construction productivity alone actually declined by 5% over the same 40-year span.

This suggestion isn’t new. What is new was Timberlake’s acknowledgment of these three factors:

1. Split in the role of the ancient master builder into a number of design and construction roles, creating dispersion of a once concentrated skill base;
2. “burgeoning materiality,” that is, the explosion of new materials in the last 25 years (aerogel, titanium, zenite) — “Novelty is [found to be] sufficient to justify use,” he and partner Stephen Kieran, FAIA, wrote in Prefabricating Architecture, but “beyond infatuation …lies a world of purposeful form yet to be explored;” and
3. lack of “refabrication” of the industry to obtain the quality, schedule, and cost control long boasted by the auto, shipping, and aircraft industries.

Five tracks. Concurrent break out sessions pursued five tracks:

A. Leading the business
B. Developing the people
C. Delivering the work
D. The range of technologies for your firm (basic)
E. Leveraging BIM and Integrated Practice (advanced)


The Future of Professional Practice (continued)

Small stone makes big waves. At the session entitled The Transitional Small Practice: Alternate management strategies, Daniel M. Garber (of the Fergus Garber Group, Palo Alto, CA) showed how small, growth-hungry firms must employ innovative often riskier, design and delivery methods to replace safer traditional methods.

Garber’s view on integrating roles in the firm when transitioning from 2-D to 3-D/BIM is shown in the chart. The chart shows changes from 2006 to 2007 in the readiness of staff at several levels to take on progressively more sophisticated design and delivery tools (numbers at left show years of experience).

When smartly done, results are:

· better coordinated production
· streamlined production documentation
· greater client participation in design phase
· shorter design cycle.

Town Hall tales. The proceedings ended with a novel device called the Town Hall. Genially presided over by Architectural Record deputy editor Charles Linn, FAIA, this town hall mushroomed fast into informal, animated, often blunt exchanges, as though the pent up listening of the previous two days finally detonated into some frank but all-in-all civil exchanges. Topics: BIM and its high technical but low design impact; the undesirable designation (by architects) of the architect as Master Builder (preferred: Team Captain; Master Coordinator); the dangers of getting lost inside the new technology; the paradox of earning HSW credits at BIM-related sessions but none on managing people; anxiety as motivator; and the risks inherent in the new technology of making decisions too fast, without enough thought.

AIA has promised to make transcripts of talks available at about this time on its website.

Mission Impossible?

Event: 2007 AIANYS Convention: The Past As Prologue
Location: Grand Hyatt, NYC, 10.04-06.07
Speakers: Keynote Luncheon: Raymond Rhinehart, Ph.D., Hon. AIA — Senior Director, AIA
Organizers: AIA New York State
Keynote Sponsors: Design Insurance Agency; Victor O. Schinnerer & Company; Thornton Tomasetti, Inc.; Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.

2007 AIANYS Convention

Courtesy AIANYS

Ever since 13 architects decided to form the AIA in 1857, the role and perception of architects has fluctuated, from glorified genius to unnecessary niche artist. Now this year’s AIA New York State Convention theme, The Past As Prologue, inspired keynote luncheon speaker Raymond Rhinehart, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, senior director at AIA National, to title his speech, “Professional, City, World, or Mission Impossible?”

The world is in a state that requires architects to re-imagine and redefine their profession, Rhinehart argues. Referencing images of John Milton’s Paradise Lost’s earth hanging from heaven by a string and environmental activist David Suzuki’s earth as a basketball wrapped in Saran Wrap, Rhinehart calls architects “agents of life” in a time where social, environmental, and political climates are at a breaking point. To heal the world, architects must join together on a global scale. Architects need to design for human contact as well as to preserve the environment — seamlessly linking human life and nature. Sustainability has to go beyond “green.”

Convention Focuses on Liability, Control, Public Policy

Event: 2007 AIANYS Convention: The Past As Prologue
Location: Grand Hyatt, NYC, 10.04-06.07
Speakers: Collaborative Design and Insurability: Frank Musica, Esq. & David Blue — Victor O. Schinnerer & Company; Design Professionals and Public Policy: Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP — 2007 AIANY President & Principal, Perkins + Will; Mark Strauss, FAIA, AICP — AIANY Immediate Past President & Principal, FXFowle Architects; Sherida Paulsen, FAIA — AIANY Vice President of Public Outreach & Principal, Pasanella+Klein Stolzman+Berg Architects
Organizers: AIA New York State

It seems that architects have started to lose control over their profession. Or perhaps the profession no longer belongs to just architects. Client demands and expectations have increased, building standards have risen, the field is more specialized, and new technologies make it permanent. General contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and various other specialists are completing an increasing amount of the design and management work, leaving architects more like subcontractors than leads.

What can architects do to regain the role they traditionally held? Collaborative Design and Insurability, a panel discussion led by Frank Musica, Esq., and David Blue of Victor O. Schinnerer & Company, spoke to both sides, covering architects’ increasing roles as collaborators professionally and with clients. New technology, such as B.I.M. (Building Information Modeling), may shift the practice away from traditional drawing methods, but it saves production time better spent preparing more thorough contracts. This matters because contracts need to be adjusted with the changing times — for instance, the sustainability movement.

As green design becomes less of a commodity and more of a standard, having a written statement understood by client and architect can help avoid potential lawsuits and reduce professional liability costs. Insurance companies adjust rates for firms practicing green design on a case-by-case basis, yet liability insurance costs will soon be adjusted profession-wide.

AIANY is taking steps to help architects reposition themselves legislatively. Design Professionals and Public Policy, led by Joan Blumenfeld, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP, 2007 AIANY president, Mark Strauss, FAIA, AICP, AIANY immediate past president, and Sherida Paulsen, FAIA, AIANY vice president of public outreach, discussed the Chapter’s policy committee. Intended for members to become more proactive in legislative issues, the committee deals with the ways architects practice and the liability involved in practicing. When it launches, the new AIANY website will also provide an interactive interface for architects to discuss policy issues, and the Public Information Exchange (PIE) will expand its capabilities to include a blog for such discussions.

As one of the attendees stated, we are “creative problem solvers” and must reach out to the public. Architects’ ideas are only relevant if they are shared.

Adding to Landmarks: When One Person’s Parasite is Another’s Fresh Layer

Event: “But Do the Venerable Landmark Building and the rash New Addition REALLY Talk to Each Other?
Location: Grand Hyatt, 10.04.07
Speakers: Shelly S. Friedman, Esq. — Partner, Friedman & Gotbaum; Roger Philip Lang — Director, Community Programs and Services, New York Landmarks Conservancy; Richard M. Olcott, FAIA — Partner, Polshek Partnership Architects, and former commissioner, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
Moderator: David Paul Helpern, FAIA, LEED AP — Founding Principal, Helpern Architects
Organizers: AIA New York State

Marcel Breuer Tower

Rendering of 1968 design by Marcel Breuer for office tower atop Grand Central Terminal.

Paul Spencer Byard. The Architecture of Additions Design and Regulations, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. Courtesy ASLA.

The late Herbert Muschamp called them “parabuildings.” Landmarks Conservancy spokesman Roger Lang refers to them as “buildovers.” Whatever one calls them, contemporary grafts on older buildings can be functional as well as profitable, but often visually jarring. And you can count on at least a few preservationists to protest them — even the ones, like Foster + Partners’ recent expansion atop Joseph Urban’s Hearst Building, that creates an intergenerational “dialogue” and realizes the original architect’s documented aim to add a tower.

Recalling a few approved proposals and many others that were rejected or withdrawn, Richard Olcott, FAIA, partner at Polshek Partnership Architects, recalled his father’s quip that “this city is going to be great when it’s finished.” Clearly it never will be, but its evolution, Olcott observed, includes a history of “rather mixed results” when developers try to expand landmarked buildings. Although most of the proposed such projects are shot down, incentives — monetizing air rights, or letting cultural institutions expand — make it worth trying. “The beauty of the landmarks law,” Olcott said, “is that it is intentionally so open-ended.”

The panel presented the Landmarks Preservation Commission revision-approval process through a gamelike approach: a hypothetical expansion of the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Bank Building at 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue (now a Chase branch), a five-story Modernist milestone by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, completed in 1954 and landmarked in 1997. Moderator David Helpern, FAIA, LEED AP, walked the audience through the steps they would take in response to three different proposed plans, from a near-cloning of SOM’s box through an explosion of oblique angles. The panelists explored the question: is it possible to put a new tower into the space above the building without degrading other important values, including aesthetics, history, the local context, and the interests of neighbors?

Attorney Shelly Friedman, Esq., drawing on experience with the tactics and “diagnostics” involved in land-use law, offered recommendations for architects and developers seeking such approval. Forming a team of knowledgeable professionals is the top priority; owners should be flexible about adapting plans. Knowing the specific reasons why a building is landmarked allows for appropriate adjustments. Project viability and financial returns are not the only criteria in these decisions, Friedman observed, and a realistic chance of success often means a willingness to cut losses.

Precedents are commonly cited in these negotiations, Lang noted, though they do not have a formal role. Each site or proposal is unique — as Foster + Partners’ experience at 980 Madison Avenue shows, an idea that works in Midtown’s business district doesn’t automatically work on the residential Upper East Side. In practice, however, both proponents and opponents frame their arguments in reference to prior examples.

The discussion distinguished between preservation as a practical activity, where particular people negotiate real-world decisions, and preservationism as an ideology. No final verdict on the three plans was forthcoming, but the debate rendered closure unnecessary.

Convention Impressions

Deep in the heart of Texas…
My personal highlight was escaping late on Saturday night to Austin, where I was able to see, again, the Charles Moore Center for the Study of Place, and, the next morning, the new storefront Center for Architecture of AIA Austin. If what happens in San Antonio, stays in San Antonio (at least according to Mark Strauss, FAIA, AICP), what happens in Austin, thanks to Moore Center director Kevin Keim, and AIA Austin Executive Director Sally Ann Fly, should be broadcast to all ends of the U.S. The house where Charles Moore lived his last years is phenomenal, and Kevin keeps his spirit alive. The newest Center for Architecture — Austin’s opened just a few months ago — was a former gasoline station, and it keeps just the right balance between designed sophistication, and greasy grit.

I’m ready to move to Austin (and San Antonio), and have my Molly Ivins’ books packed in the Oculus tote bag, which was the hit of the show.

– Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director

AIA New York State Reception, Aztec on the River, San Antonio
A majestic movie palace was the site of this year’s AIANYS reception, bringing San Antonio’s history into focus for visitors from NY. The ornate styling of the theater was a reminder of the legacy that 1920s deco extremes left on San Antonio. A multi-media presentation with staged special effects — thunder, fog, and a levitating serpent — enacted portions of Meso-American history for guests. At the reception AIANYS President Russell Davidson, AIA, greeted familiar faces from Chapters around the state. The gathering celebrated the 10 New York firms whose projects received 2007 AIA Honor Awards. Also acknowledged were the state’s nine new Fellows, AIA Topaz Medallion recipient Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, and Associate AIA Member of the Year Finalist Jeremy Edmunds, PE, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP.

– Carolyn Sponza, AIA, AIANY Chapter Vice President of Professional Development

And one recollection from slightly off the convention trail
I happened to be walking by the Westin Hotel when an Airstream trailer parked in a lot across the street caught my attention. Called aloft a-go-go, the module is the latest PR tool developed by W Hotels to bring the design of a new line of inexpensive boutique hotels to the public. Besides literally taking their new show on the road, parent company Starwood has also launched aloft in cyberspace for design feedback on the Second Life website. NY-based The Rockwell Group is behind design of the new chain, proving you can bring a little New York to San Antonio. Aloft a-go-go captain Corbin Kappler also assured me that the PR-vehicle will be making an appearance on Union Square sometime in the next few weeks.

– Carolyn Sponza, AIA, AIANY Chapter Vice President of Professional Development

Overall a good time
My general observations were positive. It was the most walkable convention I’ve attended (others included Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles). Locals were friendly. Riverwalk was a sweet urban amenity. The meta-theme — green — is always relevant. I was thrilled to see the AIANY “New Practices New York” exhibition. Our chapter had real presence this year, and I believe the highest number of associates attended, too. I really liked the beer factory-turned-art-museum, and the red ochre public library rocked (especially the Chihuly glass sculpture in the atrium).

– Jeremy Edmunds, PE, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, AIANY Director of Programs and Strategic Planning

But not flawless
One of the major flaws in the convention catalogue was not listing the speakers under the description, as is commonly done at most conferences. I encourage folks to tell the AIA that speakers should be listed with the panel information. I complained and was not given much encouragement. If enough people speak up maybe they will change it next year.

– Concerned attendee

Send an e-mail with your thoughts about the convention.

Al Gore to Media: You’re Not Welcome; Media (somewhat) Amused

E-mail exchange between this writer and AIA National 03.23.07:

To: AIA National
Subject: Gore/AIA San Antonio

Hi AIA… I couldn’t find Gore keynote on schedule (or too bleary-eyed after pages of registration forms)…would you let me know when it is?

Fr: AIA National
RE: Gore/AIA San Antonio

He is speaking on May 5th at 3:30. But here’s the part that you’re not going to like. The agreement and contract…states that no members of the media will be admitted into the hall for Mr. Gore’s speech. I am not sure how His [sic] people or the management here at the AIA came to that agreement or more importantly WHY, but that’s what I have been told.

Apparently, the media is not allowed to attend any of Gore’s lectures. But that seemed beside the point, so I shared the above exchange with a number of design journalists across the U.S. Some of their responses are rather amusing (attribution has been omitted to protect both the innocent and not-so-innocent):

“Remember this the next time the AIA courts you for coverage!”

“Maybe he’s afraid of being Gored by the media???”

“Odd. What do you think he was going to talk about — state secrets revealed to the design profession? I personally think they should say no way, it’s open. His closing it does not reflect well on him, raises all sorts of issues.”

“Your e-mail has created a bit of a fuss around here. Either that or we’re all just really bored and want to go home! There’s also a huge, self-serving assumption here on the part of Gore’s people that the press would actually WANT to report anything he had to say. Kind of unintentionally hilarious, really.”

“I can’t believe that!! There’s a real lost opportunity on both sides.”

“A little birdy has told me that it’s Gore’s standard operating procedure these days. Don’t know if it’s because the content of his speeches are part and parcel of “An Inconvenient Truth” or not. Seems like a great way to annoy reporters, though, eh? You’d think that an old hand like Gore wouldn’t be afraid of the media at this point, wouldn’t you? I mean, he’s been through the most contentious election debacle in history, 8 years in the White House, etc. Strangeness.”

“He must be getting sensitive about his weight!”

“FYI this is standard @#$%-up practice by some at conventions. The directive to keep out the press would definitely come from Gore. Just goes to show you — he’s still a politician.”

“Why can’t they just show the movie?”

“I have no idea what’s up with Al, except he needs to go on a diet!”

“Keystroke slip — “His” with a cap letter might explain it all. The man IS surely running for president; he’s just waiting for Hillary and Obama to bore everyone to death. Having pesky press would destroy the neutral statesman/guru aura they’re working hard to inculcate.”

“Very strange. How enforceable is this?”

“This IS pretty strange. I guess the question is — are Gore’s comments off the record and cannot be reported? What in God’s name is he going to say that we haven’t heard already?????”

“Very strange indeed. A public and well-reported meeting between Gore and AIA members would have been terrific. I wonder whether the handlers around Gore are way too aggressive for his own good. I’m not close enough to the process to know whose interests are served by non-public events like these, but it looks too close to paranoia from here.”

“Interesting to compare this news with the big reach-out the AIA is doing to news media by conducting a Roper Poll on what we/media think of them.”