Our Future with Technology

It has now been two weeks now since attending my first BILT ANZ and I think I’m finally back on my native timezone! It was wonderful to get to meet a variety of new people and enjoy Australian hospitality. BILT ANZ was also a great way to get excited and motivated for the upcoming RTC Events Week North American, in particular of course the Design Technology Summit. 


While the learning and networking were great, one of the biggest takeaways I had from traveling thirty hours (each way) is simply how far technology has come in the last decade. My departure night, I sat in Logan airport, fired up my computer that weighs 2lbs (if I’m lucky) connected it to my mobile phone for internet (free Wi-Fi isn’t that great in a busy airport) and proceeded to manipulate a database sitting in Edmonton, Canada. Twelve (or maybe it was fourteen) hours later I was doing the same thing in Dubai (their free Wi-Fi actually works), at the same time I was texting with my wife back in the US. I then hopped back on the plane, working with no internet this time, landed in Australia and slept a little, then I was back online chatting with coworkers on the West Coast of NA, following up with emails, while also chatting with a colleague from the Sydney office who had arrived at Stantec’s Brisbane office. 


Amazing right? I mean stop and think about it for a minute, how much do we take for granted what technology has become in the second decade of the 21st century, what we can slip into our pocket without a second thought. It really hit home when I was passing through security back in Boston and they had to search my backpack. This is something that I’m not unaccustomed to. and usually they like to pull out the multi-tool that has no blade, or the multi-function screw-driver, wrench, ruler combo. Not this time, this time the security agent who was near enough in age to me, pulled out my Ipod Classic, and his quote, “oh this old piece of technology, they’ve never seen an Ipod Classic”. 


If technology has come as far as it has in the last ten years, what does the next ten years hold? I believe that we most definitely stand on a precipice, the edge remains cloaked in fog, so I don’t know which one we stand on, but we continue to edge closer. At the same time, once we can clear that fog, we’re going to be ready to take off and fly, like I took off and flew half-way around the world. Events like DTS are intended for us, Design Technology Leaders to engage in meaningful conversation about where are our firms currently, where are we going, what opportunities does technology offer, how do we embrace it in a meaningful way, and how do we collectively improve not just our designs and our businesses, but the lives of our colleagues. 


If you step back for a moment, and find that you too, too easily take for granted the transformation technology has wrought, then come to DTS, let’s have a discussion about what the future holds and how are we going to be part of that, how will we help our firms through it and what is the future of the practice of design in an age when I can talk to a computer in my own home and have it modify my environment or remember my grocery list for me. 


Join us at the Design Technology Summit, August 7-8, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. Register your Interest Today!


The Death of the Physical Model?

Model building has been around since day 1 of architectural school for most of us, and for some, it even started when we were younger with a model car and smelling the glue. For the newer generations, it may have been the first LEGO model set at your fifth birthday party from Aunt Sue. No matter which generation you come from, building a model has been an integral part of the design process in architecture. The emotions a physical model creates by being able to touch, see, and spin it around cannot completely be replicated by a computer-generated image.


Even with all the technical advancements of computer 3D modeling, virtual reality, and photo-realistic rendering, model building has been on the decline in today’s architecture offices, yet most everyone proclaims that it is a needed tool that  architects should possess in their tool kits. The industry has been continually developing the process in which we can take a computer-generated model and automate the model building process.


Well my Aunt Sue would say “I don’t understand all this computer stuff, but I know that one of my freshly baked peach pies is a lot more palatable than some computerized pie on a screen.” And she has a point. Our 5 senses working in unison help us understand to a much greater degree. The more of our senses that we can engage in our models and visualizations, the more understanding our clients may have. Must everything we do be so strictly digital?


To learn more, make sure you’re registered for this year’s DTS in St Louis on August 7-8, 2018.


“Cost of doing business”

Writing blog posts about design technology leadership
continues the discussions from previous Summits. One of the topics often brought up is that of how other firms estimate the cost of BIM above and beyond what the firm usually delivers. Where does the line fall between the “cost of doing business” and “additional services”, and how much of this answer is dependent on the client?
Rather than provide answers that aren’t necessarily relevant to your firm or in your local, I open this thread to your input. Email the [email protected] and I’ll add it here.

Translating Technology

In doing research for his recent book, Jay Conger identified one particular set of talents that resonated with me, that of “technology translation”.  It’s the ability to absorb large amounts of data, discern its essence, understand different perspectives and stakeholders, and come up with a simple, strong message that’s tailored properly to the intended audience.


Jay’s example centered around software companies and their customers – namely, that there might be some feature changes that would impact enterprise customers.  A technology translator would bee able to understand those changes, and find the most salient points and build explanations for different audiences:  the software company CEO, the board, the marketing heads, and so on.


I’ve found these skills especially useful in our line of work too.  Technology can mean many things to many people, and how I’d explain something to a firm’s partner could be pretty different than how I’d explain it to a first-year graduate.  Design-minded folks will respond differently than technically-minded ones, Construction Admin experts will have different needs than interior designers and urban planners.  Engineers will find yet a different set of priorities to focus on.  You get the picture.


How have you been able to use these techniques to your advantage?  Have there been times when you’ve found the messages more convergent?  And some that are less convergent?  Have you found some principles to be ‘universal’, or do they always depend on the audience? I’d love to hear your thoughts, hopefully at DTS this summer.  Please apply to join the conversation!


Image Copyright © glasslewis.com


The Future of Automation: How far should we go?

Automation seems to be all around us, from the everyday ATMs, to the evolving self-driving cars, but the question remains: just because we can automate, should we?


We all would love to find that extra hour in our days—whether it be at work or at home, the allure of finding a way to make a repetitive task automatic is definitely attractive. Automating tasks essential to healthy living—brushing teeth, taking medication, homework (though that would take some doing) would be a big step toward a healthy, happy, productive life. We do not think about most of these tasks, we just get up and do them, but trying to mechanically automate such personal experiences does not seem practical. So how do we start automating a design process that engages everyone at an individual level?


The design process starts with the program, or the idea of a space is where design begins. In this phase, we, as designers, evaluate, analyze, anticipate every ounce of data we can gather to try and predict the needs that will arise tomorrow, ten, fifteen, even 20 years in the future. With sensors being an evolving product, the ability to automate the gathering of space usage information could be the next exciting starting point for automation.


After programming phase is complete, this is where automation could continue to benefit the design team. Computational design has given us the ability to twist, turn, push or pull so many variations, before running analysis on each to determine the most desired option. Where is the architect’s influence? Have we taken the pen out of their hands?


Now the design has been determined and documentation must take place, or does it? The idea of “modeling more and documenting less” was a point that stuck with me as I left the 2017 DTS conference, and now a year later, still sticks with me.  Modeling becomes the new documenting and by adding the data into the spaces, we could start to allow technology to produce model components based on desired specifications.


Can we automate the process of producing documents for compliance in the different jurisdictions? 


Can we automate the process to go from design, straight to construction robotics?


We can automate and most of us agree we should, but how do we humanize automation and how does it integrate coherently with the designers?


Despite all those questions and their answers, automation was the beginning of an industrial revolution and could be the tool to transform the construction industry as we move towards a better delivery method as designers.