Dispelling Fears of Dystopian Design
We get it. Architects don’t really like to give up control of their designs, not to other designers, and certainly not to a computer. So, when we started talking about “automating” the design/manufacture/build process, we got a little pushback. We’d like to debunk the myth that design has now become dystopian and assure you that by using a Kit-of-Parts, and an Industrialized Construction platform, architects will still have the freedom to design.
First, let’s be honest – design has always been constrained. By budget, by site, by codes, and by regional policies. And, prefab design adds additional restraints by making sure projects are really designed for manufacturing and assembly. That’s a challenging environment to work in.
Three Key Challenges
Going back in time, before technology’s impact on architecture, there were architects and there were draftsman. Then along came CAD, and suddenly, architects needed to be draftsmen too. Then BIM joins the party and suddenly architects were required to be data managers. These additional burdens resulted in new, time consuming tasks. Now, while architects must still juggle constraints and client expectations, they must also learn new data management skills, requiring more time to hunt for needed information, while also retaining and managing that data.
Without the right tools, architects feel distracted from using their expertise to focus on important, value-added activities. All of this added time and money not just to the design phase, but across the entire chain.
Secondly, without automation, and data storage capabilities, the intellectual property created via the design process typically remained in the head of team members working on a project. In essence, that means IP is transient and firms are losing that knowledge and associated value when an employee leaves.
Finally, in a non-industrialized construction world, it’s not just cost being impacted. Some worry the addition of automation will shorten the design/build process, leaving some architects (and even some skilled labor) to worry they’re not as valuable. Historically, costs for projects hinged on the time an architect put into it. Now, with automation and shorter stages, does that mean the perceived value of an architect is now diminished?
A Utopian Solution
All of these things have created the fear that dystopian design will be the outcome of automation or industrialization. But truthfully, using the right solution to automate some of the design practice actually helps inform good design.
First, when an architect is faced with constraints that are not completely understood, it’s hard to work with, or around, them. But, by using a Kit-of-Parts, with rules and regulations captured for each part, compatible with the software architects are already comfortable with, like Revit or BIM, actually eases constraints, and allows designers to use them to their advantage.
Highly evolved Kits-of-Parts have all kinds of information wrapped around each part, like cost and predicted labor. With that, architects can freely, and efficiently, work within a set of constraints, without feeling handcuffed or unclear on what they can or can’t do. The end result? Architects know their designs are following rules, codes and constraints, and with access to so much more information earlier in the design stage, they can make better decisions to control for cost and mitigate risk.
Secondly, by managing data in the cloud, and in a BIM environment, it’s all connected, meaning time isn’t wasted searching for needed data. In this built-in data environment, designers get to be designers again. Imagine the freedom to explore different approaches and accurately cost them out, or use several different scenarios to come up with an even better design without delaying a project. Knowing that each part has a specific cost, and a specific amount of time required to assemble, it’s easy to predict actual labor costs. Even better? With the data captured in the system, IP stays with the company, even if employees come and go.
The data sitting around each component calculates unit, labor and material costs. Using that data, and persisting it between a BIM environment, the web, and stakeholders along the entire chain, means everyone has the right information at their fingertips, allowing them to work more efficiently and make data-driven decisions. Really, it’s a much more powerful approach that frees designers to make better decisions early on. In fact, without the right data, projects often must be value engineered due to unanticipated cost overruns, and costly change orders that arise during construction. With a Kit-of-Parts, that’s all baked in from the beginning.
Finally, even with automation, or an Industrialized Construction approach, architecture is still hard. Experts become experts by practicing it for decades, and adding in some of their own
The concept of the more hours needed for a difficult project, the more valuable the architect or architectural firm is must also be debunked. With IC, maybe it’s time to move to a value-based billing structure, that rewards low risk projects being delivered on time and on, or under, budget.
With the advent of IC, architecture is changing. Having the right tools and the right data at hand will afford architects the time, and freedom, to create next generation spaces.
Mike Eggers, VP, Product & Innovation
Mike is a licensed architect in the state of California with over 15 years of experience with highly detailed and complex construction projects. His expertise in program management and product development, along with deploying integrated hardware, software and operations solutions at scale. Mike has a passion for solving architectural problems with an emphasis on scalability and repeatability of design. Follow Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter.