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Sunday, August 23, 2009

BIMfacts - Is it too late for architects to be "master builders"?

Here's a great blog post that was written today by Brian Myers of BIMFacts.com fame . I was part of the Twitter conversation being referred to, so I hope I had some sort of inspiration in the creation of the post. I've enjoyed my conversational tweets with Brian and can't say I disagree with anything he's said below.

Repost: http://bimfacts.com/post/169775072/is-it-too-late-for-architects-to-be-master-builders

In a recent twitter discussion a question was asked that I’ve heard many times “How will architects protect/take back the knowledge of architecture from GCs and owner reps?”

I propose it’s too late, the evolution of processes has already begun and the traditional job of an architect is evolving away from that of “master builder”.

To better understand this, lets look at history as a guide:

  • There once was a major career in the telephone industry as a Switch Board operator that would connect all the calls; obviously the need for these individuals dropped with improvements in technology. Now we only have a portion of the switchboard operators (with different skills) that we used to have.
  • The same thing is happening to those in Photo labs and photography shops. People can now print their own pictures or have them shipped in the mail the next day. Camera reviews are read online and cameras can be purchased at less cost directly from their manufacturer. As a result, many camera shops are closing because of the rise of technology and a decreased need for their services.
  • The cost of liability insurance has increased while the cost for mass-produced manufactured materials is less than custom, on-site built parts. These Manufactured items have known ratings which decrease the liability risks and are designed by specialists who are experts in their design.

The days of the “architect” being the master builder are near their end. GCs are better and more suited at coordinating the trades. Custom manufacturers have specialized talent and tools to produce parts more cheaply and of higher quality. Structural Engineers and their software are better trained and quicker at solving structural issues/costs and are willing to take on liability. Computer software will automate certain structural/construction documentation issues which traditionally took mid-level architects and designers to solve. So where does this leave our profession???

Phil Bernstein touched on it in his video interview: http://bit.ly/XRmkM

…but Phil didn’t go the extra mile and state we WOULD be more likely to just be “blob designers” or designers in general. Perhaps he didn’t want to alienate his customers or definitively state the evidence since he is an architect himself and trains future architects for Yale university. Yes, there will still be technical architects (there will still be a large industry market!!) but a large sector will either be working in non-standard environments (for manufacturers or contractors) or doing most of the work themselves using available technologies, with less support staff required to complete the traditional architectural processes. As a result, there will be decreased opportunities to work in independent practice and more opportunities working for the trades/manufacturers. So there will be less “architects” and more industry specialists… and less master builders opportunities.

In short: BIM is the promised land and the proper environment for the majority of architectural projects in the future… but architects as we know them will become less common as they become more self sufficient, more specialized, and practicing their art more often for the builder or manufacturers (as their representatives) instead of independent practitioners representing a client. We will have a similar number of designers, but less technical architects/practitioners within the architectural office environment. The field of architecture, like the profession of Switch Board operators, photography shops, and news outlets will forever be changed by the introduction of improved technology and processes.

Original Post: Is it too late for architects to be "master builders


phil.bernstein@autodesk.com August 23, 2009 at 9:36 PM  

Gosh, I hardly know where to start, so let's try this: architects have not been "master builders" since the middle ages, and the development of the profession of architecture is a social acknowledgment that building isn't just parts assembly but requires a specific knowledge of things far beyond technical efficacy. The definition of "the public health and safety" as well as "responsible control" both speak to the need for professionals whose can synthesize a broad range of variables--many technical that BIM will help manage--and many non-technical. The relationship of design and construction can't be reduced to a contest between the designers and the builders.

A parallel argument that might be built here is the changing role of the builder in the design process, and how BIM as a platform for collaboration will transform the entire design-to-build process.

So I believe this entire line of investigation would be much more interesting if cast less as "who wins and loses" but rather, how does the industry, using integrated methodologies, evolve?

Phil Bernstein
Autodesk / Yale School of Architecture

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