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A macro view of AEC industry shifts in 2014

By Craig Janssen

As I speak to design team leaders around the country, work has expanded rapidly in 2014. At Idibri, we are seeing strong growth in all of our primary markets  and we have won several projects overseas in the middle east and far east where the markets are hot again and growing quickly.  The doldrums of the recession are far behind in the rear view mirror.

As our industry responds to the return to strong growth, I’m aware that the future is looking very different to the past. I see three areas of radical change:

Economy. The market is far more focused on careful evaluation of project ROI and cautious estimates on funding. Banks have an excess of cash and are willing to lend it to qualified organizations, however it’s the caution of the organizations themselves that is slowing the market. We are spending a lot more time ensuring that the projects are well priced early in design and the construction contract prices locked in before the end of design. This has changed design processes considerably and architects/consultants are required to be far more cost aware and cost skilled than they were before the recession. Our response to this has been to develop very advanced in-house software to allow rapid and accurate systems costing for our projects – and to better understand the total project costing methodologies.

Technology. After 10 years of slow burn, Autodesk’s Revit now finally dominates the architectural design industry. This has driven huge change in staffing skills and more importantly, process. While most design contracts still talk of Schematic Design, Design Development and Construction Documents, this anachronism is changing rapidly with an almost complete blurring between Schematic Design and Design Development. As design automation and skill levels increase, we will essentially jump straight from Schematic Design to Contract Documents. Design build projects have already made this shift. This technology earthquake requires a totally changed mindset for design and construction teams. At Idibri, we have spent the last 5 years – and significant funds – developing our skills in Revit and automation to meet this need for rapid decisions early in our projects.

Culture. In my 22 years as part of this industry, I have seen a slow transition from strictly hierarchical design/construction organizational roles, to a far more collaborative structure in the last 3 years. The technology of buildings (MEP, security, building management systems, audio, video, lighting, data, etc.) is now too complex and integrated to the building design for a single person or entity to control. While the architect still leads the design process (and should) we are seeing architects develop leadership styles that look much like a musical jazz group leader – where the each team member is expected to be highly skilled and is given freedom to provide input to project direction. This is very different to years past where architects provided leadership similar to an orchestra conductor where the music was predefined and following the conductor’s precise direction was essential. This change is not subtle or easy for the design/construction industry as new skills, processes and behavior is required. At Idibri, we have taken this very seriously and constantly review how we are approaching the “people” side as we design projects.

We find ourselves doing business in a time where everything is changing.  (If you have been in this industry for awhile, think back.  Haven’t things changed?) When systems are disrupted tremendous opportunity happens for those who are willing to change and embrace the new realities.  We want to be at the center of that movement.

 

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