Monday, April 14, 2014

Big Data and the AEC Industry | GO BEYOND MEASUREMENT

"Big Data" is the buzzword in almost every industry, and we are keenly aware of the value personally. From Google Maps to Wikipedia, we leverage the world's database in almost every area of our lives. And while the AEC industry talks a lot about Building Information Modeling (BIM), we tend to focus more on the model than the building information.

There are multiple breakthroughs in the things people measure and the apps available to process the data. (Anyone own a FitBit?) But those measurements are just now being explored in the built environment. David Fano—a building information consultant with Case, Inc—shared the following futurecast with the Global Design Alliance for what is on the horizon for Big Data and AEC professionals:
  1. Spatial Usage Metrics. Gathering information on how people use a space can drive evidence-based design. The themed entertainment industry is already using RFID sensors to track how people use their venues; yet this technology can be leveraged in every type of built environment. Indoor positioning and user tracking is possible via cellphone and Wi-Fi triangulations and there are sensors of every type available to measure usage. 
  2. Building Data Monetization. Google has gone beyond scanning the streetscapes to scanning the interiors of some buildings. The AEC industry has data for the buildings, but much of it is sitting in drawing storage or on hard drives. In the near future, we will begin to see firms find ways to provide access and monetize this. 
  3. Facility API's. Look for firms to leverage the BIM to provide managed services and to write the apps that make this possible. Some of the most complex buildings are still managed with MSExcel spreadsheets. This will mature in the near future. 
Fano highlighted that data is a raw, renewable resource…and that the future belongs to those who learn to work with it.

By Cathy Hutchison

Monday, March 31, 2014

Designing for the Alignment of Expectations | GO BEYOND A TRADITIONAL DELIVERY METHOD

Recently I had an opportunity to facilitate an interactive design workshop for a new project we are leading at Savannah Christian Church. As our team continues to engage in this highly collaborative process, it becomes more apparent that the process itself produces results that are necessary for the success of the project and inherently for the health of our client’s organization.  As the team becomes unified through the alignment of goals, the focus shifts solely onto outcome and results.  Now you have a team energized and confident to focus on creativity and problem solving. 

 We have found that this process allows for three significant things to happen that are different from other delivery methods

  • First, our process requires people to change their behavior.  In other project delivery methods, various entities involved each have a different motivation for working on the project.  With our workshop and negotiated contract method, the motivation (and associated behaviors) become aligned and everyone is working for the best result for the project. 
  • Second, this process distributes the risk because it involves everyone in the decision making process.  As risk is distributed, costs go down and value for the project goes up. 
  • And third, the process requires a matching of facility and system performance expectations with the budget.  In most projects, the two never meet and there is always someone who is disappointed at the completion of the project.  This process requires both be aligned before the process can continue.
It is always exciting on the final day of the workshop to present back to our clients all the decisions that were made that week. The innovative solutions are verified with the original goals and actual costs are validated with the project budget. The entire team leaves with a definitive plan for moving the project forward and everyone in agreement on the solutions provided!

Find out more information about our technical systems design workshop process here.

-Vance Breshears

Monday, March 24, 2014


Major sports venues, corporate headquarters and church and school campuses utilize distributed video for communication. The digital media content is typically managed from a single location and pushed to 5 – 1000 displays. Distributed video used to mean CCTV or MATV, but on the heels of a converged network comes IPTV (Internet Protocol Television).

IPTV means that anywhere there is a data drop, you have the potential for a display, and the content is all scheduled and maintained from a central location or via the Internet. Anyone can create the content. In larger systems, there are typically multiple contribution stations or there may be a single manager that creates content and pushes it out to all systems.

IPTV allows people to send the same content to all displays, differentiate by zones or to send content to individual displays. For example, in an arena all displays may run a live feed of a game, but different branding and advertising messages may be sent to different suites, clubs and concourses. On a college campus, content may be differentiated by the building and targeted to the School of Engineering, School of Business, etc. In some cases, people are using IPTV to create mosaics where one video stream has 9 – 16 different individual content windows on a large projection or LED wall.

One of the challenges of IPTV is typically integration. Because many times the systems area added to existing buildings, they look like an add on. But there is an opportunity in major renovations and new construction for architects to think about the space planning and integration. What types of “video canvas” will a building have? Now that the total depth of mount and displays easily reach less than 4” there isn’t a worry about ADA clearances giving designers more flexibility.

And IPTV isn’t limited to the screens on the wall. People can connect wirelessly to the system with mobile devices which means less infrastructure and less planning.

By Ben Cating

Monday, March 17, 2014

Corporate Meeting Spaces | GO BEYOND THE PODIUM

One of the things I see in offices around the country is the way that corporate meeting spaces prompt people to behave.  Presentation rooms assume podium-based thinking.  There is no subtlety in where the focus should be in a meeting space when you walk in the room and all seats are oriented to face a single speaker position.  Board rooms have their own cues.  There is typically a large table which promotes a hierarchical culture and eliminates flexibility.  The result of these forms is that corporate meeting spaces commonly support presentation and inadvertently punish attempts at collaboration.  Using theatre design terminology there is a clear stage (a power position) and an audience area.  Fixed furniture or not, the basic theatre design of the space defines the experience and most rooms are set up with scale and proportion that tells the person entering how to behave.  And so they do. 

I suggest that most conference rooms are unwittingly designed as "event" rooms.  These spaces often have a 2:1 or greater aspect ratio.  This forces the "stage" or focus point to be at one end.  People thus take turns to present their ideas—a sequential process—and the space itself pushes back against efforts for parallel processes of discovery, engagement or decision making.  Adding insult to injury, most of these rooms have zero nearby huddle areas for cohort groups to develop thoughts away from the larger team—or for individuals to pull away to investigate, imagine and collate the information (intellectually, emotionally or electronically) that they explored in the larger meeting.  Hence my naming of these spaces as "event" rooms as they are spaces where audiences come to hear what was preprogrammed for them to hear.

Collaboration spaces on the other hand arguably utilize aspect ratios of 1.5:1 or less and allow multiple stage positions—think black box theatre.  As a result the "stage" position not only may be set up in multiple orientations, but in fact can allow multiple concurrent stage positions.  Collaboration spaces need to consider that presentation occurs from any and all seats both internal to the room and external.  As a result, the layout, furnishings and technology must allow democratic access.  Not only that, but the access can go beyond the walls to facilitate distance collaboration team members, but it isn't enough just to have bi-directional video. We have to blur the lines between remote and local to allow distant team members to have a quality experience so that they can engage effectively. 

Across the country, we are seeing more and more of our clients embrace this discussion. Our hyperlink-driven, participatory digital world isn't conducive to linear power point slides and a passive experience.  Corporate meeting spaces have to morph to support engagement.

By Craig Janssen

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rethinking the School Auditorium | GO BEYOND THE STEREOTYPE

Mercersburg Academy Auditorium, Mercersburg, PA
The conventional/stereotypical approach to school auditorium design is creating a small scale theatre complete with a stage house, rigging, proscenium stage and defined audience seating area.  By appearance, all seems great.  Students have a performance space; parents have a place to sit and bask in the glory of their children’s brilliance and talent. Or so is this intent.  Connecting student performers and audience is not really acknowledged and occurs as a consequence of design vs. a driver.  Parental expectations to see and hear their child perform are typically jaded by the inability to get close and personal provided by conventional seating configurations.    

The actual space design is part of the problem.  Alternative approaches are deviating from the stereotypical footprint and paying closer attention to functionality of the space and the desired experience for end-users. 

Functionality:  In today’s world, school auditoriums host a wide range of events – not only for student musicians, singers and actors – but serve as settings for lectures, student assemblies, community concerts, public meetings, visiting artists (performers)… the list goes on.  Adapting the stereotypical proscenium auditorium to accommodate multi-purpose use requires elements to support music – such as adding a concert shell to help project sound out of the stage area to listener ears.  Design also needs to integrate audio/visual technology to heighten multi-functionality. 

End-user experience:  21st Century learning environments require stronger orientation towards engagement and exchange.  Intimacy is critical.  In the context of a performance space, students are much more likely to succeed in an environment where they feel strong connections between each other and the audience.  The stereotypical auditorium approach presents a distinct separation between performers and audience and detracts from intimacy.  Students have to work harder to bridge that gap. 

An approach oriented more towards a “performance box” concept offers a pragmatic alternative to the stereotype.  It typically starts with a large room with ample volume / ceiling height which is great for music.  A single room/space places performers and audience in a shared acoustic space.   This accommodates a strong sense of community, intimacy and supports both visual and acoustic connections.  Elements for visual masking for theatrical performances can be added as movable elements and free project budgets from fixed costly constructions.  When budget is a serious factor, the performance box option offers tremendous advantages while also meets functionality and end-user experience goals.

-       Chris Brooks & David W. Kahn 

Monday, February 24, 2014


Companies and organizations with significant forward motion all appear to have a “ big idea”, a rallying point providing focus and directional clarity for the team considering themselves part of the group.

At the best of times the "big Idea" is far more than a mission or vision statement on a web site or wall, but is the real source of all strategy, action and culture of the group. It permeates every fiber of the organization to be more than words but the essence of how the group operates and lives. It connects emotionally to the team and is born out of a passion to make a difference in the world that the group touches.

For some the "big idea" is created from whole cloth – almost a total invention, while for many, it evolves from the influences of a lifetime. I have spent the past two decades observing and participating in hundreds of design and construction projects which were initiated in an effort to bring to life the hopes, dreams and goals of clients. While I have seen many wonderful successes in this time, I’ve also seen failures due to cost or budget overruns, schedule delays, or simple missed expectations by all parties. While there were typically a variety of causes contributing to the failure, there are patterns of difference in successful projects and projects that went off the rails—nearly all of it related to the decision making processes.

Successful projects had alignment between the needs of the project and the people leading the process.
Unsuccessful projects had leadership (both client and design/construction) with conflicting interests who revisited decisions to lobby for their own position.

Successful projects had teams that could process information quickly and make decisions with confidence.
Unsuccessful projects spent an unusual amount of time evaluating and deliberating making decisions only on pressure of deadlines.

Successful projects set mission-based parameters in the beginning and based every decision on that mission.
Unsuccessful projects set preference-driven design directives and based their decisions on a pre-visualized end-result.

The lessons have been clear. Successful teams made great decisions—but seldom due to better or more information, money, skills or time. They simply had better decision making processes.

By Craig Janssen

Monday, February 17, 2014

A “Chalk Talk’ on Acoustics | GO BEYOND THE TEACHER

A few years ago we developed this lighthearted look at basic acoustic principals to be able to share with our clients some core concepts that affect the way we experience sound within our spaces. Originally developed for an architectural acoustics class that I teach, this ‘chalk talk’ communicates the basics that my students needed to understand. These up and coming architects may not be pursuing careers as acousticians, but understanding the way sound energy behaves plays a significant role in the design of the spaces we live, work and play.

There are three basic segments addressed as we walk through the ‘Top Three’ acoustical issues; high background noise, excessive reverberation, and late arriving reflections. I am often asked by my students what is the ‘science’ of acoustics. As I thought about it, I shared that when you come right down to it, a good way to summarize acoustics is the principle of anything you DO want to hear versus anything you DON’T want to hear. While the acoustics of some spaces can certainly be complex, understanding the basics can really help you on your way.  Just ask my students. 

-Vance Breshears