Paths to Collaboration
Thus, while we learn about new technologies, we also have basic structural problems to resolve. The solutions are potentially as varied as the problem, and some of them were topics at the conference.
3D and 4D Visualizations
Conference speaker Martin Fischer is an associate professor at the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University and one of the seminal developers of 4D systems and technologies.
The term "4D modeling" refers to 3D models that also embody the fourth dimension of time. For instance, a 4D model that includes a construction schedule might be displayed as an animation of the assembly sequence. Other nongeometric data, like cost constraints, might also be depicted.
According to Fischer, the 4D modeling approach supports "investments in project data over the project's life cycle and enable timely inputs of perspectives from multiple disciplines." Using a 3D model for more than visual study allows the development team to "gain in strategic insights, minimize cost and schedule risk, improve supply chain management, and improve constructibility."
As importantly, the visual presentation of complex information from various disciplines permits more time at project meetings to be spent on solving problems and making decisions.
Fischer has created a desktop "dashboard" presentation format that displays diverse information as a holistic view of the project. This visual interface simultaneously shows, for example, 3D models, scheduling charts, and cost data. The dashboard transforms complex project data into relevant management information, making clearly visible the effect of design or schedule changes.
This work is more than academic. CIFE works to make their research usable to practitioners. They observe problems in the real world, develop a theory to respond, develop and test solutions and, promote their adoption on real projects.
Thus, Fischer has used 4D models and dashboard interfaces with Walt Disney Imagineering's Paradise Pier, at California Adventure. He has also worked with Gehry Partners on the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Stata Center for Computer Science at MIT.
In each case, the 3D and 4D tools reduced costs and improved constructibility and supply chain management. Clearly, integrative data models have great value for the owner and design/build team. Ironically, though, there is seldom a budget item to pay for the 3D and 4D information modeling, even if it can save millions in overall construction costs.
Collaborative Bits and Bytes
There are also legal issues of electronic data sharing that may affect collaboration. This was the message of Gunther O. Carrle and Bruce D. Lombardo, attorneys with Powell, Trachtman, Logan, Carrle, Bowman & Lombardo. P. C., a law firm in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
They explained that most architects have not shifted their consciousness and methods of control from the paper to the digital world. By not understanding and changing their policies, practices, and procedures, firms are exposing themselves to additional liability.
As with paper documents, the architect must control the integrity of digital project data. Because computer files are easily modified and can be misused, firms need to set up contractual relationships with all who receive project data, whether by e-mail or through Web sites.
Carrle and Lombardo discussed the role of state laws governing professional practice and how they can impede full collaboration. As written, such practice acts typically make one individual — the project architect or other design proesssional — legally responsible for the project. Though the design process may be collaborative, the law currently does not easily recognize the shared responsibility for project design that exists in most collaborative design environments. In essence, the law needs to be changed to respond to new design processes and related liability issues.
A Worldwide Movement
Collaboration research and practice are being conducted all over the world. One speaker at the conference was Arto Kiviniemi, program manager for Information Networking in the Construction Process (VERA) at the Technology Agency of Finland (Tekes).
Kiviniemi described VERA's approach to the implementation of information and collaboration technologies (ICT) and networking to encompass the entire life cycle of a building — from determining a need, through design and construction, to facilities management, future reuse, and eventual demolition. The information strategy is based on the use of a common database with all relevant geometric and systems properties.
VERA has adopted as a common language for the building model the nonproprietary Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) being developed by the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI). The IFCs permit data exchange between various software packages used by the building industry.
Kiviniemi noted that the IFC technology is not the only component of a collaborative information system. Enabling technologies and specifications, an ICT infrastructure, software applications, processes, education, people, and the development of various databases are all necessary parts of the culture.
The individuals who collaborate on a project will share a database, and this common-model approach will have a profound effect on AEC/FM processes. The building information systems that we'll have instead of paper drawings will be useful for the life of the building. A lifecycle view of economics will enable more initial design decisions to be based on, for example, sustainable design criteria.
Seen in this light, collaboration promises hope for genuine improvements in the built environment. This conference demonstrated the diversity of issues that need to resolved in order to make collaboration successful.
Lamar Henderson, AIA is an architect practicing in Bethesda, Maryland with interests in design, the design/ build/ management process, digital tool systems, and "green" architecture.