Build Boston 2003
James Webster of Cosentini Information Technologies noted that schools routinely stage fire drills, even though there are few fire-related injuries in schools. In contrast, we do little to prepare for other violent acts, which have injured some 7,500 children over the last ten years.
One's first impulse might be to maximize use of existing security tools such as video cameras and smoke detectors. But technology is not always the answer, says Howard Levinson of Howard Services. He claims that the typical American is now videotaped by security cameras an average of 36 times per day. He advises using common sense and distinguishing between design security for a preventative (live) response or a reactive (follow-up) response, which each call for different kinds of security systems.
Educating Our Practice
One of many practice-centered seminars — "RFP Responses: Pitfalls and Opportunities" — presented a "business school" approach to responding to the sometimes onerous "request for proposals" (RFP). Consultants Glen Davis and Cheryl Cotney provided strategic tips like establishing "internal metrics," such as company statistics on project budgeting and person-hours per project.
The presenters also encouraged RFP writers to "think like a novelist" in weaving a coherent, compelling story and to look for opportunities to expand their answers to emphasize particular strengths in their firms. They suggested an "underdog" strategy for breaking into new markets by doing extensive Internet-based market research and citing industry standards and statistics to help establish a younger firm's expertise and credibility.
Expertise in design software came from the new consulting firm CDV Systems. They specialize in helping firms move from AutoCAD to Revit. When changing standards, for example, matching line weights can be difficult because Revit has fixed pen line weights (inconsistent with the National CAD Standard), so line weight matching must be approximated.
Similar inconsistencies occur in color matching as well. The need for such specialized consulting is ironic now that both AutoCAD and Revit are owned by the same company, Autodesk.
While AutoCAD users struggle with change, another group celebrates longevity. At Build Boston, DATACAD LLC rolled out its latest release, DataCAD 11, to a full house at the "Sweet 16th" anniversary of the DataCAD Boston Users Group.
Educating Our World
In his annual keynote address on the "Construction Outlook for 2004," McGraw-Hill Construction economist Robert Murray spoke of hope that the current "fragile expansion" may promise a full recovery. Good third-quarter reports fuel his optimism for overall stabilization and modest expansion in most construction markets.
Many U.S. architects are no longer satisfied by working only in the United States and have expanded their practices abroad. A panel discussion, "The Global Architect," noted that there are perhaps only 1.2 million architects worldwide, nearly half of those in North America and Europe. With the largest proportion of growth projected for underdeveloped areas, mostly in Asia, issues of global practice are becoming increasingly important.
For instance, architects need to know about licensing reciprocity, the cost benefits of outsourcing production drawings, speed requirements in China, hiring foreign employees, and working with metric standards. Even such mundane details as how to find A4 paper were raised in the thought-provoking seminar sponsored by the provocatively named "Alien Architects Roundtable."
Recognizing the undeniably litigious nature of the architectural world, the American Arbitration Association staged mock sessions to dramatize mediation and arbitration, two very different alternatives to going to court.
Arbitration, said presenter John Fieldsteel, is like an expedited court hearing, more likely to decide completely for one side or another based on a strict legal interpretation of the contract. In contrast, mediation is a search for middle ground in which often a "good agreement is one that everyone hates." The role-playing scenarios were effective in clarifying these differences.
Educating Our Minds
Build Boston also offered opportunities for architects to see architectural practice from different points of view. Deputy fire chief and plan reviewer Paul Calderwood gave examples of how projects get into trouble and reminded architects that building codes provide only minimum standards.
Calderwood particularly dislikes composite and lightweight wood structural systems including trusses. They can often mean a "quick failure" in a fire, putting firemen at extreme risk. There are times when he will not send his men into a burning building that was built with those materials.
The "Decoding Ethics" seminar was also an eye-opener. The panel suggested that the encoded ethical standards for architects are substantially lower than those of other professions such as medicine, law, and engineering. Victoria Beach, AIA, showed how the ethical codes provided by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) mostly fall into the "obedient" (noncriminal) and "ordinary" (citizen) category that simply call on the architect to obey the law and follow established rules of conduct.
Only 11 percent of these codes call on the architect to use what Beach termed "extra-ordinary" (professional) ethics. Such higher-order ethics demand a loftier value system, like: "the architect shall strive to improve the visual environment."
By contrast, 63 percent of medical standards are of this higher order. One example is the American Medical Association's edict to "respect laws but lobby for changes that improve care." Beach links the public's lack of a "sense of identity" about architects with architects' own uncertainty over higher-order ethics.
Software in Competition
Also at Build Boston, ten designers participated in a charrette to design a new play space for the Ronald McDonald House in Boston. This annual 3D CADD Challenge, organized by Geoffrey Moore Langdon, AIA, pits various CAD systems against each other in a live competition.
Flexibility appeared to be the new watchword of the competitors who used a mix of media, from hand sketches (scanned into digital format) to high-end renderings. One participant, for example, used ArchiCAD, form-Z, Cinema 4D, and Art-lantis, all in combination. The resulting projects demonstrated that CAD systems are clearly capable of producing free-flowing and sculptural elements, once associated only with manual drawings.
Whether educating our spaces, our practices, or our world, Build Boston for 2003 provided plenty of opportunities for architects to earn continuing education units while broadening their horizons. The success of this fall's conference has emboldened organizers to consider another in the spring to focus on residential and "green" themes.
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Evan H. Shu, FAIA is an architect with Shu Associates Inc. in Melrose, Massachusetts. He is a contributor to publications such as The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice and Architectural Record and is publisher and editor of Cheap Tricks, a monthly newsletter for DataCAD users and computer-using architects.