Boston Does Building 2004
Design professionals are going "back to school" to re-examine the basic principles of heat and moisture, air and vapor barrier design, energy analysis, and the interaction of mechanical systems and the building envelope. It seems the old standard details may not work any more.
Another reason for more schooling is to achieve certification for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED's Green Building Rating System, is a "voluntary" national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings that is becoming more popular and — due to client demand — less voluntary all the time.
Specifications expert Mark Kalin, FAIA in his seminar "Green Specs/ LEED Specs," offered insights about the rating-based LEED specifications compared to a more common-sense approach to developing truly energy-efficient specifications. His underlying message is that you can be "green" without being "LEED"; you can be "LEED" without being green; but with good sense, you can be both.
On a similar note, Kimberly Vermeer showed the power of new terminology in her seminar, "High-Performance Housing." The term "high performance," she noted, is more appealing to some owners and clients than to describe the project as energy-efficient, green, or healthy.
Also affecting any continuing education curriculum are the various code changes in the works. For example, a seminar by the Sullivan Code Group examined code changes inspired by the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and recent fires in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Some upcoming code changes probably include increasing redundancy in structural framing systems, providing a reliable water supply, and improving egress design. The recent disasters have taught code experts that instead of dealing with emergencies resulting from a single isolated threat, they should consider multiple threats or one which progresses extremely rapidly.
One such code change that has already been implemented is the New York City "High-Rise Improvement Law," which incorporates numerous requirements for both new construction and existing buildings. One retroactive requirement, for instance, is for full sprinkler protection of any office building higher than 100 feet (30 meters) by January 1, 2019.
Fortunately, there is no immediate future shock in our current construction outlook, according to analyst Robert Murray of McGraw Hill Construction.Over the last two years, total U.S. construction has been strong, due in large part to the "amazing strength of single-family housing," he said. While this sector may level off or even decline, he predicted other sectors would bounce back in 2005, led by institutional buildings, factories, and income properties.
Murray commented on building material prices, especially regarding sharp spikes in the prices of steel, wood, and gypsum. Some of this inflation is caused by international factors that are not temporary, such as the high demand for materials from China for their vast, accelerated building program.
The seminar, "New Models for Design Practice" took another intriguing look into our future and how architects should change their basic economic business model from the traditional selling of hours to one of "creating value." Instructor Kyle V. Davy AIA, illustrated the economic principle by comparing it to the evolution of coffee selling.
Originally, our nation's economy started working primarily with commodities (coffee beans at a penny per cup), then goods (ground coffee in cans at 5 cents per cup), then services (coffee shop at $1 per cup), to finally now the Starbucks "experience" at $4 per cup.
He suggested the experiential component gives the coffee its greater value. In extending the business model to design professionals, he cited the work of IDEO. This firm takes their clients into an active laboratory for learning that, like the proverbial reference, "teaches a man how to fish rather than giving him a fish to eat."
Architects may soon need to be able to take their own clients through such a learning experience in order to create both greater value and greater remuneration for themselves. In answer to the fear of risking the loss of repeat business, Davy said that such educated clients tend to return to the same designer but at a higher level of need and, thus, a higher level of created value.
Among the most mind-blowingly creative and futuristic work at Build Boston was shown by sound artist Bruce Odland as part of the "Urban Soundscape Design" seminar. Odland and Sam Auinger have transformed such urban public spaces as the World Financial Center in New York, MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and Trajan's Forum in Rome, Italy.
In a departure from traditional approaches that try to screen unwanted traffic noise, Odland and Auinger instead capture and transform — via tuning tubes — this noise into what Odland calls his "urban symphonies."
These real-life vibratos are often transmitted through "sound blocks" that are either urban art objects in themselves or act as a seat for the visitor. Such soundscape design turns an unwanted attribute into a positive and attractive dynamic that has been shown to extend the time that a visitor stays in these urban spaces. You can see and, better yet, hear the effects of these transformations at their Web site.
This seminar, which also featured the work of Nick Miller of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson and Randoph Jones, AIA of the Jones Payne Group, emphasized how important sound design is in any context and how design professionals often ignore sound to the detriment of their projects as a whole.
Architect & Contractor Détente
What remains great about Build Boston and similar industry-wide professional conferences is that they bring people together who may often be at cross purposes otherwise. Two seminars, "True Confessions about Working Drawings" and "Bid Day," had architects and contractors trying to walk in each other's shoes.
Group leaders from the Associated General Contractors Young Contractor's Council and BSA's Young Professionals Network engaged in role playing in which they looked at the bidding process from each other's point of view.
The exercise made it clear that the two groups still see projects from quite different aspects: architects being more concerned with form and big picture issues, while contractors are more concerned with materials and methods. In the end, the architects-playing-contractors were struck by the duality of calculating very exact figures, then throwing whole dollar "guestimates" at unknown factors such as general conditions and desired profit margins.
Whatever form these various learning experiences at Build Boston took, from role-playing exercises to viewing the now pro-forma PowerPoint presentations, or browsing the showroom floor, the "school" at Build Boston has rarely had such an enthusiastic and eager-to-learn group of students as this year's crop of building industry professionals.
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Evan H. Shu, FAIA is an architect with Shu Associates Inc. in Melrose, Massachusetts. He is a contributor to The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice and is publisher and editor of Cheap Tricks, a monthly newsletter for DataCAD users and computer-using architects.