AEC Tech News #146

15 Jun, 2005 By: Michael Dakan

Cadalyst AEC Tech News

Event Report: AIA 2005, Part 2

A look at the seminar, "Fifteen Trends That are Transforming the Architecture Profession"

In the last edition of AEC Tech News (click here for archives), I began my report on the American Institute of Architects 2005 National Convention, held last month in Las Vegas.

In this second and final part, I want to talk about a seminar conducted by James Cramer, Hon. AIA, titled "Fifteen Trends That are Transforming the Architecture Profession." Cramer is an educator, futurist and business advisor who has had a long career studying and writing about the architecture profession as well as other related industries. He currently works with The Greenway Group and edits and publishes a monthly newsletter called DesignIntelligence.

The 15 trends Cramer presented to his room-filling audience fall under three general themes, which encompass significant — and relatively recent — developments in the profession.

  • Technology will annihilate traditional industry practices.

  • There will be diminished labor requirements.

  • There will be radical new value propositions in design and construction. (New processes will be created. New technologies and new leadership will be driving forces.)

Technological changes in the profession are the obvious primary factors driving these trends — that is, all the trends are created directly by new technologies or are strongly affected by technologies that have arisen relatively recently.

Fifteen Trends
Following is Cramer's list of 15 trends as he presented them at AIA Las Vegas.

  1. How you actually perform professional service work and the efficiency of that work is becoming a huge differentiator. Lean and value-based processes are unfolding rapidly.
  2. Productivity is improving both inside and outside the design profession and bringing more competition inside — changing the fundamental tenets of the design and construction economy.
  3. Intelligent and fully integrated smart buildings will become more the norm; they require delivery of sophisticated and specialized professional services.
  4. Globalization is redefining much of the who, what, when, why and how in construction. This is a threat and an opportunity.
  5. Speed to market is forcing new fields of collaboration, including advanced design-build models and more sophisticated forms of Internet-based management and teaming models. "Fast architecture" is commonly mentioned by clients as being important.
  6. BIM (building information modeling) is a tool of change. 3D and 4D smart objects operating in real time with parametric dimensions will become increasingly important.
  7. The best firms are becoming less concerned with control and more flexible about how to achieve top quality. Rapid change is leading to more flexible organizations that can create collaboration value in nonlinear terms. Service firms are thinking in flatter, more agile models of management and using temporary organizational structures. Well-managed and well-led firms will be the new industry champions.
  8. Not all design has to be sexy. Building lifecycle management solutions will open new doors for entrepreneurial firms that can expand services. For those with a passion for programming, commissioning, consulting and facility management, huge opportunities will be waiting, according to client research and gap analysis in the industry.
  9. Architects and designers of the future are not just designing buildings but experiences. This is bringing a new architecture of change where design adjusts to an age in flux. Spaces will employ refreshable information, messaging, content, images, luminosity, activity and digital technology as key components that shape social experiences.
  10. It won't be in the official RFPs, but the attitude of strategic optimism will be a key differentiating point for the most successful and sought-after firms. Confident and informed experts will lead the industry.
  11. Green and sustainable design and development will shift gears more into mainstream demand. LEED standards will expand significantly, but professionals will think beyond them. Imagine in the future "living buildings" that produce more energy than they consume. Sustainable design integrates perfectly with design excellence and will be universally expected.
  12. Leadership in design and construction will become more competent, courageous and visionary. Leadership is every designer's business.
  13. Strategic partitioning and modular processes will become new standards to allow mixing and matching of different components that comprise a whole building. Faster and leaner construction will achieve both good design and high-quality buildings.
  14. Architects will lose their reliance on buildings as their medium. The distinction between architects, designers and contractors in the minds of owners will blur and diminish. Professionals will cross traditional boundaries. Architecture will meld the visual and three-dimensional, but will also embrace video, theater and experience.
  15. Significant demographic changes and generational differences, along with associated fiscal issues, will challenge our governments and our economies. Demographic and economic forces could significantly change certain building categories into a "bad steady state."

Trends in Action
A better laboratory hardly exists to study many of the real-world examples of these trends than Las Vegas, the location of this year's AIA convention. The new resort complexes that have sprung up there over the past years exemplify a combination of gaming, theater, shopping, dining and other entertainment facilities into mega-resort complexes that are little cities unto themselves. The scale and extent of these projects make Las Vegas a showplace for building trends.

These trends represent some important ideas regarding the direction of our profession. Some of them seem obvious, some arguable, and some perhaps far off in the future. What do you think of Cramer's list? I would enjoy hearing your own thoughts about these ideas and where you think we're headed as a profession — and perhaps devote space in future issues to delving more deeply into these trends. E-mail your comments to me at