January 8, 2008
by Daniel Fox

Event: The Future of Professional Practice
Location: Capital Hilton Hotel, Washington, DC, 12.02-04.07
Organizers: American Institute of Architects; AIA Practice Management; AIA Technology in Architectural Practice; AIA DC; AIA Delaware; AIA Northern Virginia; AIA Educator/Practitioner Network; AIA Integrated Practice; AIA Design-Build; AIA Small Project Practitioners
Sponsors: Victor O. Schinnerer & Co. Inc; Adobe; Newforma; Graphisoft; Bentley.

Future of Professional Practice

This chart shows changes from 2006 to 2007 in the readiness of staff at several levels to take on progressively more sophisticated 3-D/BIM tools (numbers at left show years of experience).

Source: The Fergus Garber Group, Palo Alto, CA

Perhaps the most telling riff played on the conference’s basic theme was that new employees know more about technology than seasoned partners, that information technology was galloping ahead at a prodigious rate, and that the conference was here to let the younger, avant garde strut their stuff on integrated delivery, leveraging emerging technology, and innovative practice management.

As it turned out, this umbrella conference drew value from every generation, from baby boomers to GenYers. James H. Timberlake, FAIA, of KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia, kicked things off before a Washington, DC gathering of 260 from 39 states, the UK, and Australia with a two-hour keynote in which he gave a not-so-flattering picture of productivity changes in the construction industry. Whereas productivity in non-farm labor (including construction) rose by 215% between 1964 and 2004, construction productivity alone actually declined by 5% over the same 40-year span.

This suggestion isn’t new. What is new was Timberlake’s acknowledgment of these three factors:

1. Split in the role of the ancient master builder into a number of design and construction roles, creating dispersion of a once concentrated skill base;
2. “burgeoning materiality,” that is, the explosion of new materials in the last 25 years (aerogel, titanium, zenite) — “Novelty is [found to be] sufficient to justify use,” he and partner Stephen Kieran, FAIA, wrote in Prefabricating Architecture, but “beyond infatuation …lies a world of purposeful form yet to be explored;” and
3. lack of “refabrication” of the industry to obtain the quality, schedule, and cost control long boasted by the auto, shipping, and aircraft industries.

Five tracks. Concurrent break out sessions pursued five tracks:

A. Leading the business
B. Developing the people
C. Delivering the work
D. The range of technologies for your firm (basic)
E. Leveraging BIM and Integrated Practice (advanced)



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