Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How to Adapt to Disruption Through Collaboration in the AEC Industry

This article begins by raising a red flag that disruption is coming to the AEC industry. A maturing workforce with expertise in building information modelling and computational architecture could not have arrived at a better time to match these challenges. However, business models and best practices around architectural 3D printing and additive construction are still very much in flux and a different type of mindset is needed to successfully tackle these subjects. Education is needed:

  • Building Design Management. Here we strive to understand additive construction techniques, architectural 3D printing, and building information modelling with the tools of business analysis and economics.
  • Digital design. There's a range of digital design characteristics to consider which affect creativity. Starting at the almost childlike interaction with technology through to architecture-specific traits like modularity and prefabrication.

One thing a fair and open society can do to adapt to these changes is collaborate; and here yes I mean in the warm-and-fuzzy sense but also the literal sense. A significant feature of preparing wisely for such a disruption is acceptance of the solution's multi-disciplinary nature. Here I'd like to introduce the work of Swiss-scientist Jonas Buchli in support. His recent research published through the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research is proposing a drastic change to the construction site, stating "radical focus on domain specific robotic technology enabling the use of digital fabrication directly on construction sites and in large scale prefabrication." Doesn't that sound like science-fiction? Science Daily goes on to describe the importance of multidisciplinary skills in the research, "They bring a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach that incorporates researchers from architecture, materials science, and robotics."

Jonas Buchli ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

As buildings become more complex, the proportion of a structure an architect is qualified to design decreases. This highlights the collaborative role of the contemporary architect. Author Stephen Emmitt suggests "cross-cultural leadership intelligence" is needed and that is a very good way to describe it. Combining different engineering disciplines, construction specialities, and stakeholders into one motivated team still strongly depends on more ancient and subjective leadership qualities like open mindedness and compromise. Building projects are complex and expensive and therefore deserve a great amount of scrutiny and study to drive positive results. 

Understanding economic developments in the field are a bit more complex. To date, I haven't read an authoritative analysis of how the economic structure of the industry will shift when the effectiveness of economy-of-scale methods are reduced. Additive construction reduces the penalty for customization by moving the process dominantly into the software realm. It might take a once-in-a-century economic thinker like Adam Smith to frame our understanding of how these new markets will behave. In other respects, the educational component seems to be taking care of itself. Human playfulness and curiosity have ignited maker spaces across the world and there is lively research in the field into how best to introduce digital design to students of any age. Here readers are encouraged to check out the work of educator Corinne Okada Takara and institutions like MIT's Multimedia Lab which really are the sharp point of the multi-disciplinary architectural practice.

No comments: