Workflow 2010: Designing Industry


Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Scott Marble, instructor, with Julie Jira

Theme 1: Positioning Architects in an Integrated Industry

How can architects position themselves to lead in the reorganization of industry that is being driven by digital communication technology?

Kieran – Refabricating Architecture

Kolarevic – Architecture in the Digital Age

Image Credit: Refabricating Architecture by Stephan Kieran


Filed under: Collaboration, Communication, Industry, Workflow

22 Responses

  1. Sam Olsen says:

    3 Questions / Methodologies.
    Dissemination through a higher source: Model of Schools.
    Dissemination through smaller precise sucesses: Case Study Model.
    Dissemination through partnerships: QE2 or the SOM Model.

    Lobbying / Industry Profile Management, to control our overall sector – the Auto Industry Model.

    “What happened in the leak at MIT’s Sata center? Ghery assumed some of the risk, but what happened?”

    “Does ghery model assume liability for software / educating partners in learning the software?”

  2. Questions for this week:

    1. Both readings talk about digital technologies enabling the architect to return to his/her role as the historic “master builder.” However, at the same time, we are seeing more and more firms like Front coming into play with the sole intention of filling in gaps that exist in the current architect-contractor dynamic. How does the architect’s desire for a more all-encompassing role as the “master builder” reconcile with these flexible, agile, and highly specialized new practices?

    2. How can technology (and, more specifically, the development of a single, working model) actually enable a better delineation and understanding of legal responsibility throughout a given project instead of further muddling it? How can you bring people into a project (contractors, subcontracts, consultants) that are unfamiliar with or even unwilling to adapt to your technological standards (for any number of reasons, legal or otherwise)?

    3. Bernhard Franken compares their firm’s role in a recent project to that of a “movie director.” If we extend this analogy to blanket the entire construction industry, can it helps us better understand how to deal with issues of collaboration and responsibility in this new model? Who are the producers in this film? Who is the audience? Where or what is the studio?

  3. Kassandra Scheve says:

    3 Critical Comments/Issues

    -Architects must embrace the digital technology available to them to become master builders again

    -Must gain the competence to deal with risks and liability instead of backing away from it and withdrawing from the process

    -Schools should be teaching the new generation to utilize digital models so that they may help move the field forward. However also teach the students that there is more to learn then just the computer processes.

  4. Peter Adams says:

    1. It seems that there is still some burden of proof on proponents of increased control for architects to explain how this benefits others. The inevitability of the process is more convincing than our role in it.

    2. What was the goal of the Masons in the gothic era? the Master builders in the early Renaissance (and Paladio?) ? the goal of design builders?

    “I think it is fundamental to anybody who wants to seriously think about design or technology today to have [parametric] programming capabilities. What I don’t mean is knowing the syntax of some esoteric programming language… What I think is crucial, is to have the intellectual skills of abstraction, definition of relationship, all of these sorts of things that parametric modeling demonstrates.”

    2. We have to identify what the important new technologies are and become good enough at them that we can talk about them with experts and not sound like idiots. We have to be able to make good decisions about how they will affect the architecture and how they function in their own right if we want our architectural concepts to leverage any effect on these processes.

  5. Adam Hanau says:

    1. Does Stephen Kieran’s claim that “We must overcome an industrywide aversion to research and experimentation in order to speed the integration of these new materials into architecture” realistically take into account the fact that liability is one of the primary deterrents of experimentation in the industry?

    2. Is it possible for a “total upheaval of the industry” (James Glymph) to be solely motivated by the fact that architecture is the only industry headed in the wrong direction? Will firms, especially firms run by those not familiar with the latest technology, be willing to take such a leap?

    3. As software improves, and design programs become increasingly difficult to operate, more schooling will be inevitably be required to simply handle the software. Will this take away from the necessary training and creativity that is often developed during an architect’s time in school?

  6. Muchan Park says:

    1. Can Master builders represent an appropriate model of new architect in the present or the future? Or Is it just borrowed image from medieval nostalgia whose position was much higher than what we have now? (where is power of master builders from?) Should we ‘position’ or ‘range’ or ‘diffuse’ ourselves in the building industry in this digital area?

    2. What could be new types of education for raising students as ‘Master builders (or else?)’ ?

    3. Is digital technology just for participating in and integrating and controlling the whole process of the building industry in order to get the same efficiency that the other industries have? Or is there further possibilities for finding new territory of architecture?

  7. Solar Labrie says:

    1.Alberti said that architects have “superior intellectual training,” assigning a value to thinking over making. Would it benefit the architect to remove the idea of hierarchy in order to integrate all members of the process into a more effective organism? How much of the segregation is a byproduct of individuals needing to maintain a sense of control over their part of the process?

    2. Blurry calls the contracting organizations the architect’s real enemy since “the more the architect and the team innovate and decrease the risk of going over cost, the more they risk going over cost because the contractor decides it is an innovation which might be risky and prices accordingly.”

    What kind of incentive might be needed to encourage contractors to support this innovation? What do they stand to gain?

    3. Kolarevic talks about educational institutions training architects to be master builders and understand the building process through digital technologies. But in the same way the movie director must have experienced raw emotion in order to pull that emotion out of an actor, should the architects also have building and engineering experience in order become better architects and directors?

    How can architecture students effectively receive the same depth of education while the scope of their skill sets widen. At the educational stage, how can other disciplines take responsibility for this shift of innovation and integration?

    • samolsen says:

      1. I think that the training that an architect receives at this point is not “superior” to anybody else, merely wider. I think that what an architect really does, as opposed to an engineer/contractor/designer/sociologist is to understand they understand the role of each of these niches, while remaining out of them. The original master builders were probably more like the “branders” of todays architecture. Merely creating the concept, and then acting as a managing / coordinating body to help the construction to reach their vision.

      2. I see there as being two paths that can help to encourage a contractor to be a part of innovation. Number one is for all architects to really innovate the way that we all want to, and those contractors that want to stay in business will have to play our game, it really is a two way street, and they have been doing all of the driving recently. The other way, which may be much more healthy for the profession and for all of our bottom lines, is to keep the contractor and the construction process in mind as we design. Ghery’s move to Catia was probably a direct response to the resistance of contractors, but it also made Ghery completely aware of the problems that contractors may have faced. By including the construction process in our design, we reduce the risk of artificial bloat on their behalf.

      3. I absolutely agree with this last point. Any architect wanting to be worth their salt in their chosen niche should be willing to get into the trenches with those that will ulitimately direct later in their profession. Not only does this ensure a group cohesion, but it also teaches the architect valuable skills.

      I think that the best way to go about training architects as their skill set widens poses many problems, but, ultimately it is up to the individual architect at some point to direct their own education. Those that want to get out an work after an associates should have the freedom to do so, and those who want a Phd. before they practice are equally entitled to their job track. Not all education encompasses the same material, but may be of similar rigor.

  8. adam gerber says:

    I absolutely agree that we need to re-organize the practice’s educational thrust. The amount of “architectural design” work (as defined by the AIA) isn’t changing but the amount of coordination and complexity of the process is repidly increasing. The amount of attention to organization and technical set-up is as much a design problem on a given project as anything else.

    It seems that with these new coordination technologies “available scope” is rapidly increasing, which equates to more money and power withing the industry. I think that architects, as technically capable and flexible entities are the best positioned to grab this scope, as long as they can also weather the storm of liability.

    another question as this technology becomes more prevalent is whether the cool parts matter to anybody but the architects. I.E. Will consumers pay for “better architecture” produced by this model? It seems like a big problem and I would like to expand on this later…

  9. Julie says:

    Can the legal bonds of the building industry be surpassed if open-source models of design are adapted, not dissimilar to how the world wide web was formed through communities of software developers? Can the creation of an open catalogue of knowledge created by architects and updated, tested and challenged by architects be used as a means for legal precedents globally? Open Architecture Network ( is the beginning of an example of this model but how can contractual/legal liability/advice be introduced into this sort of catalogue as well?

    How can Architects develop an agility of understanding software platforms and their relationships to the building industry enough to act as educators or bridges between contractors and other consultants? Can this agility be developed to be on par with other manufacturing industries and how can this body of knowledge become a standard with architect’s everywhere?

    Although Master Builders have always been data managers, what kind of rudimentary tools can students of architecture be taught in order to facilitate data management for the complexity of today’s building Industry? How can data management and legal/contractual management be taught as a design problem instead of a residual necessity needed to facilitate the built form of a building?

  10. Luc Wilson says:

    1) While I agree that is imperative that architects must position themselves at the very center of the flow of information instead of at the periphery, I’m worried that there is the danger that we will no longer be designers of the built environment and will become orchestrator’s of the flow of information. Is it possible to successfully do both without compromising one of them?

    2) Can we lead the reorganization of the industry with out leading the industry? (Is this distinction even important?) Is there a way to lead the reorganization of the industry without taking more liability, responsibility, and financial risk?

    3) Kolarevic states that traditionally, the master builder “provided a seamless exchange of information at all phases of buildings.” Will this seamless exchange of information occur if we “concentrate on the integration and assembly of a far more manageable number of components” as Keiran and Timberlake argue? If so who designs the components? Architects? Manufacturers? A new discipline?

    3.5) If to lead the reorganization of the industry, we have to return to the role of the master builder, what is a contemporary master builder? (I think it is clear that given the current complexity of construction and rapidly changing technology, it is impossible for a single person to be a master builder.) In class we discussed two models of contemporary practice that might be called master builder. First, there is the conglomeration model where a large architectural offices starts to collect other disciplines such as SHoP (design, construction, development) and SOM (architecture and engineer). Second, there is the network model, a small architectural office that works closely with rotating groups of consultants specific to each project. Could there be a third option where the firm takes most if not all of the liability? (Liability, manifest through contract documents, seems to the driving factor in separating the industry.) Is it possible to have a small (as opposed to the larger, architect driven model of SHoP and SOM) multi-disciplinary firm (similar to the automotive design teams described by Keiran and Timberlake), that can take the majority of the liability by controlling the “seamless exchange of information at all phases of buildings.”

  11. adam gerber says:

    After the discussion yesterday, I am left with a bad taste in my mouth about the term “master builder.” Certainly, projects and construction techniques today are too complex, with too many technical variables, for one person to possibly comprehend and master. Even the example of Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence, is considered a heroic feat, or the platonic ideal of master builder, not the norm. As the necessary complexity of buildings increases, it makes sense for architects to structure how all of the variables relate to each other, in order to achieve the design intention. Managing the relationships and input from all areas of building construction has traditionally been the role of the architect (everything coded into a drawing, schedule, or specification). As new communication technologies allow for more efficient, distributed, and higher bandwidth communication, I feel like architects must be on the forefront of adopting and applying them. Thus they will be able to better manage and more quickly assimilate and distribute information about the building construction. To me, this role has little to do with the ideal of “master builder” and more to do with a new role of “master project manager.” On smaller projects of less complexity, a person could wear both hats, architect and architectural information manager, but certainly as with any role in architecture, as the building scale increases, so does the number of people devoted to a particular aspect.

  12. samolsen says:

    After the discussion last Tuesday, I am again left with the question of “what do architects do?”. If we cannot quantify what an architect does, how can we restructure the practice? I searched the AIA’s website, and found, and I quote “Architects provide a professional service, not a product. You can’t go see it and test it out.” I think this is frankly a horrible line. Every single “professional service” industry must provide their final element of competency. We employ doctors and lawyers (fellow professionals) to provide the products of health and legal compliance. These are fully quantifiable “products”. Without visiting a doctor, your health suffers, and without contracting the services of a lawyer, you open yourself up to lawsuits, imprisionment, etc. The power that the lawyer draws upon is that of the legal system and the government.


    The problem is that we don’t know what we do, and instead of trying to succeed by the rules set up by the rest of the world (quantifiable product) we push further into vague validity. (Further search on the AIA’s website indicates that they have no idea how to make us marketable as well)

    But help is on the way. I think that a lot of the world is changing to recognize qualitative legitimacy. “Architects” can never compete with the essentially fungible benefits of engineers or auto parts manufacturers because we crave independence, and the creative method.

    At this point, the argument diverges into two major ways to site architects within the world.

    1. Architects take advantage of technology to leverage themselves once again into the role of a “master coordinator” and they just strive to push all of the different parts that have been chipped away such as fabrication, engineering, construction, etc. back into one cohesive whole. This would force architects to wear many hats and assume many levels of liability.

    2. Architects embrace the amount of diversity that it takes to create a successful team. Most, if not all, of the sucessfull operations in every business require the collaboration of many interconnected parts. Each of these parts work on their own speciality. Perhaps a “way out” for architects is to split the discipline. Instead of searching for a way to control everything, we would be better served by picking a specialty and sticking with it. This is a model pursued by frOnt, SHoP, OMA, etc. The specialty of frOnt is their niche, SHoP has mastered vertical integration of project delivery, whereas OMA has mastered “branding”, “identity” and “architectural thought”.
    The chief product that we produce is creative thought; the direct product of our multi-faceted education. If we continue to try to press into other niches, we risk pushing the profession into a luxury service, like a butler or a concierge. Instead, we should be moving to unite.

  13. lucbwilson says:

    Based on our discussion last class I wanted to post what I thought were the key issues we investigated.

    1) Open Source Architecture. Information is freely shared and a culture of collaboration is established. (In conflict with 2.)

    2) Networked Architecture. A highly competitive system in which small, specialized teams come together for specific projects. If a team is not working out, they get replaced. (In conflict with 1.)

    3) Model Manager. A new specialized practice that bridges the gap of information in the industry by managing a single model and getting the right information to the right people. Do architects assume this role?

    4) Architectural Advertising/Branding. Architects need a global organization or system for informing and educating the general public on the role and techniques of the architect. We need people nod their heads when they hear “BIM” like they currently do for “sustainability.”

    5) Software as Master Builder. The amount of information and constraints is too great for any one person or firm to manage. The new master builder is the software that manages the information. Perhaps architects design the interaction (flow of information in and out) with the software master builder (instead of trying to control the model or software) to position themselves to lead the reorganization of the industry.

  14. Adam Hanau says:

    Last class’s discussion highlighted the importance of collaboration within the architectural community. Collaboration allows for a joint industry , one with a culture of sharing, something the industry currently lacks. With the new shifts in technology, the whole process of design is reforming, inevitably changing the roles of all parties involved. With this in mind it is crucial that architects take charge in the new push, emphasizing their role in the design process. This is a very realistic goal, as the new software highlights the centrality of the architects in design.

    In order to lead the way in the shifting industry, the architectural community must be united and share in the innovative process. Incentives must be given to encourage firms to share ideas about new processes and project structure. This way the design process can be revolutionized, with the entire industry working out the kinks together. In addition, education must also adapt to these changes by focusing on the new technologies, realizing the shift in the industry and by highlighting the vitality of networking to the transformation of the industry.

  15. Kelly Danz says:

    From the discussion last class, I think that the position of the architect in the digital reorganization of the industry is still unclear. I think that architects need to facilitate and thereby lead in the reorganization of the industry but however should not be the sole leader of the industry. In this digital age we have the ability to collaborate and share more freely within our profession and with others, which should occur for the betterment of all during this time of change in the industry. I think that collaborating with and facilitating other professions (engineers, contractors, etc) to then lead their own respective counterparts down the same path should be the most effective way of digitizing our industry. I think that this feeds the idea that there is one collective “master builder”, a network or consortium of all design professionals in league to streamline our processes and give proper publicity to the work we do. Architects are only one of the many professions that contribute to the industry, and if we lead by example and other professions follow our lead, our industry will be successfully reorganized in the digital age.

    • Kelly Danz says:

      In reply, the current time in our industry is truly a historical moment for change and collaboration can be the key turning point in this possibility for change. Architects should take a lead on this, since architects collaborate with a variety of disciplines inherently, they now have the ability to advocate for and help streamline this collaborative process. The idea of the master builder becomes a collective title, shared between all the collaborating disciplines. And maybe the title isn’t master builder, its master collaborator, where architects are one of the collective master collaborators contributing to this new type of workflow in the digital age. It must also become clear what the architect and each involved discipline does, what their actual role is. This platform of collaboration leads to enhanced specialization and in terms of the architect, a clear role must be defined. A new type of AIA organization of some sort that collects, shares, and defines the architecture industry might need to be in existence for this collaborative digital age to work efficiently.

  16. Julie says:

    Architects need to own the idea of the fact that they are trying to orchestrate a building through spatial design. They need to know the tools necessary, whether it is technological or social, in order work with industry to do so. Becoming innovative will become a required demand and so will a support system of ideas/tests/frameworks which will help each individual architect through a network of knowledge and the desire to pass on the knowledge. If the architect does not recognize that active measures need to be taken to maintain its role as the “master-builder” and by that I mean the master-building-orchestrator, the architecture profession will run the risk of becoming marginalized.

    • I also think that the idea of the computer serving as the “master builder” is an interesting one. Considering that now most of us use cloud computing functions such as Google Docs and Dropbox, the idea of the “machine” being a universal and somewhat unifying entity in the structuring of a project doesn’t seem far off. Is it possible to hand over the task of technical coordination to the machine to allow us more time to do what architects are trained to do in the first place?

  17. Kassandra Scheve says:

    After our discussion last week, I feel as though I am still fuzzy on what an architect does.  This said, when asking people in my major, some people thought they knew what an architect did, but no one agreed, and many had no idea.  So in developing a new structure of the industry, the architect has the most wiggle room in defining how they fit in. This means that instead of focusing on being a “master builder”, which in this day and age is next to impossible when it comes to large projects, they could instead embrace the role of coordinator or manager. Both of which would keep them in touch with each stage of the process like they once were, but allows others to do what they specialize in. 

  18. Anh Minh Ngo says:

    1) Kolarevic argues that a digital model is “the single source of design and production information, generated, controlled and managed by the designer.” Is this an appropriate description of architects’s role?

    2) What is the difference between a data manager and an information master builder?

    3)Sharing of digital data is vehemently discouraged by the current legal and liability practices within the industry. How can these social and legal norms be challenged in order to facilitate the emerging desire of architects to collaborate with other industry’s players seamlessly from design to construction?

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