Workflow 2010: Designing Industry

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

Theme 7: Expanding Practice / New Models of Network Practices

What are the future models of architectural practice facilitated by digital communication technologies in the context of increasing specialized information?  Does the ability to establish global networked practices tend toward the consolidation of expertise into large conglomerates or does it favor smaller, independent, more agile practices that join on a per project basis?

Anderson, Chris – The New New Economy- More Startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity in Wired 17.06

Jansen, Michael – Worksharing & Woolf, Joe_ Made in Australia (drawn in Vietnam) in Take 5

Hensel, Michael –  Evolving Synergy_ OCEAN Currents, Current OCEANS and Why Networks Must Discplace Themselves in AD Volume 76, Issue 5

Image Credit: Anderson, Chair; The New New Economy – More startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity in Wired 17.06

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Filed under: Industry, Themes/Readings/Discussions, Workflow

18 Responses

  1. Adam Hanau says:

    1)In both “Worksharing” and “Made in Australia”, the claim is made that outsourcing is an inevitable reality, and that firms that don’t recognize this will ultimately lose out. One key point, demonstrating outsourcing’s worth, is that firms who outsource can easily adjust their firm size, which is a valuable asset to counter fluctuating economical trends. At times of “building upswings” the firm can absorb more work, while outsourcing what it can’t handle, and during slow times, it becomes easier for firms to downsize. Although both authors seem to indicate that outsourcing is inevitable, there appears to be a much simpler solution: Creating networks among many small firms. Building upswings will force these smaller firms to join with their network partners and collaborate on larger projects. Slow times will force the firms to work alone, without a need to downsize. Additionally, by staying away from outsourcing, Joe Woolf’s concern, that outsourcing will cause potentially talented architects to leave the field, will be resolved.

    2)In “The New New Economy”, Chris Anderson discusses the prediction that firms would “decentralize and externalize” to avoid large transaction costs, and shift towards the “small pieces, loosely joined” model. If the architectural industry were to follow this trend, would the new model be more conducive to an integrated industry (as the demand for collaboration will increase), or would such a shift lead to an entirely divided industry among many smaller firms?

    3)In “Made in Australia”, Joe Woolf asserts that outsourcing will create changes in the practice’s processes and the necessary training must therefore be provided to managers and their technical workforce. Woolf then goes on to question how far and how fast the trend of outsourcing will occur, without acknowledging that the answer to this question is linked directly to role of these managers. If these managers can raise the barriers of entry into the field of architecture, so that work will only be outsourced to competent workers, a natural transition to outsourcing will occur. The question then becomes: How can managers be expected to outsource exclusively to equally qualified workers, when the temptation to outsource to less qualified workers in immense, as wages of outsourced workers are drastically lower?

    • Adam Hanau says:

      Most of yesterday’s discussion with Jim Barrett, was devoted to BIM, and more specifically, Jim’s effort to increase BIM usage within Turner Construction. Additionally, we talked about the importance of making BIM’s effectiveness more recognized, so that its use in modeling isn’t constantly called into question. One particularly interesting point made by Jim, pertaining to the articles on outsourcing, was that the trend of hiring young college alumni, to oversee BIM usage in various offices, has mitigated the need to outsource.

      I think that one important insight to glean from this point is that innovative techniques, as well as high barriers to entry into an industry, can deter outsourcing. In the articles “Worksharing” and “Made in Australia” both authors argued the inevitability of outsourcing. The main argument was that outsourcing is extremely valuable, as firms who outsource can easily adjust their firm size, which is a valuable asset to counter fluctuating economical trends. At times of “building upswings” the firm can absorb more work, while outsourcing what it can’t handle, and during slow times, it becomes easier for firms to downsize. Jim’s suggestion, can act as the paradigm, as the proper way to avoid outsourcing (if one were to see outsourcing as a problem, as it could take away many architectural jobs and deter many potentially skilled architects from joining the industry). In particular, Jim was alluding to the fact that staying one step ahead of the competition can prevent outsourcing, as it prevents firms from finding equally talented workers in markets oversees. By introducing more complicated tasks, and further specializing the jobs within the industry, outsourcing can be prevented. Furthermore, specialization allows for different niches within the industry, which creates additional jobs. Even if one believes that outsourcing is natural to a competitive economy (and isn’t concerned by the loss of jobs in the US job market), it is still valuable to pursue these specialized skills, because at the very least, these new jobs will promote competition. Competition within an industry is always productive, as it forces firms to “become better”, which unavoidably promotes progress.

  2. Solar says:

    Both last week’s and this week’s content began to explore the distinction between collaboration and mergers and acquisitions. When small companies merge or are bought by larger companies, I rarely hear this referred to as a collaborative endeavor. I see collaboration as a collection of resources integrated effectively in order to promote a shared vision. This definition can certainly be applied to mergers and acquisitions, but the shared vision there is predominantly a monetary one, and not necessarily shared. The collaborative model is a dynamic organism intended to better itself as a whole. The mergers model is intended specifically for scalability and control with a distinct hierarchy needed to sustain itself. It is this latter model that can more easily justify and incorporate the outsourcing Jansen and Woolf refer to. Chris Anderson illustrates that technology itself was the initial manifestation of outsourcing, so outsourcing as a business strategy is neither new nor inherently evil.

    In Made In Australia, Woolf points out that a key component of Atlas’ success is a good cultural fit. “The supplier has to be seen as an extension of the client practice.” The debate begins when outsourcing conflicts with the values of the client and/or company. If outsourcing really means finding the most efficient resources available, how can smaller companies stay competitive and still prioritize their vision?

    As soon as Michael Hensel revealed that one of his local nodes of inspiration in 1994 was listening to drum and bass, he had my total trust. In Evolving Synergy, he details the ebb and flow of OCEAN over time, how it comes into being and how it faces new challenges and remains adaptable in order to survive. Transformation was required for its survival. The core goals are not about having one static identity but being a living organism not only capable of but intended to evolve.

    The following quotes talk about regrouping and branding as necessity for this survival.

    “It is negotiating multiple egos with time and project-specific group interests that requires a dynamic structure of task- or interest-based regrouping. This condition is always both precarious and normal, as one can see from the constant change of members joining and leaving. When the balance can no longer be struck the network either dissolves or changes into a hierarchy dominated by one or few individuals. Due to this difficulty, design culture remains dominated by iconic individuals or mighty corporate structures.”

    “What gives the network its productive edge is the mutual learning, exchange of knowledge and skills, and the very particular design work, that results from changing interactions and collaboration. Network collaboration is therefore about co-evolving towards individual and collective self-development to facilitate novel design production.”

    “Regrouping and retooling became thus entwined and yielded new synergy in productivity and innovative potential.”

    “The perceived need to create an image of the network for the outside is in fundamental conflict with the dynamic nature of collaborative networks.”

    If branding is a crucial element in a smaller company’s survival, how can constant regrouping occur while still upholding identity? How can values replace objects and become iconic?

  3. lucbwilson says:

    Chris Anderson in the “New Economy”, writes that large centralized companies are not nimble enough to keep up with the speed of the current global economy. “Bigger firms are harder to run on cash flow alone, so they need more debt (oops!). Bigger companies have to place bigger bets but have less and less control over distribution and competition in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Those bets get riskier and the payoffs lower.” Smaller firms have the flexibility to change, adapt and take risks that larger firms cannot. Both Micheal Jansen and Micheal Hensel discuss methods of architectural practice within a globalized network: worksharing and a flexible network or collaborators.

    While there are methods of communication and production that allow smaller architecture firms to compete with larger ones, geographic proximity intensifies innovation. Richard Florida writing for the Atlantic Monthly, in an article titled “How the Crash Will Reshape America” points out that despite instantaneous global communication and access to new means of production and services, innovation occurs at a higher rate in areas with high intellectual densities:

    Well-educated professionals and creative workers who live together in dense ecosystems, interacting directly, generate ideas and turn them into products and services faster than talented people in other places can. There is no evidence that globalization or the Internet has changed that. Indeed, as globalization has increased the financial return on innovation by widening the consumer market, the pull of innovative places, already dense with highly talented workers, has only grown stronger, creating a snowball effect. Talent-rich ecosystems are not easy to replicate, and to realize their full economic value, talented and ambitious people increasingly need to live within them.
    To be productive and competitive architecture firms should be small, giving them the necessary flexibility to respond to economic booms and busts, and be concentrated in city, neighborhood, and even building networks that intensify innovation and provide shared specialization and infrastructure that would not be available to firms globally dispersed.

    • lucbwilson says:

      It was interesting, encouraging, but also somewhat disheartening to hear Jim Barrett talk about how he and Turner Construction are dealing with BIM in the construction process. They are trying to do much of what we have discussed in this class. They are software agnostic to retain flexibility. They try to use BIM to engage various trades early in the construction process. However, they have a hard time convincing owners/clients to buy into a BIM process. Even though they know that BIM has quantifiable savings during the project, they can’t guarantee an outcome to the the owner/client. If Turner, one of the largest construction companies in the world, has a hard time convincing owners/clients to endorse a BIM process, what hope do we as architect have? I think the hope and potential that came out of the discussion with Jim is that contractors are willing and investing in BIM technology. If architects start doing it also (I mean really doing it, not just buying a few licenses of Revit and producing poorly constructed BIM models), and finding ways to interface with the other trades, we may not have to convince the client/owner of anything. We’ll just do it.

  4. Sam Olsen says:

    This piece was flawless.
    A few questions.

    When would an outsourcing company normally stop? With a product driven economy, you still need sales people, and unions generally control the total removal of jobs, plus the instrument of production remains visible in the community – its an asset.
    There seems to be no limitations to what can be outsourced in a knowledge based service product, especially when the makers of the product are not commonly known. Will we one-day wake up to see a building entirely designed “In the USA?”
    How do I position myself to lead this round of entrepreneurs into the next half-century of production. What sort of an an outfit would deal well with this sort of change?W
    What role, if any, does outsourcing play in our future firm?
    This sort of comes to the crux of an argument in architecture. It is inherently entrepreneurial, and so therefore, what does this hold with it in emotional baggage?

  5. Muchan Park says:

    Satellier as a new model of internationally worksharing organization seems very interesting. Especially the flexibility not only in terms of fast and efficient production but also stabilized cost management. Also Jansen distinguishes workshare from outsourcing labor of production, saying that “with workshare, both the service demander and the service provider share the responsibility for undertaking value-added assignments in close discussion/cooperation/partnership that involves design development issues as well”.

    However, even though his sounds different from production oriented outsourcing, this seems just urging the participants to have more close responsibilities and participation efforts.Maybe what we can get as beneficial from international knowledge network is not just efficiency. What we are concerning is how to get new creative solution from collaborative network while getting efficiency.

    Perception of differences among the countries where we would work with the local collaborator might be a huge chance to manage office economy more flexibly and stably, allow new or different perspectives from different cultures emerge as new creative solution, find relatively appropriate technology, skill or knowledge to make optimized collaboration rather than struggling with finding proper collaborators in closed pool.

    Now question is how to find ‘appropriate collaborators’ even in Earth, which means what is the other value or worth for finding collaborators abroad. Looking at both case of Atlas and Satellier, their major reason for choosing their collaborators or their main strength seems relative low labor cost or highly fast controlled production which seems not environment where new creative solution would emerge. Again and differently, what is competitiveness that attracts potential collaborators from abroad except low prices for service? Is that possession of highly localized network?

  6. Kassandra Scheve says:

    All of these articles dealt with the idea of how large international networks can facilitate work. In Jansen article, they talk about offshore collaboration and how outsourcing is so beneficial. It saves money as well as increases efficiency by having multiple groups in different locations, guaranteeing that it is worked on 24/7. While this seems like a benefit, does it out way the difficulty of sharing a job with another country that is keeping different hours? It seems as though it would be as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage. Yes it is being worked on around the clock, but for most of the time that one is working, the other is unavailable if any questions were to rise, or does technology such as email take care of this?

    In the “Made in Australia” article, they mention that clients that use Atlas increase job security. I’m just confused on how this is achieved through using an offshore company. It reduces costs and reduces the redundant burdens that high paid architects would usually need to carry, however couldn’t these companies hire some people to do the same thing? Or does having a firm that specializes only in this help that much, and if so, how?

    In the OCEAN article, near the conclusion it is mentioned that others have tried this networking model before, but then reverted back to the regular corporate model. Considering this network is so small, is it really a network? True it works differently from one large company with one CEO and many employees, however there are currently so few people in the network that it seems as though they could be like a corporate board, or a company run by committee as oppose to a whole new network of people.

  7. Questions for this week (all excellent reads, by the way!):

    1. Chris Anderson is spot on in his article “The New New Economy:”

    “Bigger companies have to place bigger bets but have less and less control over distribution and competition in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Those bets get riskier and the payoffs lower. And as Wall Street firms are learning, bigger companies are going to get more regulated, limiting their flexibility. The stars of finance are fleeing for smaller firms; it’s the only place they can imagine getting anything interesting done.”

    Though in theory his concept makes sense (I particularity enjoyed his idea of a non-physical office space), I question how it will actually play out. Did GM really learn from its mistakes? Will we resort back to the larger conglomerates (just because they’re more comfortable because they’re more familiar) or will this newer idea of smaller, more flexible agencies begin to show more promise?

    2. I thought, of the three articles we read this week, Michael Hersel’s description of OCEAN, left me the most uneasy. While he describes the kind of firm I would like to establish in the future (one of a loose-knit collection of individuals that could dissolve and re-connect at ease), both the types of projects that came out of this collaboration and the sustainably of such a network, I feel, are called into question. For example, ending the article with the following statement: “After all, life in the OCEAN might well be more productive and interesting if we learn how to let it become so. Perpetually! PS … we have just been joined by Steinar Killi. Rock’n’roll baby!” makes me question the validity of such a proposal as a serious professional endeavor. How can a system like this work while preventing people from defecting into corporate norms while producing more weighty, tangible, legitimate results (instead of competitions, exhibitions, and installations)? It’s fun… but is it sustainable… and do we get to do buildings at some point?

    3. Michael Jansen and Joe Woolf’s articles had some more surprisingly practical applications. Through my limited exposure to “outsourcing” in the professional world, I found it to be an extremely efficient use of time: Work gets done while you sleep! Who can complain about that? I had never thought of it being used on such an extensive scale, and I think Jansen’s practice of “worksharing” addresses some of the moral and ethical issues both professionals and clients might have with the idea of outsourcing production work. In fact, in a lot of ways, the freelancing work that I do could be considered “local worksharing,” where I do, primarily, all of the production work involved in a specific project (remotely) with coordinated interactions with clients and professionals on a case-by-case basis (usually remotely as well). It’s efficient for both me and my “employer” as they have someone whom they can, as Woolf notes, be “switched on and off as required” when work is needed and I can fit projects into my schedule as I’m available. Worksharing is something that seems quite scalable (considering production time is something smaller firms blow most of their fees on in most projects); therefore, how can smaller firms benefit more from the efficiencies inherent in this workflow without having to go to firms as large as Atlas?

    • Response:

      Jim Barrett was an excellent last guest to have during our class because he summed up so many of the issues that we’ve been discussing all semester, including, most prominently, the lack of a rise in both productivity and efficiency in the construction industry over the last 50 years. Considering the leaps and bounds we’ve made just in terms of technology, it’s surprisingly, if not incredibly frustrating, that these progressive steps have not had a more substantial impact in the way buildings actually get built. It begs the question (the one that has been asked all semester): How can technology actually reshape the building industry as opposed to just the buildings and the systems that we design? I think that we experience on a day to day basis, as architecture students, the possibilities that these advancements play in the design of buildings (or building-like objects); however, we severely lack in the understanding of the ways technologies can play a role in re-designing the processes of building. Issues of cost, schedule, and logistics are a major part of actually getting projects built and improving the efficiencies and productivity of the process. This is an opportunity for architects to really understand the implications technology can have outside of the realm of our design studios.

  8. Anh Minh Ngo says:

    In “Worksharing”, Michael Jansen makes a curious, yet seemingly obvious distinction between “designing” hours and “production” hours within design firms. According to him, offshore collaborations allow firms “to spend more of the professional fee on design rather than production”. How do architecture and design firms break down their services into “value added” or non-value added services? Is the line always distinct between design and production? As we saw in the example of Ghery Technologies, processes and tools, i.e. production platforms, are as important, if not even more, as the design part of any project. Design evolves well into the production stage.

    If clients, according to Jansen, “expect their design firms aggressively to pursue production efficiencies to keep prices low, or to make sure that they are paying first and foremost for value added services”, then how can we as architects and designers convince them that design and production are inextricably intertwined? What do value added services mean from the view point of the Client? What do they mean for us, architects and designers?

  9. Julie Jira says:

    Agility is a term which stuck with me throughout the articles. However, the attitude towards what parts of the world produce what parts of a project seemed disturbing to me. I think the idea that we can stay globally networked through advances in technology is a positive attribute for the industry, but I think that outsourcing massive amounts of production work can only work if there is a standardized solution to a problem. How can innovation in our industry occur if the engineers which we need to consult with, are part of a large organization that is used to outputting large amounts of standardized data.

    The OCEANs article sounded like a team of networked collaborators who had an established intent which they shared and therefore could co-work in other parts of the world. I think any architect who values their architectural intent should question whether outsourcing their presentation work or construction documents is appropriate for their project. If efficiency is their intent, then I think that outsourcing would be the proper solution. However, if innovation in any part of the process of design is a key value, then I don’t see how outsourcing to a large company could help execute the architect’s intent. KPO seems to be a possible solution to this problem, but even then, there is a huge cost in integrating the teams and resources to try to make it work.

    I think the New New Economy article actually proposed a model that could empower local entrepreneurs in both the design and production industry. New business models could be established which could strengthen the argument for innovative design instead of efficient production, while still empowering our own economy here in the United States.

  10. adam gerber says:

    I am of the opinion that outsourcing even the mundane tasks of drafting introduces another layer of “transaction costs” to architectural design. A smart office already minimizes the amount of time that this process takes in house, and tools to make it easier keep cropping up. I also suspect that if an office works with documents that are useful as far downstream as possible, the necessity for an abundance of rote labor decreases. Basically, I think that outsourcing represents a brute force solution to architectural efficiency problems, and that fundamental changes in documentation and business processes represent more of an opportunity to designers.
    I find it hard to comment on network practice models, this just seems like an obvious market structure in the future, and one to be encouraged.

    • adam gerber says:

      I have to agree with Luc on his points after speaking with Jim. Architects and Contractors can see the potential efficiencies of an effective BIM process. The models encode more information in one place and do so dynamically. With better information about the impacts of a design decision from the point of view of a contractor, buildings get built faster, cheaper, and/or of better quality. Like Luc, I suspect that this process is not one that is very interesting to the client and could be a process that architects and contractors work out behind the scenes. It gets marketed to contractors, architects, and big sophisticated clients, but I don’t think that most clients appreciate the necessity of BIM.
      I also found the conversation with Jim to be a little depressing in the context of our last class. Many sophisticated observers and users of emerging technologies have high hopes for its potential. Legal barriers, monetary barriers, and comfort-level barriers, seem to be much larger hurdles than sophisticated users are willing to readily admit. The most fascinating successes in terms of utilizing new processes in modeling, collaboration, and fabrication are like small isolated experiments compared to the state of the industry. This makes me wonder if some of these processes are too revolutionary rather than evolutionary. The traditional architectural Design-Bid-Build process is made slightly more efficient by BIM, but completely rethinking the process relative to BIM seems to yield many more gains in cost, time, quality, and efficiency. It seems like a few straws are already poking through the camel’s back in that respect, but I wonder if the industry at large is mobile enough to accommodate such change.

  11. Peter Adams says:

    “In the same way a musician with just a laptop and some gumption can accomplish most of what a record label does, an ambitious engineer can invent and produce a gadget with little more than that same laptop.”
    I think this addresses a lot of the fears of new tools taking architecture out of the hands of architects. I’ve made this point before, but I feel that making the fungible work of architecture easier and more accessible, it can only increase competition and define more clearly the real value of architects, which, I hope, is far greater than the ability to draft straight lines and make window schedules.

    “The crisis may have turned our economy into small pieces, loosely joined, but it
    will be the collective action of millions of workers hungry for change that keeps it that way.”
    Rather synthetic conclusion. Is the current state of our economy really set up in this way?

    Re: Outsourcing. I feel that there is a difference between outsourcing production, and having a networked collaborative design initiative. Outsourced production isn’t the same as upstream collaboration between different parties. Its not that the latter could not happen, or never happens, across international borders. But the difference is real.

    • padams20 says:

      It seems a lot of what was a “downer” about Jim’s visit was the apparent difficulty that even large parties working on large expensive project have in convincing clients to “go BIM”. Why do we need to convince clients of this in the first place? If we are certain that it will save time and money in the process then we should just DO it. I think that asking the client if its “Okay” to use a process that will certainly be beneficial for all parties, we are allowing the client to micro-manage the process. I am not advocating for the exclusion of the client from the design process. If the architect and contractor are on board, then the investment in using the BIM process should pay off internally without a return on investment needed on the part of the client.

  12. kmd2148 says:

    Future models of architectural practice utilizing digital communication technologies have the ability to decentralize and externalize and create smaller collaborative networks and facilitate specialized work. An example of this that is already occurring is outsourcing, as discussed in the Worksharing article. This type of global networking and outsourcing is effective in demonstrating this type of networked practice, however it seems limited. It is practical for traditional, standard, and universal aspects of work, while the core design is better left not outsourced or networked and left in the control of the main party. Does networking and outsourcing have limits and does it effect the quality of the project?

    Additionally, The New New Economy states that larger architectural firms are harder to run and finance, and can be riskier and less profitable. With this description it certainly makes sense that smaller specialized firms would be more efficient and effective. However it seems that so many smaller firms networked together and working in collaboration would take much more coordination and possibly more effort. Will a smaller collaborative network of firms really be a more efficient way of practice? And if so how can the smaller firm network model of architectural practice prove its validity?

    The collective intelligence, larger cultural network of production, presence of multidisciplinary parties, and greater efficiency in the collaborative network model are positive and successful aspects as discussed in the OCEANS article. Furthermore, from the OCEANs article it seems that this type of collaboration network in certainly not seamless or any less effortless than other models of practice. Do all of its other benefits outweigh these negative aspects of the model and make it more feasible and desirable?

    • kmd2148 says:

      In response to the presentation by Jim Barrett of Turner Construction, it seems the ability of networking with BIM technology is most successful in terms of global collaborative networking. It seems that BIM is also taking on a new and prominent role in the construction industry, being utilized much more for coordination and sequencing.

      This type of technology can be applied in two ways, as sustaining technology-making current practice more efficient, or disruptive technology-used in different ways and at different scales for the sake of itself creating inefficiencies. Sustaining technology is the better option, and hopefully will lead to innovating technologies.

      The idea of BIM and outsourcing is meant to be efficient and productive, but however for this to occur efficiencies need to occur not just in BIM technology but in all networking relationships, services, project materials, waste, and lifecycle, and most all other aspects of the industry. It seems that just the networking of BIM only is not enough to be totally efficient and innovative.

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