Nobody needs to remind you that technology has changed the way architects design buildings, develop new business, and manage their firms. Yet for a variety of reasons—ranging from simple fear to financial concerns—many firms have not made the leap to BIM and beyond. Don’t be afraid, says Marty Doscher, Assoc. AIA. He is the founder and director of Synthesis Technology Integration, a Venice, Calif.–based consulting firm that helps design and construction companies implement and integrate technology into all areas of their business. A self-confessed geek, Doscher, 43, is a former technology director at the Los Angeles firm Morphosis Architects. He feels equally at ease in hanging out with tech people as he does with designers. Doscher spoke to about the transition to high tech.
You snooze, you lose.
If you look at the big picture, it’s change or perish. That might sound alarmist, but it’s true. The times are different and so is the context of how we work. To be competitive, a firm must be up to speed with technology and come to grips with what it means to use tech to design projects. “You have to say, ‘I want to be more competitive and provide better service and design better buildings,’ ” Doscher says. “The fact is, the market demands that we change our ways.”
Spend the money.
In general, new technology doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. It’s best to always keep a budget for technology. Regardless of the size of the firm, estimate that 5 percent of annual fees will go to software and hardware, Doscher suggests. To stay current, plan on replacing or upgrading your hardware and software every three to five years (and don’t even think about pirating the software). It’s important to always refresh the technology. And remember to think big, especially when it comes to processor speed and screen size. There is a correlation between bigger screens and greater productivity. “It’s all worth the investment, and with depreciation, the upgrade will pay for itself over time,” he says.
Make your firm a contemporary, global, and virtual practice, Doscher says. That means that you should be able to walk into your client’s office and bring your office with you on your laptop or tablet. Doscher says that this is a habit of responsive designers: Speed helps them meet the needs of clients who are not always there. A firm’s work must be able to happen everywhere, be it on a park bench or in a coffee shop. “You can meet your client over a screen,” he says.
See the clouds.
To truly work everywhere, migrate to cloud computing. This not only lets you take your office with you, it lets everyone you are doing business with have access to your office, Doscher says. Email is wonderful, but it’s not real time. With cloud computing, you can have a conversation with the structural engineer and the client simultaneously, and everyone involved can comment on and edit a document. These new tools allow for a more collaborative and therefore richer experience.
BIM or bust.
Begin modeling in 3D. Manual isn’t as reliable anymore. “Clients and non-architects have a hard time reading drawings,” Doscher says. “They just don’t get it—so you need 3D for better communication.” Architects who master 3D modeling shouldn’t idle: They should then take the next step to BIM. This software can be expensive, and it might be difficult to make the transition, which is why many small firms don’t use it. Beyond learning how to use the technology, it’s necessary to “invest in the mind-set,” he says.
You are not alone.
Tech can be scary, Doscher says. But not being aware that a technology exists or how it works should not be an impediment. You don’t need to hire an entire tech department to make sure things run smoothly. There are a number of inexpensive remote services that provide assistance and training with a phone call or a click, and these are available to everybody. Technical assistants can coach you through a problem remotely. “You’ll waste a lot of time if you think you can solve the problem by having the local high school kid come around to help,” Doscher says.
Practice makes perfect.
Designers who want to see the benefits of technology advances such as virtualization and BIM—and want happier clients—need to put in the time with the new technology through practice. We are always more comfortable with the old ways of working, Doscher reckons. “Getting out of your skin can feel like putting on a blindfold and running across the street,” he says. “But it will pay off in the end.”
Note: This story has been updated since first publication.