The start of a new year may be the impetus you needed to reassess professional priorities and investments for the near and long term. Continuing our annual tradition of identifying technologies and business strategies to set you and your firm up for success, ARCHITECT asked nine digital leaders in tech-forward practices across the country to identify the changes they anticipate in the design profession. To gauge whether they're walking the walk, we also asked them to summarize what they've resolved to accomplish in 2019, with (imaginary) bonus points for brevity.

Map the Invisible and the Invaluable

Fred Perpall, FAIA
Chief executive officer, The Beck Group, Dallas

Fred Perpall
Fred Perpall

Prediction: In 2019, we’ll see firms learn how to use data more effectively. It is a challenge to accurately predict the length of time a task takes, yet every day we take leaps of faith and sign ourselves up for projects that may be impossible to achieve. It is no secret that our industry has been historically slow to adopt technology and tech driven practices. Often, we rely on gut instinct rather than using readily available data to make informed decisions to improve projects. Some of this is a cultural problem but it is also a challenge to understand what to do with data.

At Beck, we’ve developed in-house applications that use historical data and BIM to advise clients on what is possible when it comes to a project’s design, cost, and duration with a high surety factor. We recently used this practice during the planning phase of a project with a large university and determined the deadline to complete the project was not enough time. Because we were in planning, we course-corrected the schedule before time and money became an issue, all thanks to data and our technology.

Resolution: We’re putting prefabrication practices into our design workflow. We recently established a facility and are scaling towards prefabricated solutions.

Andrea Love, AIA
Principal and director of building science, Payette, Boston

Andrea Love
Andrea Love

Prediction: Architects are on the precipice of embracing big data and leveraging it to inform design. I see this more and more across a number of aspects of architectural design, whether it be programmatic or performance data. In my world of building science, we are at this interesting juncture in computing abilities and tool availability where you can now, say, set up an energy model in the evening to run thousands of simulation options and come into the morning to all the results. This poses a new challenge of how to investigate, present, and leverage data in order to make it most useful. A number of firms, Payette included, have started hiring data scientists. This is not to say that I think our designs are becoming the resultant of data, but that our designs are being better informed and strengthened by this embrace of data in the industry.

Resolution: To drive some research projects forward. We are kicking off projects on how glazing impacts comfort in the summer time (to complement our Glazing and Winter Comfort tool), and on life cycle assessments of different façade systems, to name a couple. On the heels of winning the 2019 AIA Architecture Firm Award, Payette is also looking at tackling a book on the themes of our submission.

Adam Heisserer
Design technologist, Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio, Texas

Adam Heisserer
Adam Heisserer

Prediction: The accessibility of mobile devices and sensors is making it possible for architects and designers to perform detailed post-occupancy studies of the spaces they design. Photogrammetry software, augmented reality apps, and GPS are advancing fast enough that mobile phones are becoming very inexpensive scanning and positioning devices. These can be paired with sensors to map environments based on an individual’s experience. Mobile positioning and sensing allow any designer to gather data about the built environment at a granular level and record post-occupancy measurements efficiently.

Resolution: This year, Lake|Flato is performing post-occupancy evaluations for a series of recently completed civic projects, including the Austin Central Library and the Confluence Park pavilion in San Antonio. We hope to map invisible qualities such as air quality, sound, or occupant heart rate to visualize and understand the human experience of our buildings. This data will be gathered with mobile phone cameras and off-the-shelf sensors, and then mapped with Grasshopper.

Top to bottom: Confluence Park pavilion, in San Antonio, Texas; 3D reconstruction done with a mobile phone and photogrammetry software; visualization of temperature data collected on site mapped onto the 3D model
Casey Dunn (top photo); Lake|Flato Architects and Matsys Design Top to bottom: Confluence Park pavilion, in San Antonio, Texas; 3D reconstruction done with a mobile phone and photogrammetry software; visualization of temperature data collected on site mapped onto the 3D model

Use the Powers That Already Be

Charlie Williams, AIA
Director of Inspire Design and associate principal, LPA, Irvine, Calif.

Charlie Williams
Gillian Crane Charlie Williams

Prediction: A deep understanding of the data that informs the design process and client relationships is an essential skill that every business will need to master as designers transition out of the service economy and into the experience economy. Professional sports and financial industries have already mastered and leveraged this skill. Books like Money Ball (W.W. Norton, 2014) and Super Crunchers (Penguin Random House, 2008) outline the benefits of understanding data and how to transform it to knowledge.

To date, the technology necessary to understand data deeply has not been very accessible. However, business intelligence tools have become user friendly and knowledge about how they can be leveraged is so broad that the tools are no longer constrained to large corporations and industries. With the maturation of business intelligence tools such as Tableau’s Tableau Desktop, Microsoft’s Power BI, and Google’s Data Studio, firms of all sizes can simultaneously investigate multiple databases—as complex as a SQL database or as simple as an Excel spreadsheet. Combining disparate bits of data distributed throughout a company’s network in ways that are visually oriented empowers companies to migrate data to information and even further to knowledge, which can then be leveraged to understand most anything, including financial metrics, project planning, and building information model health, more deeply.

Health assessment visualization of a building information model
Bill Debevc and Nick Kramer Health assessment visualization of a building information model

Architects can leverage such business intelligence tools to transform the design process and client relationships. And as the stories shared in Money Ball and Super Crunchers show, success comes from the most unexpected of places.

Resolution: Deepen our informed design process with data and research-driven design thinking to further collaboration among our integrated design teams.

Hilda Espinal, AIA
Chief technology officer, CannonDesign, Chicago

Hilda Espinal
Hilda Espinal

Prediction: While generative or data-driven design is something we’ve been experimenting with for some time, we’re only just beginning to harness its capabilities and leverage its full potential in our industry. This year will be the year generative design moves into common data environments (CDEs) and becomes a day-in, day-out democratized tool—for some aspects of design—that designers and building owners use to drive exciting value. As we create more smart buildings with the Internet of Things, manage building performance, and collect more information via post-occupancy evaluations, etc., we’ll cull more data, understand more fully how our built environment is used, and be able to design more possible outputs that respond more precisely to specific needs and challenges.

The benefits of successful generative design with CDEs are inherent: better outcomes for clients and users, new design possibilities, more efficient use of space, and informed decision-making.

Resolution: Amplifying technology democratization and integration of design-plus-business information. These efforts fuel superior insights and design solutions for our communities.

Paul Audsley, Assoc. AIA
Chief information officer, NBBJ, Columbus, Ohio

Paul Audsley
Paul Audsley

Prediction: This is an exciting time as investors realize the opportunity that exists for technology to bring greater value to the AEC industry. That said, as our world and industry becomes increasingly complex and the available tools more sophisticated, we’re finding that the interfaces between technologies often pose the biggest challenges and opportunities. All too often technologies work well in isolation but fail when integrated into an established workflow. Solutions that both enable this integration and streamline data flow increase both the speed of delivery and the confidence in the output.

For example, we created the virtual-reality startup Visual Vocal, now in use by peers, in response to these technological challenges. This year, we’re looking to build upon the success of the platform and evolve its capabilities to a whole new level.

Onsite image capture with Visual Vocal
Sean Airhart / Courtesy NBBJ Onsite image capture with Visual Vocal
Mulit-user experience with Visual Vocal
Sean Airhart / Courtesy NBBJ Mulit-user experience with Visual Vocal

We’ll also be expanding our in-house Momenta design computation platform—for early conceptual development—to integrate an exciting new façade module and a leading energy analysis tool.

With all firms having open access to a pool of new and exciting tools, the ones who craft the most elegant connections between these tools or are bold enough to develop their own solutions will thrive.

Resolution: Integrate the hundreds of computational innovations developed by NBBJ into a rich, fully unified experience that brings greater value to clients.

John Haymaker, AIA
Director of research, Perkins+Will, San Francisco

John Haymaker
John Haymaker

Prediction: Project teams face an increasing number of increasingly stringent, often-conflicting performance goals and constraints. They also have access to a powerful emerging set of computational tools that can help them generate large spaces of design alternatives, and to optimize for functional adjacencies, comfort, daylight, energy, cost, and other criteria. The challenge for large, multidisciplinary teams is determining how to best leverage these technologies to efficiently and accurately formulate and make decisions.

In 2018, we published an open-source framework for engaging and guiding project teams through design space construction (DSC) and exploration methods. We have engaged universities to understand how to best teach and extend this framework, and worked with our project teams to understand how best to apply it on projects, assess value, and identify future research needs. With this theoretical framework and validated tools, project teams are now able to formulate and make optimal design decisions with confidence. We are engaged in a firm-wide effort to train and enable project teams to leverage and apply DSC processes in all of our design studios.

Resolution: Improve the speed and accuracy of DSC methods through statistics and machine learning, and adapt and apply DSC to regenerative design processes.

Utter and Complete Digital Transformation

Islay Burgess, AIA
Senior associate and digital design manager, Gensler, New York

Islay Burgess
Islay Burgess

Prediction: From interpreting building codes to solving a software limitation with Python programming, 2019 will push our industry to embrace how technology helps address global design challenges. We are seeing a fundamental shift in the knowledge base required to move the AEC industry forward. Exposure to digital processes across the design practice is increasingly important. There will be a level of understanding required of everyone working on a project—including team members who do not use any software. This is not a singular use case, but a shift in thinking that can start now but will continue to evolve in the coming years.

Digital transformation in design means merging the knowledge of experienced designers with team members focused on technology to find balance and create purposeful pairings. Finding the equilibrium between many design forces requires the knowledgeable deployment of many methods; we are designing our own scripts, processes, and questioning the one-click solutions.

The increasing value of technology comes from the continual refinement of its application to a process. After a new method is deployed, we must take time to reflect and question what improvements could be made. Striving to continually advance reciprocal knowledge means allowing exploration through rotational positions.

The next generation of leaders in architecture will not only be experts in design, management, communication, and detailed problem solving, they will also need to be adept at leveraging coding, digital workflows, data interoperability, and digital fabrication. Our responsibility to enable design thinking through digital methods means we must respond to the software and technology developments around the AEC industry. To protect the values we were taught in theory, history, and design studios, we need to have a continual awareness of the means and methods while modernizing the design process and participating in computational developments.

Resolution: Because Gensler values continual learning, we are formalizing our internal education around developing the next generation of digitally savvy architects and designers.

Photos from a digital design training event at Gensler's New York office
Courtesy Gensler Photos from a digital design training event at Gensler's New York office
Courtesy Gensler

Nathan Miller
Chief executive officer, Proving Ground, Omaha, Neb.

Nathan Miller
Nathan Miller

Prediction: Many of the technologies that can transform design practice are already available and have already been procured, in some capacity, by firms over the years. In this context, it is strange to consider that research shows us that architecture and construction remain among some of the least digitized industries: Skill gaps, wasteful processes, and outdated delivery models continue to persist adjacent to rapid technological advancement.

Architecture businesses must then consider that digital transformation is more than purchasing and using the latest digital tools. Rather, it means enabling people, growing knowledge, and changing behavior at all levels in an organization. Instead of asking: “What technology is ready for us in 2019?” I suggest that leaders in architecture firms ask: “What can we do to grow and mobilize our people to take advantage of the wealth of digital opportunities that are available to us?”

The answer might mean investing in training to grow skills data collection and machine learning to support design decisions. Or analyzing your workflow and identifying areas where customized automation can help eliminate time-consuming production. Or forming a new partnership with a manufacturer where a digital workflow help reduce cost and improve quality of a building component. The tools have been ready for a long time. Are you?

Resolution: I want my team of five to be able to perform the work expected from a team of 50 without breaking a sweat—and I want teach others how to do the same by developing digital skills that can translate to many problem–solution spaces, irrespective of specific software. Skills in strategic thinking, agile management, automation, and research are all core components to this.