How Do We Know We’re Doing Things Right? Part II January 23, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, identity, possibility, questions, technology, the economy, transformation.
Tags: AEC industry, Atul Gawande, leadership, master builder, master virtual builder, opportunity, The Checklist Manifesto
While there are certainly more glaringly important worldwide problems to solve – relief in Haiti, global warming, the lingering economic downturn among them – design professionals are about to pass on an opportunity that they may never see again in their lifetimes.
Beyond the Death of the Master Builder
In the presentation Atul Gawande gave at the New Yorker Festival this past October, Gawande spoke about the importance of discipline and procedure in medicine, and how following a simple checklist can help save lives in the operating room.
The same procedures, he said, could be applied to the construction industry.
He ends the talk with this call to action:
“We have come to a time of the end of the master builder world with the question: What will we put in its place? This is our work.”
As with the current overhaul of the healthcare system, he added, “it will require a transformation to move beyond the death of the master builder.”
The Master Builder is Dead. What will we put in its place? This is our work
If the Master Builder – role, title, identity – were to return, who on the design and construction team is best suited to take-on this part?
The architect? Contractor? Engineer, consultant, facilitator, owner’s representative or construction manager?
Perhaps a new role needs to be created to play this part? And a new university curriculum created to produce candidates for this role?
Maybe the new Master Builder isn’t an individual but rather a combination of team members?
And what are we talking about here anyway – the Master Builder – or a Master Virtual Builder who oversees the creation and application of the project’s BIM model(s)?
The Quest of the Master Builder
The question of the master builder takes two sides:
Side 1: One side seeing the architect’s role receding, shrinking, minimized and even marginalized with the contractor and others in the design professions and construction industry taking-on more of their scope. Call this vision the Rebirth of the Master Builder.
Many in the industry echo Phil Bernstein’s (Autodesk / Yale School of Architecture) sentiments when he writes
“Architects have not been ‘master builders’ since the Middle Ages, and the development of the profession of architecture is a social acknowledgment that building isn’t just parts assembly but requires a specific knowledge of things far beyond technical efficacy.”
Side 2: The other side is seeing an expansion of the architect’s role, as well as a need for their breadth of coverage, scope and leadership. A 2009 AIA convention seminar put it this way:
Historically the architect interfaced with all aspects of construction, from design and engineering to material and building systems. Over time, specialization has eroded the breadth of architectural practices and the concept of a master-builder. Due in part to advances in technology, changes in architectural education, economic constraints, and new cultural condition, the role of the architect is expanding again. There is a practice revolution occurring in which design professionals, trained as architects, are expanding their visions of their careers and their offices. For these architects, the lines between construction, fabrication, design, graphics, product design, development, furniture, and community activism blur in the interest of expansive practice models.
Largely due to owner’s disappointment and demand with wasted resources, infighting and lack of leadership – there have been several attempts and arguments in the recent past to rekindle the architect’s increased role as master builder.
The Need to Re-establish Onsite Construction Expertise
Today, it has been suggested that architects could play the role of virtual master builder, Master Digital Builder, Composite Master Builder per Bill Reed or information master builders as described in Branko Kolarevic’s Architecture in the Digital Age.
“Once the key player in the construction process, architects were referred to as the ‘master builder’ because they not only conceived and drew plans for structures, but they also supervised construction and could control costs for the owner. But architects have ceded much of their power to construction managers and owners’ representatives over the past few decades. Architects currently design less than five percent of America’s construction projects–a depressing statistic and a telling symptom of how marginalized the profession has become.”
LePatner goes on to recommend
“To reclaim ‘master builder’ status, architects must re-establish their onsite construction expertise, change the way they structure their fees, and then market themselves accordingly.” And concludes, “Architects with the resolve to assume these added responsibilities–and with the foresight to broaden their focus and help change an industry–will thrive. Shaping a new construction paradigm will be a challenge, for owners, architects and contractors alike. The architect who meets this challenge head on will reap the rewards of increased status, fees and value to its clients.”
James A. Walbridge AIA, president of Tekton Architecture and Artisan Builders Corporation in San Francisco agrees. He writes in BIM in the Architect Led Design Build Studio on The BIM Conundrum: Computer Skills vs. Construction Knowledge:
“One of the issues that cannot be stressed enough is having a strong understanding of how a building is put together. Unfortunately, many of the young graduates we see entering the profession do not possess the fundamental understanding of constructing what is designed. In the new BIM environment and the current move towards integrated practice, this core-competency is one that is significant. Many of the young constituents of the profession have strong computer skills including proficiency with a BIM platform – but the level of construction technology is seriously lacking. Our experience is that a team member with sound construction technology expertise will be required to mentor the young intern and work side-by-side with BIM integration. This cannot be over-emphasized. True to our foundation in the architect as “Master-Builder”, all of our designers have extensive hands-on experience in construction. This type of experience is hard to acquire in the traditional model of today’s architect. Construction experience such as this is initiative-based from the individual and not all young interns can or will take this career choice. We must strengthen the construction side of the education experience and provide serious mentorship with our young interns in our offices so that the new integrated practice and BIM can continue to grow and develop more cohesively.”
There is a still great opportunity right now for the architectural profession to regain the role of master builder – irrespective of title or identity.
The important question is whether architects will have the courage to step-up and accept the risk and responsibility associated with taking-on this much needed transformative role, OR instead, overwhelmed by current societal, economic and technological forces coupled with their own feelings of disempowerment, recede into the silos and unsafe havens of their traditionally defined roles.
How do you recommend architects begin to regain their master builder status in the AECO industry?