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I am an architect. I loved practicing architecture and often wonder what I would be doing if I had not moved into the world of technology. Our firm, Neeley/Lofrano Architects, practiced in San Francisco for over 20 years. Our firm stayed at about 20 employees most of the time. We started our practice in 1970 and were very lucky, we had very good clients and were able to stay busy and make money. We lived through several down turns in the economy, and interest rates for mortgages that were above 15%.

I am an architect. I loved practicing architecture and often wonder what I would be doing if I had not moved into the world of technology. Our firm, Neeley/Lofrano Architects, practiced in San Francisco for over 20 years. Our firm stayed at about 20 employees most of the time. We started our practice in 1970 and were very lucky, we had very good clients and were able to stay busy and make money. We lived through several down turns in the economy, and interest rates for mortgages that were above 15%.

During those years we watched other firms do better and some worse, but in all those years I never saw architects take the hit that they are taking now. Several hundred person firms of a few years ago are now sixty person firms, many small firms have disappeared. I talk to architects that are not working and they are wondering if they should even try to go back into architecture when the economy gets better.

Architects do not determine when the economy will become stronger, until it does we wait. We serve our clients, when they have a need and money for buildings we are hired. The current situation is: Owners, 1) do not have money, 2) do not need new or remodeled buildings, 3) cannot borrow money, or 4) are sitting on their money waiting for the economy to get stronger. Some building types are being designed and constructed, schools and hospitals come to mind, but if you have not done schools and hospitals it is doubtful that you can compete against all the experienced and very hungry firms that are going after this work.

Clearly I believe in technology and more specifically in BIM. “BIM will change everything for everyone dealing with buildings.” We are at the start of a new era, so if BIM is going to change everything and we are at the start of a new era, there must be some opportunities now and in the future. I know that none of the ideas below are easy to undertake, but the more you can do now the stronger you will become and the more likely your firm will be the ones getting the work, or if you are unemployed the more likely you will be the first hired.

CAD mainly touched those who were drawing; BIM touches those are drawing, but also designers, project managers, interior designers, specifiers, field workers and principals. I have some thoughts on what can be done now. I would also like you to contact me with your ideas.

Step One — Become a BIM expert. If you are not busy, or unemployed take the time to become a BIM expert. Vendors are allowing the free download of their software, get it, follow the tutorials and master the software. Learn how to create great renderings. Download the analysis software and master the links between the BIM project and the analysis programs. Learn how to create objects and attach data to the objects. Master the creation of schedules. When the economy comes back the people with the most skills will be the first to be hired. If you master the items in this paragraph you will essentially be a one person architectural firm.

Step Two — Become a building type expert. Figure out what building types are going to be in demand when the economy gets stronger and learn about those buildings. How are they laid out, what are the spaces, how much do they cost, what are new approaches to their design and use, etc. The baby boomers will have a major effect upon our immediate needs, will they abandon the suburbs and move to the city to be close to more activities. Their medical needs will require buildings.

Step Three — Become a “green” expert. Buildings use too much energy. Government agencies and many owners are demanding LEED certified buildings. Become LEED certified; learn what it is, how it works and what it will do for the country if we have more energy efficient buildings. Research what is being done in Europe, research what is being done in the universities; learn about new materials and new approaches to manufacturing.

Step Four — Think “outside the box, or at least make the box bigger”. The definition of what is an architect has changed throughout history. At one time we were the “master builder,” the designer and the contactor. At the start of the twentieth century we created the designs, but not many of the specific details, the craftsmen knew how to finish spaces. In the mid twentieth century we designed the structure, mechanical systems and electrical, now most often that is done by consultants.

What is going to happen next? Perhaps the architect will be only the designer and the contractors will do the detailing. Perhaps we will hire the construction experts and we will generate the types of contract documents that are being created in the IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) approaches of today. GSA is hiring architects to create BIM models of their existing buildings so the information can be used for operations, maintenance, future renovations, etc. This is great and will bring cost savings over time. If this is a great idea for GSA it should be a great idea for other owners, get a presentation together and start calling.

Figure out who you can team up with. Controls and HVAC companies are going after existing buildings for retrofitting to save energy, they will need BIM models. Think of areas where it would be better to have BIM models instead of 2D drawings, such as rooms full of equipment, valves and switches. Building maintenance is a huge industry; they need information on areas, locations of equipment, types of lamps and fixtures, etc.

Conclusion
Out of adversity comes opportunity. Out of struggle comes creativity. Times are tough but it appears we are going in the right direction and times will get better. BIM will have far reaching consequences. Think 25 years into the future, predict what the profession will look like, could it look like your prediction in 5 years, and if so implement your ideas now.

Let me know your ideas.

by Dennis Neeley, AIA last update:Apr 13, 2010

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