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October 27, 2016
During the past few decades, the architectural workplace has undergone a dramatic series of shifts in its processes, tools, approaches and capabilities, making for some interesting new dynamics in a workforce often comprised of seasoned experts and recently graduated designers alike.
At CollinsWoerman, we enjoy a very diverse workforce, with a 50-plus year gap between some of our most senior designers and youngest professionals. Maintaining an effective mix of multiple generations of architects under one roof begets a host of benefits. I’m often more interested and inspired by what a millennial colleague thinks is a great idea. And the learning opportunities extend both ways.
The specific ways in which architectural drawings are produced now through software such as Revit and CAD variants are a vast departure from the methods prevalent at the beginning of my career. Previously, an architect using a parallel bar and an oversized sheet of paper, tools that might sound primitive by today’s standards, could easily engage colleagues walking by in an instant exchange of ideas.
It was a collaborative approach; feedback came from multiple sources, largely depending on who was wandering around the office at any given time.
CollinsWoerman’s Anne Ball, a recent hire who joined the firm after interning here, is launching into her career at a markedly different time.
Despite the shift away from frequent interpersonal communication, Ball offers, “People are actually very aware of when changes are made to drawings in the digital model it’s how the interface of the software is set up. The level at which you’re communicating is predominantly non-verbal, which I think is really fascinating and creates a new set of dynamics than the previous norm.”
New tech versus old
The new paradigm has, without question, accelerated the pace of design for each phase of a project, largely due to the types of tools now in use and the expectations the client has developed as a result. But aside from faster turnaround and increased availability for communication, the way in which concepts are presented is vastly different.
Physical, three-dimensional models were formerly the end-all-be-all of methods to convey design concepts to the client. But within the span of my own career, this process has been increasingly improved.
Having largely transitioned from physical models to 3-D rendered drawings and complete 3-D immersive environments, the rise of a new technology in the design profession is once again poised to bring new benefits and peculiarities of its own. Virtual and mixed-reality visualization and design processes have already been implemented at CollinsWoerman, and will no doubt be prevalent across the field in the near future.
While VR has its benefits, there’s still plenty to be learned from the old-fashioned way of doing things.
“Being able to hold a material sample is, at this point, far more realistic than seeing it in a virtual realm,” Ball says. “We’re getting very close to actually being there, to seeing exterior and interior textures in different lighting conditions, but it’s not quite the same yet.
“Architecture embodies how people interact and use all their senses in space,” she says. “It’s important to use technology as a tool but not to rely on it as a crutch, because at the end of the day, we’re designing spaces to better physical environments for real people.”
No matter the generation, many of us agree that clients benefit greatly from the ability to visualize what was once confined to an architectural elevation or floorplan, or a small-scale model.
“A floorplan is used internally to communicate space, but to some clients without the technical background, a rendering is so much more effective,” Ball says. “People can interact with architecture no matter what occupation or demographic, but it’s easier to understand a 3-D world versus having to read a set of plans.”
One such example is CollinsWoerman’s work on Swedish Hospital’s Issaquah campus, when one of our most experienced medical planners had been trying, using old tools, to explain to people that, “the machines go here, this is over here, here’s the control room.” Yet when colleague Leif Pearson used SketchUp to build a three-dimensional version of the room, suddenly the reaction became, “Oh, could you actually move this here?”
It was easy. And it became more real.
But, the methods of old certainly have their time and place.
CollinsWoerman assistant principal Tim Bissmeyer, who has 15 years of experience planning and designing commercial and healthcare facilities, feels that despite the variety of digital tools available, the client-designer relationship hasn’t significantly changed.
“A computer-generated image, even if it’s a fancy rendering, sometimes has no emotion behind it,” Bissmeyer says. “It can feel pretty lifeless. The hand-drawn stuff evokes more emotion, so we often find that we can provide the best of both worlds by using modern, computer-based tools in conjunction with hand drawings and more classic techniques.”
Multiple value systems
Revisiting my initial thoughts on the benefits of an age-diverse workforce, I hold that there’s a richness in people from different generations looking at the same problems and bringing different value sets to the table due to their different perspectives in life.
To me, that’s one of the greatest things: It’s important to understand multiple value systems. At CollinsWoerman, we don’t compartmentalize people because of their age and experience. We give people responsibility commensurate with a person’s ability to accept that responsibility.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be able to work with your superiors and to be able to teach one another,” Ball says. “There’s a lot to also learn and contribute. Gaining knowledge and experience comes not only from the tools that I interface with, but also from working with people my age as well as colleagues 40-plus years my senior.”
Much has changed in the way we do business over the past several decades. While there have been many improvements in our workflows and capabilities, and certainly in the ways in which we communicate, there is great value melding them with the processes and traditions of yesteryear, allowing us all to benefit from the added perspective and knowledge that accompanies them.
Phil Giuntoli, a principal with CollinsWoerman, leads CollinsWoerman’s healthcare team and has completed projects for nearly every healthcare provider in the Puget Sound region.