How do you measure the productivity of creativity?

Dominique Davison / February 4, 2019

Architects constantly strive to challenge the status quo and inspire connection in the spaces we create, but as the old adage goes: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The creative process takes time, but in today’s tech landscape, this process can be accomplished faster than ever before. A recent Architect Magazine article, “Can Technology Solve Architects’ Productivity Challenge?”, explores the changing landscape of architecture practice and challenges some long held perceptions of the effects technology has had on productivity.

Author Kermit Baker argues the technology revolution now hitting the AEC industry can achieve efficiency results but will require a strategic approach for firms to get there. Even in a strong construction economy, with almost 10 percent growth per year since 2011, challenges to profitability that architects and engineers face continue to be pressures on fees, and I would add, ever tightening schedules, and more stringent code and performance requirements.

Quoting Phil Bernstein—a former professor of mine at the Yale School of Architecture, adviser, and now associate dean—Baker says:

“…Many firms price their services as a commodity—for a fixed price or as a percentage of the costs of construction—which typically doesn’t provide a premium for a superior design solution. (What) if architects were instead rewarded based on the performance of their designs?”

We are at a unique time where there is a convergence of a multitude of technologies emerging. Baker lists the following:

  • Virtual reality, augmented reality, and real-time rendering: to visualize, test, and validate designs;
  • 3D printing: for design models and, potentially, on-site production of construction products;
  • Big data and predictive modeling: to monitor consumer behavior, construction processes, and project history;
  • The Internet of Things, including sensors that generate data: to control systems and monitor behavior; and
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning: to generate best practices and prototypes.

However, according to Baker’s article, these emerging technologies are not on the minds of firm leaders to achieve higher levels of productivity when asked. More typical operational and training methods were mentioned instead.

Bottom line: Architects may have a mis-match between their perceived technical savvy and actual application of innovative technologies.

As a business owner and principal of an architecture firm, I’m always looking for ways to be more productive and provide better quality service for clients. We as an industry haven’t improved our productivity with the rise of technology, and it’s time for that to change.

Whether you’re working toward Net Zero Energy goals or just want to achieve employee productivity and satisfaction, big data and technologies like AI and machine learning are crucial to the future of our industry and our world.

It’s time to embrace technology that can make us more efficient so we can, together, move the needle toward more productive, sustainable design.

Dominique Davison, AIA LEED BD+C, is the founder and CEO of PlanIT Impact, and principal of DRAW Architecture + Urban Design, an award-winning practice based in Kansas City, Mo. Winner of the AIAKC Architect of the Year, she is an author and frequent national speaker in the sustainable and smart city space. Visit our website to learn how together we can build better buildings. 

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