Twenty-five Trends for Architecture & Design

Oh, Twitter, how did we distract ourselves before you fueled our ADD-addicted, mass media-addled psyches?

The Urban Land Institute tweeted about this article, New Opportunities But Little Recovery, but their short url went 404. So clickety googledy, and I happened upon Design Intelligence, a periodic publication of the Design Futures Council on trends in architecture, design, and real estate.  Never heard of them, but that’s something I’m interested in, and perhaps so are you.

The article summarizes 25 trends they project will affect architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) professions in the near future (2011-2015).  In the interest of space, time and copyright, I’ll abridge their summary below.  If your interest is peaked I think you’ll find it worthwhile to follow the link here.

Trends are listed in order of their relative strength, with those at the top of the list cited by the greatest number of respondents. As you study these trends, consider the strategic opportunities for your own organization. And keep in mind demographic conditions, geographic situation, and regional idiosyncrasies in the markets.

25 Trends Transforming Architecture and Design

1. Technology rockets.

BIM is bigger. Our recent Technology and Innovation Survey indicated that 49 percent of firms are using it in half their projects or more. Having enjoyed a steady upward climb for several years, building information modeling [my link -jc] is now well placed to begin coming of age… And it’s not just BIM that’s booming: video, 4-D scheduling, 3-D printing, social media, and mobile computing will begin to appear in designers’ kits as well. Sprinkle in some cool tech tools with artificial intelligence, and let your imagination invent new and efficient methods that can create value.

2. Clients embrace sustainability and the extreme measures to get there.

Most projects now demand (or at least request) some level of sustainable design thanks to the owner, financier, or design team. Despite the economy, the value of green construction starts showed a 50 percent increase in 2010 compared to 2008. And data is beginning to prove the benefits of sustainable building: higher rents, more productive workers, happier occupants…

3. Get ready for talent and leadership shortages in A/E/C.

Many talented architects and designers have been lost to the professions as they watched their jobs vanish in the economic storm of the past three years… Many recent graduates never entered the professions because hiring was locked down, so it’s likely that a gap will become evident in the talent pipeline soon and surely in less than a decade. And while the loss of experienced professionals may have helped firms deal with declining fees, it could augur dissatisfaction down the road with a higher incidence of problems for owners and lower wages for architects overall…  A related challenge will be getting the best and brightest young people attracted to schools of architecture, design, engineering, and construction management in the future and then providing real mentoring as they enter the work force. Is this a crisis? Perhaps not, but it is a critical weakness.

4. Delivery options are wide open.

Integrated project delivery, public-private partnerships, and design-build are intriguing to owners. Project management is progressively viewed as a way to increase the effectiveness of project delivery. A firm’s willingness to explore alternate delivery processes will be seen as a market differentiator by owners that are seeking less conflict and greater efficiency in their projects…  The trend now is for architects to move beyond artisan or technician and to embrace the risks of leadership…

5. It’s a global business.

Asia is a hotbed, but there are fears that China must advance at a more reasonable pace if it is to sidestep a burst economic bubble. The huge demand for services in China and India is promising but presents its own challenges for planners, architects, and engineers… Troubles in Europe — Greece, Spain, and Ireland — could have dramatic repercussions throughout Europe and the world… U.S. architects and designers are increasingly getting work in Brazil, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. The Middle East is surprisingly resilient…

6. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the new normal.

…Owners want to see more expertise at the table. Because projects sizes will be smaller, multi-specialist professionals will be sought after to support streamlined teams and competitive fee proposals. Teams of unaffiliated experts representing a wide range of technical and creative skills will excite clients to rethink what’s possible.

7. Fee wars aren’t pretty.

Fee competition has been difficult, and it won’t get easier in the near future. …negotiation preparation is a sound investment. For example, it may take 40 hours of staff project work to turn $1,000 in profit, but putting an hour’s more effort into negotiation preparation can pretty easily add that amount to the bottom line.

8. Keep evolving your strategies.

A renewed focus on business strategies and entrepreneurship will be seen at all scales of practice… Delivering value will be an emphasis in client communications, while continuous marketing will be pursued in all markets and sub-markets…

9. Hold a finger to political winds.

…The contracting economy has made it clear that everyone is subject to the divisive political landscape, and increased tax rates for corporations will have far-reaching consequences…

10. Articulate design’s value.

…The ability to communicate the value proposition of professional services is essential, and it’s an opportunity to show results instead of merely talk about them…

11. Some segments are expanding

…Urban mixed-use, health care, life sciences, and leisure and hospitality were all mentioned by survey participants as bright spots. The continued aging of the American population as well as current political and insurance reforms bode well for the health care market in particular… Housing, hospitality, commercial, and institutional work show signs of new life around the globe. New city design services are growing, and small and medium-size firms are increasingly playing key roles.

12. Client complexions are changing.

… Professional practices will do well to differentiate their products and services by giving clients what they need, and quickly. This includes not only data but possibly a variety of pricing scenarios as well…

13. It’s the economy, period.

Our panel of experts doesn’t see a sharp American economic revival in the coming years… But stability is gaining a toehold, and if job growth could take root, the emergency of our overdue new normal economy would kick in for real. What are the chances? Our panel says to stay cautious and keep fixed overhead low.

14. Aging infrastructure requires TLC.

The need for infrastructure improvements throughout the United States is well documented. And if the data is not enough, then the barrage of bad news about highway, bridge, and water system failures throughout the country is persuasive evidence of the problem…

15. The consolidation equation ratchets up.

Last year was frantic with mergers and acquisitions among professional practices…  Small and midsize firms that aren’t looking for such a marriage may find a solution in temporary partnering situations whereby they can maximize the best of their resources for specific projects then part ways and seek the next logical coupling…

16. The search for evidence intensifies.

Health care environments have been the driver for evidence-based design, but the concept will be sought across all building types… Here is a market opportunity that is ripe for innovation and research…

17. Look to do more with less.

…The economy has forced firms to streamline their offices and reduce overhead expenses, which has made everyone work differently and embrace new models of work process. But that’s not a bad thing…

18. The capital market is an iceberg.

…There are several examples of private developer organizations that have purchased partial equity in professional design practices in order to be able to do their own projects and to gain return on investments by the strengthened design enterprise. Government bonding authorities are expected to further cool their jets in most regions.

19. Renovation is a bold segment.

…With new construction in suspended animation, repurposing and renewal of existing spaces has proven to be a growth segment for many architects, designers, and planners…

20. Design is a differentiator.

Not even the Great Recession has trumped the importance and differentiation potential of design excellence… Geopolitics outside the United States is placing high value on the importance of design in our collective future — not just designing for problems that need to be solved but designing for prevention.

21. Energy is at stake.

Energy modeling is driving many a project these days, and the design team has an opportunity to own this portion of the project… so get some in-house expertise in smart grid and sensor technologies or partner with a firm that has it…

22. Education is at issue.

“A design education is the law degree of the 21st century,” one design leader noted in the survey. “An architecture education will enable you to undertake any number of practices in fields as varied as entertainment, politics, business consulting, asset management, etc.” That said, there is concern about the current state of architecture education, with established practitioners calling for new recruits to be more educated in professional, business, and energy issues. [Hm, is it too late to go back to school? -jc]

23. Innovation will be disruptive.

…A variety of technologies…will disrupt many professional practices and create opportunities for tomorrow’s leading architects. The Internet is in its adolescence. Building product materials are expected to become more innovative. Curtain walls utilizing nanotechnology for sun shading, prefabricated bathrooms in high-end hotels, green furniture are all contributing to a different landscape to establish new competitive advantages…

24. Lean practices proliferate.

… lean design and lean construction are emerging as potential solutions to the problem of waste in the construction process…

25. Competition escalates.

Competition has been up sharply and will continue to be a very real factor in the way professional practices strategize for the next couple of years as least… One consequence of the competition is that you will have to continue working both harder and smarter to land jobs…  yet most leading firms report respectable margins, and many are at best-of-class levels and navigating right through the economic uncertainty.

Got all that? If you’re really interested in more, they’ll sell you a 66-page report.  Maybe if I get better at predicting and following these trends I’ll be able to afford their next report.


This entry was posted in Economy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.