w h e r e : d o : g o o d : i d e a s : c o m e : f r o m ?

•May 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a great video of Steven Johnson speaking to “Where to good ideas come from?”  The story on the birth of GPS and how it is so prevalent today is quite inspiring.

With practice within my company, I completely agree that great ideas do not just happen instantly by one person, however are a journey of small steps and ideas from several people.  I’ve watched this within my own organization where a superintendent wanted a mobile cart capable of charging his field worker’s tools within an already occupied facility.  The superintendent showed some initial sketches for size and usability but knew nothing in terms of providing mobile power.  In a couple working sessions with other members within the company, there were several people with a background in cars and boats who quickly directed the superintendent to some website which sold a variety of batteries and inverters.  In about a month, we had a prototype being tested in the field.  If you were to talk to the superintendent today, he’d be able to explain why a marine-grade battery is the best solution to his problem and explain several different inverters available on the market today; basically he sounds really smart in regards to this subject.  In retrospect, however, he knew nothing about mobile power solutions, just a simple idea and took feedback and small bits of knowledge leading up to a nicely implemented larger idea.


a : s h i f t : i n : d e s i g n

•March 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

With all of the new technology and processes in the construction industry, the basic structure of how a project is designed and delivered is constantly changing.  Below is an interesting diagram depicting the traditional model of project design and delivery and where the model is trending towards in the future.


As we can see, the ability to impact the cost and functional capabilities of a building has an inverse relationship with the cost of design changes.  In more plain English, design change is cheap is you don’t have a building, change orders are expensive during construction, and remodels/retrofits are really expensive once the building is complete.

With the traditional design process of design, bid, and build, we can see that the most effort is spent where the ability to impact the cost and functionality of the project is equal to the cost of the design changes.  What does this mean?  Well, it means that things are just fine.  The most effort is being spent when at a time where it’s not necessarily expensive to make changes, but it’s also not the cheapest.  The problems see here is that there hasn’t been enough time and effort dedicated to early design of the building so during the construction documents phase, a decent amount of design re-work must happen.  This of course has other consequences that could lead into the construction administration phase of the building which in turn results in costly change orders.

But let’s take a look at the preferred design process.  The majority of effort spent during design is spent in early design, allowing for changes to be made at a time of lesser cost.  This model cannot exist in design, bid and build and can only come from more progressive models like design-build, or better yet, integrated project delivery (IPD.)  In order to effectively achieve a descent design in the early design stages to minimize the level of effort from construction documents on, a greater level of commitment is required by not only the architect, but also by all of the owner, consultants, and contractors.

With an integrated, collaborative design up front, the total cost of the project shall be reduced by minimizing late changes which become costly due to the amount of re-work that will be involved.  In order to properly achieve this, a cultural shift must be understood by all.  It is extremely important to gather the imput of the subcontractor’s who shall be installing the various products while the engineers are designing the building.  By combining polar opposites, those who know how to design/draw yet can’t build with those who lack vision but can build anything and everything, a strong design is achieved early and a fast, reliable building is built during construction. 

Other than the design team and contractors, the owner must fully understand this concept as well.  Pre-construction costs must be raised in order to follow this model.  This may be hard to communicate up the food chain as the traditional model indicates that higher pre-construciton costs result in higher construction costs.  With a more collaborative approach, however, the opposite shall become true.  The total cost of the building shall be less expensive and the building’s level of functionality shall be increased.  This is only possible since the necessary design changes to improve the building and minimize cost are allowed to take place at a time where it is beneficial to every party.

s w e e t

•March 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

While doing a little leisurely web surfing, I came across this nice blog post:  http://designerati.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/sweets-bim-collection-free-revit-content/

Looks the the industry’s golden standard and giant for product listing, the Sweet’s Catalog, is moving a couple of steps forward.  While their online listing of free BIM object for download is extremely small compared to their hardcopy product catalogs, at least its a start.  This central, easy-to-find, and free website to grab BIM object will be much better than what’s out there right now. 

In order to find an object right now, it’ll take hours of sifting through online forum’s or require a subscription to third-party object collection companies such as Reed Construction Data’s SmartBIM.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that SmartBIM is actually quite useful and is great for pushing the industry forward at this time.  The developers of SmartBIM go out to various companies and convince them to pay a fee to list their product in the SmartBIM library.  Then to utilize the library, you pay a fee and gain access.  Along with these fees are goodies such as a quality standard of all objects and some fancy drag-and-drop software to help keep all of the objects and families organized.

BUT!  Goodies aside, these object should be free and plentiful.  Most manufacturers offer free AutoCAD downloads for their products because they know that designers are more likely to spec their products if they do so.  Now that design is shifting away from 2D CAD and towards 3D BIM, it’s nice to see some of the smarter manufacturers hoping on board.  Even better, it’s nice to see other industry giants like Sweets help push the technology and offer a free commonplace for manufacturer’s to post their information.

w e b : c o n f e r e n c i n i n g : i s : a : g o

•February 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

After a couple of weeks of research, I’ve finally found a decent software to start web conferencing with.  Our company has licenses to InterCall (formerly Raindance) and e/pop which I’ve toyed around with a little bit now but have found one major drawback with the both of them.  Both of them requires that every user on the web conference downloads and installs their software.

Granted that the software download and install only takes 5-10 minutes which is relatively short, but the fact that software must be downloaded and installed may become annoying.  In our industry, we constantly do business with different companies and different people.  Chances are that a project team will be completely different every 1-2 years due to the nature of the industry.  If you’re an owner, architect, or consultant on different project with different teams, all using different software vendors to do almost exactly the same thing (web conferencing that is), I can see it becoming quite annoying having to install several web conferencing software programs to use for each corresponding project team.

Enter the new acrobat.com.  First of all, acrobat.com was made from our friends at Adobe.  You know, Adobe, the company that has set the market standard for photo editing, universal Internet animation/interaction, and that universally portable document format, PDF?  Well, looks like they’re attempting to create an universal space for web conferencing as well.  At adobe.com, anyone may start an online meeting and invite people to join.  After about 5 minutes of poking around at the interface, I was completely familiar with the program.  This high level of intuitive design is key for a universal program.  The other key?  How about that it is completely web-based?  Sweet.

In order to use it, you just click on the icon, sign-in under a temporary name or create a free user account, wait a couple of seconds for the program to launch, and you’re good to go.  The best part is that you can invite other attendants by sending them a web-link to click on, which then re-directs them to load the program (automatically) and join the meeting.  No downloaded software onto the hard drive, no installation.  Just click and go.

Today I had my first live trial run while coordinating the logistics to do a web-based presentation in a couple of days for some clients several hours away.  The other user who I was coordinating the logistics of this presentation with was excited about the idea of a web-based presentation but was a bit intimidated by the thought.  By running through our logistical conversation using the adobe.com meeting software, we both quickly realized how easy this is going to be and how much potential this program may have.

As discussed from Autodesk’s view on the paperless project, there is a large environmental impact travel may have and a large time commitment that comes with it.  With easy to use software to host web-based meetings, we may meet up instantly from several far away locations and all share our desktops while communicating over a conference line, or VoIP if you really want to be fancy.  This is especially useful since the presentation that I’m planning on giving should only last for about 30 min.  When considering that it would take at least 3 hours of round trip travel to this presentation, suddenly 30 minutes does not seem worth while.  When this travel time is reduced to 0 hours and 0 minutes, there is no problem and no excuse. 

How great is that?

w h y : b u i l d : g r e e n ?

•February 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It may be pretty obvious that building a “green building” is a good thing to do for the environment.  What may not be realized is the significant impact that building green may have on the green in your wallet.  It’s become more common knowledge that green buildings are energy efficient and therefore save money in reduced operating and maintenance costs.  What is not so obvious are the indirect cost savings from green buildings.

The Indoor Environmental Air Quality section of the USGBC’s LEED rating system describes several measures to improve the building occupant’s quality of life.  Some of these measures include increased outside air delivery, low VOC products, chemical source control, thermal comfort measures, and increased daylight inside of the building.  These may sound to be minor benefits for building occupants and probably sound quite costly with little or no ROI.  That is until you see this advertisement from the USGBC:

why build green

At first glance I was quite impressed with $58 billion saved annually from green buildings.  Measures like increased ventilation, construction activity pollution prevention, and low VOC products can be accredited for this.  With more ventilation, if you’re co-worker next to you or near your workstation is sick, chances are that whatever they have is not lingering around in the office, but being vented outside quickly.  Just think what it could be like when we tell our children what the old phrase “I’ve got that bug that’s going around” becomes antiquated.  And remember about sick building syndrome?  Thanks to protecting the ductwork during dusty construction, flushing ductwork before occupancy, and low VOC products that are becoming ever more abundant, this too may become an anecdote.  While I hate the smell of those brand new mobile classrooms when I was younger due to the high levels of VOC’s that were inside the walls, ceilings, and floors, I’ll definitely miss that new car smell which is caused by the same factors.

If $58 billion wasn’t enough of a reason to go green, how about an addtional $180 billion to sweeten the deal?  Sounds like a triple-fudge cake! 

We were born to live outdoors.  It just turns out that it can be quite inconvenient to carry on modern day work outdoors.  Our compromise has led us to a more complacent lifestyle.  That is, until you look at a LEED building.  With increased outside air delivery, more ventilation, and an increased amount of natural sunlight into the entire building we have brought the outdoors back inside.  Because of this, employees are naturally happier for longer periods of time.  Why crave for a corner office when the entire floor of a building has an epic view?  I haven’t looked into how the USGBC has determined that green buildings yield an additional $180 billion in increased productivity but seeing how stringent they are in everything that they have done so far, I’m sure the number is quite legit.

So, if you’re looking at a building a green building and are thinking of cutting some froo-froo, hippie, feel-good features, think again.  An extra $238 billion is just what we need at a time like this, despite what the up-front costs might appear to be.

p a r a d i g m : s h i f t

•January 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The times, they are a changing.  I must admit that it is quite exciting to be in an industry plagued by traditionalism that is now entering a new era.  Not only in is the construction industry improving upon the available technology being developed with BIM and becoming more environmentally via LEED certification, but the very core of the industry is upon a dramatic change with the rise of lean construction.  While I’ve been studying lean construction and taking notes on the project next door that is implementing lean construction, I came across a very bold ad in this week’s edition of ENR during my lunch break.


The backbone of lean construction revolves around this principle of “just in time” delivery.  On our current project, we are not lean in the least.  We’re fortunate enough to have plenty of space to order materials well in advance and store them onsite.  This is nothing unheard of and is actually quite the standard best practice.  The problem is that I’ve seen plenty of time being wasted by just moving materials from one spot to another and then re-coordinating where to move the stockpile next because we must make room for a different trade contractor’s stockpile.  Seems fairly circular to me. 

Now for the paradigm shift: early is worse than late.  Upon first glance this may seem more like a quantum physics theory but lean construction more than just a pie-in-the-sky hippie concept.  It’s been proven as the only way to schedule and build for zero lot line projects, but has been shown to decrease the construction schedule for regular projects as well.  ENR is the industry standard for “what’s going on” and when you turn the cover page here is this full-page ad stating early is worse than late.  Nucor has not only spent a good deal of time and money in developing their “just in time” delivery but have also found it to be so effective and marketable to spend a large amount of money for the #1 ad space position in the magazine.

This is the first time I’ve seen such a large and prominent ad for this methodology and I’m sure that it will not be the last.  I’m sure that the principles of lean construction will soon be advertised as prominently as green construction is advertised now.  The only part that I won’t understand are those who will find themselves years down the road wondering why they never saw this coming, much like the companies that I work with today who are unaware that LEED is even a certification level for a building.


i n t e r e s t i n g : l e e d : i d : c r e d i t

•January 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Green Advantage offers an 8 hour educational course on sustainable practices and principles in construction.  After the course is given, participants can become Green Advantage certified by taking a 90 minute, 60 question exam…open book!  Benefits of the course not only include the ability to quickly and easily educate more construction personnel on sustainable practices, but can qualify the project team for an ID point.

Currently, ID Credit 1 for Innovation and Design awards one point for having at least one LEED AP on the project team.  If you have two or more LEED AP’s on the team, no additional points are earned.  With the Green Advantage program, if 30% of the project team has successfully passed the Green Advantage test, the USGBC shall award and additional point under ID Credit 2:  http://www.greenadvantage.org/usgbc-innovation.php

While I haven’t actually taken this course, I can’t imagine it being too difficult; especially in comparison to LEED AP exam.  If all of our required personnel, i.e.: project managers, project engineers, superintendents, and foreman, were Green Advantage certified, we’d be able to market ourselves with automatically achieving two LEED points by selecting our company alone.  Do note that we already have a substantial number of LEED AP’s to achieve ID Credit 1 and I’m assuming that with such a large number of Green Advantage certified employees in our company, we’d be able to offset the lack of certified employees in other companies. 

Now that I’m finally working on a LEED project, two points can really make the difference between Silver or Gold.  Also, these points would come at no cost to the owner.  Our project has developed from a conceptual design of being just LEED Certified to an pretty comfortable LEED Gold certification due to the owner’s enthusiasm throughout the project.  Since I’ve been able to watch LEED design features be added into the project, I’ve also noted that some points may become relatively expensive. 

The only problem with this idea is that it looks like the Green Advantage program is not available nationwide.  Good thing the GBCI should be rolling out their LEED Green Associate certification in March 2009 as part of thier new credentialling program.  While the details haven’t been released yet, it looks to be like a LEED AP lite: http://www.gbci.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=84.  I’m sure that having 30% of the project team would be an equal or better substitute for a Green Advantage certification.

If I were an owner’s representative, I’d pounce on the opportunity to earn a couple extra points at no cost with very little documentation to collect and manage.