We formed the AV and Technology Division of Base4 recently. During the inception period, we spent a lot of time asking ourselves about the state of the industry and how we would react to the top construction design trends that we saw in the marketplace.
I have been fortunate in my career to work on several iconic facilities throughout the years, from stadium and arenas to concert halls. I’ve also done my fair share of small projects. Offices, classrooms, nightclubs, restaurants, and the like.
This mix has given me a fairly unique perspective across a fairly wide swath of the world of facility design. It has been interesting to see the result of financial pressures on small projects slowly creep into larger builds. Similarly, I can trace the introduction of “newer” technologies like BIM from large projects that I worked on several years ago, to smaller projects where I am just now seeing them introduced.
I recently went back through my notes of some of our conversations to list a few points here. I expect you’ve experience some of these trends to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the vertical markets you serve. Here are a few of the more interesting trends:
Design and construction cycles keep getting shorter
I have received schedules with deliverables that were due on dates that had already past when I received the schedule. This makes it more important than ever to have a process for interacting with clients early to define their needs. The later we get in the design process, the harder it is to influence macro changes that can have a dramatic influence on the use of the space.
For AV designers in particular, I think there is a danger of seeing our role as one of fitting equipment into a building, rather than shaping the overall building experience with the architect and the rest of the design team. This is a particular danger within a design/build process when the AVL designer is working directly for the owner, rather than under the architect.
BIM is becoming commonplace… with growing pains
When I was working on an MLB stadium just a few years ago, every firm on the project went out and bought Revit… and then proceeded to throw it away and work in 3D MEP, when the bowl to hours to load in Revit. I have seen two different projects in the same week where every room had to be renumbered, due to phasing or elevation. Don’t get me wrong… BIM and programs like Revit are desperately needed, due to the short build cycles that accompany the short design cycles noted above, but the tools are just getting to the point of wholesale market acceptance and maturity. This means that engineers need vastly enhanced 3D and BIM capabilities compared to just a few years ago.
Clients want a final project budget the day you are retained
This one has kept me up into the wee hours at night staring at Excel spreadsheets. This completely turns the design process on its head. The design/build process has taught companies that they can have an estimator sitting at the table, crunching numbers as we go. Blue Sky honeymoon is gone on many projects. While this may work for construction that makes sense in cost per linear or square foot, AV works differently. This means that now instead of finishing a design, then counting our widgets on paper, we are increasingly doing “spreadsheet engineering”. Another case of methods that have yet to catch up with the times.
Design Budgets are tight
Based on everything we have noted above, you would expect that design budgets would go up, but they have not. Tasked with doing more for less, companies have to either innovate or boilerplate (my catchphrase). The problem is that AV design is at least partly smoke and mirrors for all but the most sophisticated clients.
There is an increasing undercurrent moving the industry towards commoditization
There are several reasons for this problem. Many of them are related to the issues of budget and schedule mentioned above. Others have to do with cash-flow and business models in the industry. In my previous life as an integrator, reviewing specifications and drawings that were copied and pasted was a near daily occurrence. I have reviewed plans for a Baseball Stadium with reference to “center ice” and Basketball Arenas with reference to “50 yard line”.
So what do we do?
In my mind, the way that we tackle the problems above, will go a long way to defining how we provide value as a company. Base4 Technology will not be the right solution for many projects, but we will absolutely dedicate us to getting several things right.
Next week, In our follow-up article on this topic, I’ll outline some of the steps we’ve committed to address these issues. Obviously, these are overall industry trends and to some degree your only option is in the way you react to the situation. Where these trends ultimately lead is a matter of the collective decisions of thousands of firms. Where do you see these trends headed and how is your firm choosing to deal with them? Sign up for our blog so you can get notified when we post our next update.