Friday, February 26, 2010

Survey says ...

Did you know 81% of architecture, engineering, planning and environmental consulting firms have dress codes? Have you heard that 36% of firms offer benefits for domestic partners, up from 14% in 2001? Would you have guessed that 38% of firms have policies on green commuting these days? Or that almost two-thirds of firms have policies against employee moonlighting? Or that almost one-third have policies dictating what you can display in your workspace?

If you think those statistics are interesting, you just need to get your hands on ZweigWhite's brand new 2010 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey for hundreds more compelling tidbits from HR departments across the industry. If you haven't already ordered a copy for your firm, it's about time you did so, if for no other reason, to find the answers you know you need.

Blue ribbons for green building bills

The U.S. Green Building Council has released its top 10 green building bills, with the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - more commonly known as the federal economic stimulus bill - taking top honors. The first major initiative of the Obama administration has been roundly criticized for not turning the economy around as quickly as some people had expected, but this list represents high praise for the effort.

What do you think of the USGBC's list? What's missing? What's ranked too high? What's ranked too low?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ABI sinks in January

It was “more of the same” for the monthly indicators of design activity in January, with the Architectural Billings Index falling almost three points from 45.4 in December to 42.5 in December.

Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), told ZweigWhite he looks at the January figures as “a modestly negative signal,” saying the 42.5 number is similar to the levels of last summer. Any score above 50 indicates growth in design activity.

“It’s certainly a setback,” he said. “There’s no sign of moving toward a recovery.”

But, with his eyes on mid-2010 for several months now, Baker still thinks his target of the second half of the year for a recovery across the industry is reasonable.

“It continues to be a slow, troubled recovery, so we’re taking this month to month,” he said. "If the number is still in the low 40s in April and May, I might retrench a little bit on the idea of mid-year being the focus for the recovery.

“For better or worse, it does turn pretty quickly. There’s enough good news coming out of the broader economy now that we should start seeing better numbers,” Baker said.

He pointed to an increase in retail sales and overall manufacturing as good signs for the ABI, especially when added to the uptick in gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2009 and leveling in the unemployment rate.

New project inquiries were at 52.5 for January, but Baker doesn’t see that number meaning much when the plus-50 scores haven’t translated into new work in the last several months. The AIA may adjust the factors that are included in that calculation by the end of the year, he said.

The Midwest ABI was 48.0 for January, with the Northeast (45.7), South (41.3), and West (40.5) rounding out the scores. All stayed at about the same level as December, with the Midwest representing “a pretty healthy number,” Baker said.

Residential led the sector breakdown at 50.1, followed by commercial/industrial (44.9), institutional (43.1), and mixed (40.3). Institutional work tailed off recently after a few solid months, Baker says, largely due to a lack of state and local government funding.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Building the perfect eats

By now, you've all heard about the American Academy of Pediatrics' warning to parents about hot dogs being a choking hazard for young children and the need for a redesign of what is considered by many to be the perfect food. Who better to tackle this challenge than the people who design for a living, right?

It's time for the designers out there to put on your thinking caps and come up with a new design for this ballpark favorite. Forget about simply cutting the hot dog into smaller pieces; that's a copout, and it's never going to win you the prestige a challenge like this brings with it. We're looking for new ways of thinking, new approaches to the old way of doing business. We want to hear your ideas for making the hot dog safer for kids to eat. The winner will get an exclusive (possibly eBay-worthy) piece of ZweigWhite memorabilia you'll relish (pun intended, of course) to proudly display in your office and bring with you on that next pitch for a bridge, building, or highway.

The winner will be announced here on Friday, March 5. That's not a lot of time, so put some mustard on those designing tools or you'll be forced to play "ketchup" at the last second. Get those entries to us - and spread the word. Don't confuse this contest - which we'll call the Wurst Form - with our Best Firms To Work For rankings or Hot Firm list, though.

Monday, February 22, 2010

For the architect who has everything ...

I'm told the Frank Gehry collection at Tiffany has been around for a while, but it's new to me, and may be new to many of you in the design world. I wish I had seen it a couple of weeks ago so I could've shared it with you before Valentine's Day, but there are plenty of special occasions on the calendar, so get shopping! New items include star-shaped bangles and rings ranging in price from $250 to $600. The overall collection ranges in price from $8,400 for an 18K torque necklace to $40 for a white China rock tumbler, so clearly there's something for every price range.

Do you own any of these pieces? Do your fellow architects know who designed it - or at least put his name on it? What do you think of the collection?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Help for Haiti

With the damage estimate in Haiti now up to about $14 billion, it's clear the AEC community will be heavily involved in the recovery in that region for years - if not decades - to come. This weekend, a global design showcase will highlight some of the early ideas on techniques and materials that could help to rebuild the earthquake-ravaged country. The event is expected to last 24 hours and progress among cities around the world as it streams over the Internet. The hope is to involve 200,000 people and raise $1 million for Architecture for Humanity.

Check The Zweig Letter for continuing coverage of the rebuilding of Haiti, including interviews with firm leaders who have been there in the weeks since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Will your firm participate in the design showcase? Will you watch any of the coverage? Do you have a favorite design?

Have you hugged an engineer today?

For those who haven't heard, we're smack-dab in the middle of National Engineers Week, with the seven-day celebration wrapping up tomorrow with Discover Engineering Family Day in Washington, D.C. And, while Barbie isn't headed to a career in architecture any time soon, organizers of this weeklong celebration held the annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day earlier this week.

One unfortunate bit of news related to National Engineers Week: Greeting card companies have yet to jump on the bandwagon and add it to their slate of occasions worth celebrating. I always wondered why they made those cards that were blank inside. Now we know.

Is your firm doing anything to celebrate the week? Send us your pictures and let us know your stories.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The graying of the AEC industry

Statistics show there could be a steady increase in the senior set in prominent roles at firms across the country for the next two decades. Whatever the reason for that, it stands to reason that the longer the older, and presumably wiser, members of the management team stay on board, the fewer opportunities it will allow for younger proteges to advance their careers and run the firms themselves. That can't be seen as a good thing, and has generated a lot of buzz across the blogosphere.

How does your firm handle the torch-passing? Do you let the founder or long-time owner dictate when it's time for him or her to go, or is there a realization that the firm can only advance by staying current and keeping tabs on its clients' needs today, not its needs from 20 or 30 years ago?

Safety matters

Last week's death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili kicked off the 2010 Winter Olympics on a somber note and has left all sides pointing fingers, with Olympic officials blaming youth and inexperience while still adding protective walls and changing the starting points for official runs to a safer distance. The goal of organizers appeared to be to make the sport a commercial success while making safety a secondary concern.

How would your firm have handled this situation if you were designing what you thought could be an unsafe track - or building for that matter? Do you do what the client says, try to convince the client that a disaster could be in the offing, or leave the project in your rear-view mirror?

Friday, February 12, 2010

No architecture in Barbie's future

While some may argue her dimensions could only be dreamed up by an engineer, it looks like Barbie won't be making a foray into architecture any time soon. We told you earlier this week about the effort to bring America's most recognizable doll into the AEC space, but alas the votes are counted and the blonde bombshell will be spending 2010 as a news anchor and computer engineer.

So, where can young girls turn for inspiration when it comes to a career in architecture? Does your firm reach out to children to inspire them to consider a path to the design field or wait until they get to college?

Business advice with an edge

Are you putting profits first? If not, you should be, according to controversial book author and business founder George Cloutier, who specializes in advising small and midsize businesses and turning troubled companies around. In a wide-ranging, and typically blunt interview, Cloutier questions the wisdom of family businesses, says many workers are below-average these days, and blasts the ideas of going to trade shows and including sweat equity in your business plan. If nothing else, it's an interesting take on business today.

What do you think of Cloutier's opinions? Do you follow any of this advice at your firm? Will you now?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rebuilding lives, not just homes

Cameron Sinclair, the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and the Open Architecture Network, has an interesting take on what architects must do in response to the earthquake in Haiti. The Zweig Letter has touched on some of the ideas for rebuilding the decimated Haitian landscape, with more perspectives to come in the Feb. 15 issue -- and many more, to be sure. Sinclair's take is this is not the time for trying something new.

What do you think about his opinion? Would you rather see tried and true methods used in Haiti or do you see this as an opportunity to be creative, innovative, bold, and cutting-edge? Will you be part of the effort?

Top o' the world, Ma! Oh, never mind!

Last month, The Board Room told you about the last-minute payout for naming rights of the world's tallest building. This week, the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa was shut down, presumably because of an electrical problem. So, it could be a while before anyone else is able to see those majestic views from those historic heights.

Did you get a chance to scale to the top of the tower? How far could you see? What did you think?

Disaster-proof house?

We're not sure if anything could have prevented all of the devastation that came to Haiti during last month's earthquake or to New Orleans duringg Hurricane Katrina, but one Miami building materials firm claims it has found a way to construct a disaster-proof home. Not only does InnoVida claim to have found the solution to homes in the path of a natural disaster, it also says its materials can help homeowners feel secure during the climate change era and in the days of affordable housing crisis.

So, what do you think? Have you included any of these materials in your projects? Do you think they work?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Barbie the architect?

A University of Buffalo professor is touting America's favorite career woman as a future architect.Toymaker Mattel is putting Barbie's next career up for a vote, and architect is one of the choices for the shapely icon's next stint in the job market. With the AIA's push to increase the diversity of its profession through the 2008 Gateway Commitment, we wonder if anyone from the headquarters is putting out the word about Barbie's desire to give architecture a whirl, or possibly using the professor's push and Mattel's inclusion of their profession in its meetings with young girls still wondering what they want to be when they grow up.

What do you think about the UB professor's efforts? Will you vote for Barbie as an architect? What effect do you think it could have on young girls if architect wins the contest?

Bay Bridge on Google Earth

I just read that the ongoing construction of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco will be tracked on Google Earth through its completion in 2013. I can see a lot of architects and engineers logging on to chart the massive bridge's progress and nitpick the methods as it moves forward.

Would you be willing to have one of your projects watched by the world as it was under construction? Will you log on to watch the Bay Bridge construction?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The future of infrastructure

What if cracked roads could heal themselves? What if pipes could be installed without digging trenches? Sure, it sounds crazy, but who ever expected you'd be able to log on to the Internet from your phone when those clunky models were all the rage in the 1980s? We haven't seen flying cars hit the mass market yet, but we could see underground power lines that heal themselves, among many innovations, in the next decade or so. Sure, you'll have to wait a while for some of these ideas, but are they worth it?

Which of these ideas do you see as the most viable? Which of them do you wish you had right now?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fungus among us

There has been plenty of talk in the last several weeks about the exorbitant cost of replacing and rebuilding the earthquake-ravaged landscape of Haiti, but here's one relatively inexpensive solution I haven't heard about: fungus. An artist and an entrepreneur are teaming up and testing fungi for its strength and have been impressed with the early results.

What do you think about this idea? Is your firm bold enough to give this a shot? What other interesting materials do you think could enter the marketplace in the coming years? Are you a fan of this sort of innovation or would you prefer to stick to tried and true materials?