Thursday, April 29, 2010

What do you have under there?

An architect has taken a unique approach to promoting sustainabilty by introducing a line of eco-friendly undewear. The skivvies came out just in time for Earth Day last week, and 10% of the proceeds from the sale of the unmentionables go to various non-profit organizations.

I don't imagine these designs will become part of Casual Friday attire, or at least not on the outside, but it's an interesting way to support your profession and donate to a good cause nonetheless.

What do you think of these? Have you bought any? Do you wish you thought of the idea?

Sometimes it's good to lose

How can you win when you lose? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, when you cut down on your building's energy consumption more than your fellow competitors, you're the big winner of the first National Building Competition. Fourteen buildings across the country will be pitted against each other in the contest to see which one can trim the most fat - or energy - through August. The competition is being run in the spirit of the popular NBC TV show "The Biggest Loser," which encourages overweight combatants to embrace a more healthy lifestyle.

What do you think of this idea? Who do you think will win? What is your company doing to encourage less energy consumption in its designs? Will you be putting those ideas to good use in our second  Board Room contest?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Infrastructure firm with a sense of humor

If you've always wanted to wear a goofy mustache while showing your support for a construction company, have we got a deal for you: Balfour Beatty of London is looking for its funniest fan to be part of the 2010 NAIOP Bus Tour/Trade Show. The funniest fan can head home with an iPhone and Pico iPhone Pocket Projector, so be sure to check it out if you plan to be in the Herndon, VA area on May 6.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Another fun contest idea

In our previous post, we unveiled the second in what we hope will be a series of contests here in The Board Room. Today, we introduce you to The Urban Assembly School of Design's Iron Designer Challenge. The competition is based on "Iron Chef," a popular cooking show in which two experts square off and must use a secret ingredient in five dishes and complete them in an hour. You can read the rules of this challenge for yourself, but I don't expect any cooking to be involved. It sounds like a cool idea. Wish I could be a judge!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's Earth Day! Get inspired!

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, so we here in The Board Room are looking to do our part to preserve Mother Earth. To that end, and in keeping with the spirit of ingenuity and innovation we see so often in the design industry, I bring to you our second contest. First, a little background on how it was hatched:

Developer Arthur Huang of the Miniwiz Sustainable Energy Development Co. recently deigned a new expo building in Taipei, Taiwan made from thousands of plastic drink bottles that have been custom-formed with honeycomb fittings to join together and form huge, high-strength, transparent walls. Huang says the project was inspired by the huge numbers of plastic bottles discarded into trash bins. Taiwan's residents are estimated to use and throw away 4.6 billion plastic bottles each year.

So, how does this relate to you? I'm so glad you asked:

We're looking for you - or your firm - to come up with a similar idea and create an actual scale model. Does your office generate a lot of empty bottles? If so, it's time to turn those babies into the inspiration for a new building. It doesn't have to be bottles - it could be anything that isn't getting used and is piling up in a corner.

Let's see what you can do. The best idea gets a Bring TIM Meeting Cost Calculator and Clock. We'll set the deadline for May 28 to get your juices flowing and ideas percolating. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Billings show slight improvement, more to come?

The end of the first quarter of 2010 brought with it another slight bump in the monthly gauge of design activity by the American Institute of Architects, but the 46.1 number still reflects a decline in billings in March.
The AIA’s Architectural Billings Index was up from 44.8 in February, but until it reaches 50.0, it will still be a sign that the industry hasn’t yet turned the corner on the economic recession.

“It’s up a little, but right now we’re treading water,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker told ZweigWhite in an exclusive interview about the latest numbers. “We’re waiting for something to pop through. There’s really not a lot of strength in these numbers.

“I thought we’d see a little movement, but frankly I thought it would be a bit more. We’re still working our way through this, but the number for March is the highest it’s been for a year and a half,” he says.

New project inquiries made a significant jump from 52.0 in February to 58.5 in March, but Baker has discounted the rise in that number for several months, saying it hasn’t been translating into new work despite the move upward. He has said the increase is likely due to more firms reaching out for any projects they think could possibly generate work for them at a time when revenue is at a premium.

Baker believes an increase in payrolls in the larger economy could bode well for the future in terms of billings in the design industry. He continues to point to the second half of 2010 as the time when the ABI will finally crack the elusive 50.0 barrier, reflecting an increase in design activity.

“If we see a 1- to 1.5-point increase for each of the next three months, we’re right there at that 50 number so we’re on track to reach it by the middle of this year,” he says. “That bump we’re seeing in payrolls will ultimately percolate into the design sector. It’s just a question of when it happens.”

After the recession in 2001, it took about three years for the billings index to reach 50 again, Baker says, and of course that recession was not nearly as deep as the one in which we are now engulfed.

“The more new jobs there are out there, these companies are going to need more facilities,” he says. “There’s been a pretty tight correlation over time between jobs picking up and design activity, then of course you see construction pick up nine to 12 months later.”

Baker doesn’t believe the apparent glut of commercial space will slow down the design recovery, saying the vacancy rates aren’t significantly higher than they have been in the trough of previous downturns.

Don’t look for the passage of health care reform to be the answer when it comes to design activity picking up, he says.

“I really don’t see a direct connection there,” Baker says. “I haven’t heard a good persuasive argument that the sector will change very much as a result of health care reform.”

The federal economic stimulus package could help, as about half of the money in the pot for design work is expected to be distributed in 2010. Although many have criticized the $787 billion spending package as not delivering the expected results, Baker sees it in a different way.

“The money has to work its way through the economy,” he says.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reed Business Information shutting down 23 trade pubs

Reed Business Information will stop publishing almost two dozen trade publications, most of which have some connection to the AEC industry. The company will continue to publish Reed Construction Digest, but many of its other building and construction titles will be wrapping up their circulation soon after they were unable to find a buyer to keep them going.

What do you think about this development? Do you subscribe to any of the soon-to-be-shuttered titles?

Friday, April 16, 2010

On second thought ...

Famed architect Frank Gehry attempted to clarify his remarks about LEED this week, saying he's more upset about the status symbol it's become in the industry than about the concept itself. It's hard to figure out if the original comments were simply taken out of context or if Gehry had been getting pressure to retract them.

What do you think of what Gehry said -- the first time and the second time? Is there any merit to his thoughts?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Coming next week: Our second Board Room contest

For those who missed out on the chance to redesign the hot dog and earn a swanky new wardrobe accompaniment for their troubles, I bring you this announcement: The Board Room will launch its second contest one week from today. Not coincidentally, that's Earth Day, so you can imagine there will be a tie-in to green building and sustainability to this contest. We'll also be putting your Building Information Modeling and Integrated Project Delivery skills to the test, so I hope you're ready for the challenge!

More details to come. Stay tuned to this space for updates.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress ...

Photo of construction worker's heroism earns Pulitzer

It's not often that the AEC industry crosses paths with the committee that hands out Pulitzer Prizes, but there are exceptions to every rule, and this year represents one of those exceptions. A photo in the Des Moines Register showing a construction worker rescuing a woman from the Des Moines River took home the honor this year. Congratulations to all involved, from the photographer to the construction worker to the woman he saved from the raging river.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is it really a competition when the winner is hand-picked?

A so-called competition to design a new business school building at the University of South Carolina ended in controversy when the donor hand-selected Rafael Vinoly Architects as the winner of the $4 million job, canceling all other bids on the project. Vinoly was seen as a finalist, but wasn't likely to win the job. Several firms say they spent more than $100,000 preparing a bid for this work and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education has guidelines that specifically state that a donor "may not retain any explicit or implicit control over the use of a gift after acceptance by the institution."

Were you bidding on this work? What do you think of how the process was handled?

Jacobs Engineering to be sold to private equity firms?

Rumors are swirling about a possible buyout of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (Pasadena, CA), a 55,000-person technical professional consulting firm, by a private equity firm. Jacobs has received a $56-per-share takeover offer from interested parties Blackstone and Texas Pacific Group, according to Dow Jones on Friday. This will be a development that bears watching and one that could greatly shake up the industry landscape. Jacobs has remained active in the M&A marketplace, including a deal in February to acquire Jordan, Jones and Goulding, Inc. (Atlanta, GA), a 500-person civil engineering firm that is expected to strengthen Jacobs' standing in the burgeoning water and wastewater market.

What do you think about this speculation? Do you expect a deal to be done? If so, what comes next?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mobile homes with a view

Everyone hates having to move, with the biggest pet peeve being packing a bunch of boxes in one place and unpacking them in another. Well, what if there were a way for you to move but never have to pack or unpack another box? Brazilian architect Felipe Campolina has designed a concept for a residential tower comprised of portable, stackable apartment units, which he says opens up new possibilities for ways of living in the city. His design would allow owners to take their home with them when they travel.

What do you think of this idea? Do you think it will catch on? Would you want to live in one?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

You can't fight City Hall - but you can redesign it

Long maligned as one of the ugliest buildings in America, Boston City Hall could soon have a new look. Like many of these subjective lists, though, beauty (or in this case, a lack of it) is in the eye of the beholder. Could the Hub run the risk of upsetting a whole new set of critics if it redesigns its landmark edifice.

What do you think of the current building? Do any of the redesigns impress you enough to say it's time to switch things up?

Is your architecture firm a sweat shop?

All of us complain about our jobs from time to time, but when an entire profession gets the reputation of being littered with sweatshop-like firms, there's clearly a problem. Complaints about long hours and not enough pay seem to be on the rise these days across the industry.

So, what's it like at your firm? Have you seen the "sweatshop" mentality at your firm or one where you used to work? Who is to blame for the proliferation of these substandard working conditions? What should be done about them?

Frank Gehry isn't a LEED-ing man

Renowned architect Frank Gehry spoke out this week about the idea of LEED certification, saying the expense of building more sustainable buildings outweighs the benefits of this deisgn method. He said many of the certifications are given for "bogus stuff" that "really don't save energy."

What's been your experience with LEED certification and green building? Have you made it a priority at your firm?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Your board is not a congress!

It's somewhat fitting that the honor of our 100th post in The Board Room since we launched it in early November goes to ZweigWhite President and CEO Ian Rusk. After hearing from several attendees at the first Principals Academy session about the increasing politicization of boards of directors, he talks about why your firm probably needs to be more selective in who it lets join the board:
"Congress [n. kong’ gres]: a formal meeting or assembly of the representatives of different nations, constituent states, independent organizations or other groups.

"Board of Directors: A body of elected or appointed members who jointly oversee the activities of a company or organization. In a stock corporation, the board is elected by the stockholders and is the highest authority in the management of the corporation. Typical duties of boards of directors include:
· governing the organization by establishing broad policies and objectives;
· selecting, appointing, supporting and reviewing the performance of the chief executive;
· ensuring the availability of adequate financial resources;
· approving annual budgets;
· accounting to the stakeholders for the organization's performance.

[source: Wikipedia]

"In today’s political climate, I probably could not draw a more unflattering comparison, but I’m afraid to say that many firms operate their boards of directors as if they were congresses. This is a mistake and leads to board meetings that look like something you might watch on CSPAN. Note the following key difference in the above definitions: A congress consists of representatives of various groups or constituents. A board of directors consists of individuals elected by the shareholders to govern the corporation and be accountable to those same shareholders.

"In so many cases I see firms make the mistake of electing directors to “represent” offices, or disciplines, or some other operational constituent. I’ve even seen firms elect directors to represent demographic groups within the company. This has the potential to set the stage for the type of dysfunction we see in government bodies.

"Don’t get me wrong: a diversity of backgrounds and experience on your board is a very good thing, but it must be clear to all directors that their role is to represent the interests of ALL shareholders, NOT the interests of the Boise office, or the other 'junior' shareholders, or the MEP engineers.

"Invariably, a privately held firm’s board will be made up mostly, if not exclusively by members of the management team, and most of those will be on the operations side, so it can be hard for these directors to take off their Boise office manager hat and put on their shareholder representative hat.

"My strongest recommendation to firms facing this corporate governance challenge is to add one or more outside directors to their board. This should be someone that brings unique experience or perspective to the table--perhaps a retired executive from another A/E firm (ideally one larger and/or more successful than your own) or even a client organization. An attorney or financial professional might offer useful insight and perspective. Maybe a business professor from a nearby university would be a good addition to your board (just watch out for the pure academics with no real-world business experience). In all cases, you need to be careful of conflicts of interest.

"I’ve seen how board meeting dynamics change with the addition of such outside directors. Outside directors are often the people to point out the elephants in the room or confront issues that inside directors might be reluctant to. Their very presence often puts a damper on the personal squabbling and bickering that so frequently derails private company board meetings. And as you’re usually paying for their time, it provides a strong incentive to have an efficient and productive meeting."

So, what do you think? Have you lived through all-day board meetings that could have been a lot shorter if there weren't so many "special interests" involved? How does your board of directors election work?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Child care goes green at Harvard

The education about green building is starting early on the Harvard University campus. A modular day care will be used to house tykes for the next 18 months or so while their permanent quarters are built. We hope the day care providers use this as an opportunity to educate the youngsters about sustainability and the importance of extending the life of building materials. Maybe there's a future firm leader in the bunch too!

Builders grasping at straws - in a good way

Everything old is new again. In an age where space-age just isn't current enough, it seems that the use of straw as a building material is back in vogue. Not only does straw present a cost-effective alternative to brick, wood, steel, et. al., it also offers surprisingly high levels of warmth.

Has your firm explored projects with straw as a building component? What do you think of this idea?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lessons from Mr. Hooper, Mr. Spacely and Mr. Krabs

Who knew you could actually learn something about running your A/E firm from children's TV? These days, you should take your inspiration from wherever you can get it. Sure, they're all fictional characters, but just watching how Mr. Krabs (the marketing wiz), Mr. Spacely (the hothead), and Mr. Hooper (the welcoming, friendly father figure) ran their small businesses could teach you something about how you're running yours.

What kind of leader are you? What kind would your employees say you are? Are you happy with your leadership style or just unsure how to change it?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Social media at center of National Architecture Week

The American Institute of Architects is putting social media in a leading role for National Architecture Week this year. Consider this morning's announcement - posted on Facebook, no less - from Sybil Walker Barnes, the AIA's director of social media:
"We're getting ready for National Architecture Week. Won't you join us?

"This year National Architecture Week will be part of our Architecture Week 2010 initiative, what we hope will be a yearlong online conversation about design. We're kicking off this venture Sunday, April 11, through Saturday, April 17, on our Architecture Week 2010 fan page:;  Become a fan!

"With the theme 'Design Matters,' the week will feature a series of online conversations on sustainability/environment, design, economy, education, housing, transportation and health care—all designed to illustrate how design shapes everyone’s lives.

"Architecture Week 2010 will be the hub for the week's activities but we'll also include a chat on Twitter on Wednesday, April 14, at 2 p.m. EST. See;

"So get ready to connect, learn, and have fun. Hope to 'see' you during National Architecture Week."

What do you think of this approach? Will you become a fan of the AIA on Facebook? Will you join in the Twitter chat? How do you feel about the advancement of social media into the AEC industry?