Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Searching for business development direction

John Soter, a principal in ZweigWhite's Strategic Advisory Services group, chimes in this afternoon with his thoughts on better business development:

Hey, how many of you get this kind of business development direction?

Here’s the secret: there is no secret. The recipe consists of equal parts reach, message, and effort. Many feel like fish being asked to fly, or birds being asked to swim. You may say, "Well, some birds do swim and some fish do fly." I say, "not many!"

There is just no way around generating leads, planting seeds, uncovering and understanding needs, qualifying and avoiding getting into the weeds, nurturing the relationship through good deeds, and delivering so they succeed.

What do you think? How does your firm do its business development these days?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Architecture students going retro

Architecture students are going back to the drawing board -- literally -- as hand-drawing is once again emerging as a lesson at colleges and universities across the country. In this age of technology, it's interesting to see this return to the roots of design.

What does this say for the future of the industry? Does it have any effect on the role of BIM or IPD? Are you more likely to hire someone who can hand-draw a design or do it on a computer?

Is firm's name change simply divine?

A Big Apple design firm with more than half a century of tradition behind it has decided to change its name to reflect the new reality of the company. The former Polshek Partnership is now Ennead, a name that refers to a Greek term of nine deities in Egyptian mythology. There are nine partners at Ennead.

So, what happens if one of the partners leaves? Or they want to add another one?

What do you think of this new name, given its origins? Has your firm changed names for reasons other than a merger or acquisition? What reaction did it get?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

ABI loses steam after three straight months of increases

After reaching its highest level since the start of the economic recession in late 2008, the monthly gauge of design activity by the American Institute of Architects stumbled in May, falling below its March level.

The 45.8 number means there remains a decline in design activity for the month, an issue the ABI has been dealing with for most of the recession, AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker says.

Much of the drop, he tells The Board Room in an exclusive interview, is centered on worry and concern, from small firms especially, about the larger economy and how that volatility could affect the A/E space. The stock market “took a big hit” in May, largely because of panic over the economy in Europe. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill could also play a role, he says.

“Small firms are certainly a little more vulnerable, particularly in a down economy,” Baker says. “Larger firms tend to be working more on larger projects, have larger backlogs, so they don’t move around as much in terms of being concerned about things going on in the rest of the world.”

The commercial/industrial sector remains one of the bright spots in this month’s index, moving from 48.5 in April to 51.3 in May. That means that sector has jumped almost five points in just two months. Institutional work, on the other hand, slid back to 43.4 in May, making it the lowest-ranked area.

By geography, the Northeast (50.6) and Midwest (48.5) provide the most reason for an optimistic outlook, but overall the numbers were disappointing, Baker says.

“This is certainly a move in the wrong direction after three months where we picked up almost six points,” he says. “It looked like we were developing a head of steam for the last few months. I’m not really sure what’s going on.”

The economic uncertainty in May led more respondents— and more economic pundits— to revive the theory of a double-dip recession, Baker says. That would mean the economy would recover to some degree, but then quickly decline again before fully bouncing back.

“I’ve definitely heard more about that, and had that theory get more traction in the past month than I had in the previous four or five months,” Baker says. “It’s getting to the point where it’s difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen from month to month. With manufacturing numbers going up and housing starts coming down, this is a vulnerable period in the economy, so things can change the momentum pretty quickly.”

For more on the ABI and ZweigWhite's exclusive interview with Kermit Baker, check out the June 28 issue of The Zweig Letter.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pink hotel has neighbors seeing red

With colors such as desire pink, fussy pink and deep deep pink, the Walkabout hotel in Hollywood, FL, is stirring up the ire of its beachfront community neighbors. The city is asking a group of University of Miami architecture students to help create a color palette for the city, and property owners would be able to apply for paint-only grants up to $10,000 to help improve their properties.

What do you think of the idea of a pink hotel and the attempts to mediate the controversy? Has your firm ever been involved in such a spat over a client's color choices?

Monday, June 21, 2010

LEGO reaches new heights. Can you?

For those who missed the latest feat of engineering excellence, there's a new world record holder in the arena of LEGO towers.

On a related note, we're nearing the home stretch of our deadline for our second contest here in The Board Room. Please use your creativity well in the final few days -- and win a prize!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"This place seems REALLY familiar ... I feel like I've been here before"

Although we as North Americans may find it hard to even consider using the pieces from an old stadium to assemble new digs for our favorite teams, the practice is quite common in Europe. The latest example of this "recycled stadium" approach will be on display in Vancouver this weekend, where the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League will call Empire Field their temporary home until their old home, BC Place, is ready for play in November 2011. Empire Field will then be dismantled and sent back to Switzerland, where it will surely find another team looking for short-term digs.

What do you think about this idea? Is this an idea that, like soccer (sorry, World Cup fanatics!), is only likely to take root across The Pond?

Battle of the Sexes has a new front-runner

For the first time in American history, there are more women in the workforce today than men. While we think it's too soon to call for The End of Men," as The Atlantic does, it's certainly something to consider. It might be a while before we see the scale tipped in favor of women in the A/E industry, but there are certainly many more females running their own firms, making the financial decisions or taking on other leadership roles across the design space.

What do you think about these findings? How long before the A/E industry joins the rest of the country?

Note to self: Use Post-Its to design perfect projects

There's no one who's reading this who hasn't used a Post-It note for SOMETHING in their lives. But who among us would've even considered using the sticky slips of paper to figure out how best to design a new swath of public space? Kudos to the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation for listening to the clients and doing what they wanted. Sure, this is a public project that needed the support of the people, but why can't all projects be done this way - with the client in mind?

What do you think of this approach? Will you try it in your next pitch?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Look, up in the sky! It's an award-winning building!

The much-celebrated Burj Khalifa was named this year's best tall building in the Middle East by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, joining a half-dozen other sky-scraping edifices at the top of the heap.

What do you think of this year's list? How do you feel about these sort of behemoths? Have you ever been part of building one?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A/E industry rebounding, but when will creativity return?

As watchers of the A/E industry continue to target the second half of 2010 as the time when the field will show its first notable signs of life in almost two years, there is a report on CNN featuring AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. He predicts an emphasis on substance over style and a lack of new "masterpieces" as firms focus on getting the most bang for their design buck.

What do you think of Baker's prediction? Are you seeing this in the work your firm is doing now?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The next generation of engineering firm leaders?

If you haven't started thinking about ownership transition at your firm, you should - today! For those of you who are already planning the future of your firms, though, a recent article in The New York Times by Winnie Hu might help you figure out who your engineering firm's president will be in 2050. It's never too early to start thinking about what's next in the engineering world, and several schools are doing just that. Sure, the kids can't yet spell "engineering" yet, but they figured out an effective way to keep the Big Bad Wolf from huffing and puffing and blowing a little pig's house down.

What do you think about these engineering lessons for youngsters? Any suggestions on what they should include in the curriculum?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Apparently, going green DOES cost more!

If you haven't heard yeard about the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards' plan to raise its fees an average of 20%, I guess this post makes us the bearers of bad news. The reason for the fee hike? The council is switching from a paper-based system to all-electronic. We're still struggling to understand why that means the fees should be higher, but it seems like poor timing, given the struggles across the AEC industry for the past couple of years.

What do you think? How much deeper will your firm have to dig to remain certified through NCARB?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Trump selling tubs so he won't take a bath

If you've always wanted a piece of Donald Trump in your projects, here's your chance -- well, sort of. It seems The Donald has some extra Catalina bathtubs after the wrong sizes were ordered for his Trump SoHo Hotel project. The asking price is $250 and up. We're guessing the drains will not be clogged with any of that famous Donald Trump hair, although for the price, maybe they should be!

Clearly, someone forgot to use Integrated Project Delivery! Wonder if the person who ordered the tubs was called into the board room for a little one-on-one time with the world-famous real estate mogul?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Retro-fitting: Going green saves green

If you're still running up against owners who question the validity of green building and sustainable design, particularly those with spaces to renovate in the Big Apple, soon there could be no question as to the value of going green. Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation is financing the creation of a database to track the savings by hundreds of retrofitted buildings in New York City. It's a small sample size, to be sure, but it's a start and could provide the evidence many need to be convinced green building is here to stay.

What do you think about this? What effect do you expect it to have on the green building initiative?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What should BP do?

Think you've got a great idea on how to fix the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The Zweig Letter looked in the May 31 issue at what changes could be afoot in the business of constructing and installing these rigs, The early leader is putting a larger pipe around the broken one to control the spill.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have a favorite? One that you would (or will) add to the list?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Does creativity help or hurt job seekers?

ZweigWhite's Strategic Advisory Services team recently received an email with the subject line "Superbowl winner loses job," in which a former A/E firm leader expressed his desire for us to help him find a new job, a function the firm does occasionally but not as a regular function anymore. The sender attached his resume and included a cover letter/press release that read:

"Most people would want to know the story behind that headline, the story of a quarterback who won the Superbowl then lost his job, a quarterback who led several last place teams to the playoffs, a quarterback who played a major role to win a franchise for his town, a quarterback who threw a touchdown pass to win the Superbowl and then lost his job because his team folded. My story as a Senior Architectural Manager has many similarities.

"My architectural career has been punctuated by a series of successes where I turned around failing branch office and studio operations and led them to success and profitability. I played a pivotal role to win a major contract for my firm with Lowe’s Home Improvement worth millions in annual billings. I joined a major A/E firm to establish a new office, won over a difficult client to become his go-to consultant for the most sensitive projects, and then lost my job when the firm closed the office. I’m like the Superbowl winner who lost his job and I’m looking for a new team!"

What do you think of this approach to finding a new job after being let go from your old position? Would you want to hire someone who took this slant on gainful employment? Does this help or hurt his chances?

Take a left onto Bank of America Road ...

The Tulsa Transportation Advisory Board has recommended a plan that would allow streets and bridges to be named by the highest bidder, according to a recent Tulsa World reprt. The logic goes: If sports arenas are fair game when it comes to corporate logos, why not the highways and by-ways of the community? The mayor is not impressed with the idea, but the fact the adviosry board has recommended it is interesting.

Is this the best way to solve the infrastructure crisis across America? What do you think of this idea? Do you think it will eventually be enacted? If so, what other parts of the country can you see adopting it?

Take two earplugs and call me in the morning

A recent article in the Boston Sunday Globe looks at how noise in hospitals can actually harm the patients who are there to recover from their ailments and what design changes can be made to help the sick feel better faster. A recent special issue of The Zweig Letter looked at the health care market from several design-related angles but didn't touch on this one.

What do you think of this notion? Is your firm in the health care market? Any ideas to cut down the clatter?