People Profile: James Vandezande

AECbytes Profile (July 30, 2014)

James Vandezande, director of the buildingSMART program at HOK, shares his perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
"I had the benefit of a truly inspiring mentor who allowed me to explore a new career path as an 'architectural technologist' - not a CAD manager, but a design professional who molds the technology to fit the design process and not the other way around."
What is your educational and professional background?

I have a Bachelors degree in Architecture, I'm a registered architect, and I have worked in architectural firms for 20 years in various roles. Over the years, my experiences grew in scale and scope from full services on residential projects, to specialized technical architecture on massive projects, to leadership roles in technology and process innovation. I am an author of the popular "Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture" series of books and the founder of the New York City Revit Users Group. I have served as an adjunct lecturing professor at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and serve on the leadership committee of the AGC BIMForum.

What is your current role? What are the main projects you are involved with?

My current role is the director of the buildingSMART program at HOK. Over the past 4 years with the company, my team has led the transformation of design and delivery services away from just BIM towards a more holistic approach of analysis, simulation, and fabrication work flows.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

I have always been passionate about increasing efficiency and challenging traditional methods. When I started working on more complex projects with larger teams, I learned scripting languages and created tools for my own productivity. These tools were then adopted by the rest of my team, and then the office, and then the rest of the firm. 

At that point, I had the benefit of a truly inspiring mentor who allowed me to explore a new career path as an 'architectural technologist' - not a CAD manager, but a design professional who molds the technology to fit the design process and not the other way around. Since then, I have spent the past 12 years exploring new tools and techniques to improve the architectural experience.

How much of what you do today is related to AEC technology in some form?

I have the good fortune to be surrounded by a wonderful team of experts who each have a unique specialty in terms of research and development. Because of this team, I can focus my energy on change management, quality assurance, and thought leadership. In the end, it's all indirectly related to AEC technology at different levels.

From your vantage point, what do you see as some of the main technological challenges facing the AEC industry today?

There seems to remain a vast gap between powerful features and ease of use in today's AEC software applications. Tools like Revit give you a lower barrier to entry, while more powerful platforms like CATIA are more difficult to learn. We are stuck in a quandary where the industry is increasing the quantity of usage, but not necessarily the quality of the information and its usefulness to downstream stakeholders.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

I used to have a cynical opinion of open data standards, but that viewpoint has changed in recent years. I believe that to support all of the processes that are moving to "the cloud," we must have a strong foundation in open model data standards. We are starting to see real successes in bridging the gap between models and spatial requirements; between design team, builder, and owner; and so on. These successes are built upon server technologies and industry foundation classes (IFC). 

If you had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

My wish is for research projects like AutoCODES to succeed. I feel that these types of projects are keystones that will support many other developments in AEC technology. If AutoCODES succeeds (at least in the United States), we might start to see real requirements to utilize BIM - not just any BIM, but 'good BIM' based on open standards and high quality modeling.

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