People Profile: Finith Jernigan AECbytes Profile (April 11, 2017)

Finith Jernigan, Founder and Principal of Design Atlantic Ltd. and author of the books "BIG BIM little bim" and "BIG BIM 4.0: Ecosystems for a Connected World" shares his perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
"The ecosystem paradigm offers a great opportunity for owners, managers, constructors, designs, and everyone else that do not come from the single application approach to technology. To get these benefits, the industry must move away from the file-centric approach that dominates current AEC technology, and toward modular approaches that liberate our data for the better of all."
What is your educational and professional background?

I have a BS Environmental Design and a Masters in Architecture from the University of Oklahoma, where I taught architectural graphics as a teaching assistant. After graduation, my first job was with NASA.

I moved from NASA to work as a design architect for a medium-sized AE firm that did much government work. During my tenure, I prototyped new foodservice models for the US Marines, designed the first environmental lab to focus on Chesapeake Bay oysters for the University of Maryland, and ultimately focused on high-tech ‘chess-game’ healthcare projects.

From there, I taught design in Saudi Arabia, before returning to the US as a principal of an AEP firm. After much soul searching in the mid-1980’s, we became one of the first firms in the US to implement ArchiCAD.

I then founded a next practices architecture, planning, and management firm. Design Atlantic Ltd. was among the first to implement integrated processes, building information modeling, cost as a constraint, and facilities management technologies to help clients gather facts quicker to optimize decision making. Our projects have included historic school renovations fully in BIM, as early as 1996; work on the US Coast Guard’s groundbreaking Shore Facilities Capital Asset Management Roadmap; and projects for the GSA, US Coast Guard Academy, West Point, and the National Capital Planning Commission with Onuma Inc. Design Atlantic Ltd. has also been involved with BIMStorms from the beginning.

Recognizing the need to bring the entire industry into the world of connected information, I also founded 4Site Press in 2006, under the aegis of which I authored and published BIG BIM little bim in 2007. My latest book, BIG BIM 4.0: Ecosystems for a Connected World, was released on March 4, 2017.


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

Today, I focus on writing aimed at helping others understand the power of connected information. I also continue to support local community focused design projects, such as fire stations, and homeless shelters.

Everything we have worked on since 1996 uses little BIM tools and processes, and everything since 2004 has used BIG BIM. The tools and processes have allowed Design Atlantic Ltd. to leverage what we do, to the benefit of our clients, big and small. Many of our projects are featured as case studies in BIG BIM 4.0.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

My interest in the power of technology started as an aspiration in graduate school. Surely computers could enable us to automate many of the mundane tasks that we were learning?

It took over 20 years, but in 1999, we created an international alliance of architects, security experts, and software wizards to do the things that needed to happen to move such technologies into the mainstream.

As a group, we decided to pull back from trying to push the benefits directly to the AEC market. In place of that effort we decided that only through owners requiring architects, engineers and contractors to use the technology, would the AEC market adapt and make this change. We determined that the federal government represented the largest property owner and influencer in the country, and that is where we had to start.

Through work with the US federal government, the group initiated many of the current integrated delivery initiatives taking place worldwide and was the first virtual enterprise formed to intentionally move BIM and new processes into mainstream use. The group’s work continues to inform current approaches to integrated practice in industry, government, and private practice.

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

I continue to evangelize about the future of the building industry and work with those that are leading the way in an industry that embraces connected information and built environment ecosystems such as I detail in BIG BIM 4.0.

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

I see few ‘technological challenges’ to the future of the built world. Up to this point, the industry has not embraced the proven technologies that already exist. We are far behind other industries in using what is now available.

The never-ending quest for more features, and forcing last generation paradigms onto a world of connected data, drive most to believe that only through the creation of something new and more powerful, can we achieve what is needed, while minimizing or ignoring what is already available. We need to open our eyes to what others are doing.

The challenges facing the AEC industry are people driven, not technology driven.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

Bringing the AEC industry into the 21st century is well within our grasp. However, it’s a big challenge, fraught with many subtleties and complexities. For we are facing a revolutionary change to how we work, not an evolutionary change. The vision for tomorrow is neither easy nor is it driven by little BIM and many of the technologies currently touted in the mainstream. It took about 400 pages and 25 case studies to frame the issues and solutions in BIG BIM 4.0.

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

I wish for a building industry and AEC technology that embraces a connected world view. When we to do this as an industry, we would see scenarios such as:

  • Volunteers in Tijuana using GIS and BIM technology to build entire homes in one day, all managed from across the country in real-time.

  • Residents of a small city seeing their ideas pop up in three dimensions right before their eyes, with all the facts they need to make educated decisions about the future of their community.

  • Teams of designers across the globe acting in unison to design entire metropolitan areas in 24 hours with results that previously took months or years all with zero travel costs.

  • A ship queries the facilities decision framework, and the captain immediately knows the conditions of every port in cruising range, schedules repairs, books hotels and takes care of virtually everything else that happens in the transition from sea to shore.

  • And, many more things that connect and integrate the decisions that people of all types must make every day.

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology that you would like to share?

My fondest wish for the industry is that everyone would step back and look at the ‘first principles’ of the issues we face. And then make fact-based decisions.

The ecosystem paradigm offers a great opportunity for owners, managers, constructors, designs, and everyone else that do not come from the single application approach to technology. To get these benefits, the industry must move away from the file-centric approach that dominates current AEC technology, and toward modular approaches that liberate our data for the better of all.

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Related Archive Articles

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  • In this Viewpoint article, architect and educator Randy Deutsch assesses the design and construction industry's current efforts to produce and analyze vast amounts of information and proposes a call for a synthesis of its technology and collaborative work processes.
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  • In this article, John Tobin, Director of Architecture at EYP, shares his insights on how the two contrasting types of innovation, "sustaining" and "disruptive" — as popularized in the book, The Innovator's Dilemma — can be applied to the AEC technology industry.