People Profile: Laura Kay Smith AECbytes Profile (January 17, 2017)

Laura Kay Smith, Design Technology Manager at ZGF Architects, shares her perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
"When different parts of the team are using different kinds of software, collaboration strategies become even more important. Collaboration is not a new technology, but it is a vital concept we need to address to harness new technologies. The AEC industry must learn a new way to collaborate effectively, or we are going to have increasing problems in the field."
What is your educational and professional background?

I graduated in 1994 from Oregon State University with a degree in Housing Design. In my first three jobs in architectural firms I was the CAD Manager, setting up standards and supporting staff with questions. After that, I worked for myself for 15 years designing houses and consulting to architects as a draftsman. In 2008, I was hired as the BIM Manager for a small firm in Portland, Oregon, where I developed standard process, taught and created content. In 2011, I was hired by a large Canadian firm that moved me up to Vancouver, BC. I helped that firm expand their capacity to be a BIM leader among architectural firms in Vancouver. In April of 2016, I moved to ZGF Architects as the Design Technology Manager for the Vancouver, BC office.

I started a blog in 2012 to help educate and spread the word of the power of BIM, and I have also written a book on how to become a BIM advocate in your company.

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

I am the Design Technology Manager at ZGF Architects. Although my main role is to support staff and help them work effectively with the BIM tools they use, I also work with our business development team to identify areas where BIM can give us a strategic advantage. I develop processes and training to teach all levels of staff how to use the technology in our industry, and I work closely with our Design Technology team to identify new technology that that might be useful to our teams. I am also charged with finding processes to help project workflow, and enable great design within our firm.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

I was first exposed to AutoCAD in high school. I fell in love with the software and was excited by the possibilities I could see in drafting with computers, so I decided to work within that environment. When I finished college, I started my first job in architecture, and it was then that I realized how many conflicting opinions there are about how to use CAD. When I started to use 3D drafting software and BIM processes, I got really excited about the possibilities in moving past representational lines, and I became passionate about providing people with the resources that they need to be successful in this new kind of project delivery. The excitement of what is possible when change is embraced drives me to teach, test, and get involved in pursing new AEC technology.

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

All my work today is geared towards improving processes and teaching technology to architects, along with helping to educate consultants, contractors and clients.

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

I think that the root cause of most technological challenges in the industry can be traced to a reluctance to evolve and change. Construction is a slow industry: some buildings take years to complete. When you compare this with the speed at which technology is developed and software is advancing, you can understand why architects are reluctant to adopt new programs. Technology is very disruptive to the current AEC workflow: a company must learn to embrace the change and devise a process that helps facilitate that change. The shift from simple 2D workflows to the 3D modeling technologies involves changing the way teams think about design, and that is a tough thing to teach. 15 years ago, architects would start design by drawing on napkins, but now they need to adjust to starting design on a computer in a 3D environment ... and explaining that to a senior designer who has been working for 40 years can be tough. This is the biggest challenge I face. 

This doesn't just affect architects — another major problem I address every day is how the architects I work with collaborate with their rest of their teams. When different parts of the team are using different kinds of software, collaboration strategies become even more important. Collaboration is not a new technology, but it is a vital concept we need to address to harness new technologies. The AEC industry must learn a new way to collaborate effectively, or we are going to have increasing problems in the field.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

I believe AEC technology will evolve into a more Virtual Reality based design environment. Design and coordination will likely all happen in virtual meetings. This will allow all parties to be engaged inside the space rather than looking at two dimensional drawings. Augmented reality will help contractors see what is hidden in walls and verify what is intended before we get on site, allowing us to solve problems before they are insurmountable. Augmented reality will guide our construction teams through the build process, and the architect will be able to answer RFI’s by reviewing the problem area in 3D.

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

I would like to see a move toward technology that drives project deliverables, instead of deliverables driving technology usage. For example, permitting requirements should require 3D models.

Right now, we aren't really exploring the technology for contractors to use 3D models for all dimensions of BIM (4D: Construction phasing, Purchasing, As-Builts; 5D: Cost Estimation, Value Engineering, Pre-fabrication; 6D: Sustainability, Energy analysis; 7D: Facility Management, Life cycle asset management.)  I'd also like to see greater interoperability for all AEC software so we can minimize information loss during phase transitions and project hand offs.

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

I think the AEC industry needs a collaboration system that is efficient and easy for all parties to use. Firms that don't have an in-house Design Technology manager or BIM Manager are reluctant to try new technologies and embrace technological trends because if it isn't managed properly, the costs can outweigh the benefits. When technology becomes easily adaptable and usable by all firms and everyone in them, not just tech savvy employees, the AEC industry as a whole benefits; as integrated project delivery using BIM becomes standard, we get the opportunity to build more interesting projects and take on new and exciting challenges.

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