People Profile: William C. Manion AECbytes Profile (October 12, 2017)

William C. Manion, co-founder of the architectural firm of O'Neil & Manion Architects P.A., a very early adopter of CAD and BIM, shares his perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
"I would like to see us evolve from just designing and constructing our buildings to actually learning more from our buildings after they are built and while they are in operation, renovated and eventually deconstructed. AEC technology could be used to provide a continual feedback loop and analyze the data from that feedback to indicate problems and suggest potential modifications."
What is your educational and professional background?

In 2014, I was awarded a Master of Studies (MSt.) from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. for studies in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE).  My research at Cambridge focused on decision making, complex problem solving, forming and managing design teams, interdisciplinary design, and BIM. My thesis explored interdisciplinary collaboration during concept design on projects using BIM.  Subsequently, I’ve written an article based on my research (Conceptual Design, BIM and Interdisciplinary Collaboration, published in the October 2016 issue of the Journal of the National Institute of Building Sciences, a publication of NIBS), and it has since been accepted to the Building Research Information Knowledgebase (BRIK). 

In 1980, I earned an MBA from The UCLA Anderson School of Management.  My undergraduate degree is a professional Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch., 1973) from The Catholic University of America School of Engineering and Architecture, where in 1971, I studied in Rome as a member of the Rome Studies Program.

Professionally, I have had a 44 year career in architecture, real estate investments and development.  In 1977, my partner Sara O’Neil-Manion AIA and I established the architectural firm of O’Neil & Manion Architects P.A, a full service architectural firm focused on developing distinct and creative solutions.  Our experience includes new buildings, additions, renovations and adaptive reuse projects.  Building types include research laboratories, offices, hospitality projects, government and institutional facilities, custom and embassy residences, retail, and mixed-use projects. Projects have been both large and small-scale. I am currently licensed to practice architecture in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and California.

From 2003 to 2007, I was a member of the practitioner faculty of the Johns Hopkins University Business School where I taught a real estate construction class to the MS candidates in the Real Estate Program.  Previously, I taught Architectural Design at The Catholic University of America School of Architecture, and served on the Dean’s executive board.  I have lectured at the United States Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the George Washington University, and the Cosmos Club in Washington DC. 

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

After 40 years, my partner and I are in the process of closing our firm.  I am currently taking a sabbatical to further explore decision-making, teams, collaboration and BIM, and several other topics of interest.  Sara has taken a position as an Associate Principal at Perkins+Will Architects in Washington DC.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

In the early 1970’s, Sara and I began our architecture careers drafting on large tables with ink or pencil on mylar and vellum.  Architecture was very much a graphic art.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were about to be swept up by a series of accelerating technological and social revolutions that would quickly and significantly change our culture and change the practice of architecture.  These new developments provided us with different perspectives and frames of reference when viewing our world.  They provided us with new tools, expanded our world, increased our expectations for what is possible, and offered us new problems and opportunities.  They also increased demands on how our buildings perform and quickly changed how we design.

We eagerly adopted new technology.  In 1977, the year we established our firm, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak released the Apple ][ +.  We bought two.  Later we added Z-80 cards, CP/M operating systems and Wordstar word processing software.  We added 1200 baud modems and Z term communications software.  This was followed by VisiCalc in the early 80’s, and by mid 80’s Microsoft Multiplan, the predecessor to Excel.  We were doing schedules, specification and spreadsheets with the ][+’s.  In 1988, we purchased several Mac SEs.  They were a big step up in performance.  In about 1989, we purchased our first Graphisoft ArchiCAD packages (v. 3.3), and immediately pushed to use it on all our projects.  Later, we added Micro Planner software and we were doing CPM schedules on all our projects.  We also purchased an HP design jet 600 plotter.  We noted big quality and productivity gains.  It changed how we worked.  It completely transformed our office.  We went from 15 employees to 5 and did the same volume of work.  Our roles changed from managing to more directly making decisions and producing the projects.

We pushed from CAD to 3D modeling to BIM very quickly.  Since then, it has been an endless series of equipment upgrades, increased communications and storage requirements, and software upgrades.  We are currently on ArchiCAD version 20, moving to version 21, and working with multiple consultants over the internet using box cloud storage, and a server. 

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

Most of what I did at O’Neil & Manion Architects was related to AEC technology.  Analysis and modeling have always been fundamental to how we work.  We put a heavy emphasis on programming and concept development.  AEC technology supports and enables us to analyze, communicate, collaborate, evaluate, and to make the decisions that drive our practice.  All our design work is digital, but as required with most work today, output is paper for jurisdictional approvals, and contract documents.

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

From my vantage point, the main challenge today is to improve collaboration among project AECOO members (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Owner and Operator) and to use technology more effectively to work efficiently, and produce better projects quicker and at less expense.  Open standards and interoperability as promoted by buildingSMART International are imperative.  Collaboration by a full team of architects, engineers, consultants, construction contractors, sub contractors, owner, operators and select stakeholders is the best method to address many of today’s complex design problems. 

Currently, the impediments to collaboration are not only technological, but also cultural and legal.  As architects, we, as well as others on our teams have historically had a work pattern where we carve out our areas of expertise and build protective barriers, or professional silos.  Our traditional work model is the baton model, or working groups model, where we as the architect develop the concept in relative isolation, passes it to sub consultants to engineer, and finally to the construction contractor to build and eventually to the facility groups to operate.  This process results in not only limiting information, but also restricting thinking.  The most critical part of the development of a building, the development of the concept, does not benefit from valuable information and the different perspectives that can be provided by the other members in the delivery process.  This traditional work pattern is reinforced by our individual professional cultures, and is supported by a legal framework of contracts and case law.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

From my perspective as an architect and designer, I think we will see AEC technology evolve to assist designers by using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to quickly and easily acquire information, collaboratively analyze it, visualize it and assist in jointly make decisions with other disciplines. Solutions will be documented in open data formats that are stored in a cloud that is linked to the building asset, be it building, infrastructure or product, and accessed in the future by AECOO personnel working on the asset.  This information will also be used to schedule maintenance, reorder parts, fabricate and construct.  New fabrication and construction methods will arise to take advantage of this available information.

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

If I had a wish list for AEC technology, it would include a greater emphasis on the value of information, collaboration, and the use of AI (both handcrafted knowledge systems and statistical learning systems) to interact with GIS and other data systems to assist designers with information collection and analysis.  This information collection and analysis would be shared with other disciplines, and collaborative design decisions would be jointly made. 

I would also like to see us evolve from just designing and constructing our buildings to actually learning more from our buildings after they are built and while they are in operation, renovated and eventually deconstructed.  AEC technology could be used to provide a continual feedback loop and analyze the data from that feedback to indicate problems and suggest potential modifications.  Information from the building may indicate that some type of behavioral modification by the users would be beneficial, and interventions could be made to continually improve performance.  We could also use the data to establish key performance indicators to continually improve our designs.

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

I think buildings today are too expensive and too environmentally damaging.  I think we will see an accelerating pace of change, and potentially disruptive technologies and social changes.

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