Thursday, April 30, 2009

Article on Boston Architects and the Economy

Interesting Article by Robert Campbell from the Boston Globe Online about the state of the economy for Architectural Firms, especially for the Boston Area. I would be interested to hear how other areas of the US are doing if anyone wants to comment.

Architects search for blueprint to get by
As building plans stall in a recession, architects tend to get hit first and hardest. That's proving to be brutally true in Boston, a city with more than its share of professionals in the field.

Nancy Jenner, the acting director of the Boston Society of Architects, estimates that the average layoff rate in Boston architecture firms is already pushing 30 percent. In some it is more than 50 percent. Firm after firm report that with no new work coming in, things will only get worse this spring and summer.

"They are the ones that get busted around more than other professionals," said Kermit Baker, a Harvard researcher who also serves as the American Institute of Architects' chief economist.

Baker cites US Department of Labor figures for the nation as a whole, which reveal that from the level of peak architectural employment in July 2008 through January, architects lost jobs at double the rate of lawyers and accountants.

Massachusetts ranks seventh among states in the number of licensed architects, although it is only 15th in population. Nearly all of them are concentrated in Greater Boston. According to the Boston society, there are just over 8,000 employees of architecture firms in Massachusetts. About 3,200 of them are licensed architects.

Architects are nothing if not inventive, and they are trying everything to survive the drought of new work.

Some firms have cut salaries from top to bottom. Others have moved to a four-day week. Some have stopped taking interns. Still others offer unpaid furloughs to valued employees, aiming to keep them around for the future when times get better.

What happens to the employees who do get laid off? Some reinvent themselves. Others leave the profession.

One who is trying reinvention is Graham Ruggie, 40, of Ashland. Ruggie used to be director of product standards at Cubellis, a firm with 16 offices in several states. Since last summer, Cubellis has dropped from 500 people to about 300 and closed some offices entirely.

Ruggie remembers the January day he got laid off. "I took 10 or 15 minutes to feel sorry for myself. My boss felt almost as bad as I did, and he gave me three or four days to wrap up what I was working on," he said.

"I used some of that time to make calls. I put out all my tentacles. I'd been talking to my wife and others about striking out on my own not only with my own architectural practice, but working on real estate development."

"I've been through three downturns," he said, "and this is definitely the worst."
Another recent layoff victim is Ann Berman, who was a project architect at Arrowstreet in Cambridge. Because it did a lot of commercial work, Arrowstreet was one of the hardest hit. Berman began looking elsewhere last year, failed to find a new job, and was laid off in September.

"I see it as a forced vacation," she said. "I'm doing the things I want to do. I volunteer for community service, I design sets for a children's theater, and I've applied to be a substitute teacher. I would love to be an art teacher."

But she adds that if another job opened up in architecture, she would grab it.
Jim Batchelor is a partner at Arrowstreet who is this year's president of the Boston Society of Architects. He admits to a precipitous drop in the firm, from 170 people to "around 50 or 60."
But he, too, sees a bright side, or at least claims to.

"It's a time to learn new skills," he said. Architects he knows are becoming qualified to rate the energy consumption of buildings, or are learning a new computer-based method of communicating between architects and builders.

"We all believe that's what's going to be our future, and we have time to retrain in a way we didn't when we were busy," he said.

Some architects are abandoning the job market altogether and going back to school. Applications at Harvard's Graduate School of Design are up 30 percent this year. At MIT's architecture program, applications are up 40 percent. There just aren't any jobs, said Deborah Johansen, Harvard design school spokeswoman . Harvard plans to host a session in New York where students will network with alumni who may be potential employers.

There are no fewer than five schools of architecture in Greater Boston, more than any other US city except New York, which also has five. The Massachusetts College of Art and Design expects to soon gain an accredited degree program, thus giving Boston six. Many of the graduates of these schools work for years in local firms before becoming licensed.

Richard Fitzgerald, the recently retired director of the Boston Society of Architects, likens this recession to the last big one, which was back in the early '90s. "It was a tragedy of lost jobs," he said. "We lost a whole generation of young architects who went into other fields, who otherwise would be moving into leadership positions in architecture firms today."

But Fitzgerald also notes, "I think there are few professions as resilient as architecture. Architects aren't used to being rich. They're in it to survive, not for the dollars."

Of course the problem isn't limited to New England. One hundred architecture firms recently showed up to compete for a single, rather modest library renovation in Malibu, Calif. And in Britain, government figures show that the number of architects filing for unemployment benefits increased by 760 percent in the last year, more than any other profession.

Baker points out an ominous difference between this recession and earlier ones. In the past, he says, institutional work - buildings for nonprofit clients such as hospitals and universities - held up better than commercial work, such as office buildings, condos, and retail stores.

But today, says Baker, with banks not lending and endowments shrinking, institutional projects, too, are being put on hold.

Some cite the government as the architectural client of last resort. They hope that the stimulus package will fund public works such as schools and healthcare and transit facilities.

Alex Krieger, a founder of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz in Cambridge, said he is facing a new kind of competition. "We do a lot of planning for government agencies," he said. "In recent months we've found that some of the biggest, best known architecture firms in the country, people who wouldn't normally go after small planning jobs, are competing with us. Suddenly, everyone becomes a planner. Public clients are impressed by these big national names. We've lost jobs that we think we'd normally have gotten."

Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell

Friday, April 24, 2009

Revit Ribbon Wow Factor

Autodesk has been coming up with new ideas each week for why the "Ribbon" was a positive move. While I would like to believe all the new reasons for why Autodesk forced the ribbon, I still believe it came from some marketer's dream, that influenced corporate, which then became a movement requiring all software packages to look the same. They were going for a wow factor. The wow factor being that if something looks better then people will want it. This works for product design, sometimes websites but rarely on software. Below are some examples:

Product Design
People will buy electronics that have less features and costs more than another on the shelf simply because it is better designed and more visually appealing. When perusing the shelf or website they created a wow that separated this product from that. Design for this has a purpose and it works.

An overly designed "Wow" website with animated graphics and shifting/sliding of content and controls can actually make it more difficult to see the important information that the website is trying to reveal. While you may get more people wanting to look at the site, they are looking at your "Wow" and not YOU and what YOU can provide to them. The person who clearly states their core values and services on the front page, easy to read, will probably get a better business response.

So recently I was trying out different DVD ripping programs so that I can copy my toddler's movies onto an external drive so that when he destroys the disk, I can just burn a new one. I had two serious contenders for my money and both were on full use trials. The first I decided to try was because they had created a Wow Factor in their User Interface design, the downside was that it actually did not work well. The burned DVD would automatically skip from chapter to chapter 50% of the time and you would finish the movie in seconds. So I tried the other which was a basic interface with nothing graphical about it and few buttons or options. It worked perfectly and did what it was designed to do. Which one do you think I spent my money on?

Today I will be completing the 4th day of Revit 2010 training for a new team that has never used Revit. While one of the premises for the new UI was that it would make it easier for new users to grasp, I actually believe that it is harder. With everything shifting and sliding, tools there and not there, go to this tab and then back again... the issues go on and on. There is no easy way to say when you want to do this you go here. Everything is in constant movement and revealing tools in different places. What is interesting is that I see more users who will probably go back to text commands (like Autocad) because tools like the copy button move all over the place and you are constantly having to think and search out the command. While there is nothing that can be done going forward with the UI since it is here to stay, I sure hope Autodesk makes some huge advancement in the tools for the next release. Otherwise, it is a "Wow" type interface which is hard to navigate, does not follow the flow of working on design projects and has many tools that still do not adequately perform the tasks that they are suppose to do.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Revit for the Unemployed Update

I got an interesting RSS feed from today.

Autodesk is taking an interest in today's economic crisis where they will actually help those of you who are unemployed. Follow this link for more information and this one for a detailed .pdf explination

In one of my previous posts, I had thought it would be beneficial for the unemployed to be able to get a student version at a student cost for a 13 month license. Autodesk seems to have taken it one step forward and is offering the software free. This is a great move by Autodesk to show that they understand where the economy is and that they care about the users of their programs.

Check out the links above for more information.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Quick Access Toolbar - Boston RUG

A week ago today, Autodesk hosted our area Revit Users Group at their new facility in Waltham. They previewed Revit Architecture and MEP 2010 which included the new user interface (UI), Customization, Conceptual Massing and the API. While each of the presenters from Autodesk did a great job, the greatest nugget of information that I received was that you can set the quick access toolbar (QAT), copy the file and then you can deploy it to all your new installs.

Why is this important?

You will probably find out that there are tools that you will need frequently and switching between the tabs on the UI just seems time consuming. While I am assuming what my users will need, I had found that Switch Windows, Text, Aligned Dimension, Measure and WORKSETS will be a few of those tools that are essential to be at your fingertips. I will also probably deploy it with about 1/2 the default QAT selections turned off. Also with the assumption that these will be used a lot, I am going to put it below the ribbon.

You can decide what your desired setup is for your users but you will probably not be able to find the file that retains the information without the information below:

The ribbon and QAT data is stored in the UIState.dat file.
To reset the UI to its default state just delete the file.
UIState.dat file is located in the Autodesk Revit Architecture 2010 folder under one of the following folders:
o For Windows XP
%USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data\Autodesk\Revit
o For Windows Vista

Note: Your users will be able to customize it once they start using it since this also holds the information on the ribbon and other UI info.

Thanks to Erik at Autodesk for supplying me with the path for the .dat file.

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