Unwind with Beautiful Thinking

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It’s not very often that I actually write about design itself on this blog – maybe because it’s the most enjoyable part of my job and often I am writing about the things that frustrate and annoy me -but also it is often a part of my job which I  have less time for than I would like.  The last few weeks though, have given me a number of opportunities to think about design, both in our own practice and through the work of other designers across a number of disciplines from architecture, to furniture, fabrics and paper.

Back in June, our team at DJRD were invited by Interface to collaborate in a pop up installation as part of Indesign’s “The Project”.  Our brief was to transform a number of spaces in the Interface showroom into a space for the rituals of ‘refuge’, a place to get away, to calm the mind and retreat and create opportunities for mindfulness. As well as designing the space itself we were asked to think about activities that could occur within the space, initially yoga and meditation were discussed. We were also to integrate Interface’s new carpet collection and their current campaign “Beautiful Thinking”.

All of our staff were invited to join the design team, and we had a fantastic team of 7 architects and interior designers from graduates through to myself as senior associate, with support from one of our directors – so in some ways very much like a real world project team. Joining me on the team were Tasmin Dunn, Gabrielle Melville, Sally Johnson, Darren Livings, Kate Harding and Hannah Hoeschle (who all worked much harder than I did!).  From Interface we had a brief, deadlines and a budget.  The real difference for our design process was the fact that we would be building the installation ourselves – at which point we also pulled in our IT manager and known home handyman, Peter Lean, to assist us.

Initially, as often in the real world, our brief seemed quite complex, with potentially many ideas and elements to explore. As a team, we felt it was important that our space of retreat integrated the Interface product and the process of making, both the making of the product and making as designer.  We approached the brief as we would a project design brief, which is to look to take all the parts and find a single simple and overriding concept that can unify, enhance and speak to all the parts of the brief.  Our concept was to create a series of spaces based upon nature, places you might go to meditate – cave, forest, tree house and meadow – and for the majority of our materials to be sourced from Interface’s manufacturing process (integrating their products and process, but also helping us with our budget).  Rather than yoga or meditation, we felt that a more active and designer orientated activity would be suit Indesign, and we decided mindfulness colouring in books would perfectly suit our intended audience.  This however wasn’t our main activity.  The main activity, tied (literally) back to the space, using Interface yarn to weave between the cardboard trees in the space.  We titled the space “Unwind”, referring both to the act of relaxing and the weaving and yarn throughout the space.

As well as our (limited) budget from Interface, we arranged sponsorship from Inlite (lighting), Dulux (paint) and Skale Greenwall.  They were all so generous with their products – Jarrod Huxtable from Inlite gave us heaps of assistance building our lighting installation as well, and Skale joined our team only 36 hours before we were due to complete!  So much thanks to all of them, and also to our generous friends who loaned us some great furniture pieces to suit the ‘meadow’.

To work together with a collaborative team not just designing but building our space gave us a fantastic chance to use our everyday skills – from planning, designing and organising a team (thanks to our team leader Darren we were on time, on budget and completed the install within the number of work hours allocated) but to work together in a different way where everyone has an equal say and it was up to all of us and the design team to agree on the solutions without significant client input (although unlike a University project we did have a client, as we had worked with Interface throughout).  To create a space that only exists for 2 days also allowed us to explore different materials and take risks that might not be permissible for a longer term space. The actual act of building ourselves also allowed us to design in a more fluid way (on site changes no problems!) and discuss solutions on the spot.  So much of our work now is competitively tendered it means that you can’t work with a builder in this way.

We were also not the only team creating an installation at Interface – at the same time, 4 other design teams were creating spaces based upon either the same brief as ours (refuge) or a brief titled “Prospect” to create an energetic lively space for play and collaboration.  Not only did we get to explore the spaces created by the other designers, but as part of the activities over the 2 days, Interface hosted a panel moderated by Indesign’s editor, Alice Blackwood on Beautiful Thinking in which each of the design teams spoke about their design, the response to the brief and what they believe Beautiful Thinking means to design.  Talking with the other designers whose fields were as diverse as paper art, textile design, graphics and furniture design, was a fantastic opportunity to see behind their installations as well as understanding how their different backgrounds had influenced their work. For everyone of the panel, simplicity was mentioned as an important element in how beautiful thinking creates places and things to calm and inspire – and to allow those inhabiting the space the opportunity for beautiful thinking in turn.

After we leave university it often becomes quite rare that we see other designers present and speak about their work outside of our own practices – especially in this context, where we are not trying to compete to win an award, impress a client or sell our design. However that’s not to say that seeing designers talk about their work to win awards is not just as interesting! Last week I had the opportunity to see the presentations for the shortlist for the IDEA (Interior  incredibly inspiring.  To see seven of Australia’s top designers present and discuss their work for the year in 5 minutes each is a peek at truly amazing work going on in Australia right now(view the shortlist here).  The quality of the work was all outstanding but for me, one particular presentation stood out from the rest as a great presentation – and it gets back to the idea of simplicity and the single idea.  Hannah Tribe of Tribe Studio presented her work not just as a series of architectural projects but explained the studio’s approach to design as a portrait of the client.  A single idea behind a whole practice of work, but not at all a single look or style, an approach that is not just about beauty and awards but creates a place for people.  To me, this really represents the idea of beautiful thinking.  What inspires you to beautiful thinking?

Ceilidh Higgins

PS.  I am also now on Instagram, where you can see more of my Indesign photos.  Follow me as themidnightlunch.  

Can we have a workplace of the future without a boss of the future?

No more boss ... by Bousure, on Flickr
For some years now, but with increasing pace – books, blogs and videos are all predicting a new (and often idyllically portrayed) world of work where workers are empowered to choose where and when they work, teams are built on a project basis to find the best workers, and personal and family life are interwoven around the way we work (this example is from Microsoft). The idea of the physical workplace itself, as a service or as a consumer item forms part of this world, along with technology that is now becoming very real – on demand video conferencing (often with holograms).

 I first remember encountering theses concepts some years ago reading Thomas W Malone’s “The Future of Work” which predicted decentralisation of organisations and more freedom for employees to determine when, where and what to do.  At the time I read the book, the technology wasn’t quite real for me yet, but was already starting to change the way we work. In the 5 or 6 years since then, I know that my iPad and iPhone have drastically changed how I can work, in particular while I am traveling.

This new world of work is sometimes given a timeframe as in this study – Workplace 2040. But what’s stopping this from being Workplace 2020? I don’t think it’s technology, I think it’s the people. One of the key things these scenarios all rely on is the independence of the workers and the ability of these people to work together regardless of physical locations. For the majority of workplaces today, these are already no longer technology issues, any difficulties come down to human nature.

Very few jobs are yet structured around only around doing a set amount of work. Most are still structured around an expectation of set working hours, although perhaps these hours are more flexible now than a generation ago. It is still much more usual to see people staying back because the work is not finished, than for them to go home early when all the work is done. One issue in many workplaces, after of years of economic downturn – is that its pretty rare the work is ever all done, and if it is we worry that to leave early would make us a target for redundancy. But most of the time there are simply insufficient numbers of staff for the work to ever actually be finished. The other issue is that there is still a very common view that we are employed just as much to “be” at the place of work, as we are to “do” work. People are afraid if they finish their work and leave early (or even on time) they will be judged both by their managers and their peers as being lazy, slacking off, not contributing or not being team players – when in actual fact they might be more efficient and better at their jobs. To many employees, flexible has come to mean flexible for employers (I know of one firm where when employees raised the issue of flexibility the employer genuinely believed this meant flexibility in how the work was done – in the office, with no idea staff were wanting flexibility in how and when they worked!)

Even in organisations which already have activity based working or other forms of agile working, these same kinds of problems are occurring. I heard a story about one large ABW workplace which has a working from home policy, but the main workplace is often too full. Is it full because the environment itself is so successful and staff can’t stay away, or is it because there is a least one manager who wanders about every morning ticking off a role of staff and then contacting anyone who hasn’t been in the office for 2 days?

In an ABW environment, the distrust managers have of workers whom they can’t see can manifest even when staff are working within the office but beyond the managers view. It’s the same emotional motivations that lead to workplaces with beautiful but empty breakout spaces – staff are afraid of being seen as slacking off.Perhaps it’s also this fear behind why some middle managers are also so reluctant to give up their offices, it’s not so much about the work they do, or even the status, but their belief that they have earned  their right to not be watched over by the boss.

Another working model enabled by technology and affected by the same issue is distributed working, where company employees are based in different geographic locations.  I have worked in this model and it does present interesting challenges as a team leader.  Whilst staff may have a manger in their physical location, as a team leader you only know your staff are working on your project by the work they produce. You do have to manage differently for performance based outcomes – if you have your team sitting in front of you they are more likely to communicate with you more directly both with questions about the work, if someone else asks them to do something or when the work allocated is completed. Managing a distributed team does take more work – but not only does it allow more flexibility in team structures, where we can work and deliver projects – but it actually teaches managers and team leaders to be better at their jobs, better organised and better communicators.

Managements fear of the invisible employee is not a problem of architecture or design – it doesn’t matter what sort of office you have or how amazing your design team are. If your managers don’t trust their staff and are not trained to manage remote staff (from on another floor to in another country), then ‘new ways of working’ won’t work for your organisation. Very few organisations actually train people to manage teams, we don’t learn it at university either. Historically managers usually start out on the management path because they are good at the technical thing that they do – not because they are good at managing other people. If they make money for the organisation, they are likely to be promoted further regardless of their people management skills. Maybe at some point their organisation will decide they need some extra ‘soft skills’ but is likely they have developed their style and habits by then, and it’s now long past when they really would have benefited from them. Maybe as part of a new office fitout someone will have realized that a change management program is required. But in a large organisation, is it thorough enough to go right down through all levels of management and is the whole of the organisation seriously aligned to the goal (even when their own bosses are not looking)?

Perhaps a self managed team structure is the answer? Some organisations are now starting to abolish middle management in favour of this idea. I wonder how it will work, will natural managers and leaders start to emerge? Or does it only work if the whole team is highly organised and motivated (in effect naturally good at managing themselves at least)?

Is it possible the fear of flexibility and remote working is generational difference, and one that will simply disappear between now and 2040? I don’t think so. Whilst I see many more younger managers who are comfortable with remote management and who have more trust in their teams, than older ones. But I don’t think its necessarily a distinction of age, but one of culture and of an acceptance that the way we work has already changed. I am frequently shocked that anyone could suggest that we might work the same way now as back in the eighties or even nineties. In the 15 years since I graduated architecture the way we work has changed fundamentally. Not only has technology and software changed, but these changes – in particular the mobility and automation they have enabled means that new ways of working are not something of the future – they are already here, it’s just that some people don’t seem to have noticed it yet.

Ceilidh Higgins
Image Credits: “No more Boss”
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Bousure 

Will a Robot take my job?

If I am an architect, a designer, an engineer or even BIM manager – Will a Robot take my job? This is the big question I recently presented in my talk at RTC Australia as part of the session BIMx: Big Ideas around Big Data.  Open up my slideshare presentation above that accompanies this blog post.

NESTA, a UK innovation charity has a quiz you can take to see if a robot is likely to take your job.  The quiz asks a series of 6 questions around skills and ongoing learning, if you manage complex real world tasks, work with, teach and manage people, or design and manage technology, machines and systems. It uses your answers to determine how likely it is a robot would take your job.

The answer is that an architect is “Robot Proof” with a low probability of a robot taking our job.  BUT does this match with our experience? Are architects, engineers, or designers really likely to be robot proof?

Whilst we think a robot won’t take our job – what about a computer?

Many of us would agree that BIM has already resulted in smaller project teams. Computers have long been a part of the design process.  Whilst we often forget CAD standards for ‘computer aided design’, computers can now aid the design process in much more significant ways than back when AutoCAD was released. Its interesting though that today a google search of computer generated architecture still mostly generates links related to rendering and imagery, rather than designs produced by computers.

If you think that BIM won’t take your job – what about Big Data?  We are already using data to check, verify and evaluate options within our designs. As the scale of the data available gets ever bigger these processes become more complex and more powerful. Right now google searching for data generated architecture won’t get you many hits related to buildings, but this is sure to soon change.

Rules based checking might not yet be big data. But it is about using data sources to validate designs or documentation. Examples include checking codes or standards using software such as solibri.

Again data analysis doesn’t necessarily mean big data yet.  Analysis began as something that architects did using pen and paper, a site analysis diagram for example. Data analysis is starting to become more computer driven which allows for much more significant analysis to take place.  Examples include environmental or performance analysis of buildings, or analysis on a larger city scale looking at land use and traffic patterns. This kind of analysis is very much in the realm of current uses for big data.

Data is also the basis of simulations. For example fire or traffic simulation modelling is based upon creating algorithms from data. Currently the simulations used within the AEC industry are relatively simple algorithims.
Big data gives the potential for developing significantly more complex simulations. Last year at RTC in Chicago I discussed the potential for big data to allow us to simulate human behaviour in complex building types such as workspaces with the potential of increasing a companies productivity. (see blog post here)

So, data can evaluate design – but could big data actually drive design? Is it already happening?  As with data based checking, its certainly true that data driven design exists already – and has for some time, although generally not yet into the possibilities of big data. Computational and generative design is data based upon algorithms and therefore data based design. Algorithms are already being used for design in many different ways.

The use of formulas to create design is an example of data driven design.
An example is the façade of the Auckland Savings Bank by BVN and Jasmax which was designed using Microsoft Excel and the Chaos formula.

The structure of the Watercube by PTW and Arup was designed using an algorithm to determine structural steel member sizes.

A simulation is just another kind of algorithm. Rather than just using simulations to test current design proposals, the simulation algorithims can be part of the design software and the design options can be based upon the outcomes of the simulations.  This bandstand by UK architects Flanagan Lawrence was designed using Dynamo and an acoustic simulation algorithm called acoustamo.

Algorithms can be used to optimise an existing design. At the Barclays Centre by ShoP – detailed design of the steel panels was undertaken using CATIA to generate options which allowed a reduction from 230,000 sqm of steel to 150,000sqm. No two of the 12,000 panels are the same.

This exhibition hall building was designed by the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for computational design.

The question – How can you create a resilient timber structure with as little material as possible? This is a simple example of applying one rule to a simple building type. Using an algorithm inspired by a sand dollar one of natures most efficient structures, this building was designed by computer. The human input to the design is the initial idea and the design of the algorithms. (Read more)
As a side note, it was built by robots too.

What about more complexity? The complexity of trees growing in nature? There is actually already an algorithm for that.  The programming to create suburban housing exists too (its initial use is for generating realistic houses for 3d gaming environments). Using rules based criteria such as number of rooms, adjacencies and architectural style, a suburb of varied housing can be produced.

With big data the questions and the building programs can get more complex. And these kinds of design tools are not as far away as you might think.  Autodesk has a lab project in development called Dreamcatcher. “Dreamcatcher is a goal-directed design system that enables designers to input specific design objectives, including functional requirements, material type, manufacturability, performance criteria, and cost restrictions. The infinite computing power of the cloud then takes over.” The publicity for Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher suggests it is for industrial design – the same could potential apply to create rules based design solutions for buildings.

Autodesk are not the only company investing in this technology. Google has setup a spinoff called Flux to explore how data will shape our future. Right now Flux software and much of the media is focused on the metro scale data analysis but the future of Flux is about buildings.

Flux asks “What would happen if we stopped designing individual buildings and started designing building seeds” It is based upon the idea that the data will form seeds.

The information would include the codes, standards, weather conditions, occupant data, building product data and other information available about a building, its site, its occupants and client requirements as well as industry data such as materials, systems and construction methods and costs.

Just as each seed grows up to be a different tree, the building data seeds will grow to be different buildings depending upon the site and its constraints, the client requirements and other project specific inputs.
This kind of design will have a significant impact upon the way our industry operates.  (See post by Randy Deutsch)

This is a clip from a talk by Jen Carlilse co-founder of Flux. (Embeded in slide share or at youtube)

We probably all agree that the building examples in the Flux video are somewhat lacking in the architectural beauty department.  If nature could be an algorithm – could beauty also be an algorithm? Is there the possibility that in the future we could use data analysis to design beauty into our buildings, to use data to design buildings like the Sydney Opera House?

So what will my job be? It won’t be drafting disabled toilets anymore that’s for sure.

I’d like to think that the data will allow us to get rid of the drudgery. It will allow us to focus on the best parts of our jobs. It will allow us to realise the true value of design.

We will still evaluate the computer options and talk to the clients. Whilst data can assist us to make decisions, the human race is not about to let everything be decided purely on the basis of data – if we did we would be doing it already. Human nature is that we still want humans involved in decision making. We still need to tell the computers what to do at some level. Does it mean we all become programmers rather than architects and engineers? Could this process can bring out the best in both humans and computers?

What do you think your job could be?

Ceilidh Higgins

 Imaged Credits:
See slideshare presentation for full image credits.

 

Does your workplace offer yoga, meditation or perhaps colouring in?

Meditation by Moyan_Brenn, on FlickrWhilst many are touting workplace wellness as the next big thing in workplace design and strategy, there are others such as Kelly Robinson, workplace manager and yoga teacher, who spoke at last month’s Worktech Melbourne, who are suggesting more specifically that mindfulness practices will soon be coming to your workplace – if they haven’t already. The signs are certainly out there that mindfulness has suddenly become a topic of interest with many blogs and articles on workplace design and human resources sites as well as at least 2 books on the subject. Since I saw Kelly speak last month, I have seen a number of articles on mindfulness practices and spaces within the workplace, and this article which I shared recently on Linkedin seemed to have a high response rate, suggesting that people are certainly interested in the topic.

For those of you who already practice yoga, meditation or just spend to much time around psychologists, you certainly would have heard of mindfulness. If you haven’t perhaps you are wondering what is it – and how does it relate to the workspace – and probably all of you are wondering what on earth does colouring in have to do with it? According to Google mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”. It has become a commonly used treatment technique by psychologists, and essentially involves beingaware you in the present moment and of your surroundings and calming the breathing and the mind. Whilst meditation is a common path to mindfulness, sitting cross legged on the floor and doing nothing is not the only way to achieve a state of mindfulness. There are many different kinds of meditation.  Yoga can be one way of calming the mind, as can breathing techniques, sitting or walking in nature and apparently colouring in! (or other focused but slightly repetitive activities where you think about what you are doing) This week I came across this article on how big corporates are issuing adult colouring books to staff as a means of mindfulness training.

Whilst practices such as yoga and meditation have been growing in popularity in recent years, why are corporate workplaces offering these programs? Whilst its certainly true that many corporations like to promote how much they care for the health and wellbeing of employees, science is showing there are of lot of potential benefits for employers as well as their staff in mindfulness training. Numerous studies have shown that within weeks of commencing a meditation program, changes in the structure of the brain can be seen on an ECG. According to Headspace, a mindfulness and meditation app that promotes itself as ‘a gym for the mind’, mindfulness promotes creativity, increases focus and reduces stress and anxiety. In the workplace, all of this could mean both increased productivity and happier staff. With this research now becoming common and mainstream, a spate of recent reports on Forbes, the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal all discuss the science and benefits of mindfulness in the workplace. Whilst many of these recent articles relate specifically to mindfulness in the workplace and David Gelles’s new book “Mindful Work”, there is a long and growing body of studies related to meditation (see for examples recent article on Forbes and Wikipedia) and mindfulness showing similar benefits.  And of course with any new trend, the articles against mindfulness are also starting to appear.  There was one I read, which suggested forcing people to meditate in a group setting would be more harmful than helpful to your workplace culture – I must say I hadn’t even thought of the idea that anyone would try to force people to meditate!

I have been practicing yoga and mediation for almost 4 years, and would personally agree with many of the benefits – and I note I would have hated to be forced to meditate in a workplace setting. I believe yoga and mediation have helped me to become more resilient and deal better with a number of signficnt workplace issues in a previous workplace from bullying to chronic pain and then a redundancy, to now being better able to managing my stress , prioritise better and focus more on what is important both in life and at work. I think my practice has also helped me to become a better team leader and a better designer, through increased awareness of how I communicate with others as well as creating a calmer mind which I can see affecting my creativity and ability to think differently. Frequently I find after a yoga class I will have new solutions or ideas related to current projects – the basis of this whole blog in fact started in my mind during a week long yoga intensive.

I have also seen how introducing these practices to the workplace, opens up yoga or meditation to people who might not otherwise venture into a yoga studio or a buddist meditation class. I used to sit in a workstation pod with 4 male structural engineers of varying ages – our workplace introduced a weekly yoga class, and over time all of them become participants, regular discussions were held in our work area about the benefits of yoga and there was a push for the classes to be increased to twice weekly. They also frequently commented on how it was obvious I was in a better mood on days when I attended yoga classes before work.

How does mindfulness affect workplace design though? If its just about quieting our minds, can the design of our workplaces contribute? They certainly can, and it doesn’t have to be all about cushions or incense. The recent article by Leigh Stringer for Office Insight  suggests a number of ways mediation spaces can be created – from dedicated rooms, to quiet spaces away from the busier parts of the workplace, to outdoor spaces and labyrinths for walking meditations. Space for yoga and other physical practices is frequently accommodated within flexible meeting or training spaces. In many ways, good workplace design supports mindfulness – a variety of different spaces for different uses, access to nature or views of nature and provision of quiet soothing spaces for individual use all support work, just as much as they support the practice of mindfulness training in the workplace. Good design itself also helps focus us in the here and now rather than wishing ourselves elsewhere.

What other ways could design promote mindfulness? Does your workplace offer yoga, meditation or colouring in? If it did, would you participate?

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:

Is a Well building different to a Green building?

Sick by Leonid Mamchenkov, on FlickrRecently I attended Worktech  Melbourne, where many of the speakers focused on wellness (or  health and wellbeing) which seems to have become the next big thing in workplace design. Australia is about to have its first certified “well” building, the new Macquarie Bank building at 50 Martin Place.

When Tony Armstrong from CBRE mentioned this concept of a certified “well” building, and that it had been around since 2013 (with CBRE’S global headquarters actually having being first certified WELL workplace) I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this building assessment tool before. I keep pretty up to date with what is happening in both the world of workspace and of green buildings, and this concept of a well building certification seemed like something that would have grabbed my attention before. Someone suggested maybe it was the Living Building challenge rebranded (it’s not). Whilst the WELL building standard may have been around for a little while, it’s been a pilot (version 1 was just released in February 2015) and there are so far only a small number of WELL certified spaces (coincidentally I have been to one of the restraunts registered for certification in Chicago).

So what is a WELL building? According to the website of the International Well Building Institute, who developed the WELL Building Standard “Buildings should be developed with humans at the centre of design.”  Interestingly this sounds almost the same as TILT Studio’s concept for codesign, who also spoke at Worktech (and is fresh in my mind because I have just been reading their book Codesign).

A WELL building is more than just human centred design – a WELL building sounds pretty amazing actually. The Well Building Institute claims not only will a WELL space improve our health, nutrition and fitness, but also our mood and our sleep patterns. And of course our improve our performance. There have long been claims that a well (as in good!) designed building, in particular workplace increases productivity, which one assumes equates to increased performance. From my own experience as a designer,it’s clear to me how buildings can help or hinder the activities within. Buildings improving mood also makes send to me – stimulating design, natual light and sufficient ventilation all play a part in enhancing our mood. But how can our buildings help improve sleep? Or nutrition? Clearly I need to learn more about what a WELL building might be.

So this week I set out to undertake some research on the WELL Building standard to see what it entails and how it differs from and compliments a green building (I should mention that the WELL Building certification is administered by the GBCI who certify LEED).  When I started reading the WELL concepts (or categories) it sounds a lot like GreenStar (Australia’s equivalent to LEED) – air, water, comfort… nourishment and fitness are a bit different. WELL has 7 categories (called concepts) are air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind. Like GreenStar these categories are then broken down into features (a total of 102). Some features are baseline essentials for certification and some are optional for extra points and a higher level certification. Also like GreenStar some features relate to the built fabric and some are management, policy or education strategies.

Air – this category is all about indoor air quality so is very similar to what you would expect for a green building.

Water – green buildings tend to focus on water use, WELL is all about water quality.

Nourishment – I am going to quote this one because I am not even quite sure what it might mean yet. “Implement design, technology and knowledge building strategies to encourage healthy eating habits. Provides occupants with design features, behavioral cues, healthy options and knowledge to enable healthier food choices”!!!! How will my building do all that? More research required on this element for sure!

Light – this seems a little more straight forward. It’s all about appropriate light and enough natural light. I can see how lighting can impact health, so many people complain about headaches and muscle tension related to poor lighting. Daylight also regulates our mood and sleep patterns so maybe his is how well buildings help improve our mode and sleep?

Fitness – is about introducing opportunities for occupants to excercise. So I expect this category will include features such as gyms but also design strageties that encourage using stairs over the lifts.

Comfort – again this is someone similar to some similar GreenStar credits. Acoustics and thermal confort a key to providing a “soothing, distraction free environment”.

Mind – this is another category I want to research further. Here we are looking to support mental and emotional health, relaxation spaces are important but so is “providing feedback and knowledge about their personal and occupational environment”. What does that mean?

Obviously to understand the tool and what it means for the design of buildings I need to do a bit more reading (all the above was gleaned from the overview sections of the website). Next step download the standard.

One difference I notice immeadiately on reviewing the executive summary is that “the space must undergo a process that includes an onsite assessment and performance testing by a third- party” – this sounds interesting someone must actually visit the building – and is not required for a GreenStar certification. The assessor will spend up to 3 days onsite undertaking tests and verifying features applied for. This is pretty stringent and I imagine comes at a cost (Certification is charged by the square foot, prices are on the website).

The program allows for certification only of completed occupied spaces. Buildings yet to be tenanted cannot be certified, only designed as WELLL compliant. Like GreenStar or LEED there are levels ranging from silver to platinum. WELL is being designed for many building types, although at this point is mainly aimed at office and institutional projects. Other project types (retail, residential, healthcare and more) are encouraged to register and help develop the pilot programs.

Like GreenStar has recently introduced, certification has a validity period of 3 years after which time, it must be re-verified and certified again.

If you are familiar with LEED, the standard has a comparison table identifying how the WELL features relate and cross over with LEED.

At this point I decided to read up on the nutrition and mind sections of the standard as these are the areas that I feel I have the least understanding of how design could affect space occupants in these areas. So I am by no means an expert on the standard yet!

Unsurprisingly a large part of the nourishment section relates to food and drinks provided or sold by or under contract with the project owner. So if I wanted to have a WELL certified shopping mall and my food outlets would have to meet pretty specific items around fruit, vegetables, fat and sugar as well as serving sizes and labeling. I’d say it would be simpler for a workplace which would tend to provide less food to employees. Hand washing is a feature where design plays a part – provision of disposable paper towels and soap at all sinks as well as minimum sink sizes are required for this feature. Under another feature, food preparation area require separate sinks to prevent cross contamination. (I wonder if a workplace breakout counts as there wouldn’t usually be raw meat there?) There are some specific requirements for refrigerators which might be selected by a designer. The main areas where nourishment features are impacted by design would be the provision of gardening space and spaces for mindful eating, both of which are optional features. Mindful eating is the provision of breakout areas as unsurprisingly getting away from out desks is good for reducing stress, and apparently eating with others encourages healthier eating. The eating space must have fridges, microwaves, sinks etc and contain tables and chairs to accommodate at least 25% of total employees at a given time as well as be located within 60 m [200 ft] of at least 90% of occupants. The new GreenStar interiors tool also requires breakout space, with an area based calculation per occupant and less definition of what the space contains – the GreenStar credit is about providing staff for employee enjoyment as opposed to specially a space for eating (it can be part of an activity based work area)

The mind concept is much more diverse. Covering biophilia, workplace policies in travel and flexible working, charity, beauty, the design process and post occupancy evaluations. Some features would be perhaps difficult to demonstrate objectively – how do we measure if the project contains features intended for human delight and celebration of the spirit? (This feature is apparently derived for the Living Buildings Challenge). The feature related to adaptable spaces and requirements for both diverse spaces for collaboration and private spaces for concentration could start to provide a good guide to the amounts and types of private spaces required within workplaces when clients start pushing design teams to cram in more workstations. Not sure the sleep pods and meditation cushions will take off just yet though! Inclusion of plants has already seen a big increase in Australia due to GreenStar, and forms part of the biophilia features along with patterning from nature, water features and roof top gardens. Other design oriented elements include minimum ceiling heights and the inclusion of artworks.  This mind section would be worthwhile for designers to take into account even when not designing specifically to meet the standard.

Having reviewed in more detail two of the seven concepts, only around one third are design related. Clearly certification under the WELL building standard requires a high level of commitment from management and will have far reaching effects on the organisation and it’s employees and building occupants. The question is who will drive adoption of this standard – whilst design teams can educate their clients as to its existence, I think ultimately it will have to be driven from within an organisation’s leadership team for there to be any chance of sucess. Perhaps also we will soon be finding a new consultant on our team, a wellness consultant who might have a background in HR or psychology rather than in buildings. Personally I believe, this could only be a good outcome for workplace design. What do you think? Can design contribute more to health and wellbeing? Will your own or your client organisations be interested and committed to this process? Would you like to have a wellness consultant on your team?

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:

Could we all achieve more by working less?

Balancing lady by orangebrompton, on Flickr One of the reasons my blogging schedule is a little irregular from time to time is the fact I always want to enjoy writing this blog. Its also one of the reasons I take a break in January. To me, this is the meaning of work life balance – that you are enjoying what you are doing, its not just about the number of hours you spend at work, or doing things that are related to your work. Interestingly during the course of writing this post, I came across this article, which claims that work-life balance is impossible – but to me, describes what I would think of as work life balance – in particular filling your life with things you love.

I think for most of us who work in architecture and design, we do love many parts of what we do. But that doesn’t always equate to feeling that we have a happy balance between our work and other things we love – some of which may be related to, and extend our work, such as attending or presenting at conferences, research and writing or contributing to the industry as a whole – as well as all the other things that are important in our lives – family, friends, health and other interests.

For most people, even architects who love their jobs – we don’t love unrealistic working hours and deadlines. Mentally there is a big difference between a deadline that is a realistic and achievable goal which you have the time, energy and passion available to meet, and deadlines which are unachievable or require you to work an 80 hour week. Working late because you are caught up in solving a design problem can be enjoyable, working late and having to cancel other plans because someone else is having a crisis is not. I think for most people, it is particularly when we feel we have no control over our work and working hours, when someone else has created the deadline without your input, is when work and life start to feel out of balance and we feel stressed.

As many architects are, I’ve always had a tendency to words being a bit if a workaholic – I think you wouldn’t ever be able to finish the degree if you weren’t. Most of us do care so much about the quality of what we design and care about meeting our clients expectations that we are often prepared to put in additional hours, and not complain, still be happy and love our jobs. But in our industry, extra hours are because clients set unrealistic and unreasonable time frames for design and documentation. We often have the same amount of time to actually produce a design as they will then take to review it! Or we are working extra hours because ever decreasing and competitive fee structures rely on architectural and design staff to work extra hours for free. But is it really worth it for our clients or our firms?

Last week I read an article on how working more than 50 hours a week actually makes you less productive.

In my own experience I think this is true. As with many people, after an injury due to overwork and then later being made redundant and having some months off, my priorities around work have changed. Whilst it’s still important to me to deliver great projects and satisfy my clients,I am not willing to sacrifice my health or my whole life to do that. I also realise the value of taking time out of day to day work in order to be more inspired about work (see my previous post on finding inspiration).

So most if the time, I do now work less hours than I used to. Yes, there are still occasional times when you will find me in the office at 10pm or on a Sunday – but it’s no longer a regular occurance. I have realised that most of the time, I still get just as much done, if not more. Because I have time to sleep and excercise and I’m not stressed. Because I have time to read and blog, to go to conference and the like, I find new ideas and ways of thinking. When I go to work, my brain is switched in and I am getting work done more efficiently with less mistakes. This is an obvious benefit to the practice I work in, how much would our practices benefit from all their staff being at the top of their game rather than stressed and tired? Would it actually balance out the lower levels of overtime? And could our clients also benefit?

Clients often make the mistake in cutting short the design, and particularly the documentation process. Design takes time to consider and to mature – even if the first solutions might be close to the right answer, it almost always improves the design if time is spent considering, testing and discussing the design against the building requirements and functions. The opposite is also visible – I know in my fitouts – if you go to the spaces where the client rushed through last minute changes without allowing a full reexamination of the design as a whole, even people who are not designers themselves can usually tell there is something odd or comprimised about these spaces.

Short changing documentation is even more common – and with even more direct negative results to the client – straight to the hip pocket through RFIs and variations. Clients are often unwilling to understand that documentation is a process flow. There gets to a certain point where we can’t do it any faster no matter how many hours we spend on the job or how many staff we throw at it (also a bad idea when it comes to accuracy and consistency). There is a back and forth sharing of information and a review process between architects and designers, engineers, code compliance consultants and many others that makes up even a relatively small project today. Each person needs time to do their job and have it checked or errors inevitably occur. So clients next time you ask you design team why there have been so many variations, maybe you should think about how you cut back their delivery program.

Does the architectural and design industry need to rely on long hours? Is it helping you, your practice or your clients? Is it better to work smarter than to work harder? And what does work life balance mean to you? Is it becoming more important today that in the past?

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  orangebrompton 

Revit for Interiors – its not perfect

receptionThis post is a follow up to my last post – Do Revit and Interior Design go together? Whilst I totally believe the answer is a resounding yes, and I am a big fan of using Revit for Interior design, there are certainly a few areas where it could be improved.  In my last post I wrote about the benefits you can gain understanding your outputs and from setting up your standards and libraries – both families and materials.  Whilst these will help you make the most of Revit, there is one particular area we can’t completely fix by setup, standards or processes.  This is the way that Revit understands  materials and finishes, and in my view is one of the most significant of Revit’s limitations. I think this is what has hampered its uptake by interior designers.  However, if you understand how Revit ‘thinks’ and you organise your office documentation – you can work around this.  (Autodesk I hope you are reading…improvements for Revit 2017?)

Revit is pretty crude in its understanding of material versus finish. When I talk about material versus finish, I mean a wall is made of plasterboard, but it’s finish is a certain type and colour paint. A material is a piece of stainless steel, it’s finish could be brushed or linished.  Most of the time Revit can’t differentiate between these two concepts. In the materials library, each ‘material’ is both material and finish (or can be). This lack of differentiation is one of the reasons why implementing Revit for interiors can be a challenge – because it simply makes no sense! (And so does not align with how most firms would document)

Why would you have a wall type for every paint colour – well of course you wouldn’t! Revit sort of gets it, this is why the paint tool exists – however it’s a slow and only partial solution.  One of the key things to understand about the paint tool is that it only works for system families – that is walls, floors, ceilings (and I think roofs). Which us a bit crazy really – because I’d more often paint a door than I would a floor.  ***this applies only when you are within a project environment, thanks to Aaron Maller, check the comments section to see how to use the paint tool within families***

So when it comes to doors, casework (joinery) or any family we build – we have to make a decision – are we documenting our door as MDF or are we documenting it as a specific colour MDF? What do we need to show in a rendering and what do we need to schedule? This could be different for different offices, but in terms of managing your materials library, it’s best to agree an office wide standard. In our office, the door material would usually include both the core material and the paint finish, because we have a range of core materials that differ from door to door, and they may not be otherwise detailed. However generally casework either has all the same core material, or we detail the core construction, so we would often just specify the surface material eg laminate or stone facings.

For walls, we generally have a rule that if the wall has an applied finish with thickness it would usually be modeled separately.   So for example wall panels or tiles are modeled as a secondary wall, whereas paint is applied using the paint bucket.  This rule (mostly) works well for interiors, although I know of a few situations where it doesn’t work so well for exterior wall constructions – for example different colours of aluminium panels or different colours of brickwork.  However, we do change the rules for large projects where there are limited wall types and all the tiles are floor to ceiling – then we usually build the tiles as part of the wall types – for these project types and the way we model and document, it is the most efficient way of working for us.   As I said, its really up to you and your office standards as to if you use paint, a new wall type or a separate wall layer – they will have slightly different behaviours when modeling and scheduling, so it depends on what you want as outputs.

***The other important tool to know about is the split face tool.  This allows you to separate sections of wall faces using sketch lines and apply different finishes to each.***

If you are going to use the paint tool, it is quite limiting. You can only apply it in elevation and with out of the box Revit you can also only tag it in elevation.  ARUtils includes a tool which allows you to tag painted items in plan.  I have also had people query how to find the items they have applied paint to – it is annoying but possible by using a materials take off schedule which gives you the option to schedule ‘material as paint’.

Which brings us to creating materials and finishes schedules. Now maybe many of you have got this one figured out by now – but it had me completely baffled for a couple of hours the first time I went to make one – there is no option for a materials schedule? Then someone kindly informed me I needed to use a material take off – even if you don’t want to take off the quantities! (you just don’t include this parameter) The other important difference in setting up a materials schedule is that you use the parameters that start “Material:Keynote” or “Material:Name”. The other parameters in the list are the parameters of the objects themselves and not the materials.

A couple of important last tips on materials schedules – manage your library well and don’t have duplicate items with similar names and the same keynotes – this will save you a lot of time when you are scheduling. Also be aware that there are 2 parts to the materials dialogue box – and one part, the ‘appearance’ tab relates only to rendering – none of the information stored there appears in your Revit schedule (maybe there is an add in to do this? If anyone knows of one, I’d love to know). The data that appears in your schedule is the data under the ‘Identity’ tab – and that’s it. You can’t add extra parameters to materials (again if there is a way, this is something I would really find useful). For this reason, I don’t recommend including your company name in the material name, because then you essentially lose another parameter for scheduling.  ***Again my readers have helped me out on this – you can add extra parameters to materials, you just can’t do it within the materials editor, you have to go to manage->project parameters to add them.  I still wouldn’t recommend including your company name in the material name though***

Finally remember that in order for a material to schedule – it must exist in the project. Be particularly cautious of this if you have a habit of painting one wall to force a colour into the schedule and then you delete it…One solution to this is to use a phase before the demolition phase to create objects with all your materials on them and schedule from here (demolish the objects in the same phase). I find this particularly useful on projects where I need to generate finishes schedules for the client or contractor before the design is fully resolved (and therefore not yet modeled). It can also provide the base place for all of the project users to find the correct materials.

Originally this post was going to be about a few more things…but I have recently been teaching some classes on materials and found I had a lot to say!  So you can look out for another post on Revit and interiors sometime next year.  In the meantime, what are your tips and tricks for best using Revit materials? Do you have those odd door schedules where your doors are made of yourcompanyname_Glass_Clear? Have problems with materials and scheduling them made you give up on Revit? Share your thoughts whilst I take some summer holidays!

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits: DJRD project image

PS. Sorry if you have commented on the last post and it has taken a while for it to appear. I have had some problems with the comments management section of the website.

Do Revit and Interior Design go together?

QUIET ROOM & ENTRY VIEW.2It has always surprised me how low the number of interior design teams using Revit has been – often even not used by interiors teams in large firms where the majority of the architecture projects are being delivered using Revit. For me, Revit has always offered significant benefits to my projects, ever since I made the decision my team would move away from 2D CAD packages and into Revit for all projects back in 2007. That’s right -all projects. I doesn’t matter how big or how small a project, or if there are existing drawings in a 2D CAD format, or even if my new design team doesn’t yet know Revit – all the projects I have lead and worked on for the last 7 years have been primarily designed and documented in Revit. Recently, I’ve been pleased to find more interest in using Revit for interior design with a number of people mentioning to me both in person and on twitter that they want to know more about the benefits of Revit for interiors. So I thought it might be time to write a blog post (which has turned into 2 parts) on the main benefits of using Revit, as well as tips for optimising Revit for interior design teams. Today’s post is focussed more on the information benefits and setup of Revit whilst the next part will discuss Revit as a design and visulisation tool.

The Power of Scheduling
When asked recently on twitter for my number one tip for using Revit for interiors, it was to make use of scheduling. From the very beginning of using Revit it was the scheduling and tagging abilities of Revit that have paid off for my projects. At its most basic, the use of schedules for room areas or workstation numbers saves time every time. Scheduling furniture, fixtures and signage is also a breeze – and even better visually now that Revit 2015 allows us to incorporate images – finally! I am sure this change will play a big part in convincing interior designers to use Revit. Door schedules are great too – although come with their own challenges, as do finishes schedules (material take off in Revit terminology).

Anything you used to schedule in word or excel, you can schedule in Revit, so why type everything twice and risk making mistakes? There are a couple of key issues to be aware of when using Revit for schedules. Firstly you have to remember that your schedule is based on your model – if there is garbage in your model (eg two chairs on top of one another, or chairs off in space), there will be garbage in your schedule. The other is the visibility filters set in the schedule, what is not visible is not counted. If the schedule name is Level 23 Workstation Schedule, but the schedule filter is set to Level 22 then its not of much use (just as if someone accidentally counted off the wrong plan!). Schedules always need to be manually checked when first set up, and then some ongoing common sense checking as the project progresses.

Schedules themselves are also great to help you with checking. I use various kinds of schedules for BCA and GreenStar calculations and checking and even expanded schedules to check filtered or totaled schedules. Taken further schedules can become the basis for Room Data sheets created in excel, word (or other 3d party softwares). For an example using excel you can see my previous post What’s in a Room?

If you are interested in more on Revit Scheduling I have presentation on slide share called Informedesign which is primarily about using Revit and its information (often conveyed via schedules) to support your design process.

At the end of the day, the value of scheduling lies in its ability to free up time to spend more time doing what we love – designing. But before we get to the benefits of Revit in the design process, I will touch on the other key aspect of freeing up your time in Revit – leveraging repaatative content.

Revit loves repetition
Its true, Revit loves repetition. Many people believe that means its not valuable for the one off – but it is and I am going to talk more about that next post. However, as with scheduling you use Revit’s power of repetition to free up your time to focus on the one off items and area, because that is where we should focus our efforts as designers.

Two areas of Revit are key for repetition, families and groups. Families are discussed further below as part of your libraries but groups should also form part of your strategy for repetition. I’ve written extensively before about groups – so once you have got the basics of this post, you can go read more about groups here.

Building your generic library
Interior designers and BIM managers alike are often dismayed by the thought of modeling everything in an interior design project (or even worse – by starting to think about what could go into a every project), every piece of furniture  and every material known to man. The answer to this dilemma – is that you don’t necessarily have to. If its your first Revit project and your aim isn’t to deliver a full BIM project then don’t try to – you will overwhelm yourself and struggle to deliver. Start off with a little and build up over time. Focus initially on two areas, one is the more generic content and the other is the areas where Revit assists your design thinking.

By generic content, I mean the components you use most frequently in projects. This will differ depending upon your firm, the types of projects you do and the types of 3d imagery you need to output. For me, primarily I am designing workplace and educational projects. My basic set of generic content therefore includes task seating, a few different lounge, meeting and cafe seating styles and a couple of shapes and styles of tables with easy to modify sizes and bases. At its most basic joinery and equipment may start out as a family that just contains a box.

Focus on your outputs.  If all you are producing is 1:100 test fit planning – you are wasting time modeling every cupboard and agonising over what each chair looks like. As long as you have your plan objects looking right, you can produce your deliverables (and schedule too). Over time you can start to develop your 3D detail or information for different areas over time depending upon your design stages and outputs. For example, while we will end up modeling the casework in a store room eventually (in order to document it), we probably won’t look at it in anything other than plan until quite late in the project (or you might never even need to). By contrast, the 3D development of key spaces such as reception will begin much earlier and may include more specific furniture, joinery and finishes even from the very first presentations. Workstation areas would be likely to be in between. We model almost everything in 3D, so we can create massing type images and flythroughs, it is then the level of detail that differs across the objects in different areas. This also helps to contribute to a more sketchy feel earlier in the design process (as do the new 2015 sketchy lines).

I would also say, don’t rule out using supplier content but don’t rely on it exclusively. For anything you are going to use over and over again, you can start from a supplier family but make sure you do some sort of QA to determine if its suitable for your ways of using it – for me key things are that it is the right way around (all Hermans Millers chairs are backwards) and that is has a 3d plan component to it so it will represent as white in views with colour schedules applied. Beyond that I may also go further with replacing parameters and materials if my uses for it require this. (eg for scheduling) Its great to see the range of furniture and fixtures available as Revit families are growing – examples currently available include Haworth, Steelcase, Caroma and Britex (you can find a good starting list here at IGS website).

The other key part of your generic content is materials. It much more efficient to have a library and templates that already contain basic finishes such as white powedercoat, black laminate or stainless steel complete with information and keynotes that then doesn’t need to be recreated in every project. Again supplier sources such as Dulux free Colour Atlas for Revit app or RTV’s Revit Paint (which includes Dulux, Resene and more) can also help build up your material options quickly.

Next post I will talk more about Revit materials and finishes as well as how to use Revit to power your interior design process, but also about some of the limitations of Revit for interiors (Autodesk hope you will be reading!). In the meantime, are you using Revit for interior design? What are your tips? Or is your firm starting to think about it? What makes you hesitate? Are you just starting out with Revit for interiors? What’s driving you batty? (because Revit does do that too, even to me some days!)

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:  DJRD current project image, rendering straight from Revit.

Reproduction, Replica or Rip Off?

’56 Speedster replica by Some Guy Photo, on Flickr

Replica, reproduction or rip off? It’s likely what you call a fake piece of designer furniture depends on if you would have one in your house or not. Over the last few years designer fakes have been seen as big issue in the Australian interior design industry. For example Authentic Design Alli ance was set up a couple of years ago to petition government for change and educate both the design industry and consumers.

The topic of fakes or copies came up last week I attended the launch of Penny Craswell’s The Design Writer blog at Stylecraft. The panel consisted of 3 Australian furniture designers – Keith Melbourne, Helen Kontouris and Greg Natale.  The issue of copying was raised by Penny as part of the panel discussion and certainly dominated the audience comments at the end of the night. Whilst none of the designers present had yet had the (dubious) honour of having their pieces copied, all are aware of how prevalent cheap (and even not so cheap) reproductions are – and that they seem to be are comprising a growing segment of the furniture market in Australia.

Speaking afterwards with Helen and Greg, they were discussing how designers today may deliberately design details that are hard to manufacture and therefore hard to copy in order to reduce the chances of being copied. Whilst I am not disagreeing with this tactic, I would guess it creates additional costs both in time to market or in manufacture and whilst it certainly does not detract from, it does not necessarily benefit the design.

So what’s the attraction of fakes? And why are they so prevalent in Australia these days? Cost is the obvious answer but not the full picture. Availability and ease of purchase is certainly part of the issue. Reproduction pieces have been ever more widely available in Australia in recent years, particularly when compared to European countries. The internet is certainly part of the rise of fakes, it is much easier than ever before for either designers or individual shoppers to quickly source furniture by keywords and images. No longer do you need to know which suppliers or stores to go to, you can find what you want on the internet within minutes – often just by using Google images. Frequently we all specify or select furniture based purely from the image. There just isn’t time to visit every showroom or collect samples of every item in many fitouts (I blogged just recently on lack of time) I wouldn’t be surprised if some junior designers specify reproductions by accident – perhaps not realising that an original exists or that the supplier they have selected is selling a reproduction. (Even during the course of writing this blog I have discovered a lamp shade in my house is in fact a designer knock off – now do I get rid of it?)

Designers are also being pressured more and more to meet project budgets. Clients and project managers push to bring the costs of projects down – and loose furniture is almost always the first part of the project to be attacked by ‘value management’. Is it really ‘value’ to replace a designer piece with a reproduction? Are we reducing the value of our own interior design by doing so? Do our clients understand that there is lasting resale value in the original but not in the fake? If they don’t, perhaps we need to educate them in this regard. I can buy 2 replica Eames plastic chairs for $136 but I probably won’t get $10 back for them. Sadly though-  today I can’t prove this point – all I could find for sale on Gumtree was replicas! I guess that suggests that people want to keep the real thing?

I would also suggest that the increase in the sales of fakes  – perhaps somewhat strangely – is because Australians are more exposed to design than ever before – but without necessarily having the understanding or appreciation of quality that exists in many European countries. Think about the standard of design in your local cafe or average workspace – I would say that over the last 20 years the level of design that goes into these spaces has markedly increased. In the media, I have frequently seen Australia referred to as being a hot spot for interior design or ‘punching above its weight’. The 2 Eames plastic chairs I mentioned above I saw advertised on prime time TV (to buy on the internet though!) so clearly the market for designer furniture is now pretty broad. In my area of Sydney every second house for sale has an Eames lounge and a few Eames plastic chairs that seem to come standard as part of the stylists package. Are Australians now coming to appreciate design in the spaces they inhabit, but devaluing design itself by filling the space full of cheaper reproduction furniture? If you can’t afford an Eames, shouldn’t you just accept that? As Helen Kontouris pointed out – if you can’t afford a BMW you don’t drive a fake BMW (although I did find this replica speedster image on flicker – where there were more replica cars than replica furniture images! Perhaps that just reflects the bias of flickr’s users to cars rather than furniture).

The point is here in Australia, the replica furniture is widely available so people don’t have to accept they can’t afford it. The same as a ‘Gucci’ bag in Thailand. If you can buy it, some people always will.

In 2011 Herman Miller took legal action against Matt Blatt for infringing its trademark by use of the word Eames chair to describe their replica products. It wasn’t actually even the copying that was at dispute here – but the use of the name Eames. Australian Design Review reported on the case.  The protection for design in Australia is fairly limited, and from what I understand this is one big difference between Australia and Europe. Its not that no Europeans would buy designer rip offs, they just don’t have the chance. The case between Herman Miller and Matt Blatt was settled with what seem to be fairly minor changes to the Matt Blatt marketing and they continue to sell replicas today- and the market for replicas has even probably grown in the intervening time.

The comments at the bottom of the Australian Design Review article raise an interesting point though, and one which was raised at The Design Writer event last week – its one thing for sales of fakes to be taking sales away from a giant like Herman Miller, but do you feel differently about the situation if cheap Aisan manufactured furniture pieces are taking away from sales and manufacturing of Australian furniture? With the flow on of limiting over time the market and opportunities for new Australian designer furniture to even be developed? Or is it as a couple of those commenting say, and that to debate the issue of replicas is only about protecting corporations making money from long dead designers?

Given the concerns of local designers – Keith Melbourne, Helen Kontouris and Greg Natale – the answer is no, they see fakes as having the potential to take food off their tables to quote Keith. Is it that current legislation in Australia is not supporting or protecting live designers too? A design registration only lasts 10 years, it doesn’t actually take long before replicas are legally permitted (assuming a piece could take 3-4 years to get from registration to market) – and that doesn’t even take into account the minor design changes that could allow a replica product to be sold (although not as a ‘replica’) sooner.

The question in my mind is – does it matter? Would the people buying fake Eames chairs actually buy pieces by Australian designers anyway? This is where it comes down to the recommendations and specifications of interior designers. People who are buying replicas on their own, for their own houses are likely not going to change their decisions unless the law changes. Even then would they be buying Australian Designers – well that probably depends on media coverage. However where we as interior designers have some influence over clients its a little different. If they can’t afford an Eames chair, maybe they can afford a new piece by an up and coming Australian designer – and that is the story you sell to them – that they are supporting Australian design (and highlighting therefore what good taste they have, not just copying everyone else etc etc).

As interior designers we want to be paid fairly for our projects, so we should respect that the designers for furniture want to get paid fairly too. Think about it – by supporting rip off furniture, we assist in undermining the value of all kinds of design – including our own – don’t we?

Ceilidh Higgins
Image Credits:
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Some Guy Photo 

Discontents of Simulation (or what you might call modelling)

”Cave” simulation by Los Alamos National Laboratory, on Flickr“…architects are learning that the fight for professional jurisdiction is increasingly jurisdiction over simulation”

I’ve recently finished a book called “Simulation and it’s Discontents” by Sherry Turkle, which I bought while I was working on my presentation Big data at the intersection of people analytics and building analytics.  Part of my presentation was about creating simulations of human activity based upon big data, and I’d assumed the book would be about these kinds of simulations.  It wasn’t quite what I expected though – if I talk about architecture and a simulation – would you think of CAD? Nor did I!

In fact the term “simulation” is here applied to what we in architecture, interior design or engineering would use the term, models – specifically computer models. Part way through the book, our use of this term in architecture is actually discussed – that we use this term in resisting change, feeling a need to define the computer outputs in a language with which we are familiar.

It was interesting to see the understanding and language of computer simulations discussed across a variety of fields including architecture, engineering, life sciences, physics and even nuclear science (the image in this post is a nuclear simulation). The writers examine the attitudes of academics, students and professionals to the use of computer simulations in their fields – back in the 1980s (hence CAD) and again in the mid 2000’s. It was intriguing to see how much things have changed – and even just since 2005 – but at the same time how much things stay the same. The argument between hand drawing and Revit models continues  in many offices to this day. Personally I think it will keep on going for some time, because now even our clients have started contributing to it! One design gets up because of a sexy fly though and renderings, another client is only convinced of the quality of the design when they see some pretty hand drawn perspectives (which had in actual fact been traced over a Revit model!).

Do we think only by drawing as is so commonly stated by architects and designers?  I still keep a roll of trace at my desk and use it at some point in every project, I do think while I draw. But I think while I model too. Often the model makes me think harder. Things cannot be faked and fudged in the model as easily – to do so the person modelling almost always has to make a conscious decision to fudge it, to take a shortcut. At least anyone who actually understands the building does. There are certainly those who have been taught to fudge it, make today’s drawing or image pay off, get it out the door. There are certainly times when you need to. But that’s not BIM and it’s not thinking either. To me it’s the same by hand – you can draw or trace without thinking about how something really works, if it works in 3d or from the back, how it’s built, if it complies with code. You can do the same with a model. But if you model properly, with the intent of creating something that can be built then you have to think at the same time.

Interestingly one of the biggest concerns of the “discontents of simulation” was the same for all the disciplines discussed. It was a concern that practitioners became disconnected from the reality and the physicality of their discipline – unable to judge what is possible in the real world as opposed to a simulation. In architecture there is no doubt that this problem occurs, with the number of technical detailers and specification writers (often of the grey haired variety) dropping in many offices and there not being a younger generation to replace them.

Now in the architecture profession, we could blame BIM and computer software for this problem – but is it? Does anyone really think so? We can blame a lot of things on BIM, but is it BIM or is it something else?  When I read articles blaming poor design on BIM, it often seems to me it’s a different problem. The problem is about many things – most of which are outside of BIM. First and foremost it’s a lack of a transfer of knowledge.  Whether that is the immediate transfer of knowledge between designer and modeller, or the lack of BIM knowledge of the designer or the lack of technical knowledge by the detailer.  Why isn’t this knowledge being passed down? Is it a lack of interest in either teaching or learning – I don’t think so. I think it’s a lack of time. A lack of time (and fees) for graduates to go out on site and learn about construction.  A lack of time for more senior staff to learn about BIM. A lack of time because there are so many different things we expect an architect or interior designer or engineer to do and know. Not just one BIM software but many packages for modelling, presenting  and maybe even project managing and scheduling too.  Its not just the amount of knowledge required either.  Its the pace – every year projects seem to be delivered faster and faster – it’s not even about fees anymore – sometimes there really just isn’t any time for someone to explain what or why something is done that way – it just has to go out to the builder now.

Is this affecting the quality and cost of design? Of course it does. It’s not just the time for teaching, it’s also the time for thinking. It has been proven that as architectural fees go down, construction fees go up. While BIM can help rescue RFIs and variations – it still remains true garbage in, garbage out. This is the biggest concern of the discontents of simulation – sometimes at the end of the day the simulation is so beautiful, we could be blind to the garbage that went into creating it.

Ceilidh Higgins

PS. For further inspiration Come Out to the (Midnight) Lunch – If you are in Sydney on Thursday 16 October, I am organising another opportunity for followers of this blog to meet and network.  If you are interested in having a drink, meeting new people and talking with fellow The Midnight Lunch followers about workplace, interior design, architecture, BIM or collaboration in our industry – come to Chicane Bar at 10-20 Bond St in the city from 5.30pm. Note the event is not sponsered, buy your own drinks and food. RSVP ceilidh@themidnightlunch.com or just turn up on the night.

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Los Alamos National Laboratory