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General Contractors appear to have projects. Architects don't. Why?
by Katy Purviance on 11/03/10 @ 10:42:50 pm
Categories: Architects | 4423 words | 1408 views

Here’s another great thread from the ARCHITECT group on LinkedIn.

Architects here in various LInkedin discussion groups in city after city report unemployment rates of 50% or more. Meanwhile, most of the media reports the overall national unemployment rate at easily less than half that figure. Yet, general contractors appear to me to be working. Is something more than a recession affecting the architectural profession’s access to work?

In my part of the world, general contractors are getting the line on work first because owners are wanting a different method of achieving their needs being met. Most of the time, the gc contacts the architect for services relating to the project. Our firm has developed some relationships with design/build general contractors and are included in their bid for the project.

I agree. The paradigm of “traditional” practice has become an albatross to the profession. Designing new offers that cross the pre-established lines of service delivery while maintaining the integrity of the profession may sound desperate, but indeed, these are desperate times.

Many architects are simply not willing to go beyond their traditional services to expand their business…It intimidates them, I believe. BIM technology is a perfect example..every architect I come in contact with will tell you they are BIM capable yet most have no clue what the technology can offer in regards to new opportunities. At the same time Contractors seem to be savvy to new opportunities, they see something that will make them better and they exploit it. Successful businesses know not to follow the crowd, they lead and if that means some restructuring is necessary then they do it. Architects talk a good game but in most cases they don’t follow through

In my view, architects need to be more aggressive with their business models.

Thank you for your comment. I think that architects as a whole need to change their mind about many things. Not only how they obtain projects, but how they present themselves to the entire world. I also believe that we need to harness this mass medium of the internet to not only convey who we are but what we do and how we do it. I also believe that in this time of history we should build relationships with those we have separated ourselves from.

Thanks, I hope that with this current downturn architects better prepare themselves for future possibilities. Take the time to seriously rethink their business model and adjust their work flows in a way that is truly going to increase their appeal to the broader market. I understand that adjusting a business model is not easy but in business you can rest assured that unless you adapt to the times you will falter.

An interesting discussion which seems headed in a direction that is close to my heart - an alternative approach to the traditional architectural practice model. We started our firm with the idea of operating “lean", keeping overhead to an absolute minimum, and building a collaborative practice through a network of various relationships. We have recently formed an alliance with a very well established (89 yr old) firm offering complete architectural, interiors, and structural & MEP/FP services in-house. We offer a wealth of expertise in project types that they do not - they represent a tremendous strength in services and experience with billion dollar plus projects. We have expanded the range of projects for each firm. Likewise, we have maintained relationships with other types of firms.

A contractor friend called me yesterday - he is working on a very large multi-project development and the developer’s project manager mentioned that the developer was not satisfied with the architectural work that they were receiving. Furthermore, the developer had just been awarded another $200 million project in this developement. My contractor friend suggested that we might be interested and we are now going to be talking next week - don’t know that we will get work, but we certainly got the opportunity.

Another opportunity has arisen through an appraiser for banks who wants to collaborate to offer plan checking, pay draw reviews, and other administrative architectural services to his banking clients. This type of service will also increase our exposure to banks who may become potential clients themselves.

It is ALL about networking and finding ways to assist others in their success. What goes around comes around.

I want to speculate with you for a moment about why I think architectural firms are reportedly being so much harder hit in this economic downturn than in many other business categories. It appears to me that most architects, who have Revit, have not yet used it to turn out a set of working drawings for a paying client. Yes, that’s right, I said Revit, not BIM. Essentially, BIM IS Revit, because Revit has such a dominant position in the building industry marketplace. It also appears to me that over the last couple of years that there has been a groundswell of demand in the marketplace for projects to be produced in Revit.

It is my impression that the Revit skill sets are not yet there in most architectural firms. Of those architects, who HAVE produced Revit working drawings, it is my impression that most of them are still grappling with improving their skill sets to a point, where they might be said to be exercising due diligence. You can almost tell before you even look at an architect’s Revit files whether they know what they are doing. Ask them for the prototypical specifications for their Revit work stations. Many firms are not spending the money to get work stations, which can properly carry the Revit load requirements. Also, many architectural firms I think are lagging on staying up with the latest Revit releases, which is now up to 2010. Revit is not downwardly release compatible. Thus, it’s keep the latest updates or perish.

Our company has seen many sets of shoddy Revit working drawings, which have been turned over to general contractors for construction. We have seen stuff like 3D elements, imported into the Revit files, which have come from other applications, such as AutoCAD, ArchiCAD or Microstation. When that kind of thing happens, to the extent it does happen the BIM aspects of the Revit data are compromised.

In too many instances architects appear to be more interested in making the models LOOK good rather than making them work properly as BIMs. This may be happening, because the principals in most firms are BIM illiterate and cannot properly conduct quality control of the firm’s Revit work product. General contractors are interested in examining the model to determine where various components of the building construction are improperly running into one another or failing to achieve proper clearances. They are using Navisworks Manage to bring data in from numerous computer applications to detect collisions and conflicts and then to manage conflict resolution.

To me it would seem that architects and engineers should be doing this on behalf of the general contractors, but apparently this is not happening. Navisworks Manage is expensive. One seat of that program, including an update subscription, is over $13 grand. Check with your local Autodesk reseller. Ask who is buying Navisworks Manage. It is not architects and engineers. It is general contractors.

Our company was recently called in to help an electrical engineer construct a BIM of the electrical systems for a 110,000 sf four story educational building, where the construction documents had been produced with a number of different CAD and BIM applications. The general contractor required all subcontractors to prepare BIM models of their respective parts of the work. When everything was assembled and surveyed in Navisworks Manage, using the bid documents from the architect and engineers for the project, it was found that the project had over 5,000 conflicts and collisions. Each conflict represented a potential RFI. That was an astonishing indictment of the project’s working drawings.

Project after project across the country is being demanded to be produced in Revit. General contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and manufacturers are responding aggressively to this demand. It is my impression that architects are mostly NOT responding, or they are responding minimally.

I have heard the same complaints from many Revit users and firms using Revit..the main issue seems to be that most of theses firms continue to use a combination of Revit and Autocad to complete their work. They have the mistaken belief that Revit is an extension of Autocad….I myself have been using Archicad since the early nineties and I can say without hesitation that projects are generated from Pre-design threw CD inside the same program. In fact, all our details were recreated to the new platform Archicad so that we could break the cycle…..

Regardless, I believe many architectural firms are going with Revit for the simple reason that they feel it’s the next step beyond AutoCAD or ADT…Frankly, this is a problem because in order to truly take advantage of BIM you need a complete overhaul of your work flow process…This means that PM’s, CEO, Team Leaders, Draftsman, everyone needs to be open to a major change…Many firms don’t want to make these tough decisions so they work in what I call “Hybrid BIM"..a form of BIM that doesn’t require a total overhaul of the firms system and doesn’t force them to make tough decisions. I have said it many times that BIM is a Process and many architects simply are not willing to listen or for that matter understand the differences between CAD and BIM..It is at their peril though

Furthermore, the statement that projects are demanded to be done in Revit shows the utter lack of knowledge in the community about BIM..Revit is not the only BIM program available and in my view there are better alternatives for architects…yet architects are demanded to produce in it, Why? Do architects ask themselves this? Do they feel it’s because Revit is the defacto industry standard? or is it because architects are not willing to do their homework and are simply forced to use a certain application? I hope this is not the case but frankly it seems that way…

BIM is a Process, it requires a fundamental change in workflow…It requires breaking away from the past (Autocad) and developing a new process….It is about exploiting it’s power and seeking out ways to increase your firms deliverables…Architects and unfortunately many in the industry are not willing to go their…and it is hurting considerably…Consider that BIM has been around since the early 80’s and not until Autodesk purchased Revit in 2001 have many architects even heard of it…

Again, BIM can open up many avenues but it will not happen unless architects take the time to adjust to the new process…Simply going with Revit because they are told to is not leading it’s following..and that will not get this profession where it needs to be to avoid future problems..

A dearth of construction financing in the United States has left many architects and engineers idle or at least not nearly as busy as they have been in the past. Some general contractors are still busy, possibly because they are dealing with funded projects still in the pipeline. I have heard from several general contractors that they see an end to their building activities a year or so down the road unless architects and engineers start producing more work.

That having been said, what work is still being produced by general contractors appears to be characterized by ever increasing BIM (Building Information Modeling) activities, specifically clash detection and conflict resolution. Additionally, more building owners are requiring that general contractors turn over usable and workable BIM data bases before, during, and after construction. There are many CAD and BIM applications, but Autodesk products clearly dominate the market. Manufacturers of building components and systems include more Revit files on their websites than all of the other BIM applications combined.

Many projects are characterized by a sort of dogfight conglomeration of various three dimensional CAD and BIM models, all thrown together chaotically from various members of the project team. It often becomes necessary to incorporate some sort of interoperability in order to make sense of an entire project. Autodesk products, such as the Revit series of BIM applications and Navisworks, offer more interoperability between divergent CAD and BIM platforms than any other applications in the marketplace. However, this interoperability is not perfect. Three dimensional CAD data and BIM data from other applications can be received into Autodesk products, and varying degrees of clash detection can be accomplished, but such imported data loses all BIM intelligence in translation. Clash detection and conflict resolution can occur much earlier and continuously during the modeling process, when all systems are modeled within one brand of BIM application. When collecting models from various Autodesk compatible BIM programs into one program such as Navisworks, clash detection and conflict resolution can only occur after modeling processes have taken place in the applications outside Autodesk. This disjointed process results in loosing efficiency of coordination, which could otherwise take place intuitively and on the fly if everything were to be contained in one BIM product brand.

General contractors find themselves in the difficult position, where multi CAD and BIM applications have been used by architects and engineers to produce project working drawings, of being required to warranty to the building owners that a usable and workable BIM data base will be provided upon completion of the project. In such circumstances the most practical method of achieving this requirement, is for the general contractor to take on the responsibility of altering the project model or sometimes completely regenerating the project model into one brand of BIM application, usually Autodesk, so that a truly operable BIM is the result.

This situation is abdicating a level of responsibility for project working drawings from architects and engineers upon general contractors, which might be described as resulting in unintended consequences. These consequences are bringing general contractors closer and closer to tipping points, which may thrust them into actual architectural and engineering professional practice. Indeed, I think this is a process, which may already be well underway, and might serve to explain (at least partially) why architects and engineers across the United States report that their rates of unemployment often exceed 50%, while the media and government, even by the most liberally interpreted statistics, continue to report general overall unemployment at easily less than half of the alleged unemployment rates for architects and engineers.

“Autodesk products, such as the Revit series of BIM applications and Navisworks, offer more interoperability between divergent CAD and BIM platforms than any other applications in the marketplace.”

This statement is flat out inaccurate! Yet Autodesk resellers will have you bleieve this…Again, it is flat out inaccurate and I would challenge anyone to prove me wrong. In fact, I have been collaborating with engineers, contractors, and other professionals without major issues form many years….and guess what I was using Archicad to accomplish this…not an Autodesk product…

“Clash detection and conflict resolution can occur much earlier and continuously during the modeling process, when all systems are modeled within one brand of BIM application.”

Why? this is blatantly inaccurate!

“When collecting models from various Autodesk compatible BIM programs into one program such as Navisworks, clash detection and conflict resolution can only occur after modeling processes have taken place in the applications outside Autodesk.”

Again highly inaccurate statement…what is an Autodesk compatible program? is lets say, VICO an Autodesk compatible program?

I’m not going to continue with all the inaccuracies in this post, there are to many…. what I will say is that there are more BIM solutions that can get the job done than Autodesk,,,They would like you to believe they are the only solution but they are not…Now, if people want to buy into the “snake oil” salesman pitch from Autodesk they are simply missing a great opportunity to learn that yes their are alternatives!!!

Good luck to everyone!

Wow. We are not buying into anything. We have looked many years into various programs, yes, including Archicad. Archicad was one of the first BIM programs available on the market. Very impressive program, with a lot to offer. Unfortunately, it is and probably will never be the industry standard.

You have argued our statements as untrue. Are you the only one responding, or did you discuss this with other individuals before reacting to our statements?
We, on the other hand, have consulted and verified our statements with other people in our profession. Each and every BIM program outside of Autodesk hold a very small market here in the US.

I ask myself if we could possibly be wrong in our statements, and one conclusion comes to mind. If we were, then we would no longer be in business. We have to be right, and at the cutting edge, or we will be left behind. We are very busy right now, and only trying to share our findings. I apologize, if you take any offense to the statements. We are only sharing what we have experienced. Sure, we might be wrong, but whatever we are doing seems to be working.

I once shared an apartment in Hawaii with someone who was an Archicad die-hard. We used to constantly beat our chests on who had the better program. Back then, I secretly sided with Archicad as superior to Autocad, but would not admit it to my friend. Autocad is now taking a back seat…thank goodness. Whenever I try to get one of my contractors to do some work in Autocad after working in Revit, it is like pulling teeth. They all think it is beneath them.

Anyway, I guess I am trying to appeal to your sense of humor more than anything. You may have something that works for you, and that is great. We would love to hear some of your ideas. Our ideas are not locked into anything. In fact, I would welcome you to prove us wrong…anything you have to say.

After working in Revit 2009, and training on the 2010 version, I’m of the opinion that Autodesk is the best of the BIM vehicles. It is the standard and has the market share to prove it. While other architects have their pet viz programs (which is part of the problem with our business model), all other construction industry professionals are movinig toward Revit, with Navisworks being the choice of contractors.

Please check out the topic “When considering your BIM software (Revit, Archicad, etc.) it’s under the BIM Experts group…
to me BIM is a process that requires a serious change in workflow and the comments your colleague made are in my view and that of many others inaccurate..

Answer this for me.

“Autodesk products, such as the Revit series of BIM applications and Navisworks, offer more interoperability between divergent CAD and BIM platforms than any other applications in the marketplace.”

How does Autodesk offer “MORE” interoperability between the divergent CAD and BIM platforms? what specifically gives it “MORE” interoperability?


“Clash detection and conflict resolution can occur much earlier and continuously during the modeling process, when all systems are modeled within one brand of BIM application.”

Does Autodesk provide all their applications with the same file extension? are they 100% compatible with each other that it makes working in other applications troublesome? my experience shows that I can provide clash detection and conflict resolution early on when using Archicad and my consultants are using Autodesk products such as AutoCAD MEP and Revit does it facilitate CD & CR when your using one brand?

You guys are getting off topic. If we’re gonna start comparing BIM software let’s do it in a different thread please. Let’s get back on topic on the issues of the industry being busy and leaving the BIM discussion associated with it pertaining to that effecting the industry, not which software and interoperability package works best.

In my 23 years of residential experience, I have always been approached by clients directly when they are educated professionals who are seeking to hire a professional. The clients that are referred to me through a builder (which happens frequently) are typically not at the same level as the previous group I mentioned. At first they are not quite sure what I am there for or what I do. So I am in a position of teaching as I am designing. I am not saying that one client is better than the other, I am simply stating where my clients come from and the difference in their intellect, education and expectations.

The more educated clients seem to value architects. That is probably why we should attempt to teach the general public the value of good architecture. Difficult to do, but in the long run it will create more demand and respect of our profession.

Contractors are able to obtain projects like facade restorations, utility building renovations, re-roofing installations and other various similar projects for which an architect is not deemed necessary either by the owner or the building code enforcement office, or for which such architectural services as necessary may be subcontracted by the contractor.

You’re more than welcome to change your mind and pursue these projects either as an architect or as a design-builder.

I would say the GC’s that haven’t gone under may have residual or niche projects…that isn’t going to last in residential or commercial (millions of office workers have lost their jobs…each job occupied 240 sqft of commercial space which is now vacant and will remain that way for 3 to 5 years, same with vacant and or foreclosed primary and second homes…lots of inventory, not a lot of new buyers that are actually occupying these homes.)

However, as the market collapses you have several factors at work. One which has always existed is that some GC’s are builders by default and a cocktail napkin, not a plan, is how they roll.

Some “reuse” or copy plans without permission (stealing).

Now with very little work, it is all about price and the one area many GC’s can cut corners, at the expense of quality and service, is by not having plans, having incomplete plans or poor plans, especially in the case of uninformed residential homeowners. So architects will suffer unless they go out and get the jobs and then feed them to the GC.

I thought I would answer your question from a different angle. When I started my Landscape Architectural Design and Build business, my approach was always to be proactive, not reactive. Seek out the professionals, trades, companies, ( BUSINESS ) etc. that will produce the type of work/opportunities I respect/appreciate, would compliment the qualities, details and values I try to incorporate into every one of our projects and companies that have the same methodology. I believe in mutual chemistry on a personal and professional level (where we respect each others expertise, we have the same goals and we check our egos at the door). If your mutual values are not aligned, then the relationship will never amount to much. To me it is all about TEAM and COLLABORATION !

When you use the term ” Sales", most people and professionals (especially Architects) have the same two responses. Either they interpret that sales means “Sellout ” or they say I was never trained to be a saleman (it’s below me, my craft and my profession). I did’t go to school to be a “salesman” ! We are all salesman, on a personal and professional level, never forget that !

I had the same problem with my own landscape architects, but I would always tell them the same thing. There is nothing wrong with selling, because that is how you communicate your ideas, thoughts, passions and visions to your clients. Aren’t you proud and excited to share with your clients your ideas ? Don’t you want them to be as enthusiastic as you are about your design.

If not, you are going to have a hard time getting paid for your services and staying employed or in the business.

I never sell, all I do is educate, share my knowledge and passion for what I do and look out for my clients best interests (act as a consultant). I never feel like I am a sellout, but a person that has value to offer.

The lack of training and developing that skill set (marketing, communication, networking and selling) is sorely missed and needed in your industry and many others. I didn’t have a choice, I was self employed at 18 years of age and was forced to develop those skills over time.

The other problem, especially now into todays market, is everyone thinks they can live on their reputation alone. That just doesn’t get it done anymore, nor did I ever take that for granted. You need to prove yourself everyday (because your clients haven’t experienced what you are capable of yet), but most people/professionals can’t step out of their comfort zone (really the uncomfortable zone). Again, you need to be proactive, not wait for the phone to ring.

You can be the most talented person/professional in the world, but if they don’t know that and cannot find you, how are they going to appreciate what you can do for them.

I have been in business for 33 years, I am still amazed about how big the world is and how many people/professionals I still don’t know and work with. The inventory and opportunities are less than they ever were, but there are still opportunities out there.

Infact, with the internet, you have more access/opportunity to reach more people/professionals than ever at your finger tips. I had to do it the hard way, hit the pavement ! Again, everyone will say I was trained to draft/create, not sell.

If you are not going to take an active role, then you better find someone who will in your firm or create systems that will do it for you, but you will never replace the value of a personal touch. That’s how you build true relationships, aliances, trust and business/jobs !

I could provide so many examples, but I think you get the idea. Align yourselves with what I call obvious aliances or direct connects. I have referred business (actual jobs and clients, to builders, developers, investors, trade partners, etc.) to many architects over the years.

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