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We continue with: Communication and Design with the Internet: A Guide for Architects, Planners, and Building Professionals.



Internet Enabled Project Management

Lastly in this large and interesting chapter Jonathan discusses Internet-enabled Project Management and the systems that are evolving on the Net. Every AEC professional knows that lack of coordination is the biggest single source of problems. The shared "project model" concept is brought up as an evolutionary direction for CAD systems with integrated Web features. Jonathan remarks that, "instead of creating standalone CAD drawings and models, architects would contribute to the physical design attributes of a building to the larger computer representation of the building as both an object and a process. Now CAD drawing become just a kind of report, reflecting only one aspect of the total process represented in the model."

Although the book is not about CAD technologies, per se, there is ample discussion about where CAD and the Web are converging. (see below on XML and CAD)


Case Studies on Intranet & Extranets

Aside from chapter 7, chapter 8, Intranets and Extranets is the most engaging and invaluable chapter in the whole book. In fact, one could develop a whole book on this subject alone—a sort of 'AEC networks in a Net World'.

Extranets in particular are one area architects are getting anxious to know a little more about. Jonathan provides AEC professionals with over a half dozen real world case studies from leading practitioners. Everything from the famous Ove Arup and Partners' "Intranet" experiences to the extranet experiences of Natick, Massachusetts - based MathWorks and their new corporate headquarters project designed by ADD Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the case of MathWorks' new corporate headquarters, the use of Evolv's ProjectCenter is explained in detail, including how they came about choosing the system, how it streamlined owner-architect communications and how it literally paid for itself by saving courier expenses alone.


AEC Extranet Vendors

For a good list of of extranet vendors visit this article at Architecture Record, by Jerry Laiserin FAIA. Click on the Vendor Guide for Web addresses.

What's an Extranet? Read this definition and then continue with the article below.


So you don't know what an Extranet is? Or an Intranet?

Many AEC professionals are aware of Intranets but Extranets are relatively new. Extranets are like Intranets that don't reside behind company firewalls and provide various levels of accessibility to outsiders over the Net. Usually access is controlled by user names and passwords. They are a growing way business partners can work efficiently together from remote places around the globe or just across town. As the book outlines, key advantages are:

  • Contractors can tie together their subs and material suppliers in a way that improves communication and speeds response to bidding requests.
  • Building owners, particularly institutional and corporate ones, can use an extranet to create a wide-area facilities network to cover multiple sites and maintenance contractors, manage furnishings and equipment, and take bids from multiple suppliers
  • Designers can use an extranet to connect the project team, improve work flow, and allow clients to participate more actively in the design process.

If your firm is so inclined and able, one of the case studies covers Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership's custom built extranets. The firm has learned that there are key advantages to customizing Web sites for particular clients...that the out-of-box solutions just can't provide.

The remaining case studies involving extranets discuss some of the tradeoffs between creating your own system with off-the-shelf parts or to utilize an out-of-box solution wherein the extranet is a subscription-based process provided by a third party. The book provides an extensive checklist of questions for prospective extranet providers. There is also a section in this chapter on calculating a return on investment on the use of project extranets. Anticipated gains from extranets follow into the following categories:

  • Quality Improvements
  • Efficiency Improvements
  • Time Improvements
  • New Sources of Revenue
  • Reduced Direct Costs


Chapter 11, Islands of Automation, is the second to final chapter and provides a forward-looking approach to where this Net technology is likely taking us and where we can take advantage of it. Jonathan begins by talking about the $500 billion worldwide size of AEC and the industrial process:

"AEC is a huge industry, yet it is in many ways the opposite of an industrial process. Its products are unique prototypes built in place one at a time. The economies of scale that apply to mass production generally cannot be realized in design and construction."

"Compared to manufacturing, the AEC industry is very fragmented."

As the benefits of industrialization and information technologies now merge for the better in all kinds of industries, how does the AEC industry respond to this new Net era and all its promises? How can an industry advance in spite of itself...its fragmented nature?

In this chapter the book covers some of the ways this challenge is being met. XML, extensible markup language—a new hypertext language for the Internet—holds much promise. But it holds even more promise when it is linked to CAD data. For this to happen CAD data must become "object-oriented". Object-oriented CAD is the idea of modeled CAD objects which contain embedded properties data about that object. Properties like "shape, behavior, performance data and transport requirements" are just a few examples.

Additionally these so called "intelligent" CAD objects (which do not have to be 3D modeled elements) would contain embedded links to relevant code data and specifications. XML begins to play a key role when the technology is used as an enabling agent to access such data and even modify it. While HTML describes to browsers the appearance of data, XML describes the data itself, thus enabling Web applications to understand what something is. The language is flexible enough to describe just about any information. Thus, as Jonathan describes, the XML tag "<INSULVAL> might tell the browser that the next bracketed chunk of text describes the insulating properties of a material."

The book continues to describe a future where XML and CAD come together to form intelligent building data that is accessible over the Net and powerful enough to be utilized by every stage of the AEC process. Object-oriented CAD models fully possessed of XML data would enable every member of the AEC process (owner, architect, builder, user) to access and extract specific information from the CAD data all over the Web without the need for special software such as CAD programs or CAD viewers. "With XML and object-oriented CAD", says Jonathan,"entire sets of construction documents could be prepared in the form of live Web sites rather than a collection of static documents."


Closing Comments

After reading Communication and Design with the Internet, one very salient theme comes across: the world of AEC is changing dramatically and to an extent unimagined at the beginning of the CAD era. While the CAD era has over a decade an a half of real maturity behind it, we are all on the cusp of an entirely new age in which computing in AEC will take on an even more dramatic role and effect forever the nature of the AEC process.

A key concern underscored in this book is that the traditional leaders in the AEC process take control of their Net destiny and help shape it proactively by embracing the Internet and exploiting it for what it is. Only by doing this will architects (in particular) be able to shape technology around their needs and priorities...concerns which matter deeply to the profession's definition and social value.


Communication and Design with the Internet does a wonderful job of presenting these Internet trends affecting AEC, which will eventually become our reality...whether we are ready for it or not. I cannot underestimate the value of this book as a "single source" of this information. It is a must read for those in the AEC world who wish for a glimpse of their future.

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Reviews on this Book:

• From back cover:

"An indispensable guide to the Internet-enabled future of design and construction." -- Jerry Laiserin, FAIA

"The best-founded arguments for the new economy in architecture, engineering construction and operations...a book that every member of the construction business, every node in the network...should own, study, and implement." -- Yoav Etiel, Sr. VP, Bentley Systems

At Amazon.com

"I highly recommend this book to anyone involved in community/land-use development or resource management. It is a great source of ideas." -- Amazon customer


Anthony Frausto-Robledo, B.Arch., is the founder and editor of the award-winning Architosh.com Web site. Educated as an architect, he has been an architectural professional for over 17 years and was a senior designer with the distinguished Boston architectural firm Koetter Kim & Associates prior to launching his web consultancy, BritasMedia. As president of BritasMedia, Anthony consults AEC firms on strategic Web initiatives, animation, databases, and IT-related issues in addition to publishing the Architosh site daily. Since 1997 he has been a member of the Thesis Studio and History & Theory faculty at the Boston Architectural Center College of Architecture and Interior Design and a Thesis Advisor.

BritasMedia's publishing mission with the Architosh Website is to serve a worldwide audience of Macintosh-based CAD/3D and AEC professionals with market-leading information technology (IT) resources, news and editorial products. Architosh currently serves over 25,000 readers monthly in more than 70 countries around the world.



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