Paul Teicholz awarded Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology

Courtesy of Paul Teicholz Computerized tools have improved the process of creating buildings

Computerized tools developed by scholars at the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, co-founded in 1988 by emeritus research professor Paul Teicholz, have improved the process of creating buildings.


Paul M. Teicholz

Paul M. Teicholz, research professor emeritus in civil and environmental engineering, has been awarded the 2006 Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology for his revolutionary contributions to the construction industry through the use of information technology. The prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the construction industry.

"Paul's unique understanding of design and construction practices, coupled with his vision, intellectual ability and commitment to advancing integration needs, sets him apart," says Bob Tatum, professor of civil and environmental engineering and a member of the Turner Prize jury.

The Turner Prize recognizes an invention, innovative methodology and/or exceptional leadership by an individual or team in construction technology. It was established in 2002 by the Turner Construction Company and is awarded each year by the National Building Museum.

The integration of the many aspects of construction forms the foundation of Teicholz's work. Teicholz co-founded the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford in 1988. Since then, CIFE scholars have developed many computerized tools that have significantly improved the process of creating buildings.

Teicholz calls the award "a real confirmation" of the idea that computers are key to good construction.

"The collective result has been to increase both the awareness of the potential benefit of these computer tools for project integration and for improved performance by facilitating integration," says Tatum, a co-founder of CIFE.

One of CIFE's biggest innovations is a program that visualizes the various stages of a construction project over time using 3-D models, like a digital movie. The models, which integrate hundreds of building components in an understandable way, can be shared early in the design stage and can straightforwardly communicate a complex schedule to everyone, Teicholz says. "Better decisions can be made about every aspect of the design rather than trying to improve the design after everyone has completed their work," he says.

The need to correct mistakes after the fact is seen all too often in construction projects, says Martin Fischer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and current CIFE director. Walls built prematurely might have to be torn down, for example, or two work crews that did not communicate might plan to be in the same place at the same time. Time, labor and materials are wasted, and the final cost of the project increases.

Minimizing this waste can have sizeable economic impacts, says Fischer, who estimates that using CIFE technology can reduce construction costs by 20 to 30 percent.

Beyond modeling buildings, CIFE researchers also have created technologies that model how people can best collaborate on projects. Good coordination can minimize errors and lower costs, and improved communication within a team can also improve the human factor, says Teicholz.

"The poor planning we see on many projects today often leads to a tyranny of management and information that does not value and respect the contributions the workers could offer on a project," Fischer says. "We have seen on a number of projects that the visual construction planning tools help bring the managers and workers closer together, which then has huge benefits in terms of communication, collaborative problem solving, respect for each other and the focus of everybody's efforts on the right task at the right time."

A history of cooperation

Teicholz saw the potential for computers to revolutionize the construction industry as a graduate student at Stanford when programming was still done on punch cards. In 1963, he became the first in the country to receive a Ph.D. in construction engineering, and he went on to spend the next 25 years in industry developing computer applications for construction projects.

His experience in industry illuminated the need for better cooperation. "What was needed was an entirely new approach to generating and sharing information that would allow a team of people involved in the design and construction to work together and prevent problems," he says.

In 1988, Teicholz was invited to Stanford to help found CIFE as a collaboration between the Civil Engineering and Computer Science departments. He served as the center's director for the next decade.

"I've always been inspired by his vision and pioneering," Fischer says. "He just really cares about the industry and how people work and do their jobs, and he wanted to help them. He wasn't afraid to get into people's faces."

Since its inception, CIFE has been unique in the level of collaboration it has fostered between Stanford and the construction industry. "It is this combination that lies at the heart of CIFE's effectiveness," Teicholz says. The Turner Prize's recognition proves to Teicholz that "the partnership between academia and industry at CIFE is working well, and that is very important to me."

Annie Jia is a freelance writer.