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Stanford, Berkeley to train master builders on info highway

STANFORD -- Stanford and the University of California- Berkeley will be using the information highway winter quarter to teach an idea as old as the Parthenon - an integrated "master builder" approach to designing and building buildings.

Faculty participants hope the course in civil engineering and architecture can help their students overcome some of the fragmentation problems of the 20th-century building industry, said Stanford civil engineering Professor Helmut Krawinkler.

"Architects, engineers and construction managers work in parallel on building projects or maybe even against each other, rather than as teams," Krawinkler said. "As professionals, we know very little about the problems the other professionals face, and we often use archaic tools."

Graduate students in Berkeley's architecture and civil engineering programs and in Stanford's structural engineering and construction management tracks of its civil engineering program will work together on design teams using the information highway for most of their laboratory work, said Stanford research associate Renate Fruchter, who developed the course and coordinates the teaching of it. Fruchter is drawing upon her research and that of others at Stanford's Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering, professors from both universities, a National Science Foundation grant for innovative engineering education and contributions of hardware and software from companies. Prototype electronic information tools will be used in hopes that new technology can help builders get back to a concept from ancient Greece - that of the master builder.

“The Greek root of the word architect is architekton, meaning master builder," Fruchter said. "Historically, master builders understood the architecture or aesthetics, the structural engineering or mathematics, and the construction materials and technology necessary to design and build edifices. They had ateliers in which apprentices worked as a team and contributed to the execution of work bearing the master's signature."

Twentieth-century technology, such as reinforced concrete and heating and ventilation systems, dramatically changed the way building professionals worked, Fruchter said. Architects began surrendering, bit by bit, their control over buildings to other specialists, who often work for different employers. This fragmentation may be one of the hidden costs in the increased cost of building facilities to higher technical standards.

Fruchter envisions the industry creating "virtual ateliers" over the information highway in which an architect in Paris, a structural engineer in Hong Kong and a construction manager in California would team up to submit bids and work on plans simultaneously. With civil engineering Professors Krawinkler and Paul Teicholz and their graduate students, Fruchter has been developing integrated computer programs that convert the semantics and symbols of architecture to those of a structural engineer and vice versa. Unlike computer-assisted design tools currently used in industry, where an architect completes a design and hands it off to a structural engineer who hands it off to a construction manager, some of the new tools allow several students to make changes to a building design concurrently.

The tools are research prototypes, which require students to spend a lot of course time learning how to use them, said Raymond Levitt, a Stanford professor of civil engineering who participated in a trial run of the course with Stanford students last spring. Yet Levitt thinks a bigger challenge than getting the tools to work together may be getting people to learn how to work together.

This involves getting specialists to change their attitudes toward each other, Berkeley architecture Professor Mike Martin told Stanford students at the opening session of last spring's trial course. Architects, he said, "look upon what engineers do as the easy part because it can be calculated. Engineers view the architects as doing fluffy stuff, whereas they have the difficult part of calculating how to make it work."

By the end of last spring's 10-week trial, Krawinkler said, "we faculty may have learned more than the students because it gave us our first chance in a long time to discuss issues that cross our disciplines."

The course doesn't require an architect to know how to calculate the seismic requirements, for example, of a building, but it does require him or her to work with the structural engineer on those aspects of the design, rather than handing off a largely finished design in a sequential process.

Last spring's trial run involved only Stanford civil engineering students, including some who had been trained previously as architects and served in that capacity on class design.

"We started out with a project where none us knew what the constraints were on other members of our team, " said Eric Collier, a Stanford civil engineering student who studied architecture at the University of North Carolina. "It was a real eye opener to see how different our solutions were. Then we got together and designed the building as a team, using everybody's constraints from the beginning, and it worked much better."

In architecture school, Collier said, he learned to design alone, and his work was evaluated on purely aesthetic architectural grounds. If his design forced the structural engineer to spend more to meet structural load requirements or the construction manager to spend more on labor costs, the architect was unaware of the impact until it was too late to revise his concept.

"Some people think that is good for design not to have these constraints at first," Collier said, "but I felt that getting feedback earlier from other specialists on the team meant I could make more informed decisions."

In one of the final sessions of the course last spring, the student teams used campus video-conferencing facilities to present their design solutions to the faculty in a different building on campus. "We wanted to give the students and the faculty an idea of how this might work with design team members and building owners in geographically distributed settings," Fruchter said.

Consumers are voting with their pocketbooks for a more coordinated approach to building, said Stanford civil engineering Professor Haresh Shah. Shah has worked with Stanford and other building owners on earthquake safety construction oversight. Playing an owner in a mock session for the course last spring, Shah told students that owners are "tired of paying extra for change orders and dumb errors people make because they don't talk to each other." As an owner, he said, he was demanding "one-stop shopping" from them.

Stanford University Architect David Neuman agreed that being the representative of an owner of a building under construction was no fun. Too often, he told the students, owners face warring professionals, each blaming the other for a slip in the construction schedule or a cost overrun. "Owners want to be active participants in the process, but we don't want to be adjudicators," he said.

An integrated master-builder approach should reduce these tensions by getting members of a design team to understand and present their product holistically rather than from just one professional point of view, Fruchter said.

"One of the important lessons faculty and students learned is that technology by itself, without improved teamwork, will fail," Fruchter said of last year's trial course. "In fact, the most exciting activity for the students was the teamwork. This time, we are adding undergraduate apprentices to the teams to give students a better understanding of teamwork and team dynamics."

In the long run, Levitt said, he would like to see other types of professional expertise added to the coursework of engineers and architects. "If you are building a factory, you need to understand how the client makes money from it, and if the client is operating multinationally, you have to understand the impact of different cultures as well. That's why the kind of engineer that I think Stanford needs to turn out must be broader, and this course is a step toward developing that broader perspective."

Other faculty members and research associates who contributed to teaching the course or developing its computer tools include UC- Berkeley Professors Yehuda Kalay, Laura Demsetz and Chris Thewalt; Stanford assistant Professor Martin Fischer and research associates Mark Clayton, Yan Jin and Taha Khedro; and structural engineer Gregory Luth, a recent Stanford graduate. Equipment and software is being provided by Autodesk, Sun Microsystems and IntelliCorp.

To see an overview presentation of the course on World Wide Web, use URL: http://cdr.stanford.edu/html/ICM/aec.html.



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