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11.21.2011
Star Tech Rises
Gehry Technologies launches exploratory alliance.
The new in-crowd advising Gehry Technologies.
Courtesy Gehry Technologies

Gehry Technologies (GT), the Frank Gehry company that provides software and technology consulting to design and construction firms, announced a plan in late October to bring together "the world's most distinguished architects" in a "strategic alliance" with a lofty goal: to transform the building and design industries through technology.

Put in more modest terms, the firm has put together a star-studded advisory board. The list of architects, designers, and business leaders in the group includes David Childs, Zaha Hadid, Greg Lynn, Laurie Olin, Wolf Prix, David Rockwell, Moshe Safdie, Patrik Schumacher, and Ben van Berkel.

Gehry Technologies CEO Dayne Myers and its chief technology officer Dennis Shelden told AN that the group, which will meet in person once a year and via conference call quarterly, will work to promote higher quality projects, to improve design through technology, and to address the industry's crippling wastes in time, money, and materials through better work flow and communication. The group’s inaugural meeting was held at Seven World Trade Center in New York.

"When this group speaks it will carry a bigger weight than any of them individually, or just Gehry Technologies," added Shelden.

Indeed the announcement of the board seemed to strike a chord across architecture and design communities. The AIA immediately sent out a press release supporting the group in which AIA President Clark Manus made clear that “as much as 30 to 50 percent of all time, money, materials, and resources that go into a construction project do not add value to the final product.”

GT, which was founded in 2002, is made up of architects, engineers, computer scientists, and management consultants. Along with providing technology-related consulting the firm has created Digital Project, a CATIA-based building information modeling (BIM) system, and is now coordinating with Autodesk on BIM-related initiatives.

Lynn pointed out that the board is made up of people known for innovating in several fields who will now bring that expertise to improve the often chaotic role of technology in construction. “It’s really a sea change,” said Lynn, when talking about how improved software and management could minimize problems for architects such as litigation, multiple bids, change orders, miscommunication, collecting environmental data, and even the dominance of contractors and project managers.

While Thom Mayne mainly works with a competing firm—the emerging technology consultants Synthesis (except for using GT on the new Phare Tower in Paris)—he says he supports GT’s effort to gather expertise for pushing BIM and similar technologies, which he notes are indispensable for sophisticated building today: “It’s not possible to talk today about any creative practice that doesn’t necessitate advanced computational models.” Several architecture and construction professionals have echoed this sentiment, but some wondered if the group would have such a transformative effect. The alliance, pointed out one engineer, will have no official power in the industry. One architect grumbled that the move looked like a way for GT to guarantee work with starchitects. (The firm has already consulted for the majority of people on the board.)

Marty Doscher, a longtime Morphosis employee who then founded Synthesis, lauded GT for “trying to take advantage of digital technologies to improve firms’ design capabilities.” But he also said, “I feel as an industry we need to focus on team technologies more than design technologies.”

Additionally, Doscher wondered if the board members, regardless of their impressive pedigrees, were really up to speed on the latest technologies: “The wizards behind [the board members] are brainstorming what needs to happen in the industry.” Another architect, Austin Kelly of the small LA firm XTEN, praised “anything that allows designers to maintain control of a project” but worried that the technologies the board is promoting were out of reach for smaller firms, which make up the majority of practices in the country. However, Doscher felt that could change in the next few years.

Either way, there’s no telling what the alliance will achieve until it actually starts to meet on a regular basis. “You’ll have to ask me in two years,” said new board member David Rockwell.

Sam Lubell