Recapping the AIA Convention, 2015: Architecture firms of the future

Posted by Kyle Ridley on May 28, 2015


The American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its annual convention earlier this month in Atlanta, and among the 300+ sessions was “The Firm of the Future: Big Picture Trends Shaping the Future of Architecture Firms,” led by Kogan & Company President Ray Kogan.

Kogan launched his hour-long presentation with hard-hitting truths of how the future consists of volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity (VUCA). He then presented attendees with a number of contributing factors to architecture, engineering and construction’s (AEC) changing shape and provided tips on prepping now for long-lasting success.

Kogan touted demographics as the “most powerful and pervasive of all forces,” and ran through a slew of statistical slides showcasing anticipated population growth through 2050, when the U.S. population is expected to exceed 400 million.

Now, 2050 might seem like a distant concern, but that’s part of the problem. When Kogan asked who in the crowd was from the baby-boomer generation, approximately 75 percent of attendees raised their hand. In an industry where so many professionals will retire in the near future – and as Kogan bluntly pointed out, will pass away in the decades to come – it is essential that companies plan strategically and cultivate new talent to lead generations to come.

According to the AIA Foresight Report, nearly 18,000 architecture jobs will be added between 2012 and 2022 (17 percent/year). However, AEC firms will battle a labor shortage and smaller employment pools as millennials seek high-paying positions, diverse work experience, office independence, and collaborative work environments. Kogan advised companies to develop training and mentor programs, be flexible with work arrangements, and offer competitive salaries to increase the likelihood of retaining talent. He also stressed the importance of companies distinguishing their strengths and novelty as competitor encroachment, future recessions and a consolidation climate divide acquirers from the targets.

Also related to demographics, Kogan highlighted emerging “megaregions” identified by the America 2050 Prospectus. These 11 regions will see major population growth, attract diverse employment pools, and bring hefty business to firms in top form.

Innovative technologies and the rapid advancement of solutions must also be embraced by firms of the future. As Kogan put it, building information modeling (BIM) will become an old hat, and firms must adopt BIM 2.0 and virtual design and construction (VDC) tools. He listed several “disruptive technologies” challenging old business practices, and said adoption of these tools is crucial to maintaining relevance and weathering the competition. These technologies and tools include cloud computing, 3-D printing, virtual reality, big data, social media, crowdfunding and generative design.

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Kogan also recommended firms of the future get in the game of public-private partnerships (P3s), which are increasingly being utilized by state and local governments. Deltek’s Alexandra Howden recently blogged about P3s and their potential to bring big bucks to contractors – read her full report here.  

Lastly, Kogan left his audience of architects with some dirt to help plot a resilient foundation for future success. That is, the acronym DIRT: Do it right the first time.

While the ever-building (pardon the pun) AEC industry may seem daunting to those trying to keep up with new innovations in an increasingly competitive climate, the reality is companies need to recognize the shifting dynamics, adapt to change, and plan ahead in order to survive. To quote singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco: “Buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind. To withstand the world, that’s what it takes. All that steal and stone are no match for the air, my friend. What doesn’t bend breaks.”

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