Top Ten Holiday Cards from 2014

  Holidays are over

Well, that’s that. My holiday house guests have returned home. I’m all out of Egg Nog. The Christmas decorations are put away. And 2015 has begun. With all the chaos of hosting a big family holiday, I didn’t fully appreciate the holiday e-cards from firms and friends that rolled in the days leading up to the festivities. But today, with my newly found time to myself, I went through them all: the simple and serene, those tinged with nostalgia or laced with community and giving, the fun ones that spread a little holiday cheer in their own cheeky way, and even the overtly sales-y (really?!).

Here are ten to remember.

Lundberg Design's clever play on their fondness for the patina of old materials.

FXFowle's creative, simplicity

HMC's throwback to holidays past

Holiday pun from aquarium designers Tenji, "Here We Come a Wrassailing"


CE Solutions donated on behalf of the friends of the firm ... and gave them the choice of who gets it.

Improving Collaboration in Design Teams

vectorstock_1956574contributed by  Jeff Caldwell

In the collaborative world of design, working together is key. When you’re planning a renovation or creating a new structure, there are many individuals involved in the process, all of whom must come together to create the finished product, from the project architect (PA) and the client to the civil engineers and the landscape architects. So how do you get so many different perspectives on the same page? Can you? Are there ways to encourage effective collaboration and amicable partnerships? The good news is yes. With that in mind, to help you get your key players functioning as a uniform whole, here are key tips for boosting collaboration, communication and, by extension, success in your upcoming projects.

1. Make Communication a Priority

The most important factor in how successfully a design team functions is how well its members communicate with each other and with clients. The finance team could have a certain budget in place, but the architects are making changes without discussing them with finance staff, leading to overspending and tension among the team members. That’s why everyone on the team needs to keep everyone else apprised of developments, changes and concerns throughout the process. How can you make this easier for your specific group?

  • Assess Your Team: When assessing your team's ability to communicate, don't just look at project managers and assume that they're good indicators of the way things are. Decision-making staff may think they're being perfectly clear when actually they’re not as insightful or straightforward as they believe, especially when it comes to technical issues. To truly assess how things are going, garner responses from architects, designers, engineers, the client and so on. Ask for confirmations to gauge comprehension of the team’s goals and projects, and make open feedback an intrinsic part of the way you conduct business.
  • Establish Specific Processes: Put processes in place for your projects in order to establish who does what, and when and how. Give team members a place to go with problems. Provide a format or software for regular collaboration. “A good process establishes the roles and responsibilities, sets expectations around communication with other teams and aids in defining deliverables for the team,” says Mitch Ruebush at Developer Fusion. “Once you have a process you can work at making it more efficient and showing value through metrics and successful interactions with other business and IT processes.” When everyone on your team knows his or her responsibilities and is given the tools and time to accomplish them, your team automatically functions better.

2. Set Clear Expectations for Sharing

There are countless situations in which sharing can cause team conflicts. For instance, designers who have to share their work areas with engineers may be hurting for space yet feel uncomfortable about voicing their concerns. In other cases, a single team member in the same department may dominate his or her peers due to perceived seniority or some other factor. When one person on the team overrides the preferences and needs of the others, it's harder for people to work together.

That’s why you must establish standards for sharing. It's fine to institute a hierarchy based on seniority or performance, but ensure that you set the ground rules early on so that nobody abuses their privileges. While considering workplace preferences, such as meeting times, resource accessibility and other critical factors, never rely on unfounded opinions without making a detailed empirical assessment. Try different schemes and evaluate them based on open group feedback to determine which facilitates superior functionality.

3. Provide Accountability and Reward Do your team members feel that their work actually matters, or do they feel like anyone could fill their role? One of the potential drawbacks to group organization is that some people tend to sit back and let others pick up the slack, particularly if they feel undervalued or unmotivated. If your landscape designers are treated as the unimportant extras in a project, it will affect collaboration. If the engineers don’t give the project architects adequate space to do their job, it will create problems. And while you could write off work conflicts as something caused by the few bad apples in any group, the truth is that the corporate culture you create also plays a major role.

It's important to recognize team members for their positive output as well as their mistakes. So while instituting penalties for failure is largely unproductive, incentivizing people to succeed will often motivate them to work together and compete in a healthy fashion as they build designs and complete projects. Set the tone by showing your appreciation for those who do things right, and others will follow suit in creating a more positive corporate culture. This encourages teamwork across your staff and provides incentive for collaboration.

Whatever structural design project you’re managing, teamwork is critical. Learn how to recognize the signs of cooperation, and facilitate free and open feedback in order to see drastic improvements in the way your staff accomplishes tasks. About the author: Jeff Caldwell is Brand Manager of Litchfield Landscape Elements in Carrollton, GA. Litchfield Landscape Elements accepts shelter design challenges from designers, landscape architects, and architects around the world, creating custom shelters specific to your outdoor needs.

Favorite Design and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of March 25, 2013

Evolving Library. Removing urbanity. Guide to rendering. Site and structure in Norway. Human rights social media blitz. 130401

Evolving library. David Dewane of Gensler, discusses Librii, a digitally enhanced, community-based, revenue-generating library network created for the developing world. Librii has launched a Kickstarter campaign to receive funding for the pilot library.

Dewane explores the five ways Librii is innovative.

  1. Flip the business model
  2. Shift from consumption to production
  3. Broaden the collection
  4. Rethink the network

Go boldly where no one has gone before

Via Gensleron Cities


Removing urbanity. Kenneth Caldwell of Caldwell Communications writes about his feelings of sentimentality when he sees the loss of urbanity in buildings and architecture in San Francisco.

“Every day I walk around the city. I look for the sign that a person who cared about urbanity or beauty, whether it is an architect, designer, artist, artisan, chef, or bartender, is still at work holding up the value of the human individual’s contribution. Each time a faceless corporation removes the mark of a person, we lose something beyond the artifact itself.” – Kenneth Caldwell

Via Design Faith Blog


Guide to rendering. Build LLC discusses the importance of renderings, and how they have found them to be beneficial throughout multiple phases of their design and build process.

“Not only do we benefit from renderings, but our clients do too. At meetings, after looking over a set of two-dimensional drawings, a few crisp renderings can add a level of clarity and understanding. While we never shoot for photorealism with our rendered work, (more on that later,) a rendering that starts to talk about materiality and experience is something we can get behind.”

Via Build Blog


Site and structure in Norway. David Hirzel, principal emeritus at Sasaki Associates, writes on how he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study architecture in Norway in 1963, with a particular interest in wood construction and Norway's rich history with this type of building.

Hirzel talks about what struck him when he first saw the stave churches and farm buildings was their dramatic setting in the many valleys throughout Norway and how the individual church buildings and the groupings of farm buildings related to the unique environmental characteristics and functional requirements for the location and each building.

Via Sasaki Stream


Innovative Social Media Campaign

The Human Rights Campaign's ubiquitous logo went viral last week in anticipation of two landmark marriage equality cases argued before the United States Supreme Court. Facebook reported a 120% increase in profile picture swaps to support gay marriage, as compared with an average day.

According to a post from Facebook data scientist Eytan Bakshy, 2.7 million more users swapped their photos Tuesday, March 26, than on the previous Tuesday, due to the viral marriage equality Facebook campaign started by the Human Rights Campaign.

Via Mashable


Human Rights Campaign



Top Design and Urbanism Posts for March 3, 2013

HMC's world-changing innovation. BNIM teaches kids about water. A Stantec POV on urban or suburban. Catapult Design on understanding others to understand yourself. 130311

Innovation to change the world. Steve Prince, managing principal at HMC Architects, discusses the video “Making of the Social Rules Project” spearheaded by Professor Paul Steinberg, which was made in part with a $5,000 grant awarded for an innovative environmental sustainability education initiative to Harvey Mudd College from the Design Futures Foundation.

Prince interviews Steinberg on how the project came to fruition and the next steps for the video.

“The Social Rules Project itself grew organically–first as a book for the general public, then an idea for an animated film, and eventually a video game and social media website. There came a point when, with 100 students busily working on these various projects, we realized that we’d better start documenting this remarkable collaboration on film.” – Paul Steinberg

Via HMC Architects Blog


Educating kids on water. BNIM works with consultant Chris Becicka to create a curriculum for the classroom on Kansas City’s stormwater and how people impact it.

BNIM developed a five-day curriculum full of information and activities, putting their ideas and pictures into a book called “Stormwater KC to the Sea.” BNIM found all the materials the teachers would need, created a kit for them, and then piloted the program, first inviting teachers to a training session.

Via BNIM Blog


Urban core or suburbs? Joe Geller, vice president at Stantec, explores the challenges of urban development in the Boston area based on what the millennial generation wants.

Geller writes that be thinks Boston and similar cities will be seeing a lot more re-urbanization and densification and less focus on intensified suburban development.

“If people are in school longer, waiting longer to get married, not having as many kids, and are looking for a real urban experience, why would they move to the suburbs? Can these suburban developments continue to attract the high-tech employers that rely on that demographic to support their business if they now all want to live in the city? If one of the biggest challenges to future development is transportation, are suburban locations, with their limited public transportation and reliance on highway infrastructure, really well positioned to support this type of growth? Can these suburban developments create the buzz necessary to attract the expected 24/7 experience?” – Joe Geller

Via Stantec Blog


Understanding others to understand yourself. Tyler Valiquette, COO and cofounder of Catapult Design, examines people’s behavior and how they often resist changes to their accustomed behaviors. In order for designers and engineers, who are always addressing social issues, to be successful, they need to work on overcoming this behavior.

How do we attempt to tackle culturally instructed behavior? Valiquette says that contemporary psychological theories of behavior change tell us that people’s behaviors are based on attitudes, beliefs, and values and that changes in behavior rely on changes in these underlying attributes. “In the field of design for social impact the theories of behavior change and human-centered design converge and they both clearly indicate that an understanding of values is key: successful designs appeal to people’s values and so do successful behavioral change campaigns.” – Tyler Valiquette

Via Catapult Design Blog


spinningcogsAgents of change in AEC.  Thought leadership is a topic Walter Communications discusses frequently, and we would like to learn more about the prevalence of it within the Built Environment industry. We invite you to take our survey and let us know your thoughts on thought leadership and in return, we'll share our full report of findings with you.We are also profiling firms with noteworthy thought leadership programs -- you can view highlights of these discussions, such as the profile of the research program at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple.




Agents of Change in the Built Environment: A Study of AEC Thought Leadership

Thought leaders are a fascinating bunch. The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries have more than their fair share of thought leaders. These people are trustworthy and competent, curious, insightful and influential about a particular subject. They see possibilities and associations that aren’t obvious to others. They are the change agents pushing their firms to explore, improve and differentiate – and they are often prodding their profession to innovate as well.


Whether these people excel at communication, research, or experimentation, they have the potential (with the proper investment) to help a firm pioneer a new direction and/or reputation. In many cases thought leaders are already in leadership positions. Perhaps they’ve initiated or inspired a program to formalize the firm’s approach to discovering, learning, sharing and growing. Perhaps they’ve started their own firm or company or organization as their way to advance a specialized practice and satisfy their need to drive broader change.

There are also emerging thought leaders. You might recognize them by their inquisitive nature or their ability to persuade and change the perspective of their peers. They are continuously studying, testing their thinking, and advocating for better solutions. With a little luck, these emerging leaders will settle into firms that recognize and are open to exploring the possibilities that these individuals could help reveal.

At Walter Communications, we are curious, too. Thought leadership is a topic we talk about frequently, so we’ve partnered with our friends at the Cameron MacAllister Group to learn more about the prevalence of thought leadership efforts within the Built Environment industry. We recognize that investing in these people is a sort of gamble. There are no guarantees that their interests and efforts will bear fruit. We want to know more about the firms that make space for these individuals and help nurture their ideas to thrive within the organization. What have been the successes, the failures? We are also curious about why other firms have chosen not to pursue thought leadership or, perhaps, have opted to stop.

To take a closer look, we are interviewing firms with noteworthy thought leadership programs. You can find summaries of these discussions, like our profile of the research program at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, here on our blog. In addition, we are surveying firms across the AEC sector to find out about their experiences with thought leadership programs – whether theirs looks like a research project, a full-fledge testing laboratory, a communications program, or even if they don’t have one at all. If you are willing to participate, we’ll share our findings with you, too.

Please take our AEC Thought Leadership survey.