Look to the Past for a Better Future
An Interview with Cliff Moser
The AEC workflow looks nothing like it did thirty years ago. From paper and pencil to CAD and now BIM, Cliff Moser is a prime example of how to adapt and evolve in an industry that isn’t always receptive to change. Based in Oakland, California, Cliff is an architect currently using BIM to facilitate the design and construction of 500P, the new Stanford University Hospital for Stanford Healthcare. This $2B project for a 824,000-square-foot facility features advanced diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical technologies, and will provide an additional 368 beds, bringing the total to 600 on site, as well as a new Emergency Department with twice the floor space of the current facility.
A leading voice in Design Solving methodology, Moser is the author of Architecture 3.0: The Disruptive Design Practice Handbook; outlining innovation and disruption in the practice of architecture. His other works include BIM Disruption 2016: The Disruption of Interoperability and the AIA Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (14th and 15th editions), where he authored the chapters on Quality Management.
He also authors a bi-monthly column for Constructech Magazine on the travails of the owner requirements for design and construction deliverables.
How long have you been part of this industry?
Over thirty-five years. I studied architecture, and also got a masters in quality assurance. That combination has made me very focused on using the lean approach and Toyota method on the job. My motto has become quality has to be embedded during the entire process, not just checked at the end.
What changes have you seen in the industry since you started out?
The apprentice/mentor model has disappeared, and we have no good replacement for oversight. We’ve lost that opportunity for managers to be engaged with what new hires were drawing and how they were drawing it. When I first started, you’d be drawing on a desk and leave your drawings out overnight when you went home. That gave the managing principles a chance to look at your stuff at the end of the day or in the morning, leave notes on it, and work through it with you the next day, guiding you. Now, with everyone’s models locked into a computer, we’ve lost the opportunity for that feedback loop. The people who model and draw work in isolation until it’s time to hand the designs off. That means mistakes used to be captured as part of training but are now being transferred to the customer. The customer becomes QA, rejecting what they receive, changing the schedule, adding additional costs, even pursuing lawsuits. We need a better way.
Why do you think this industry lags behind in tech?
Without the mentor/apprentice model, everyone learns by doing. So we have to do things wrong 3, 4, 5, 6 times. Some believe there’s no better way than the old way. I’ve seen 24 year olds say there’s no better way than the old way. That to me signals a complete process breakdown: they’re frustrated with trying to improve things, so they give up. But in kanban I learned the issue is never the person; it’s the process. It’s never the tool; it’s the culture. Unfortunately, the way we’ve always done things is: if you have a new idea, we’ll wait you out and make you miserable until you come back to our way of doing things.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in AEC?
Study the classics. Read old books, watch old movies. Travel. I’ve noticed with this current generation, there’s a sense of non-understanding or non-awareness of the past. 20-29 year olds: When they discover Andy Griffith on TV they wonder, “what the heck is this?” But if you’re supposed to be building something that lasts for 30, 60 years, connected to a world that started before cars and will continue way after, it’s important for people to see how things were back in those days.
Go out and build. One of the ways i really learned how to do things was by gardening – building garden sheds and systems like that. That gives you an opportunity to learn how to nail things together and learn how when you draw something it doesn’t really work that way in reality.
What was your first job ever?
Newspaper boy – that’s how i got my early morning chops in! By waking up 4 am to deliver newspapers at nine years old. In my house, you had to toe the line for an allowance so I earned my own cash.
5 Tech Takes
What is your must-have smartphone app?
Feedly – i use that all the time. It’s like browsing the library. If you only go after your own interests you never see anything new.
What are your 3 favorite technology tools you use throughout your day?
Smart Phone Camera for photographing and sharing everything on the job-site, especially as-built conditions. BlueBeam for grabbing information from files and turning photos PDFs. Google Maps.
If you could wave a magic wand and create a new technology, what would it be?
Self-updating models. Walk into a room with a tablet or phone, and the model updates itself based on IoT sensors and photogrammetry. However, now, I’m going to be taking a Revit model that we paid millions for, and handing it over to a facilities team who has to find someone who knows Revit, in order to see what’s in there. All that knowledge trapped in one person and one platform just doesn’t make sense.
Windows — it’s the most written-to platform.
iOS or Android?
I tend to go with iOS – I have nothing but iPhones that companies have given me. Plus, Instagram on iPhone changed my wife’s life by helping her run a small business.