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5 Questions with Architect and Author Randy Deutsch

Randy Deutsch, LEED-AP is head of the grad department at the Illinois School of Architecture, one of the largest architecture colleges in the country. In addition to research and teaching classes, he has been writing a series of books over the last decade that help to advance AEC, addressing where architecture and construction is leading in the next 10 years.

One of BuiltTech Labs’ architecture advisors, Randy is also an international keynote speaker, a BIM authority who has led an executive education program at Harvard GSD, and an architect responsible for the design of over 100 large, complex sustainable projects.

Thanks to his position as a professor and researcher, Randy has valuable insight on the future of AEC–including the next generation of young professionals who are going to shape the industry for the better.

Colorful book cover against wood background

The third book in Randy Deutsch’s series on advancing AEC

What changes have you seen for the positive in AEC?

Many people bemoan the fact that AEC is very slow to change, but it’s become much more collaborative. There have been advances in recent years in project delivery methods, leveraging parametric tools like BIM, computation tools like Grasshopper or Dynamo, as well as an increased use of algorithms, access to data, and leveraging the cloud … everything from photogrammetry and other reality-capturing tools to ways to speed up scheduling and other parts of the construction process.

The ultimate goal that we’re working towards is to find a way where the entire project pipeline, from first identifying a site all the way to project completion, and even further into facilities management, ops, finances; is addressed leveraging these tools. No question, in the past 25-30 years, that is something that has absolutely advanced. It’s a positive thing because it’s spurring us on in the industry to do better and do more and not rely on the old way of doing things.

I think there is no better career to go into these days then the AEC field, especially a version of the field where a couple of those letters (A, E, and C) are connected.

What changes have you seen for the negative?

Something I interpret as negative that I address in my research is this tendency for really smart people working in the AEC industry to leave our field for what they see as greener pastures to work for startups or spinoffs. I see it as a negative that people can’t find a way in architecture, engineering, or construction to do what they need to do to move our field forward. I feel like we’ve failed them. There are certain things that are very exciting about working in a startup, so it’s a wake-upcall to firm leaders in the AEC to offer more possibilities and opportunities for growth.

Imagine you’re talking to a high school senior. What would you tell her to major in, and why?

One of the things I’m very interested in is demographics. Our current masters’ students and later are all millennials. Our undergrads through senior year are Gen Zs: they’re radically different than Gen Y or millennials. They don’t want to sit in a cubicle, be only an architect or engineer; they want to own the entire project. They’re not entitled; they’re willing to put in the time and effort. They’re entrepreneurial. They love vertical integration; exploring how things are connected.

We’re very lucky to have them coming up. They are not afraid of putting in the hours, sticking with one organization; they want to pay their dues–for that reason, there is no better career to go into these days then the AEC field. Especially a version of the field where a couple of those letters (A, E, and C) are connected. You can major in architecture and minor in computer science or construction management. You’ll be a maker, going directly to fabrication from the tools you’ll be working with. Everything today is interconnected and it’s a thrilling opportunity to be part of AEC. I wish I was graduating now.

Make a deep commitment to a project or piece of the industry — but keep your horizontal bandwidth, your social and multidisciplinary wingspan, open.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

At the beginning of your career, it’s a good thing to dig in and work deep. One of the hardest things, when you’re first starting out, is that building projects can take three to six years, or even longer. At the same time, think of yourself as T-shaped. Make a deep commitment to a project or piece of the industry — but keep your horizontal bandwidth, your social and multidisciplinary wingspan, the top of the T, open. Whether it has to do with technology, social causes… Your current project is going to end. And you’re going to want to leverage that wingspan to work on other project types or different phases of a project. Be open, but create a model of yourself early in your career as a T-shaped individual.

Black Moleskine notebook with two stickers on it and a pen on a silver desk against a beige background

Sometimes the simplest design tools are the most effective.

What are your 3 favorite technology tools you use throughout your day?

That’s one of the great ironies. My family members snicker that I found a way to pay my mortgage by becoming one of the world’s foremost experts in digital technologies without actually using them very frequently. I’d love to be able to tell you it’s a visual programming tool like Grasshopper, but it isn’t.

I am literally using a yellow legal pad and a pen. Seriously, I can do anything with those two things. The third would be a Moleskin because I can come up with anything using it. Maybe it’s the imagination – and relying on oneself – that’s the actual tool, as opposed to the paper. Paper, pen, and my imagination.

 

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