by Lilian Asperin Clyman
A few miles to the South of San Francisco, there are incredible hotbeds of innovation. I wondered…What are the attributes of the cultures that create the types of things, gadgets and ideas that are evolving the quality of our lives?
What I Learned about Hacking: A Weekend in March 2013
I attended the inaugural AEC Hackathon on a whim and with no expectations. It was the same feeling I had on the very first day of College at Cal. My internal voice said: “Show up, figure it out, have fun and never look back”. Within minutes, what looked like “speed dating” started to take place and it was a rush of meeting a person then understanding what their passion was about. I soon learned that these are precious minutes for first impressions, and that no one has any emotions hurt if you meet, chat, then decide to continue looking for a match.
One of the giant posters on the wall said“Move Fast and Break Things.” Something really authentic happens when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. When you all find yourselves saying “Why Not?” It’s a sea of explorers who have zero fear in their heart or mind. We were at Facebook’s campus, with an open kitchen fully stocked with sugar and caffeine to be complemented by a mountain of pizza boxes and more snacks throughout the evening.
A group of us decided to start hacking. We wanted to dive in and think of a cool app or product prototype to build. Our two coders (one from New York and one local) were amazing contributors to the conversation among otherwise architects and builders. We sketched on yards and yards of trace, and summarized our discussion into doodles. What is art? What is space? What makes a team tick? How do we elevate the AEC community? Is it a better 3d modeling software? What would we want to document? Why don’t we learn more from the folks in the field? How do we make better and more efficient environments for human beings?
A brilliant question came from Boris, one of our patient coders. He asked us to think about the root of our discussion more and to not be afraid to embrace the fundamental challenge. “Why don’t you hack the process?” It was a breath-taking, clarifying moment. Almost immediately all us started working quickly and to our individual strengths, but within the collective. The builder who loved story-telling starting outlining how we would approach our diverse audiences. The designer thought about whether or not there is an optimal time in a project for material selection. I began diagramming how we currently do things as a backdrop for our “Hack”. It was a good lesson – we all work well, fast and with joy when we are working to our strengths.
Our team consisted of 3 architects, 3 contractors and 2 coders. We were very interested in how we could bring innovation to design and construction so that we could create a process of high-touch (empathy and user interface), improve energy performance, create buildings that are smart and adaptive, and ultimately deliver extraordinary human experiences. Our traditional method has us working in silos, linearly, with the team being the largest during construction documentation phases - which is NOT where we believed great, transformational value is identified or delivered. We affectionately referred to this as “moving the belly” of the project from the midpoint to the inception. Video here!
We proposed to develop a feedback schema for the AEC industry. Everyone and every thought would be located in one shared Model as a communication platform. This would allow us to collect and publish best practices emerging from Integrated Project Delivery contracts, Big Rooms, Studios and Field Work. In our minds, data would be processed into information, which would then lead to knowledge and ultimately wisdom. The value of design and construction would be elevated as we would be able to tell compelling stories about what has quantifiable benefit on human experience.
Hacking for Good
Post First AEC Hackathon, I caught the bug big time. Where are other areas in our world where there is a need for innovation? So, the fearless adventurer in me found two partners within SCUP (Society for College and University Planners) and we led the very first Hackathon at the Pacific Region’s annual conference. We dedicated the day to exploring the subject of MOOC’s (Massive Open On-Line Courses), which is a topic many see as either the future of Higher Education or a disruption to avoid. A perfect topic for thinking outside the box, analyzing through the lens of empathy for students, and considering how learning and teaching experiences are so fundamental to our next generations.
This year, I am enthusiastically leading another Hackathon with other architects, this time at the AIA National Convention. Combining the format for the hackathon with the evolving methodology for teaching/learning known as the Flipped Classroom, we will distribute the results of the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey to participants, and we will ask them to come ready to propose new models to solve challenges within the profession of Architecture. How do we hire and retain the best? What do we do that helps us grow and develop as creatives? Why do we do what we do and is it meaningful for us and relevant to our world?