No Place to Hide

September 1, 2001 · by James P. Cramer

As market forces change, only the flexible firms will survive.

The Design Futures Council comprises a wide variety of professionals who are sometimes included under the umbrella definition of “environmental entrepreneurs.” Some are genuine futurists and others just want to stay abreast of new changes and opportunities in their areas of interest. We have come to realize that any one discipline in this industry is no more important than another. There is no natural order. Each plays a key role so long as that role functions as a part of the integrated whole. Dysfunctional integration happens when one part of the whole provides a weak link to the others. This stifles both quality and value which is now being discussed as the economy takes another turn.

Recently a journalist asked how architects were faring in this slowdown.I realized that it was exceedingly difficult to answer in any quick way. Today, each building sector (such as hospitality or healthcare for instance) is affected differently and each firm has its own story to tell when discussing their backlogs and future work. What struck me as the most important consideration to mention was that architects cannot be viewed as a stand-alone profession anymore.

Architects are part of an ecosystem that is mutating rapidly. This takes us to a more interesting question: How is today’s economy affecting the new real estate ecosystem? Who are the leaders in this ecosystem? What are their views on what’s next?

You might say that the state of the economy for architects then is linked to a flexible entrepreneurial ecology. One of the economic drivers is innovation.

Innovation can be thought of simply as “new ideas that work.” If the ideas lack imagination or do not work then we say that value likely cannot delivered to meet changing client expectations. In the AEC industry there is considerable waste. Our thought leaders say that they anticipate big strides in a shift from a fragmented construction industry to one that is more integrated and efficient.

While there is progress towards this new construction entrepreneurial ecology, the change is being slowed somewhat bythe recessionary period that we are on just the cusp of today.

Some firms are well positioned to come out on top of next level mutations in the new ecology. They have a vision of a sustainable and efficient real estate ecosystem—one that doesn’t permanently favor any of the individual disciplines unless leadership and entrepreneurial action are carried out.

Entrepreneurial firms tend to be quicker to jump on the opportunities in the new construction economy that lies ahead. The emergence of new models to deliver value reinforces some very optimistic appraisals of the future. The consensus bottom line then is: watch for new meta-design and integrated construction ecosystem that will be much stronger than the sum of all its current parts.

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