Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BMW Guggenheim Lab Challenges Industry’s View of the Future of Urban Life

In the holiday rush, don’t let this fall off your twice-checked list: a visit to the Guggenheim Museum to view the exhibition Participatory City: 100 Urban Trends from the BMW Guggenheim Lab

The two-year culmination of the “urban think tank”’s work and travel (as the Lab is known) across New York, Berlin, and Mumbai, the exhibition’s goals are to explore new design, experimentation, and thinking for city life.

As a result of tours, workshops, debates, and discussions, the Lab discovered 100 trends within each of the three studied cities.  Explanations and examples of the trends are showcased at the Guggenheim until the end of the exhibition’s run on January 5, 2014.

Here, based on the Lab’s findings, PSMJ presents what we see as the Top 10 Trends that will affect the U.S. cityscape, and have direct bearing on the A/E/C industry, within the next ten years:

1) Non-Iconic Architecture:   Non-iconic architecture strives to prioritize the human scale of a space over its merely sculptural value and defends the importance of simplicity and functionality in design.

2) Micro Architecture: Micro architecture is the practice of using design solutions to adapt small urban spaces, thereby changing the behavior of city dwellers and activating underutilized areas.

3) Green Space: Urban green spaces can include parks, greenways, nature paths, gardens, and waterfronts. Green spaces provide ecological functions for cities—carbon sequestration, water purification, and cooling—and also allow people to interact with nature. Plentiful public green spaces are a critical feature of good urban design.

4) Dumpster Design: Dumpster design is an approach that employs used or discarded objects as raw materials for new products. Dumpster design has emerged out of a growing trend toward sustainable consumption, which promotes alternative economic structures facilitated by sharing, recycling, and “freecycling.”

5) Emotional Cityness: Emotional cityness is the rejection of impersonal and cold relationships in large urban areas in favor of face-to-face, convivial, and empathic interaction. In a climate of rapid urbanization and uncertainty, with dynamics leading toward social fragmentation, there is an increasing need for new connectivity in urban environments that can be achieved through the strengthening of personal relationships. Social interaction within cities is a vehicle toward community cohesiveness.

6) Inclusive Design: “Inclusive design” refers to design based on a user-centered approach. The goal of inclusive design is to ensure that devices, products, environments, and experiences remain equally accessible to everyone, regardless of age, culture, or ability. In today’s world, we see an increasing need for this kind of approach, since a diverse population requires more accessible environments, consumer items, interfaces, and services.

7) Aging Population: Today, 20 percent of the population is older than sixty-five; by 2060, every third person will have reached that age. The effect of the aging population on the urban environment and on social services is one of the most significant global challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years. Urban design, community initiatives, and public services can help meet the needs of young and old citizens alike.

8) Design Barriers: Design barriers are construction choices that limit or control an individual’s access to urban spaces. From “No Loitering” signs to benches with armrests designed to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, our cities are full of devices meant to disperse and divide citizens along lines of race, class, and age.

9) Social Design: Social design reminds designers of their responsibility toward society. Since we live in a social world defined by interaction, it is natural that our actions have an impact on other people’s lives. Design can be seen, therefore, as a tool to promote social change. The development of projects engaged with communities, governments, and other organizations enables design to deal with social issues and commit to its important role in society.

10) Accessibility: “Accessibility” describes the ease with which something can be reached, obtained, used, or understood by as many people as possible. Though often used in reference to accessibility design—urban design that takes into account the full spectrum of other-abled (including elderly, disabled, and handicapped) individuals by creating a user-friendly urban and domestic environment.

For full definitions and more information about the BMW Guggenheim Lab and the Participatory City exhibition, visit: http://www.bmwguggenheimlab.org.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Open Mouth, Insert... Increased Employee Engagement?

In his article I Can’t Find Enough Good People … ! in the November issue of PSMJ, award-winning author, thought leader, and A/E/C industry expert Bob Kelleher wrote about the national crisis facing A/E/C firm leaders everywhere in training and developing their employee base.

The article corresponded with the release of Kelleher’s employee engagement video “Who’s Sinking Your Boat?”, which powerfully and startlingly illustrates the average level of engagement among American workers at a typical firm (hint: it’s abysmally low).
The question is, if we’re in such bad shape, what do we do about it?
The Aberdeen Group’s June 2013 Employee PerformanceManagement Research Brief provides some insights:

1)      Conversations between employees and managers that establish performance goals and agreed-upon development plans should be the number one priority. Managers who consistently keep their employees up-to-date on targets—and show how those targets align with the company’s overall goals—have employees exceed performance expectations by 20%.  Those same employees are also 10% more engaged.

2)      Managers should be enabled with technology to support performance management. Managers that are provided the appropriate tools—such as automated performance management resources—are better able to manage their employees.

3)      Conversations between managers and employees should be frequent and both formal and informal. The Research Brief showed that the more conversations managed had with employees, the better the employees performed.  Moreover, when the employees’ performance was tied directly to its effect on the company, the employees did better overall.
So, make a deal with yourself: make it your priority to talk to one of your employees today.  Remember, it’s okay if it’s an informal chat.  What’s important is to get the communication started.
For employee engagement and leadership workshops, check out Bob Kelleher’s The Employee Engagement Group.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Olin College Close-Up: Richard Miller Taking Engineering to Next Level

“Engineering is not a body of knowledge.  Engineering is a process,” declares RichardMiller, the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering’s spirited president, succinctly summarizing the college’s  raison d’ĂȘtre.

If this sounds different from the objective of your engineering school, that’s because it is.  Founded by a board of directors who felt that today’s engineering education needed to be electric-shocked into the 21st century, Olin recruited Richard Miller to kick-start a new teaching program—an experiment, really— based on the oldest of philosophies (Confucius himself gets the credit): “Tell me, and I’ll forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me, and I’ll understand.”  
And the experiment is working.  Students are turning down offers from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard for the privilege of being one of the 50 students accepted out of the roughly 500 students who apply each year.  Here, students pay a maximum of $38,000 in tuition for a full four years of education, develop a patent by the age of 19, have a business (with investors) set up by graduation,  as well as a job offer with a starting salary $25,000 above other engineering graduates.  What’s more, they have a gender neutral student body—nearly unheard of in today’s engineering classes—and all this is accomplished with a non-tenured faculty and zero academic departments.
How does Olin do it?  By using a design-based curriculum (which includes taking art, music, business, and humanitarian courses at nearby Babson and Wellesley Colleges), Olin leaves behind the “books-first-hardware-later” mindset of today’s most elite schools for a more hands-on approach. 
It began with an unlikely undertaking.  After meeting with his faculty to discuss what they remembered about their experiences in college, Miller found a common theme: most of them remembered nothing significant in their early freshman and sophomore science and mathematics classes, but all of them remembered—most in great detail—their senior projects, in which they actually had to create something.  This got Miller thinking:  why not have students complete projects first?
So the first assignment for the just-out-high-school students at Olin?  Create a working pulse oximeter in five weeks.  Resources?  Only the library and a patent drawing.
The faculty, expecting the students to come complaining that they didn’t understand the physics behind the making of the machine, were shocked to find an ugly, grey wire thing show up in their classroom five weeks later:  it was a pulse oximeter (sort of)—but, more important, it worked!  They retrieved a pulse oximeter from a hospital, and the readings between the two machines were in sync.  The students had done it—all without one math or science or physics prerequisite.
The epiphany that accompanied this accomplishment was game-changing: “Uniformly, across education, we underestimate what students can do,” says Miller.  And Miller was determined that his school would not repeat the mistakes of others.
Now, Olin is on the forefront of engineering education, creating some of the most in-demand graduates in the nation.  With its design-centered curriculum, students are expected to complete 20 projects in four years.  “They don’t just learn about engineering,” Miller states. “They learn to be an engineer.”
Ultimately, Miller wants a new kind of engineer that focuses on people—meeting their needs and solving their problems. “Our hope is that Olin students will be a force for innovation and change no matter where they go or what they do.”  So far, it looks like Olin is doing just that.
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