Transcending at Tribeca

WSA's Founding Principal's Paul Durand and Mark Meche, and Director of Business Development Allison Brooks with famed futurist Ray Kurzweil. *from left: Paul Durand, Ray Kurzweil, Allison Brooks, Mark Meche
WSA’s Founding Principal’s Paul Durand     and Mark Meche    , and Director of Business Development Allison Brooks with famed futurist Ray Kurzweil. *from left: Paul Durand    , Ray Kurzweil, Allison Brooks, Mark Meche

tribeca

Technology has always played a critical role in the ways and means of Winter Street Architects, from our early adoption of BIM in 2002 to our virtualized project management tools and technology integration services.  Utilizing tools that support a more effective and efficient design process allows us to create environments which speak to the future of our clients.

Due to this deep knowledge on the convergence of design and technology, Winter Street Architects founding principals were invited to attend the VIP screening of “Transcendent Man,” premiering at the 2009 Tribeca Film Fesitval. Named Tribeca’s number 1 summer indie-doc, the film captures the life and ideas of famed futurist, author and inventor Ray Kurzweil, who has left his mark on the world through such inventions like the Kurzweil synthesizer, flatbed scanner, OCR technology, the reader for the blind, automated trading technology,  and so much more. His ideas are provocative and scary – pointing to a rapid change in how the world uses technology called “the singularity” which will forever alter how humans live and work. The screening brought together major thought leaders of today in varying industries like artificial intelligence, medicine, engineering and design; Winter Street’s founding principals Mark Meche and Paul Durand were interviewed for the behind the scenes DVD, giving their thoughts on the movie and how technology is changing the design industry.

What were your impressions of the movie and Kurzweil’s predictions of the future?

Paul: “Transcendent Man” is an awakening and provocative film that highlights the modern visionary that is Ray Kurzweil. We have all witnessed the exponential growth of technology but seeing Ray extrapolate that forward and put it in real terms of what the near future holds is awe inspiring, heartening and at the same time somewhat frightening. Thankfully Ray’s optimism balances our innate fear of change and the unknown, and paints a picture of human evolution in the most positive light. His predictions are all based in data, in a process that back’s up the rapid change we experience every day.

From cell phones to AI and self-healing machines – technology’s imprint has been so fast and so furious, many of us forget how deep it runs.  It may be 30 more years before we get to see the huge advances in nanotechnology, biotech and others but all these advances have a transforming effect on the way people work  and the buildings that they interact with…which reinforces for us as architects, that we are never building for today, we are truly building for tomorrow.

…[Technology] advances will have a transforming effect on the way people work  and the buildings  they interact with…which reinforces for us as architects, that we are never building for today, we are truly building for tomorrow. – Paul Durand.

Mark: I found the movie to be a charming and humanizing peak into Ray’s world . Whether Ray is dead on target, wide right or left, this topic is a must see because it stimulates a sense of direction and motion; whether this inevitable change buoys you or makes you seasick is a personal matter. In addition to accepting change as a baseline, the only other possible position is the static one where nothing really changes; the only way to come by that position is by either ignoring the facts or by becoming an agent that resists change, or both. I run into people like this on a daily basis and can assure you they are quite normal and numerous.

In my view, nearly everyone goes about their everyday business as if the world they live in is static or that change is linear. There is a tremendous amount of resistance to change and even the most accomplished organizations spend as much time managing risk and liability as they do developing and adopting new ideas (much less innovating); face it, at this point most people spend some part of their day worrying about just getting by…who has time to experiment? Our institution [architecture] reinforces this behavior; banks lend on the basis of historical performance, we select our experts on the basis of experience more often than vision. Personally (having been to hell and back), I am betting on exponential change and believe that rapid adaptability and early adoption will provide us with an opportunity to be design leaders through the next turn or two of the solar system.

Has this technological progress had an impact on “green” design?

Mark: Cynicism runs deep in our work force. At this point it is hard to deny that sustainable design and construction are a worthy endeavor; I still run across people who think of green initiatives as a fad or simply a sales tool. If you happened to have sipped some Kurzweil coolade, you would probably see the greening of our built environment as an essential step that will be managed fairly soon and technology’s rapid growth will absolutely support that. It is clear to me that our doctors and scientist will be curing all cancers before long. We will learn to harvest the abundant and clean energy that falls to Earth continuously and we will learn to clean up our messes. In fact those are the easy problems; we clearly have some social progress that needs to be made at the same time.

[Soon] we will learn to harvest the abundant and clean energy that falls to Earth continuously and we will learn to clean up our messes. In fact those are the easy problems; we clearly have some social progress that needs to be made at the same time. – Mark Meche

Paul: Designing in a sustainable manner is quickly becoming (if not already) the norm in our industry – and frankly it should. The tools, the technology is growing, evolving every year exponentially  – and with that improvement the technology becomes less expensive.  This means that the old adage, “green design is more expensive” will soon not be true at all…instead we won’t remember a time when “green” was an option, it will just be what we do. For example, Solar was once a luxury idea which has seen an increase in capability and decrease in price 10 fold since the 90’s.  This growth is changing now even faster and has the power to greatly help our energy needs. It is the architect’s responsibility to understand where this technology is going and how it will ultimately change the way we design – otherwise, we risk becoming obsolete.

How is rapid technology growth changing the way the design industry performs and how you work with clients?

Paul: The technological advances that are pervasive today affect every industry but our design/building industry lags far behind all others. In fact, the construction industry is the only non-farm industry to decline in productivity since the 1960’s. But recent advances in technology that have become available to us, and the abundance of quickly and easily shared information, is helping us evolve the industry to virtually build prototypes of our work.  To perfect our buildings prior to realization and to work virtually with anyone, anywhere,  creating sustainable, eco-friendly buildings with methods that are effective, efficient and less costly is the hallmark we strive for. Finally we can fully join the 21st Century and bring our clients along to reap the benefits.

Mark: I think that Winter Street’ extremely high level of comfort in regard to change and adaptation has taken us into some new areas of exploration and have provided a window into technology culture that is quite astounding, if not alarming. I now routinely see major brand names launch multi-million dollar capital programs that will develop useful but immediately obsolete buildings. Corporate culture, design consultants and builders all contribute “inertia at rest” by promoting best practices that leverage last weeks catalogs and last years benchmarks. Even at the conference room level there is abundant evidence that we are not keeping up; I am starting to keep a tally of the beautiful rooms I visit that are being spoiled by the addition of wire mold because the design team either didn’t bother to accommodate technology or they failed to do so successfully.

As designers, we have a choice, either master the technology or be a victim of it. – Mark Meche

As designers, we have a choice, either master the technology or be a victim of it. It is harder than ever to delegate this responsibility. In the green corner we can ask our engineers to design a more efficient HVAC system but we cannot design a deeply sustainable structure without incorporating features into the very design of the architecture. In order to do this, we need to better understand the problems and work more closely with our engineering partners than ever before. The old tennis match of architecture and engineering coordination just does not deliver enough. We must do better, and using technology to help is not only smart but it’s responsible.

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Comments
One Response to “Transcending at Tribeca”
  1. Kristin says:

    Truly looking forward to seeing the film now. Great insight into how all our technologies for different industries are merging.

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