Futurist Identifies New Opportunities for Growth and Innovation in the AEC Industry

Experts agree that the AEC industry has to adapt to keep pace with changing business models; emerging economy offers new technologies and methodologies for design and development

Many guests attending the event included AEC industry professionals. Left to Right: Roland Gebhardt, BWAF advisor, Susan Szenasy, Editor-In-Chief, Metropolis Magazine, Lance Brown, CUNY

New York, NY – On June 5th, more than 250 architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals packed the auditorium at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York to learn how their firms can succeed in the emerging economy. Major transformations are taking place in an industry that has been slow to change, and AEC firms need to innovate; otherwise they risk becoming obsolete. Edie Weiner, president of futurist consulting group Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., discussed these ideas in her keynote address at the groundbreaking breakfast forum entitled “A View from the Future,” hosted by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF). Following Weinerʼs talk, a panel of top industry experts discussed how changing technologies are influencing the AEC industry.

Edie Weiner, keynote speaker, touches on the new growth areas for the AEC industry

The economy is evolving, altering the way we do business. “Weʼre not in a recession,” Weiner said, “but rather a fundamental transformation,” such as when we advanced from an industrial to a post-industrial society. The current shift is the result of new technologies, which makes our work more automated and efficient, but also eliminates jobs. This changes the landscape of labor, business and, ultimately, all of society.

Weiner highlighted opportunities for AEC professionals to consider as they prepare for the future. She gave several examples of how innovations are already changing the built environment:

• Work is becoming instantaneous due to faster data transmission in all corners of the earth.

• Companies such as Google use satellites and GPS to provide information about things like microclimates, even within the same city, so companies make smarter choices about how and where to build.

• Materials embedded with nanotechnology can do unprecedented tasks, such as producing water in desert environments.

• Being green is no longer exceptional. The most innovative projects not only leave less negative impacts on the environment but also go beyond net-zero to give back to the environment, such as growing trees into houses.

Experts respond

Edie Weiner, Jane Chmielinski, Michael De Chiara, Ana Bertuna, Jurij Paraszczak, and MaryAnne Gilmartin

Following Weinerʼs talk, an expert panel moderated by Jane Chmielinski, Chief Operating Officer of AECOM, discussed innovative developments in the AEC industry. Panelists included Michael De Chiara, Founding Partner, Zetlin & De Chiara LLP; MaryAnne Gilmartin, Executive Vice President and Director of Commercial & Residential Development,
Forest City Ratner Companies; Dr. Jurij Paraszczak, Director of Research, Industry Solutions and Smarter Cities Program, IBM; and Ana Bertuna, AIA, Vice President of Design and Construction, Related Companies.

These experts discussed the risks and rewards of using new ideas and technologies to build both structures and infrastructures that are efficient and cost-effective. De Chiara posed a vital question: how can we manage risks to encourage innovation? Gilmartin responded that risk was necessary and AEC firms must explore innovative  ideas that embrace process innovation as much as product innovation in design and construction. Bertuna said her company also takes risks, but takes small steps at a time to mitigate any potential downside.

The industry needs flexible thinkers as innovation progresses in the next decade. De Chiara mentioned that as technology advances, we need to advance our methods of thinking. According to Bertuna, this includes designing more flexible buildings, so that clients can adapt their space every few years, if needed, to accommodate services that they may not yet be able to anticipate.

Panelists also talked about how technology helps the industry respond to the challenges of growing cities. They touched on the importance of research and how it engenders innovative thinking, which leads to creative solutions. Paraszczak said that by using research to examine patterns, and then automating systems, we are engineering smarter cities that work better and more efficiently, including New York City.

BWAF Executive Director, Wanda Bubriski acknowledges Beverly Willis in the audience and congratulates her on BWAF's 10th anniversary

Beverly Willis, FAIA, Founder and Chair of BWAF and whose organization hosted the event, said, “For the past ten years, our organization has worked to further innovation in the AEC industry and especially to advance women in positions of leadership. Through public conversations that bring together thought leaders from different disciplines, like ʻA View from the Future,ʼ we hope to inspire change and open up plentiful opportunities.”

About Edie Weiner

Edie Weiner, keynote speaker, and Jane Chmielinski, event moderator

Edie Weiner is president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc. (WEB), a leading futurist consulting group in the United States. Since 1977, WEB has served over 400 clients ranging from the U.S. Congress to Fortune 500 companies. Weiner has been a guest lecturer on many campuses including Wharton, Harvard, and Brown. She co-authored four books with her
business partner Arnold Brown, including FutureThink.

Weiner serves on several boards including the U.S. Comptroller Generalʼs Advisory Board, Womenʼs Leadership Exchange, and The SyFy Channel. She founded and, for 10 years, chaired the Esteem Teams, where executive women mentor inner city at risk girls. She also chaired ThinkQuest NYC, working to bridge the technology gap for inner city students.

Alison Paul, BWAF Volunteer, getting BWAF Briefly sign-ups!

Attendees enjoying breakfast and company. Left to right: James Lebenthal, Richard Tomasetti, and John Carey


Coffee Time! Left to right: Emita Hill, Carolinn Kuebler, Jane Gustafson, Karen Fairbanks, Debra Scorcia

All photos in this post are credited to BWAFArchives

Click here for the photo gallery of A View From The Future