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Integrated Practice

Integrated Practice - One View of a National Initiative

The American Institute of Architects defines an Integrated Practice as:

"Integrated Practice leverages early contribution of knowledge through utilization of new technologies, allowing architects to better realize their highest potentials as designers and collaborators while expanding the value they provide throughout the project lifecycle."

What does Integrated Practice really mean?

Integrated practice leverages architects' intellectual and physical resources at their highest value using the best tools sets and process available. The sharing of knowledge requires communication. Reading this page requires the use of communicating standards set by the English language. Information shared through the English language allows us to function as an integrated team.

Integration has always been an element of architecture. Some design is more integrated than others. That will always be the case. Architects are masters at being able to process a large amount of information on projects. Today with Building Information Modeling (BIM) and other tools integration of data and images is possible in a way that enables fundamentally improved results from a fully Integrated practice.

Like language and hand drawing, CAD will be part of an architect's integrated practice for the foreseeable future. However, architects who add a BIM tool set to their practice can provide a higher level of integration for clients who are demanding more holistic design results. At this precarious time in world history, the sooner architects are fully integrated, the sooner they can fulfill their age-old mission of providing the highest design service for today's expanding population.

Proprietary Standards

Software vendors have provided us with digital tools. These proprietary tools are "integrated" within themselves, keeping users loyal to that particular tool. The business model of many proprietary software solutions is to keep customers for as long as possible and make it expensive and difficult to switch to a competitor's solution.

A typical approach of proprietary software is to claim they are the industry standard and encourage users to standardize on one tool or set of tools from that vendor. From a user's perspective this could be valuable, but is a shortsighted approach. As users of various software solutions try and integrate these tools true integration becomes increasingly difficult due to various camps splitting up on which tools are the "right" tools. It is difficult to get true integration with software built on proprietary standards. If a secret formula is needed to make paper or ink, the proprietary standards of that process would limit the maximum benefit of these tools. Only those with the secret formula would be able to communicate. Many of the problems we have today on non-integration and non-interoperability stem from competing proprietary standards.

Transform the Practice of Architecture with Open Standards

The New Industry Standard is "open standards." No single BIM application should monopolize the definition of standards, no matter how large, dominant or great their solutions. The only way to get true integration and interoperability is with open standards. As BIM use matures, thousands of interfaces to view and edit BIM data will become available. Tools that allow non-BIM users to edit some of the BIM data will become available. The end user does not always need to understand what BIM is to interact with the data. 

I argue that the future of architecture relies on architects demanding open standards from our vendors and understanding the implications of the alternative. Otherwise, integrated practice of the 21st century and architecture will not survive. Any vendor saying they "are the industry standard" is not a good sign since they could become the de-facto standard. A de-facto standard that is owned by one vendor is not an open standard and therefore bad for the industry and our future.

With integration and interoperability becoming better understood, there is too much opportunity in this momentum to let a single vendor set standards. Open standards encourage competition that supports collaboration and high level solutions. Development of powerful software tools is not limited to those who know the secret formula. Open standards encourage open competition, which can be threatening to any established industry.

Why Standards for Architecture?

As architects we share information between consultants, engineers, clients and the world. The initial reaction to share information between multiple users or organizations is to standardize on a single vendor and a single model, requiring the project team to use ____CAD for the project. The problem with this approach is that communicating between teams that use other vendor tools becomes increasingly more complicated and costly over time. The answer to this problem is to have a common, open standard to share information.

The Internet is built on standards. These standards allow using software like Internet Explorer or Firefox and making data access without needing to know anything about the server or what databases the server is using. A Google query gives many links. The query and results are possible due to standards. Imagine the web requiring a different piece of software for each website. The beauty of the Internet is that it is built on these open standards and it does not dictate the use of any one tool or any one platform to interact with it.

The New and Integrated Reality

Imagine a world where information and knowledge are easily accessed and not limited by the types of tools used to get to that information. This world is already evolving with the open standards due to the Internet. Extending this capability to support the building industry creates a new integrated reality for architecture. In the past, architects were the master builders at the center of the design and construction process; integrating the entire project and team. The reality today and the potential of integrated teams is to move from the "master builder" approach to one of linked teams and knowledge centers. Although it is possible to have one central "super BIM" of a project, the larger potential is to have integrated models that are referenced to each other. The Internet is not "one server," but a distributed network of servers. Data and knowledge about our built environment or single project should be distributed in a similar manner, using open standards.

The Value of Integrated Knowledge

In this information centric world, data and knowledge that is integrated is of huge value. Businesses on the internet make fortunes out of such integration. This is evident with the evolution of banking, travel, real estate and the list goes on. The open standards of the internet have fostered user interfaces to view and interact with information, a process not possible in the past. The use of most of these interfaces requires little or no training and no proprietary software. The faster we as architects can "get our information integrated" and accessible to wider audiences outside the IT department of our firms, the more value we will generate for the industry and ourselves. The choice is ours. The technology is there. The time is right to integrate.

Kimon G. Onuma, AIA

January 31, 2007




National BIM Standards (NBIMS)

"A committee of the National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS) Facility Information Council (FIC). Since 1992 the FIC mission has been to "improve the performance of facilities over their full life-cycle by fostering common and open standards and an integrated life-cycle information model for the A/E/C & FM industry. The NBIMS Committee continues this tradition by knitting together the broadest and deepest constituency ever assembled for the purpose of creating an open National standard for using BIM efficiently to empower building processes. The NBIMS Charter spells out the vision and describes the results NBIMS expects to achieve."


Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)

"An international industry consortium of 336 companies, government agencies and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available interface specifications. OpenGISŪ Specifications support interoperable solutions that "geo-enable" the Web, wireless and location-based services, and mainstream IT. The specifications empower technology developers to make complex spatial information and services accessible and useful with all kinds of applications."


OGC white papers on interoperability and open standards:



"For all major projects (prospectus-level) receiving design funding in Fiscal Year 2007 and beyond, GSA will require spatial program BIMs be the minimum requirements for submission to OCA for Final Concept approvals by the PBS Commissioner and the Chief Architect.  At the same time, all GSA projects are encouraged to deploy mature 3D, 4D, and BIM technologies, spatial program validation and beyond, at strategic project phases in support of specific project challenges."


Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) Report:

Collaboration, Integrated Information and the Project Lifecycle in Building Design, Construction and Operation

"The Committee concluded that the difficulties experienced in typical construction projects, including those identified by CURT members, are artifacts of a construction process fraught by lack of cooperation and poor information integration. The goal of everyone in the industry should be better, faster, more capable project delivery created by fully integrated, collaborative teams."


National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Report on: Cost Analysis of Inadequate Interoperability in the U.S. Capital Facilities Industry


AIA Integrated Practice


AIA Integrated Practice Report

Twenty First Century Practitioner - Transformed by Process not Software


2009-10-26 13:57:59