April 2014

Disruptive Frosting On The Cake

Is technology from the heartland disrupting the "cake frosting" for architects?  Learn how to frost your cake with this edited excerpt from Charles Nelson, AIA, LFAIA, PSMJ Resources Australasia Manager April 2014 PSMJ article. 

Architects have been putting frosting on their cakes since the dawn of the profession, except during the Bauhaus movement when form followed function and discarded the idea of facade decoration. 

Less turned out to be less, not more after experiments by New
Brutalists and the probably needed demolition of the DeConstructionists.  Except where surface ornamentation serves some other function, like energy-saving, this "gilding of the lily" adds cost to design just as it has done throughout history.

Architects have to demonstrate that the decoration that separates their designs from boring old boxes add value to the real estate, the public image of the owner, etc. to safely prepare for value engineering.  Any tool that allows them to reduce the cost of their facade treatment and get the client's approval of it as a justified  "enhancement" is good news. 

Enter Bill Zahner, of the Kansas City A. Zahner Co., who clearly sees an opportunity here:  he has developed a web-based software tool for architects called "Shopfloor".  Zahner has developed tools capable of large scale 3-D printing, enabling it to produce infinite variations on a theme for building facades and is promoting this software under the banner of Disruptive Technology.  Architects can tinker with the design and see the cost go up or down.  A great idea, but of course (I assume) only works as long as Zahner prints the parts, but does not include the installation.  3-D printing is disruptive technology, no question.  Software to run a 3-D printer isn't. 

Bill Zahner is to be congratulated for taking a bold step in bridging the gap between design idea and construction cost:   he's brought System Thinking to building frosting.  If Zahner's idea flies, others will figure out how to emulate the proprietary software.  Zahner understands that risk, but there are huge benefits in being the first to create a new market. 

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