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Klaus Philipsen, FAIA is an architect, urban designer and architectural writer specializing in urban architecture, adaptive reuse, preservation and transportation work. He is President ArchPlan Inc. past chairman of the Baltimore Design Center, member of the AIA National Regional and Urban Design Committee and president of NeighborSpace Baltimore County. He is a co-founder of the 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide smart growth group. Klaus has been a presenter, speaker or moderator at international, national and regional conventions and events about cities, design, smart growth, economic development, livability, sustainability and transportation. He writes an architectural column in a local paper and is a urban design contributor on a statewide radio talk show. For inquiries about presentations, participation in discussion panels or articles write to info@archplan.com

Friday, October 17, 2014

From Buildings to Communities to Systems - the Bigger Picture

The power of aspiration is so much bigger than the power of desperation (Peter Senge)
In telling stories about cities on this blog there is the constant interplay between the general and the specific. The interplay between the parts and the whole is well known in science, philosophy and architecture. This article is an interdisciplinary journey into systems theory, complexity and physics to see what tolls and insights those fields can offer designers, architects and city planners.

Knowledge about the parts that make up a city must be a constituent part of even the biggest master plans, for they won't work if they are not based on realistic modules and parts. A master-plan, small or big, not only needs to reflect how the buildings, orient, what their typical footprints are, how they are accessed on foot or by vehicles, how circulation and services work but also have a feel for the three dimensional physicality of architecture. Conversely, a building needs to intrinsically reflect its role in the given context and must be more than just an articulation of itself. It needs to be a part of bigger concept, whether its sits in nature or in a city. This nexus is one reason why the common split between schools of architecture and schools of planning is so unfortunate. The famous Aristotelian insight that the total is more than the sum of its parts certainly applies to buildings, especially where they are supposed to form communities, towns and cities. This concept is also the basis of systems theory.
Crowd simulation with 10,000 "agents" moving in two
opposite directions
From: Aggregate Dynamics of Crowd Simulation,
University of NC, Chapel Hill


For cities the dialectic between the part and the total must be expanded beyond aesthetics or functionalities of urban design.  Transportation most commonly poses the system question even for a single structure. Even small interventions on the parts level, such as infill, impact traffic beyond the front door or the parking garage entrance. Transportation neatly illustrates the "butterfly effect" (a small change in one place could become a larger one far up or down-stream. That is why planners and engineers often request "traffic impact studies" and communities love to use "traffic" as a shield against development. Developers are often required to pay for traffic improvements outside their property for example at nearby intersections. From a systems thinking point of view it doesn't matter that traffic improvements in the name of better flow are now viewed critically since enthusiasm for free flow and the car as the only form of mobility has diminished. Many other systems requirements are ready to take transportation's place: water management, sustainability, resilience, walkability and universal and equitable access to name but a few. Even within traditional planning the standard planning elements of comprehensive plans aren't explored individually each on its own but in the context of sustainability or livability policies that cities have adopted requiring to see the elements in their totality. These new metrics have in common that they refer to systems, they link parts, form networks and their total is more than the sum of the parts. Additionally, what is most interesting about the whole are not its constituent parts but non physical properties such as relationships and the laws of interaction.

To look at cities as subjects of complexity problems while enlisting big data, chaos theory and all kinds of other real or pseudo science has become fashionable in pop culture and serious research.  On this blog I asked in a recent essay "if city planning can be science". In taking a page from pop culture's fascination with certain aspects of physics I went as far as relating architecture to quantum physics in another article.
Heisenberg: The Part and the Whole

Addressing complexity and attempts of finding holistic approaches to tackle it goes back to the 1920s and biology and ecology which soem say formed the beginning of modern systems theory. It became an element of popular inquiry with the first oil crisis, the growing environmental awareness and the Club of Rome questions about the "limits to growth" all converging into various strands of action and theory in the late sixties, early seventies of the last century. While the Club of Rome may have arrived at their dire predictions via a more linear thinking, others began to take biological systems thinking and test drive it for matter and even design and the built environment as well. My former German-American professor Horst Rittel brought science and design together in this way when he taught at Berkeley's College of Environmental Design and Stuttgart University in the early sixties and coined the term of "wicked problems" for those that are so complex that they may even defy definition. The Austrian/American theoretical physicist Fritjof Capra, also in Berkeley, went further when he published “the Tao of Physics” in 1975, an attempt of showing similarities between modern physics and eastern mythology. Capra described a transformation from the prevailing western method of taking things apart and looking at them individually to a more holistic approach of looking at fields, systems and interactions, a method he considered more eastern. He had located that change in his own field of physics (where the failure of getting definite information about a single particle famously was expressed in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle) but then carried it forth to the environment and life in general. While complexity in physics has since exploded into String Theory (with multiverses, 12 and more dimensions, the replacement of the tiny particle with the tiny vibrating string defined by its vibration frequency) and the Standard Model into a whole zoo of particles. Capra, the physicist, meanwhile got interested in life sciences.
Capra book cover

Now in 2014, broadcast on NPR, Capra spoke to students of Design at Carnegie Mellon about systems thinking, sustainability, networks, relationships and community. Capra went straight from physics to the topics of networks, communities, interactions and organization. Capra not only connects physics, the environment and life sciences with each other, he also promotes activism to affect change. For example, he feeds his scientific insights into environmental education, attempting to change the course of human action towards more sustainability and “eco-literacy” as he calls it. Capra, thus, seems to be a great candidate for providing the theoretical underpinning to the questions I had posed in those recent blog articles. Or, more fundamentally, provide a theory for all those who picked architecture as a field which bridges humanity and natural science. Clearly, architecture is about networks, community, places and about materials, structure and order; in short, the relationship of people and matter.

A brief autobiographical insertion may be allowed: Drawn to physics since highschool, I had to see that my mathematical understanding was too limited to go beyond the basics of anything now called STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math). Also fascinated with construction, cities and transportation, I pursued a carreer in that and left it to my younger cousin to become a professor of theoretical physics with Quantum Chromo Dynamics (QCD) as his specialty. QCD is the study of the relations between quarks and gluons, the tiny constructs that make up hadrons, particles that became subjects of popular culture through physics’ most architectural expression: The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the gigantic particle accelerator. Last year it showed that the heavy boson that was surmised to give matter mass did, in fact, appear to exist. Here, too, of interest is not the part but its field and its large scale impact on matter. Needless to say this architect's attempts to truly understand what the cousin is up to are still entirely inadequate.
An overview of Complex Systems

So, from Rittel, Capra and my cousin back to system thinking, cities and the dialectic relationship between the part and the whole, and the nexus between building and city which I noted in the beginning. Following Capra it isn't a quantum leap to note that theoretical physics is moving away from a mechanistic and particle fixated world view.  In classical physics atoms, planets and whole galaxies were thought to interact like clockwork. While this view works still very well for most everyday tasks, as a world view it is dead. Other disciplines, especially biology and neuroscience are catching up to a view that accepts uncertainty, probability and more variables than we can neatly fit into normal equations.

It is hard to know if technology followed suit allowing to tackle these new complexities or if technology is, instead, the result of less mechanistic thinking (as in the quantum computer). Regardless, computer and visualization technologies now allow to tackle complexities which were far beyond reach only a short time ago.  The mathematical tools around such multidimensional approaches are known as complexity theory or non-linear dynamics. In non-linear dynamics the end result is not predictable from initial steps even if those are very simple, a quite unsettling fact for architects and planners who are in the business of blueprints, i.e. anticipating and designing the future.

Interestingly, sciences discover that complexity is, in fact, everywhere. Stunning is the realization that mechanistic and reductionist views, cultivated in the west at least since Descartes, are not only insufficient to explain the world climate, the origin of the universe, or how brains work, they also cannot explain everyday occurrences such as phase transitions (water to ice), gravity or some fundamental relationships of matter (entanglement). In short, Socrates'  "I know that I know nothing" has become the prevailing view right on the heels of a period in history when many scientists had smugly postulated that there was "nothing left to discover".  The insight that we know, indeed, rather little, is especially surprising in a time when knowledge is exploding all around us at breathtaking speed. But, as Socrates had already discovered, for everything that knowledge has been able to illuminate, exponentially more has moved into view that still begs for an explanation. Thus, equipped with powerful tools but limited knowledge mankind is locked into a race between what can be done and what is known, essentially flying by the seat of its pants. That is also the mode under which architects and urbanists often operate. 

Wait, big data, metrics, performance measures, strategic plans and all the other attempts of quantifying quality, isn't that providing what we need to know? Sadly, most of these techniques are linear and hardly able to truly cope with systems.

Consider the trouble we have with simulating brain power with computers, no matter how fast they are? How we had to re-learn how the human brain processes information, i.e. non linear and with parallel pathways?  That humans are able to run quickly from a lion barely seen in the corner of an eye not because of big data analysis but because of intuition?  That "design thinking" is en vogue because it neatly combines analytics with intuition and because creatives often sense threats and trends long before the data crunchers? (Just think of Kafka's masterful descriptions of the big anonymous powers that know everything about us while we know nothing about them 100 years before this became a mass fear?). From that perspective it appears that architects with their typically activated left and right brain spheres, science and humanity as it were, are not ill positioned to deal with complexity. That makes it tempting to extrapolate, speculate and project what is next. What trajectory do we follow and to what extent can we plan it?

The biblical story of the expulsion from paradise because of eating from the tree of knowledge, the subsequent self-awareness and the condemnation to conquest and domination that followed is very powerful in describing how mankind has moved from being simply part of an ecosystem to being condemned to be its master. To man, now equipped with the ability of upending life itself, the sustainability movement and systems thinking renew the option of human existence as part of the ecosystem, the planet and the universe. This demands the use of knowledge not for domination and conquest but for a better understanding of the systems itself.

Humans reflecting upon their condition won't likely want to return to the "paradisiacal" (subordinate) condition even if systems thinking favors the bottom up approach over the top down approach, try-and-error over perfect blueprints and random creative connections over linear thinking. This poses a conundrum.  We already see how long range plans either make the unforeseen impossible or are already outdated at the time of adoption. We experienced painfully how climate conferences as an extension of linear planning did little to alter climate change, how on the global scale blueprints and mandates didn't work. Neither have solutions simply emerged.

People are not fruit flies or ants, but patterns of emergence and swarm intelligence work for either one, unsettling as it may be. Humans follow basic rules of emergence resulting from feedback loops like most everything in nature. Cells in a petri dish form patterns which look quite similar to those of complex human creations such as cities and road networks. the travelling salesman solution. Large concentrations of people as they can be found in large cities, indeed, explain the successes of New York, Singapore, London and other metropolises, which represent large networks with tons of random connectivity, all ingredients of innovation. While these cities may fare well under innovation and adaptation, they are far from being sustainable systems.
Slime mold patterns and cities
 Big conglomerations, then, may not so much be the result of top down blue-prints, but bottom up systems patterns that millions of rather simple agents (humans) create. This view, after all, has been held by market economists for some time. That quantity can transform into quality is the underlying principle of

Regardless where between passive, subordinate flow and active domination one would want to settle, the need to inflict less damage remains imperative and likely essential for the survival of the humanity and possibly terrestrial life altogether.

In recently reviewing the national AIA submissions for the 2015 regional and urban design honors awards, I could see that the professions of architects, urban designers and planners are making great progress in systems thinking and in integrating the parts with the whole. Sustainability and resilience metrics are now required for the awards submission and almost all submitted projects considered and explained their suggested solutions and designs in terms of the bigger systems in which the projects were placed. Some, especially those in China, were gigantic in scale, some were more modest but each project recognized water, the sun, walkability, access to transit and how the relationships of the parts formed a whole that was more than the sum of its parts. Some entries even went beyond repair, efficiency and "do no harm" to dabbling with systems that make what they consume (Net Zero). Those who most comprehensively and intelligently combined analysis, intuition and creativity will be announced as winners in January. It remains to be seen if China with its super-sized projects can leapfrog forward to true systems thinking. The global race for survival is on, and it is faster and more complex than ever. As Senge put it, aspiring is much better than despairing and system thinking can truly be inspiring.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
edited by Ben Groff 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Fascination with Magnetic Levitation

This article follows participation in a radio discussion with former PA Governor Ed Rendell and David Pickeral of IBM intelligent transportation systems about the latest MagLev proposal to connect DC and Baltimore. It is part of a series of articles about the future of transportation
The Fascination

The technology is half a century old, almost as old as the Jetsons, yet now in the new millennium Americans are still waiting for the train that has magnetic levitation. So does nearly everybody else, the world over in spite of all the promises that have been made over the decades. Politicians still sell it as cutting edge. Rendell said recently to a reporter: "it's time for America to do something big and something great." So what is wrong? Are we just wussies who can't take on a challenge anymore? Why could we fly to the moon but can't build a magnetically levitated train? Wouldn't it be time to think outside the box, think big, embrace innovation?

Well, I would submit that these are exactly the kind of pride and testosterone fueled questions that
Scmaglev test train in Japan
got every other previously considered maglev train project first going and then into trouble. Infatuated with a beautiful technology,("we got to do this!") and nostalgic with memories of other big break-through technologies of the past ("Nobody believed we could cross the Rockies"), generations of politicians went down these emotional one-night-stands with technology that ended with nothing but hangovers. Over and over again new maglev consortia led by German or Japanese firms lure and tempt with trips and rides. These two countries desperately want to recoup the billions they poured into their own love affair with magnetic levitation starting in the early seventies. In spite of projects wrecks around the globe, the most spectacular one when Germany sacked their own maglev system for the high speed corridor Berlin-Hamburg, the sirens of maglev still seduce new believers who follow them into yet another dead end. All it takes is a trinket trip to Shanghai's Transrapid German train or Tokyo's SC-Maglev test track and the guests will be drunk from the smooth ride and the dreams of the dawn of a new era in train travel. Ed Rendell, on the advisory board of the Japanese consortium pronounced on the radio: "once this first leg from Washington to Baltimore is built, there is no stopping it from going all the way to Boston".

Transportation decisions need to be made with a clearer mind, they should not begin with love for technology but with a clear definition of what needs to be achieved as a desirable outcome based on actual transportation needs and verified with proper metrics. Here in the US, on the North-East Corridor (NEC) or, for that matter, in China. A very good primer for the complexity of the transportation question in the NEC is the MIT study for the Institution for Transportation Policy Studies (ITPS). It is telling that China which embarked on the most impressive infrastructure investment binge in all of history has already constructed some 10,000 miles (estimates vary) of high speed steel rail (HSR) in the last seven years or so, Only 18.9 miles of that are, indeed, maglev. That is what it has come to, the super-train as an airport shuttle, a train mostly empty and far from igniting a transportation revolution.

The Northeast Corridor (NEC)

Here in the Northeast corridor (variably defined to go from Boston to Washington DC or Richmond
Northeast Corridor from NEC study

or even Charlotte, sometimes more narrowly simply NYC to DC) we sit on a veritable pile of high speed train studies and in some kind of misguided balance thinking we divided our scarce resources neatly into a pile for 
Maglev studies and one for "conventional" High Speed Rail studies. While President Obama made initial forays into high speed rail that promised to finally kick the country into action and better rail transit, federal money for Maglev studies never dried entirely up, even though none of the suggested lines ever really took off, be it in Texas, Florida or a shuttle in Pittsburgh or Norfolk. Our own proposed Baltimore-DC line has languished just like all the others. That is, until Japan showed up and waved $5 billion dollars, an event which preceded the radio discussion and stirred the fantasy of promoters once again.

Back to the NEC's transportation needs, though. All of the studies demonstrate with a great number of facts and figures that the Northeast is a worthy candidate for high speed trains and that investment in such infrastructure would have enormous benefits. 

What makes high speed long distance transit viable in this corridor more than anywhere else in the US and competitive worldwide are these facts: 
  • 55 million people live in the corridor and produce about a fifth of the US GDP. 
  • The NEC encompasses 12 states and 8 regional commuter rail systems, several freight systems and 13 airports. 
  • Traffic is regularly congested to the point that northeast rail transit on Amtrak grew by 36% since 2000. 
  • 1.4 million passengers ride the Amtrak rails.  That is 36% of the railroad's nationwide ridership and a whopping 52% of all of Amtrak's ticket revenues. 
  • On this corridor Amtrak has about 68% of its seats sold, a pretty good occupancy rate for passenger trains but one that still allows growth without even adding rolling stock. 
  • Take this corridor away from Amtrak and the railroad will be dead and with it all passenger services on the 21,100 miles on which Amtrak still operates.
Of course, Amtrak's picture in NE corridor looks rosy only if one compares it to the rest of the nation (a distant #2 in riders is Amtrak's Surfliner from San Diego to LA with 2.7 million annual riders). Compare Amtrak's northeast service to the Trains a Grande Vitesse (TGV, 115 million riders per year) in France, Germany's ICE train or Japanese Shinkansen trains (over 300 million riders per year) or the rapidly growing Chinese HSR system that reportedly carried some 370 million riders in 2013 and one can see how poor our flagship service looks in the international comparison.

So what are the NEC transportation needs? Eight commuter systems in the NEC, freight and Amtrak are fighting over limited and aged track capacity and an overall poor infrastructure lacking the necessary upkeep, whether it is tracks, stations, rolling stock, electric power or the catenary system itself. While trains can reach up to 150mph top speeds not much less than the 200 mph of its European competitors, this happens only on less than 10% of the Boston to DC corridor. Thus average speeds are barely touching the 80mph mark, only a tad above automobile travel. Tunnels, curves, and at grade crossings present numerous speed chokers or height bottlenecks, especially affecting freight. This much studied picture clearly points to a need for major investments. Overlap these findings with thriving and growing cities (Boston, New York, Washington) and cities that will be growing (Newark, Philadelphia, and Baltimore), demographic trends that favor public transportation, and one gets the idea why Japanese firms want to hedge against failure of their own Tokyo Nagoya Maglev plans with their wunder trains running also right here on the NEC. After all, there is an economy of scale for large item manufacturing and growing an entirely new system based on just one line seems like a bad idea.

High Speed Rail (HRS) or Maglev?

When we ask ourselves if HSR or MagLev is the better solution for the NEC, we should not be
High speed rail trains, Beijing China
guided by the interests of Japan's industry, even if they are wrapped in a $5 billion credit line. Talking about money: The various alignments, some of which have even gone through preliminary environmental impact studies, all show that for the corridor from NYC to Washington investments in the magnitude of a $100 billion or more would be needed to either catch up with the rest of the world in HSR or for becoming a leader in Maglev, although it needs to be noted that MagLev has little detail to offer for anything north of Baltimore.

Not starting with technology as the differentiator but with land use, the economic development, communities, and the cities we are trying to serve will eventually provide the answer to the question of which technology would truly be more appropriate. To talk about community, cities and places we need to expand the traditional transportation mobility metric (passengers multiplied with travel time improvements) and include environmental benefits, community development, and equity, all metrics that FTA and FRA increasingly recognize as variables of the mobility equation.
ICE high speed rail train, Germany

Stations:
Let's just use stations as an example. The more stations the lower the travel speeds but the larger the ridership, provided stations are located correctly and provide intermodal connectivity. In a strict "mobility" metric that counts passengers and travel time savings, the two factors can each achieve higher ratings, i.e. a faster train that never stops between origin and destination could rank equal to one that is slower and picks up more riders. This is clearly not an ideal model for a fully developed population corridor with dispersed population and a multitude of nodes and centers such as Newark, Newark Airport, Wilmington, Baltimore, BWI, and New Carrollton to name but a few of the highly frequented nodes in the NEC that are today's Amtrak and/or Acela stops. Maglev's contention that their train can travel at over 300mph compared to the 200mph typically reached by HSR is built on this notion. As soon as their train would stop more often the speed advantage evaporates because dwell times in stations tend to dominate. An even bigger issue associated with stations has to do with their location and their function as intermodal hubs, i.e. places where one transfers from high speed trains to regional or local trains or whatever other transit. As the European HSR network shows, most high speed long distance trains stop in the historic train stations in the heart of cities with some exceptions of new train stations and satellite cities like Euralille. In a station a HSR train may look more futuristic than its regional or local brethren on the other side of the platform, but it uses the same tracks, has the same floor height and uses all the rest of the station and track infrastructure like any other train allowing a complete and seamless integration into local, regional and national and even international train systems (in Europe with its many national railroads it took about 30 years before the electric power systems and coaches were compatible enough to allow the various national trains to cross borders without switching engines). This full integration isn't just something that train buffs can get excited about, it is a key advantage for the user who counts door to door trip time and not station to station time for the long distance mode in isolation. After all, cars are used door to door and in order to solve the NEC transportation problems, people need to move from cars to trains (leaving self driving cars out of consideration for the purpose of this article. I have covered that topic in another blog post).

By contrast, maglev is a fully incompatible system, no matter if it is Germany's EMS or Japan's EDS
Transrapid and guideway exhibit at the Munich airport
train.  Trains cannot run on existing tracks, be maintained in existing shops or serviced by existing mechanics. No station can be used, no (Amtrak) right of way, no siding, no train yard, no engine, no power feed and no carriage. Everything has to be new and of a proprietary brand of Japanese (or German) origin. This means historic stations would not work for maglev and even though the maglev studies never disclosed where the (terminus) stations would precisely be located, one can safely assume they would neither be on the other side of an existing platform and likely not even nearby but in entirely new locations, most likely deep underground. (To be fair, some NEC HSR alignments are also away from current tracks and have also assumed new station locations, an aspect that would need good vetting, since in the case of HSR it isn't necessary to ditch the old stations). DC has committed to a fantastically large development around its refurbished historic Union Station (Design: Daniel Burnham, the man who likes the really big ideas and plans), clearly banking on the station to remain where it is, and where you connect to Metro, buses, and Maryland and Virginia commuter rail lines. Baltimore has also big plans for its historic Penn Station area, although those are not as far advanced yet. (Amtrak's long range plan foresaw relocation of the station to Charles Center in downtown but major aspects of the plan have since been withdrawn by Amtrak).

Phasing and benefits
The fact that maglev is incompatible with anything already on the ground is probably its biggest drawback. Consider the 35 mile starter project between Washington and Baltimore as proposed by the Japanese consortium and its unknown cost. (Depending on whom one asks, around $10 billion). It envisions three stations (DC, BWI and Baltimore), and an all new mostly underground alignment not connected to MARC or Amtrak at any of the stops. Imagine it gets built. As a short shuttle, it cannot replace anything that currently operates between DC and Baltimore, i.e. Acela, Regional or MARC commuter trains. A traveler commencing a journey in DC with anything else than Baltimore or BWI as the destination would certainly not board this train no matter how fast it travels since continuation of the trip after arrival at Baltimore's new station wherever would not get anywhere. This means 10 billion dollars invested into Maglev doesn't really accrue benefits for the NEC corridor as a whole and only a tiny minority of riders would likely use it. (Just watch how many people on current trains between DC and Baltimore get off at stations like New Carrollton, Odenton or Halethorpe). The NEC, so desperately in need of better trains, would only benefit once the entire corridor is complete.
Transrapid train in revenue service: Shanghai

Compare this to an investment of $10 billion in the current rail corridor where every dollar invested in straightened curves, tunnel replacements, new track segments or better platforms and station amenities, will benefit everyone who takes a trip in the corridor, be it end to end or in the improved segments. Incremental speed improvements shortened the duration of the trip while other investments would make the service more resilient and reliable. Rendell himself praised that very incremental approach during the radio show with an example from his own time as governor when he helped improve the Keystone line between Philly and Harrisburg resulting in 25% reduced travel time and 50% increase in ridership.

Guideway impacts
Finally, looking at the transportation choices from an urban design and community perspective would require to compare the impact of the guideways for the different technologies, not a trivial issue in a densely populated corridor. 

Everybody knows standard railroad track with ties, ballast, and steel rails. However, this existing, fairly low-impact construction, which also heats up very little in direct sun, would have to be altered for higher speeds than the 150mph Amtrak currently runs to a system where steel tracks are directly fastened to continuous concrete slabs. Still, these type of tracks can run at grade, in tunnels, or on bridges and they can principally be crossed at grade, even if those crossing are not desirable. HSR in Europe still has numerous at grade crossings for farm or logging roads, sometimes even streets. Electric power comes from above (not the rails!) and power poles for the "catenary" line the tracks along with power substations and the like. Curves are possible in many even tight radii, however, the faster the train the larger the needed radius. In other words, topography or urban form may require some curvy stretches where the train would have to run slower, but even the most high-tech train could still negotiate those curves.
Schematic guideway section Scmaglev

Maglev guideways are fundamentally different. In maglev one can say the guideway is the motor since carriages and guideway both have magnets that interact, levitate the train, and propel it based on linear induction motor technology and in the case of the Japanese system on-board super conducting magnets that need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Power is in the guideway but only at the moment the train passes, at other times no live power is present. Tighter curves are impossible due to the centrifugal forces that would push against the magnetic field that keeps the train from touching the sides of the U-shaped concrete guideway. (SC-Maglev). Transrapid, the German system, has T shaped guideways where the vehicle wraps around the edges of the T-flange making "derailment" impossible.  Due to their non flat shape, the maglev guideways can physically not be crossed at grade, not even in emergencies. As a result of the need for a pretty straight run and no at grade crossing capability, the guideway would run mostly elevated or in a tunnel to fit into existing NEC conditions making it more expensive to construct. On the plus side, maglev can master steeper grades than conventional rail because there is no slippage. However, the Japanese system runs levitated only at speeds above 50mph or so, in low speeds it runs on wheels requiring the guideway to allow wheel operation along the full corridor in case of emergencies (the German system has no wheels and can levitate at low speeds or even power outages via batteries). One can see that the matter of guideways gets quite technical even if one only wants to know about how they fit into the environment. The lack of experience with maglev in larger scale operation leaves many questions about guideways, switches, operations in ice and snow (the Japanese guideway is heated) and the arrangement in larger maintenance yards or facilities where embedded standard rail makes it easy for yard operations to overlap with the train operation inside or outside of maintenance shops and coach garages.

Conclusion
These type of arguments should be made when comparing the technologies long before one gets carried away about the beauty of levitation, the lack of friction and pantographs, the extra space that the wide body carriages provide, the 300 miles per hour speeds, or the one hour trip time between Washington and New York (which would not include a stop in Baltimore).

As clearly as rational analysis may show the problems of a switch to maglev, it can't beat fascination, ra-ra can-do attitudes, or the draw of five billion in cash. And sometimes, admittedly, one has to act on instinct and excitement. 

Instinct and bravado may be appropriate for long distance train corridors traversing extensive stretches of un-populated deserts, swamps or prairies.  Here in the densely populated and developed northeast we need careful deliberation and a cost benefit comparison that is not driven by hype and propaganda, especially near Washington where we already have enough hot air. What communities here need is for resources to be pooled and used for the highest benefits. First and foremost are those less sexy but doable things such as a sliver of additional right of way where Amtrak and commuter tracks are still not separated into high speed and low speed track-sets and a replacement of the 1873 B&P tunnel so that both the long distance and the local trains can enter Baltimore faster than at 30mph. An open house as part of that study is scheduled in Baltimore for October 29, 2014. "Mobility instead of monuments" as David Pickeral, the third radio debater puts it.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
edited by Ben Groff


Related articles on this blog:
Why Maglev may not be the Answer
Train or Plane?
Travel Observations: High Speed Rail



External Sources

Podcast of the Midday Show on WYPR
New York Time 1994: Waiting for the train for 30 years
Baltimore SUN, Big Vision that has Failed Before (Sept 27,14)
Washington Post: Backers of Maglev Claim $5 Billion in Funding (Sept 4, 14)
Baltimore SUN, Maglev Train Idea Resurfaces (Nov 2013)
Northeast Maglev, Japan Maglev
Maglev from Norfolk to Virginia Beach? Maglev isn't the Way (Pilot Online, 3/14)
Or Maglev to Turner Field in Atlanta? Atlanta Business Chronicle 7/13
The Billion Euro Flop: Magnetic Levitation Mania (SPIEGELonline 2/14. German)
A list of Maglev train proposals wordwide
A Vision for a High-speed Rail Corridor (Amtrak 2011)
Transportation in the Northeast Corridor ITPS (2012)




Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Incredible Power of Open Source 3-D Product Makers

This article is part of a series of intermittent essays identifying technological, economical or societal forces that influence design, design professions and the shape of the built environment.  
Crowd-sourced collaborative innovation is changing the face of modern medicine. e-NABLE, a global online community of humanitarian volunteers is leading the way by designing, building and disseminating inexpensive functional 3D printed prosthetics. (Conference press release).

The conference titled "Prosthetists meet Printers", organized by the e-NABLE group  took place at the venerable Johns Hopkins Hospital on a bright fall morning. To the surprise of the organizers, over 400 people filled the auditorium at this first time ever gathering.
Conference Poster

The conference upended in a most revolutionary way the traditional set-up of health care where doctors prescribe expensive items made by a powerful industrial complex to patients who often can't afford them or have to wait way too long to get them.

At this conference patients, doctors, prosthetic experts and layperson makers all sat in one space and perhaps for the first time in modern history, patients were empowered to become the makers. Doctors, prosthetic experts and lay makers all sat in one space and perhaps for the first time in modern history, patients were empowered to become the makers.

Notable sponsors included the Hanger Prosthetics, a player in the traditional industrial health care model providing prosthetic devices since 1861 when founder James Edward Hanger fixed his own amputated leg up with a prosthesis made from barrel staves. Hanger riding this potentially threatening innovation train appeared unlikely as the entire gathering, a mash-up of old and new paradigms. In a hall typically used by the professional elites, kids, parents, grandparents, professors, wearers of prosthetics, doctors,  kinesthesiologists and the 3 D-printer makers formed a diverse, colorful and restless audience.

The new tools that made this possible: open source data sharing, 3-D printing, tool sharing, and crowd-sourced manufacturing. This creative mix brought about the product refinements that managed to surpass in just a couple of years what the traditional industrial complex had developed in decades after many years of research and product development, approval processes, and regulatory hoops.Naturally, prosthetics produced in this way cost in the thousands of dollars.

Crowd sourced design meets online support network

Amazingly, and hardly in the public conscience, there are hundreds of thousands of children born with small or larger deficiencies in their extremities, especially hands through congenital conditions or bleeding in certain early phases of the pregnancy. Add to this the victims of trauma injuries from war (especially the Iraq war with the terrible explosive traps) and accidents and the need for artificial limbs is significant. The e-NABLE network matches especially children in need of prosthetic limbs (mostly hands) with those who make them.

It has become fashionable to call upheavals of the kind described above "disruptive innovations." Unlike the taxi lobby which has begun worldwide battles against the disruptions of the internet based Uber car service, not only Hanger but also Johns Hopkins Professor Albert Chi, a trauma surgeon and Reserve Lieutenant of the US Navy, embraced the new bottom up competition. He has been in contact with the e-NABLERs for some time and has even adopted the 3d printing method for some products in his group as well. He was instrumental in organizing and hosting the conference while in his main job at Hopkins collaborating with the institution's Applied Physics Lab (APL) and doing research on cutting edge "myoelectric" artificial limbs. For those the user controls the prosthesis with the electric currents of his or her mind. Meanwhile, the maker devices that were on display in Hopkins' halls turned the bulk and crudeness which are still a hallmark of much of additive printing with plastic into an asset: Kids loved that these hands and arms looked powerful and reminded them of  Transformers and other colorful action figures that are the most popular toys these days.

The reader who has followed the story up to this point may finally be inclined to ask: Ok, fine, all nice and well but what has this to do with architecture, urban design or cities, the topics one has come to expect on this blog?
Peter Binkley and son Peregrin during the panel presentation

The answer is not simple. No, it isn't about possible relief for architects from  the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), a  set of rules governing "universal access" which is widely disliked by architects but has helped to make places easier to navigate for everybody. It isn't about the fact that architects increasingly use 3-D printing for models or to test complicated assemblies and details or that at this conference a presenter came from Autodesk, a vendor of software known by engineers and architects worldwide. Personally, what brought me to the conference, was my grandson who is a wearer of one of those home-printed hands and his father who had customized the online hand designs as an early adopter of the technology. As a founding member of e-NABLE he also became the creator of the Ody and Talon hands. But this event was important way beyond this personal tie.
Talon Hands

Why architects and city planners should pay attention to disruptions in the standard way things are done, designed, or fabricated has to do with our survival as a profession of designers. It isn't likely that homeowners or developers will soon start printing their own houses, office buildings, or shopping centers, so we are not quite in the position of the farrier or even in that of Hanger Prosthetics. But this maker disruption, this third industrial revolution will be all around us and it will change just about everything in a way not yet predictable.

For those who are already tired of all the hype surrounding 3-D printing, consider this: When personal computers came out (a mere 30-35 years ago) many people wondered  what they may be good for since until then (main frame) computers were known for long and complicated computations of the kind you don't do to balance your checkbook. Indeed, early home computers had anemic powers, were cumbersome to boot up (with a floppy) and even gifted people struggled to come up with uses so they programmed little green figures for their kids in what became the first computer games. Fast forward to today, and the purpose of that little computer in our pocket is so obvious that we can't even imagine life without it and go nuts when it breaks or we forgot it somewhere. Today's 3-D printers look as cumbersome as Ataris or old Apples and people struggle to find better uses today than printing napkin rings, phone cases, or sculptures of their own heads. But it’s precisely those homemade custom phone cases that probably keep some
Transformer action figure with robo hands
Chinese manufacturers up at night. How will their mass produced, globally-distributed product remain competitive if we can make them in our own basement without any need for shipping? Shippers may be sleepless, too. What happens when complicated, rare replacement parts that need to be shipped from distant warehouses to repair shops are printed in the shop on demand? And while the shipper worries about a new future for himself the warehouse guy who stores mass produced stuff may do the same. Less trucking, less air cargo, less road space, fewer cartons. FedEx and UPS currently growing  with the rapidly expanding online shopping may soon face a reversal of fortunes, and a very different, much greener, and more sustainable reality.  Even if these possible changes happen only incrementally and in partial markets, they will most certainly recast the physical world as well. Baltimore's port which competes with Norfolk's container port by specializing in bulk cargo may have just bet on the right horse because containers are for mass production and bulk for mass customization.

If custom production is the new option and not economies of scale, the already long-dead economist Schumpeter, who built economic theories around the concentration of capital needed to afford the huge investments for machines of mass production, can finally be buried for good. (See my blog article from last week). Now anybody can not only be an inventor but also produce a proto-type or any number of improved proto-types in rapid succession. Good bye assembly line, good by factory floor, good bye logistics industry trying to match production with consumption in that perfect way called "just in time." Good bye to the large corporations that manage the complicated set up from product development to production, good bye to the big overhead that comes from the inefficiencies of big corporations which are only so big and unwieldy because the infrastructure needed to produce in mass is so exorbitantly expensive. Good bye merger mania, big isn't needed anymore. Good bye bankers and money handlers, the future doesn't cost much more than a 3D printer and some spools of materials.
Larger 3-D printer with fan blade product



Of course, I am exaggerating. Not everything can be produced in those magic printers and not everything needs to be custom. There will always be room for mass production, for "subtractive" fabrication or mold injection technologies. Still, even for mass production the high cost of injection molds  or extrusion dies can be lowereddrastically, once again allowing more product variations for less cost. Complicated shapes in hydro plants or airplane turbines can be repaired by using the additive printing process. It doesn't take much imagination to see that the crowd produced prosthetics can be used to equip robots thus making them cheaper and more versatile. Those very robots will take jobs away which we currently consider irreplaceable while 3-D printing creates new professions and jobs. When making things in our own four walls will becomes as commonplace as consulting from home or pocket computers today, we will have a better idea about the social, political and physical implications of this revolution and what it will mean for design, buildings, cities, transportation, and our happiness.

Based on the time it took to get from the Apple 2e computer to the iPhone, we will not have very much time to plan for the future in which we are once again not only consumers but also makers – a future, as I speculated in my last article, that may, indeed be about quality more than about quantity, a time I would look forward to. The happiness from the self-made prosthetics permeating the Hopkins Conference was a good omen.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
edited by Ben Groff

article updated for formatting issues 10/5/14


External Links and Sources:

Baltimore Sun 9-29-14: Kids Outfitted with new Hands Made on 3-D Printers
New York Times debate 2014: Will 3-D Printers Change the World?
Forbes 2012 article: Will 3-D Printing Change the World?
3D Printing – Opportunities, Challenges and the Future in India
Inside 3-D Printing Berlin (Video, English)
VDI Nachrichten, 3-D Druck waechst in der Werkzeugmaschine (German only)
Baltimore Manufacturing Forum Oct 7, 2014


Other articles on this blog addressing technological, economical or societal forces that influence design, design professions and the shape of the built environment. 

About professional firms, merger mania,  innovation and the state of architecture:
Is small beautiful but big better?
The state of architecture
Technology in the architecture office

About transportation, self driving cars, transit and active modes:
The next big thing will change everything
The machine that transformed societies 
Why Maglev may not be the answer

About the environment, smart growth, smart cities, green buildings and resilience
The energy footprint of apartments and houses
How stormwater management can make better cities
Can there be science in city planning?
Governance in the digital city
Rising sea levels: Stand your ground or managed retreat?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Firms: Is Small Beautiful but Big Better?

"Those professions that do not change will render themselves obsolete,"  "Those that are able to transform themselves – and I mean 'transform' – will thrive and prosper." Dr Frank Shaw, foresight director at the Centre for Future Studies.
Last week at the American Institute's "Knowledge Leadership Assembly" (KLA), the Small Firm Roundtable group told their story of feeling neglected by AIA, of taking matters into their own hands and have stunning success in gathering both members and financial support for their group. The vast majority of AIA member firms are small, especially under the Roundtable's definition: "if you wear more than one hat in your firm, then you are small." (21% of architects are self employed, three times the national average for all professions, 25% of all architecture firms are sole practitioners and 75% have less than 50 employees). I can't even count the hats I wear, and never was it questioned that my firm was small, but is this prevailing smallness of architecture firms a plus or a sign of times gone by?
US Merger Mania picking up again

The week when KLA gathered in Minneapolis the latest acquisition by architecture/engineering giant AECOM was still a hot topic: the purchase of URS, a firm that itself had grown to be a giant by gobbling up firms like Greiner. Unlike the discussion about firm size at AIA's gathering, this merger is about a multidisciplinary  architectural and engineering (A/E) conglomerate that promises one stop shopping for design from architecture to zoning, with civil, electric, mechanic and structure in between. Even before merging with URS, AECOM employed more architects than any other firm.

This reminds me of another firm, the world's largest architecture firm (no engineering), employing the second most architects, including my son. When he had studied architecture in spite of his father's dinner-table war stories and managed to not only graduate at the top of his class in Austin but get two attractive job offers in Denver just before the recession hit, he picked the second largest architect employer over the small local design firm and never looked back. 

The firm is Gensler.  Surprisingly this mega architecture firm offered small firm multi-hat experiences in their smallish Colorado field office, combined with big firm advantages such as the ability to ride out the recession by taking in work from offices in places that still had plenty of work. The firm also proved the old adage wrong that big firms do faceless "production" while small firms carry the torch of design and put the capital A into architecture. One of the projects my son got involved with was the Jacksonhole airport terminal, one of last year's AIA national Design Award winners. 
AIA Honors Award Architecture: Jackson Hole Airport
(Photo: Gensler)

So where does that put us? Is small beautiful but big is better? Can quantity and quality coexist? I have tried to read the tea leaves on this before and wrote the articles The Architect, Lost Among Engineers and The Architect's Kodak Moment outlining the prevailing trends of firms getting bigger and bigger, providing clients with an ever wider range of services making the traditional architecture office with a master architect overseeing a few apprentices a la Frank Lloyd Wright a quaint relic of the past, no matter that this is still the most common form of architecture practice.

Is bigger really better? Not so fast. Before we jump to that conclusion, let's look at some other industries which have marched through consolidation and bigness way before architects and engineers. The case of auto giants GM and Ford is well known. Big and ultimately unsuccessful, they were deemed"too big to fail," so the public coffers had to famously come to their rescue. Lack of innovation was the story, with the smaller and more creative GM and Ford daughters like Vauxhall, Opel, or Ford Cologne suffocated under the bureaucracy and incompetence of the headquarters. Near the other end of the auto spectrum is BMW which didn't acquire a whole lot of other car companies and stayed somewhat smallish. At the extreme other end stands, most surprisingly, Tesla, the US wunder-kind taking all the established firms by surprise with innovation, endurance and incorporation of areas traditionally outside the realm of the car industry (batteries, charging stations). A thorough analysis of the auto industry is certainly way more complex than these few observations, yet, the example clearly fostered a widespread perception that bigger has not only not be proven to be better but has had the opposite effect, a perception that put the economist Schumpeter on his head, since he had argued for economy of scale as a prerequisite for research and development (R&D).

So why this massive concentration, then, in a service industry like architecture with really no need for lots of capital?  All that architects need to set up shop are some computers and a pile of software, assuming that creative people use them.  Is there anything that only big firms can do that drives the train of merger mania a la Schumpeter?

From my experience in running a small firms for some 22 years, I would say yes, there are a whole slew of trends that make running a small firm ever more difficult. Let's list a few in no particular order: First, compared to just mylar and ink pens, computers and rapidly developing software do indeed pose capitalization challenges.  It is much more difficult for small firms to keep up with all the subscriptions and gadgets needed to produce design and construction documents that are up to par to meet ever more complex requirements (think Building Information Modeling, electronic renderings,
Expensive BIM software subscriptions
(photo: ArchPlan)
specifications and document management). Then there is the challenge of marketing. Just waiting for clients to come through the door or the reliable stable of repeat clients doesn't do it any more in most cases. Responses to RFP's have gone from small stapled sheets of paper to whole bound books with colored project flysheets of past experiences and neatly drawn up flow diagrams of project relations, design process, and the methods of public participation. Then there is licensing, continued education, insurance requirements and all the stuff that fits under the expense column "overhead," that seems to become bigger every year. But maybe most importantly, there is the challenge of having to know the latest codes from fireproofing to ADA, the newest materials, understand sustainability, LEED accreditation, commissioning, all of which doesn't yet "design" anything.  There, too, keeping up has become more challenging. No style is exactly in or out. Almost everything is possible, what looked daringly new yesterday is old hat today, whatever repertoire of details and designs a master designer may have acquired as her personal brand or style after graduating from school and having worked through licensure and nursed past masters through most of her career are now obsolete after a couple of projects. 

Then there is construction administration. The small office sees itself confronted with bigger and bigger construction firms that have whole back offices devoted to nothing but processing submittals, requests for information, payment requests and change orders. Computerization has made it easy to cover the poor architect under an avalanche of papers that a small firm can hardly manage or process, especially in a time where the 30-day review period written into the standard AIA documents is mostly hypothetical and the expectation of a 2-3 day turn-around is not uncommon.

And finally, there are fees, the money that for the architect's operations. Fees are subject to a free-for-all that doesn't work in the favor of the small firm, notably because the expectation is that the small firm should be cheaper (why should any client otherwise bother even considering a small firm?). Unfortunately small firms are so wrapped up in production and design that they usually do a poor job in calculating their real cost and are prone to underestimate the fee needed to complete a project without taking a bath. Worst, in my opinion, the small firm usually gets the smaller clients, the ones that are less well endowed, in short the ones that want everything but don't have much experience in how to get it nor the money to pay for it. With those clients the small firm often has to provide services that a big firm doesn't need to provide like explaining the process to a client, guiding the client to the financing or the permit process or how to bid the job for construction and select a decent contractor.

So if big is no good and small isn't either, what then? The answer may be that big firms need to operate more like small firms and the small firms like big ones. Let me explain.

I already used the example of Gensler, a firm about which I don't know all that much but I know this: They operate without a defined headquarters, they operate in many places and each of their local offices has a certain amount of independence, in short, all attributes that are different from the way Ford and GM operated before they failed. The secret to escaping the failure of gigantic unmanageable structures with hugely bloated administrative overlays is to break the structure into smaller units with delegated responsibilities that are measurable on smaller scales just like a smaller firm would measure its own business. At the same time such a firm has access to a huge pool of knowledge, resources, and abilities that can be switched around among firms, mostly in a virtual fashion through access to central servers, teleconferencing, or detail and material libraries open to the entire company.


On the other end of the spectrum, small firms like mine could band together and achieve similar synergies without forming a big financial or corporate union. Technology that makes location almost irrelevant and allows central document management and exchange has advanced this form of collaboration a lot.
 "There's a paradigm shift now: the one-man architect working from home with a bright idea now has access to an infinite amount of computing power in the cloud. That means a one-man designer, a graduate designer, can get access to the same amount of computing power as these big multinational companies. So suddenly there's a different competitive landscape." Pete Baxter, Autodesk
Small firms form ad-hoc organizations to respond to RFPs way too large for any one of them individually and the lead firm doesn't have to be a large A/E firm either. After a project is delivered the firms each go their own way and may form new alliances for other projects.
Research based on global data: Gensler publication on design

While this sounds like a great way of competing with the big guys, there remain considerable problems, some have to do with division of labor, some simply with legalities, liability, or customer requirements that are geared to large vendors only that can threaten a whole endeavor. For example professional liability insurance coverages that simply cannot be obtained by small firms, or complex quality control and assurance procedures that most small firms don't offer. (Like ISO 9001 certification). Some problems are still resource related even when a bunch of small firms band together, namely deep marketing capability or access to high end technology or research departments that can readily divulge the required data and information. For all of that it takes the bigger firm, no matter how much technology helps to level the playing field. It seems that for each technology that allows small firms to look indistinguishable to the large one, expectations get ramped up, soon leaving the small competitor in the dust yet again.

The discussion about the pros and cons of small versus big is certainly not limited to architecture firms. E.F. Schumacher had famously postulated "that small is beautiful" when he wrote his seminal book of the same title in 1973, the time when the Club of Rome pondered the "limits of Growth". 

Today the question is usually asked in the context of innovation and competitiveness and studying Schumpeter to prove him right or wrong has been a favorite sport of economists for decades without any clear findings. Long before Schumpeter promoted "the concentration of capital" Karl Marx had predicted it but seen only doom in it. Today, Marx' bigger question, “To what end?” is usually not asked. Innovation and competitiveness are typically seen as sufficient end goals all by themselves. 

In the case of architecture, what about the question: "To what end architecture?" Somehow we assume that there is merit in architecture, a societal desire for the discipline to survive and that architects will eternally be linked to design of buildings and cities. What if that isn't so? What if the architect is truly facing the "Kodak" moment when film became obsolete? Or to put it with Rem Koolhaas who stated this in the context of his Venice Architecture Biennale: “We may posture as geniuses,” Koolhaas writes, “but we play our assigned role in the uberscript of modernization.”

The "uberscript" may be this, taken from the Nasdaq's Analyst's blog, not one of the readings on the architects daily menu but one that celebrates the merger of AECOM and URS in Schumpeter's terms:
"Both URS and AECOM's businesses perfectly complement each other which will lend the merged unit a broad global reach with an improved ability to deliver integrated services.  URS Corp. is a leading provider of engineering, construction and technical services with about 33% of the total revenue being generated by the Infrastructure & Environment division, 21% by Federal Services, 26% by Energy & Construction and 20% by Oil & Gas. Therefore, post the acquisition, AECOM intends to accelerate its strategy of offering an integrated-delivery model by adding key capabilities and expertise... (NASDAQ analyst blog)
Note the term "integrated delivery model" which stands for quite the opposite of the standard architectural delivery method of "design-bid-build" or the model of the architect as the prime consultant with the other disciplines as subconsultants.

Maybe the 'uberscript" actually has to do with invention and innovation. Certainly Brunelleschi invented innovative dome construction and a bunch of college students invented Facebook, but can a small architecture firm take on a task like this (from a Gensler publication):
The Spirit of Invention: Mobile 3D Printing
MUPPette - Mobile Unmanned Printing Platform 
From Gensler Research
A fully automated mobile platform for 3D printing capable of producing objects of limitless scale does not currently exist. In the hope of remedying this situation, Gensler’s Los Angeles office initiated Mobile 3D Printing, a Gensler research project born from an observation of present-day 3D printing technology and its limitations. This project will span several years and seek to create a fully functional unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of 3D printing. 
In my blog article "Small footprints, big ideas" I show that young creative architects still make waves from their seemingly obsolete perch which may mean that the "uberscript" may include the power of people to simply think outside the box.

In the end the answer of what is better for professional firms or the economy at large will neither be big nor small but some kind of combination of the two, just like the inconclusive data-based research on the relationship between size and innovation suggests. Common sense predicts that the merger mania cannot go on forever, not for architecture or engineering firms, nor for car companies, airlines, banks or anything else, that behemoth concentrations will collapse under their own weight. That is what the old Marx had already predicted but while we see occasional glimpses of the apocalypse, the prediction has not proven to be correct. After the most recent flirt with disaster, the financial collapse ("too big to fail") the world's prevailing economic system, Marx' nemesis, capitalism, is trying to figure out what the optimal balance is. The absence of a definitive answer is the very reason for the sluggish state of affairs which we euphemistically call "recovery."
The pulse of the economy: Architecture firm billings

Architecture miraculously having survived so long in a trend-defying rubric of "small is beautiful" may be far from being obsolete and, instead, through pure procrastination, be the vanguard of an emerging post-capitalism knowledge and sharing-society formed by hundreds of thousands of inventors, creators, makers and innovators who become small entrepreneurs. A society where big corporations are few and creativity, fulfilment, happiness, and nurture of the senses count far more than size and accumulation of goods. Wishful thinking perhaps, but such a quality not quantity driven society would be worth aspiring to achieve, wouldn't it?


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
edited by Ben Groff

Updated 10/15/14 to include reference to EF Schumacher. 


External links and sources:

AIA statistics overview
Merger Mania
Mergers and Acquisitions A/E firms
AECOM buys URS
Design Intelligence (Statistics about design firms)
Scale and Innovation
Seven Reasons why Architecture (as we know it) is Over (ArchDaily)

Robot doctors, online lawyers and automated architects: the future of the professions?

Architect Magazine: Top 50 firms
Only after the article was complete and published did I realize that a 1989 article with an almost identical title existed online. See here.

Related articles on this blog:

The Architect, Lost Among Engineers
The Architect's Kodak Moment
Small Firm Set-Asides - Opportunity or Trap
The State of Architecture (in Baltimore)
Small Footprints - Big Ideas (Winny Maas)