The CONSTRUCT Show Experience

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The CSI CONSTRUCT Show has once again come and gone.  For the second year in a row, I had the privilege to be in attendance as a representative of the Memphis Chapter of CSI.  I was accompanied by our fantastic Chapter President, Julie Fleming, and one of our chapter’s Past Presidents, Mike Zielinski.  This year’s show was hosted by Providence, Rhode Island.  This was my first trip to Providence, and it is a beautiful city, however, I didn’t get too much time to explore.  If you’ve ever attended CONSTRUCT in the past, you’ll understand exactly what I meant.  We were all so busy with seminars, speakers, ceremonies, and the show floor, that we didn’t mind having limited time to see all of the sights.  

One of the biggest highlights of the show was getting a chance to listen to the keynote speaker, Thom Mayne.  Mike and I even got the chance to meet him and ask a few questions.  That was one of the benefits that we earned as CONSTRUCT Insiders.  Mike and I both paid a little extra for this opportunity and it was well worth it.  Thom is a true starchitect and utilizes the Design-Build project delivery method to create his structures.  As a young architect, I welcomed the opportunity to listen to a master of the craft.  His philosophy was simple, in his keynote he stated, “I make buildings, not drawings.”   For some reason, that quote really stuck out to me.  Perhaps it did because we, as architects, get so bogged down in the design and documentation process, that we lose sight of the goal.  Another one of his principles as an architect is to model everything.  Thom stated that if he invents something, than he better be able to build it.  So, he starts with the 3D model by utilizing Building Information Modeling; his models are highly developed so that every nut and bolt is accounted for.  Then he transfers to scale models made of wood and chip board before finally building his designs in a shop. 

Thom Mayne’s use of and thoughts on Building Information Modeling definitely caught my eye; if everything is modeled correctly and all of the information exists in the computer-generated model, he believes the need for paper drawings and specs will diminish to a point where they are no longer practical.  Technology is such a big part of the construction industry these days to the point that every team of contractors is linked together with laptops, iPads and other devices.  Using Thom’s approach, why do we need paper drawings for dimensions if everything can be verified in the model itself?  Why create a project manual that is three inches thick if each model component has the specification tagged to it in the building model?  It is an amazing thing to think about.  It was also funny to hear the entire room go silent when Thom mentioned this in his keynote.  Imagine a room full of specifiers being told that everything they do will be turned upside down.  You could hear a pin drop.

As I mentioned before, Mike and I sprung for the Insider package, so we were treated to a lunch Q+A session after the keynote.  It took a while for the microphone to come around the room, but it finally found its way to me.  I had my chance to ask one of the world’s best architects one question and I felt like I had to make it count.  I can’t remember exactly how I phased it, but it went something like this:

Thom, how were you able to convince your clients to go so far outside the norms of architectural design and practice, especially early on in your career? 

My question must have been a good one, because Thom took a deep breath, stated that he would need to sit down to answer the questions, and proceeded to go on about a fifteen minute tirade that covered politics, the construction industry in the United States, and his personal philosophy.  After all that, he circled back and answered my question rather simply.  First, he takes on all liability and risk using the Design-Build project delivery method.  Second, he preaches building performance over aesthetics; he explained that architects should describe to their clients what their buildings will do and not focus on how they will look.  Finally, he covered the topic of client management.  He said he liked to push his clients to take risks and that he could usually get them to come around to his way of thinking by using the two afore mentioned tactics of taking on liability and talking in terms of building performance.  All in all, it was a great experience and I consider it money well spent.

The Game Changer Session speaker also hit the ball out of the park.  His name is Paul Doherty and his company is called The Digital Group.  Oddly enough, though he hails from New York City Paul makes his home in our very backyard of Collierville, Tennessee.  His company promotes “Smart City Design,” which includes working with stakeholders, promoting sustainability, the use of renewable energy and strategic planning.  The part of his presentation that really caught my attention was a renewable energy source called Piezoelectric Technology.   In essence, this technology harnesses the kinetic energy of cars or pedestrians and transforms it into usable electricity.  This technology is already in use in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  Piezoelectric technology is utilized in the concourse of the stadium and powers the lights and food service equipment in the concession stands.  Paul believes that this technology will become significantly more usable and inexpensive over the next three to five years. 

The main speakers at CONSTRUCT were obviously a big influence on me.  The seminars were also fantastic.  There isn’t enough time in the day to go over each presentation that I enjoyed, but I can share one of my favorite moments.  Mike and I had the opportunity to put together a wall base assembly in a hands-on seminar.  This experience put all of my time detailing wall flashings in perspective.  This flashing assemblies and waterproofing and insulation measures are more than just lines on a page.  These details are tangible items and keep water out of the buildings we design and keep the people who occupy them comfortable.  Again, every seminar I watched was educational and entertaining in its own way, I simply don’t have the time to describe them all.

The CONSTRUCT Show is an educational tidal wave; but it also an extremely fun and enjoyable conference.  I was happy to meet up with friends I made back at the Austin show and introduce them to Mike and Julie.  The friends and connections I make in CSI are the main reason I get involved with the organization.  The CONSTRUCT Show is way to keep these friendships alive and to make new ones along the way.  The social outings planned by the Institute and its corporate partners facilitate the networking experience that makes CSI the great organization it is.  All in all, there was never a dull moment at the 2017 CONSTRUCT Show.  I’m looking forward to the 2018 Show, which will be held in Long Beach, California from October 3rd to the 5th.  I hope that more of our Memphis Chapter members will join me for this amazing experience.

Jeffrey Parnell
HBG Design
CSI Memphis President – Elect