IMT 510A - ASSIGNMENT 5: ARCHITECTS PROJECT

Team Members: Kayhan Atesci, Jasper Bleys, Akshay Bhagwatwar, Ramona Black, Trupti Deo, Helen Kresl, Mayuko Masuda, and Sheila Paschall

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Introduction

What is information?Information can be defined as "the difference that an individual perceives in himself or his environment." Acknowledgement of this difference leads the individual to make a conscious effort to seek and acquire this information. The individualís information seeking behavior cannot be generalized because it varies so much across people, situations and objects of interest, and so much of it takes place within the individualís head[1].

Two contrasting methods can be used for studying an individualís information seeking behavior. The first and more traditional method of research focuses on artifacts and venues of information seeking such as books, radio, information systems, and so on. This method focuses on studying the information sources and how they are used and can be described as "system oriented research."The second method of research can be called "person oriented research," and it focuses on individual users, their needs, where they seek information, and the different results that they experience in their search for information.[1]

For our project, we chose to study the information needs and information seeking behavior of architects. After doing initial research, we decided to adopt a hybrid research strategy wherein we used a combination of the above-mentioned research methods. We executed the project in four stages. The first stage involved high-level research about the architecture profession. We gathered information that illustrated a day in the life of an architect and typical information-related issues that architects encountered using a variety of sources, such as the internet and journals in architecture libraries. This information helped us define the problem statement and the purpose of our study. The second stage involved construction of an interview schedule using a combination of "system oriented" and "people oriented" research questions, which we would use to interview working architects and gather detailed information that would not only validate our problem statement, but also provide us with information that would help us design an information system. In the third stage of the project we identified five interviewees who were architects in the Seattle area and conducted hour-long interviews. In the last stage, we consolidated the information that we had gathered in the first stage as well as through the interview process and used this data to design an information system called the Electronic Library Service for Architects (ELSA), a system that will help architects obtain functional and reliable reference information.

 

Background on User Group

The path to becoming an architect begins with five to seven years of university‑level education, resulting in an "accredited, professional degree."[2] Internships and apprentice roles with architecture firms during and after school provide the opportunity for training and learning on the job. Lewis indicates that almost every state in the US requires that "architects serve some specified period of apprenticeship [typically 3 years] before being eligible for licensing as an architect."[2] While some individuals may stay with a single firm, it is not unusual for people to change jobs during this time.

The work of an architect involves a range of skills, including drawing, writing, computing, model-making, design, and communication (with colleagues, client contact, government approvals, consultants, and so forth). The extent to which these skills are applied may vary depending on the type of project and organizational factors. However, architects must be able to create and manage the necessary materials in order to successfully complete their work and obey regulatory codes and laws.

There is a wealth of potential knowledge available to architects. Historic materials can provide details of previous achievements and failures, allowing modern day architects to benefit from lessons learned. General information can be made available in reference books and online database services. The cultivation and dispersion of organizational knowledge is also important. Ewenstein and Whyte [3] discuss the importance of aesthetic knowledge, which "comes from practitioners understanding the look, feel, smell, taste and sound of things in organizational life," and indicate this kind of knowledge is "vital to work in organizational contexts such as architectural practices." In addition, Ozorhon et al[4] indicated that "knowledge becomes a source of competitive advantage" and "knowledge-management activities have become critical for success." While Ozorhon et al were specifically considering construction firms, the same could be said of related fields, such as architecture. Furthermore, while it is clear that IT systems can play a supporting role in terms of the architect's information needs,[5,6,7,8] "there is more to knowledge than large databases."[9]

 

Purpose of Study

The architecture profession generates vast amounts of records, which capture documentation, artifacts and knowledge related to design and construction. Architectural objects and knowledge can have real value (e.g. historical, legal, cultural, etc.) and warrant careful preservation. These records may also be difficult to harness. Even when records are stored within a system, some systems may be difficult to integrate, access and/or use. This study will investigate the everyday practices of a small set of Seattle architects in order to determine their current information needs and assess the utility of these systems in meeting these needs. By examining factors such as organizational knowledge, resources and compliance, the study will be able to identify problem areas that exist in terms of the knowledge management process. Based on the findings, an information system will be proposed. It is anticipated that this system may be used to more effectively manage both the physical and electronic aspects of the records held. In addition, it is hoped that the findings can be used to foster new collaborations and help identify new approaches.

 

Limitations of Study

Interviews were conducted with a small sample of five Seattle area architects in November 2008; no other specific parameters were set when selecting the interviewees. Of these five architects, one was an associate architect with 20 years experience, while the others were intern architects at various stages of their professional careers. Two of the five architects interviewed worked for the same architecture firm.

We acknowledge that the findings obtained from such a small number of interviewees may not reflect the information needs and information seeking behavior of the broader architectural profession, but they may give rise to further research on this matter.We also acknowledge that interviewing multiple architects from the same firm may have introduced a bias, as they generally experience the same organizational methods.

 

Interview Findings

All interviewees still use paper regularly; paper materials are more useful in early stages of design. All five interviewees preferred drawing over text.The architects use electronic materials at least half of the time as part of their work; standard applications as well as specialized architectural software are used. However, the number of firms that use data management systems is low. Electronic files are stored in a centralized area such as company servers. Physical models are still used, and two interviewees selected physical models as a material preference.

All those interviewed responded that their organizations had their own reference libraries. The architecture firms attempt to keep their information up-to-date and reliable, but the right method for updating information is a main concern. Surprisingly, a majority of architects spend at least half of their time during work looking up information about design, environmental issues, codes and legal issues, and general interest; two interviewees noted they use Google to search for information.

A majority of those interviewed prefer asking a colleague as the most helpful reference source. They have a strong preference for asking a colleague because the information is easy to get, and they can get direct, concise answers. Internal electronic resources provided by the firms are chosen as reliable resources as well, because they are kept more up-to-date than external sources. Online resources can be frustrating for architects. Most donít trust the information they find online, and they do not know which terms are best to use when searching for information.Two interviewees chose the public library as the least helpful reference source because it is too time-consuming and the information found is too general and typically not up-to-date.

Architects use conventional ways of finding people, such as internal or external online searches. Employee's skills, interests and knowledge about topics are recognized as important. Contact with a range of external groups is common practice. However, some problems occur during communication with external groups and clients, and the architects interviewed said this needs to be improved.

All of the architects comply with architectural standards and government legislation; examples include city building codes, the American Disabilities Act, and architectural graphic standards. It is important that architects know where to find information related to compliance, understand how it applies to their work, and know how to submit it. Only one of the interviewees dealt with legal contracts, but the architect was always confident about the currency of the legal forms being used.

The architects have diverse ideas about ideal information systems. Some think the system should help them build physical or three-dimensional models, while some want a system that allows them to do "everything" from one platform. Some desired a system with a knowledge database, while others wanted a "know it all" librarian. They also expressed a need to track project information, including e-mail, and make it accessible to clients, but also desired a personalized area for links to websites.One interviewee commented that he would like a system that is easily accessible through his mobile device.

Architects encounter multiple problems when seeking information.Colleagues, whom they cited as their most helpful and reliable source, are sometimes not accessible; lack of time was also identified as a contributing factor.Overall, the interviewees spend a significant amount of time, at least fifty percent, looking up information they need for their work.When using external online sources, the interviewees sometimes experienced uncertainty with regards to using a service; they were at times unsure as to what terminology to use in their searches, and generally they felt that information found online was not up-to-date and accurate.For a model of the information seeking behavior of architects, adapted from Krikelasí classic model, see Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Krikelas model adapted to illustrate architectís information seeking behavior. Architects rely on both internal and external sources of information.Often their sources are individuals with expertise.

Profile of Typical User

Based on our interviews, the typical user is a male intern architect who holds a bachelorís degree in Architecture.He has approximately five years of work experience and he has been with his current firm for six months.The typical architect works in the office most of the time, with some field visits.He enjoys drawing and thinks in terms of pictures.The typical architect is computer literate: he is able to use standard office applications such as email, web browsing, and word processing as well as specialized software such as computer-aided design (CAD) applications.

 

Design of an Information System for Architects

From the information gathered through the interviews, one of the important facts that we discovered is that the architects acquire most of the information they need through online sources like the internet, the architecture firmís intranet, and other online reference materials. However, it seems that there is a lack of a single access point for all this required information. The fact that the search engine Google is the starting point for seeking information also suggests a need for a single access point where the architect would be able to get all the information he needs. Additionally, the fact that the public library is difficult to access and not updated suggests the need for a resource that the architect would be able to access from his office.

Based on our findings, we propose a browser-based online service, which we call the Electronic Library Service for Architects (ELSA).The emphasis of our information system will focus on two main features that will help architects in fulfilling some of their information needs. The first is the ability for architects to contact a live reference librarian with a strong architectural background. The second is a directory of online resources that are collected by architects for architects.

Our findings generally indicate that architects consider colleagues to be great sources of information. They are easily accessible and have significant knowledge of the domain. Therefore, incorporating access to a live reference librarian with a strong architectural background in the design of our system makes sense. The architect can type a quick question in the instant messaging box of the website or even make a phone call to the on-duty reference librarian. All this can easily be accomplished from behind the architectís desk in his office, where he spends most of his time.In addition to the reference librarian, the architect can find assistance in the form of help files and tutorials, which will explain the language of various services (including this one), so that he is able to confidently communicate and interact with those services.

The directory of online resources will be based on a logical taxonomy of subject domains within the top-level domain of architecture. Further research need to be conducted to determine the top level subject domains and the underlying taxonomy of sub-domains. The website mock-up of our system (see Figure 2 on the following page) presents the concept of how such information can be displayed. The rationale for this design is based on our findings that architects seek information on the internet for a variety of tasks on a daily basis. Not all architects find the online sources reliable or accurate. Our system can be seen as a portal to reliable and accurate online sources, which are constantly monitored and moderated by the reference librarian with additional help from the architects themselves. The integrity of the sources will be assured and will provide time gains for the architect, who will now be able to access readily available sources instead of having to search for them haphazardly.In addition, the portal can be used to access online databases, periodicals, subscription magazines, and online books that are considered standard within the domain. Further research needs to be conducted to determine if these are viable and affordable services that can be offered by the information system.

Secondary features include contact information on domain specialists and an accessible interface for mobile devices.Most of the architecture firms maintain lists and databases where the employees can get the contact information of people within the firms. However, architects often have to collaborate with people from various other firms for their work and the only way to get the contact information for such people are the company websites of those people or the internet. Having a frequent contact list readily available for the architects would reduce the time spent searching for such information on the internet.The interface design for the website will take mobile devices into consideration as well to support system availability when the architects are out of office.

 

Figure 2.Mock-up of information system for architects, a website we have called "Electronic Library Service for Architects" (ELSA).The mock website for ELSA can be accessed at http://students.washington.edu/jbleys/imt510/architects/default.htm

We acknowledge that one information system will not be able to address all the problems we discovered through our interviews, and that there are tradeoffs in the design of our proposed information system.Additionally, it is important to note that this new service is not expected to completely replace face-to-face discussions with colleagues, nor does it posit that all materials handled by architects will only be available in electronic format after the implementation of this system.

 

Human Aspects of the Information System

In the process of designing an information system for architects, we reviewed what it means to be human with the goal of incorporating this understanding into the system itself in order to make it more accessible for the users.Humans have developed sophisticated brains, which allowed them to perceive and make sense of the world and the formations that it features; because of this ability, humans seek direction and analyze different paths to reach their goals. One valuable artifact that we, as humans, have created is the road map. Road maps are uniquely human, and they provide us with the ability to move from one place to another in a planned and timely manner.We applied this idea of a road map as a metaphor for the information system.

With our proposed system, the real-time help provided by the reference librarian can provide crucial information to guide the architect and point him in the right direction. The directory of online resources provides the same function.Just as road maps use their own familiar language of words and graphics, the presentation of our system will be easily accessible and readily understood by users as they follow their information path. Furthermore, help will be on hand to guide users through the terminology, navigation and general use of this and other systems that are linked to the library service.As a result, the architect will no longer search for information meanderingly, perhaps only finding the correct information by chance; rather, this system will allow the architect to progress through the milestones on his path more quickly, compared to current practice.

 

Recommendations for Further Research

While this study identified a number of issues that architects currently face in terms of information needs, further research must be performed in order to more completely specify the requirements for a successful information system.

We believe there is potential for the proposed electronic library system to provide real benefits to architects as they perform their daily tasks, but it is important to properly understand the intended user and ensure that the services offered are really what the user group needs. In addition, it is important to understand the current role of the reference librarian and establish the potential impact, benefits and pitfalls of moving to an online role.

With a clear body of content in mind, technical requirements of the information system must also be considered in more detail. Issues such as identifying the online services to be used, compatibility concerns, and scalability and performance requirements must be addressed in order to ensure the system can operate in the expected manner

Overall, recommended future work in this area includes the following actions:

         Conduct observations of architects at work

         Conduct more specific research on architect's web usage

         Expand the sample population to include more architects

         Expand the sample population to include architectural reference librarians

         Investigate the potential for including electronic book services in the information system

         Consider how physical models might be supported

         Investigate technical issues and identify specific functional requirements

         Conduct user testing of proposed library system prototypes

Additionally, it is clear from our study that architects often collaborate with architects in other firms. This suggests a need for a common platform where architects from different firms can share data and discuss issues. However, the technical feasibility, economic viability, and privacy issues of such a platform are a matter of concern that warrants further research. Some applications, such as Microsoft SharePoint, provide the functionality required for online collaboration; the possibility of such applications as a means for data sharing is something which needs to be investigated.

 

Conclusion

††††††††††† In summary, our study researched the information needs of Seattle area architects, determining the information seeking behavior of architects using their current resources.From our interviews of five architects, we discovered that architects need information on a daily basis; different architectural projects, and even different phases within a project, require different types of information, which is often provided by different sources.

We came up with multiple problems in the information seeking behavior of architects.We acknowledge that no one information system can solve every need, and that there are tradeoffs to any system.For our information system, we proposed a centralized online library service to bring together the key information and services that we identified through our interviews.

The benefits of the system include assistance provided by dedicated reference librarians with strong architectural backgrounds; these librarians will be able to answer questions in real-time through the website.In addition, the system provides help files and tutorials for architects to use.The system will be easy to use and provide time gains through increased search efficiency.Continuous content checks by the service provider will ensure up-to-date material that the architects can rely and trust, a problem architects currently struggle with in their current use of online sources.
Annotated bibliography

1.      Case, Donald O. Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior, 2002, pp. 5-7.

Caseís book is a comprehensive review of decades of research related to information.This book was helpful in providing an overview of information needs and information seeking behavior, as well as discussing methodologies for information research.

2.      Lewis, Roger K. "Architect?: a candid guide to the profession," 1985, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp. 40, 130.

Lewis' book is aimed at people considering architecture as a career. In three sections, the book covers reasons to be (or not to be) an architect, the steps needed to become an architect and the kind of work architects do. This book was useful for this project because it provided background details regarding architects as people and the requirements of their chosen profession.

3.      Ewenstein, Boris, and Jennifer Whyte. "Beyond Words: Aesthetic Knowledge and Knowing in Organizations," Organization Studies, 2007, Vol. 28(05), pp. 689-708.

This article addressed aesthetic knowledge and the automatic actions certain groups, including architecture firms, perform based on their understanding of things within their organizational context. This article was useful to this project because it emphasized that knowledge cannot always be captured in paper or electronic formats.

4.      Ozorhon, Beliz, Irem Dikmen and M. Talat Birgonul. "Organizational memory formation and its use in construction," Building Research & Information, January-February 2005, Vol. 33(1), pp. 67Ė79.

This paper investigates how Turkish construction companies create and make use of their corporate memories. While companies are able to collect and store knowledge, the paper highlights the weaknesses in using that knowledge effectively. This paper was useful to this project because it stressed the need to be able to take advantage of organizational knowledge rather than simply collecting it and not reaping the benefit of having it.

5.      Simpson, Grant A., and James B. Atkins. "Best Practices in Risk Management: Your Grandfather's Working Drawings," AIArchitect website article, August 2005.

URL: http://www.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek05/tw0805/tw0805bp_risk.htm

This article was useful for this project because it drew attention to the fact that whilst emerging technologies (such as computer aided design and the internet) have helped architects, they have taken away an element of craftsmanship from the profession, they have introduced a level of isolation and they are not always able to convey early designs in the desired sketchy manner.

6.      Cohen, Jonathan."Integrated Practice and the New Architect: Keeper of Knowledge and Rules," AIArchitect website article, October 2005.

URL: http://www.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek05/tw1028/tw1028bp_change_cohen.cfm

This article addressed the issue of how information technology can make communication within the building industry worse rather than better. While architects, engineers, and contractors may be able to manage their own information, if they each use different, incompatible systems it becomes difficult to communicate and exchange data necessary for a successful project. This article was useful for this project because it raised the issues of potential incompatibility problems and the importance of communication.

7.      Geva, Anat. "A Multimedia System for Organizing Architectural Documentation of Historic Buildings," APT Bulletin, 1996, Vol. 27(4), pp. 18-23.

The main focus of this article is the conversion of architectural data into electronic format in order to facilitate research in preservation, teaching and architectural practice. This article was useful for this project because it provided an example of how architectural materials that were not created electronically can be converted and stored electronically for later retrieval and re-use.

8.      Betts, Martin. "Achieving and measuring flexibility in project information retrieval," Construction Management and Economics, 1991, Vol. 9, pp. 231-245.

The paper explained the flexibility provided by relational database technology in terms of retrieving information. This was useful because it was a positive example of architects using technology to help meet their information needs.

9.      Littlefield, David. "Share and enjoy Ö," Building Design, June 17 2005, pp. 24-25.

This article highlighted the on-going learning process architects experience on a day-to-day basis. In particular, this article was useful for this project because it stresses that there is more to knowledge management than big databases or information technology systems. People hold a great body of knowledge and it is important to find ways of tapping into that knowledge.

 

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