While other Texas cities lose construction jobs, Austin holds steady

From today’s Austin Business Journal:

While some Texas cities such as Fort Worth and Houston are among the 153 metro areas in the U.S. that have seen a drop in construction jobs in the past year, Austin’s construction industry has held its own.

According to federal employment data released by the Associated General Contractors of America, Austin gained 100 construction jobs between August 2014 and August of this year. The Austin region had 52,000 people employed in construction that month.

The oil price slump has had a big effect on the local economy and construction projects in Fort Worth, which lost 6,000 construction jobs in the past year to top the national list, followed by Houston, which lost 3,700 construction jobs, the report found.

Other metros with significant job losses included Akron, Ohio; New Orleans; and the Bergen-Hudson-Passaic country area in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Santa Fe, New Mexico, saw the highest percent loss in construction jobs, losing 22 percent of its construction workforce, or 600 jobs.

Ken Simonson, AGCA’s chief economist, attributed the job losses to the difficulty in finding qualified workers and to the ongoing oil slump impacting the Gulf Coast and other regions.

“The fact that fewer than half of metro areas added construction jobs at a time when there were gains in nearly three-fourths of the states suggests that contractors in many more metros would be hiring if they could find qualified workers,” Simonson said in a statement. “In addition, the steep downturn in oil and gas drilling has hit construction hard in cities such as Fort Worth, Houston and New Orleans, even as downstream projects gain steam in places such as Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas.”

Still, of the 358 metros studied, more are adding construction jobs than cutting them.

Jobs increased in 163 areas, led by the Denver area, which added 10,400 jobs over the year, and the Weirton-Steubenville regions of West Virginia and Ohio, which increased construction jobs by 28 percent.

Beaumont, east of Houston, increased its number of construction jobs in the past year by 16 percent.

Earlier this month, AGCA released a report that showed that more than 80 percent of construction companies are having difficulties finding qualified workers. The association added that the shortage is raising the cost of new projects.

Miller IDS Supporting Austin’s Architects

The Miller IDS team is very excited to be a sponsor of the American Institute of Architects Austin Summer 2015 Conference! The conference will be held August 20th and 21st at the Norris Conference Center.

Our own Stephen Coyle is offering a class on “Why Color? Benefits of Printing in Wide Format Technical Color” for AIA CE credits on Thursday, August 20th at 2:30 pm. We will also be exhibiting during lunch both days and will be sponsoring happy hour on Thursday, 8/20.

Registration is still open and we hope to see you there!

Hotels to the Rescue

The Chicago Motor Club building in downtown Chicago once bustled with the excitement of travelers picking up TripTiks before they embarked on cross-country journeys in their Edsels and Packards. The classic Art Deco building, designed by the architecture firm Holabird & Root and erected in 1928, inspired travelers with its sleek, clean design, and the giant U.S. map mural in the lobby revealed the opportunities of the open roads. Continue reading

Posted in AEC

Robots in Architecture

RobotBuilderRobots have long been used in manufacturing – it’s probable that your car, computer, and dozens of other possessions were at least partially built by robots.  And now you might even find a robot at the drawing board next to yours!

Well, not exactly. The robots aren’t being used to create drawings – CAD does that well enough – but they are being used to create precise structures that would be beyond the abilities of a normal human builder.

There’s even an organization that promotes the use of robots in design and construction: the Association for Robots in Architecture http://www.robotsinarchitecture.org/. The group sponsors the Rob/Arch conference, which introduces architects to the capabilities of robots. The next conference will be held in Sydney, Australia on March 15-19, 2016.

So what do the robots do?

They are being used for complex, tedious projects involving masonry, wood, foam, and other media. These projects could conceivably be done by an extremely careful human, but a robot can do them more quickly and accurately.

“The use of robots, combined with digital design tools, means a new aesthetic becomes possible, with novel shapes and patterns that would be nearly impossible to achieve without the automated machines: industrial manipulators that are extremely precise and good at repetition,” wrote Markus Waibal in blog about automation. Read the entire blog, and see some examples of these robot-made projects, here: http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/robots-in-architecture

The robots being used are the common robot arms that have been refined over the past two decades or so. They are generalists – that is, they can be programmed to do an endless variety of tasks precisely and tirelessly. This makes them perfect for stacking bricks in intricate patterns, carving exact shapes into acoustical panels, or countless other construction tasks.

In addition to operating Rob/Arch, the people behind the Association for Robots in Architecture have developed a new controller plugin for Grasshopper, a visual programming tool that works inside the 3-D CAD modeler software Rhinoceros.

Swiss architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler are leaders in robot construction. They used a large robot to create a curving, 100-meter brick wall in an architectural exhibit in Venice. The bricks were unmortared, and a straight wall would have been dangerously unstable. The robot, on the other hand, was able to precisely place the bricks in such a fashion that the wall was completely stable.

Robots have countless uses in modern society, so it’s no surprise that they’ve made their way into architecture and building, too. Look for a robot at your next worksite!


Posted in AEC

Bikes to the Rescue

Amsterdam, Bicycle CityBuilding apartments without parking is not the only way to encourage pedestrians and discourage drivers, of course. Danish architect Jan Gehl, a champion of bicycle use in cities as an antidote to heavy traffic, has advised several large cities – including Mexico City, Beijing, and New York City – on how to enhance bicycle usage.

In addition to the obvious emissions advantages of bicycle riders, Gehl believes that encouraging bicycle use and walking improves social interactions in cities. Good bike baths allow many more people to access urban areas – people who don’t own cars, people who are too young or old to drive, and people who simply prefer bikes. In an article about Gehl’s philosophy, Louise Kielgast wrote:

“In contrast to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians share the characteristic of moving at a moderate pace, making them visible in the cityscape. Cyclists are also flexible in the sense that they can quickly shift from being cyclists to being pedestrians. This creates the conditions for people to see and meet each other in the city. It is equally important to highlight that both cyclists and pedestrians are physically present in the public spaces – in contrast to motorists who are essentially isolated from their physical settings.” (Read the whole article here: http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/the-cities-of-the-future-are-people-friendly-cities/)

Whatever strategy a community uses to get people out of cars – allowing buildings with no parking or building extensive bike paths – the result is a more people-friendly environment.

Posted in AEC

Austin’s old power plant downtown now stunning creative office

What was once a dark uninviting space is now illuminated with natural light and bright colored accents.
What was once a dark uninviting space is now illuminated with natural light and bright colored accents.

The massive Art Deco-inspired Seaholm Power Plant in downtown Austin has long captivated the imaginations of locals and visitors alike, and now after many years of dreaming and planning the retrofitted building is almost ready for its new occupants.

About 70 employees of Athenahealth — a software company — will move into the building near Cesar Chavez Street and Lamar Boulevard on Feb. 9. The Austin Business Journal was given a private tour of the facility, which is one component of the $100 million Seaholm LLC redevelopment.  Read full article>>

Is it Worth Your Time to see the Chicago Architectural Biennial?


Big architecture shows are hardly news these days, but the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial (October 2014 – January 2016), is the first time the city of big shoulders has officially showed off its skyscrapers, bungalows, and other architectural gems since the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893!

But does that fact make it worth a visit? No, but here are a few reasons why a trip may be warranted, and a couple why you may want to skip it:

Reasons to Go

  • First, this isn’t just a Chicago show, it’s the “largest international survey of contemporary architecture in North America,” according to press releases. The show, which will run until January 2016, will include installations about established and emerging architects from throughout North America and beyond. So if you want to see what’s new in architecture all in one place, the show’s worth it.
  • Second, the architectural installations will be complemented by art installations and public programs curated by Theaster Gates. If you’re not familiar with this Renaissance man who believes art can transform neighborhoods, check him out here: www.theastergates.com. His involvement ensures that the Biennial will not be boring, nor will it ignore the people who really make up the fabric of a big city.
  • Third, the event promises to be more than just a collection of cool buildings. Here’s an excerpt from the city’s press release about the event:

“More than a profession or a repertoire of built artifacts, architecture is a dynamic cultural practice that manifests at different scales and through various media: buildings and cities, but also art, performance, film, landscape and new technologies. It permeates fundamental registers of everyday life—from housing to education, from environmental awareness to economic growth, from local communities to global networks. The State of the Art of Architecture will take stock of the extraordinary ways that architects, artists, designers, planners, activists, and policy makers from around the world are tackling such challenges today.” Read more here>>

  • Finally, if you love architecture, Chicago is simply a cool place to be. You can see the big name stuff – Mies van der Rohe, FL Wright – but also the street-level gems that make gritty city life better.

Reasons to Skip It

  • Ironically, the greatness of Chicago’s architecture is one reason you might want to skip the Biennial – you can see the best of Chicago’s architecture any day. Sure, the installations, tours, and other events will only happen during those months, but if the Robie House will still be there when the crowds leave.
  • Furthermore, visiting during the Biennial won’t be cheap. Even when nothing special is going on, finding a decent room in Chicago under $200 a night is not easy. Few schedule details about the Biennial have been released, but you can figure room rates will jump once news about the bigger events, such as the opening, are announced.

What the Heck…

In the end, you’ll probably be happy if you came. You’ll meet tons of people, see a cool city, and hopefully get inspired to do better work. Even if your wallet is a little lighter on your way home!