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RP aims for slice of global architecture pie

By Annelle Tayao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:47:00 07/13/2009
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With better technology, collaboration and education, the Philippines could very well pave a promising future for the global architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

This was the general sentiment of international experts who spoke at the recent “Building from the Ground Up,” a forum on different trends and advancements that the local AEC industry can capitalize on.

The day-long event held on June 29 at the Ayala Museum in Makati was spearheaded by Cirdia Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of multinational AEC company Cirdia Ltd.

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Speakers at the forum were: Scott Simpson, senior director of architecture and engineering firm Kling Stubbins, and co-author of “The Next Architect: A new Twist in the Future of Design”; Emmanuel Samuel, AEC industry sales development director for Autodesk Asia Pacific; Michael I. Ramos, Southeast Asia, Australia and Korea facilities and services director and senior executive of Accenture; and Egidio Zarrella, global partner in charge of IT advisory practice at KPMG, a global audit, tax and advisory service firm.

Zarrella’s presentation provided an overview of how the Philippines is positioning itself in the global AEC field. “[With] the global financial crisis, there is a major shift from the west to Asia. The needs for architecture, construction are substantial in Asia,” said Zarrella.

He added that the Philippines was one of the top five countries that his company, KPMG, recommend its clients to outsource and offshore to.

"Why the Philippines? Because there's a great literacy here, a great talent pool and [the people] are able to culturally fit with the West," said Zarrella.

Zarrella also stressed the importance of education.

In what he called the "global chess game"—wherein governments, private enterprises and universities all play a role in the AEC sector—he noted that international companies would only go to countries with an educated workforce.

"“Talent, and educated talent, is what the global industry needs," he said.

Labeling the AEC industry as "the most conservative industry" compared to others, Samuel discussed how productivity in the AEC sector is directly related to its use of technology.

He added that in a global study done by Autodesk and Stanford University, productivity in the AEC industry has been on a downtrend in the past 20-30 years.

"The AEC [industry] is probably the industry that produces the least amount of technology…and it’s such an economic guardian, but we neglect that," he said.

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Samuel also compared the AEC sector to “worldwide wrestling, [wherein] architects don’t like engineers and engineers don’t like architects,” an issue which was addressed by Simpson in his talk about two “game changers” for AEC: Integrated project delivery (IPD) and business information modeling (BIM).

“IPD, is a process change,” said Smith. “You have architects, contractors and owners, but they are not bound together…by a common relationship. There’s nothing that integrates the entire design community. IPD is going to change all that. You now have the means to have a single organization that binds the owners, architects…[under] one contract. We have more brains at the table.”

BIM, on the other hand, is a technical change that allows architects, engineers, builders and owners to explore a project’s key physical and functional characteristics digitally before it is built.

“The technology allows us to work in ways we’ve never worked before,” said Smith.

Special attention was also given to the employees’ workspace by Ramos.

“With technology advancement in this borderless world, the workforce makeup has changed as well,” he said. “We have to evolve around that.”

Citing Workplace 2.0, a workplace standard started by Accenture in 1992, Ramos listed the four Es of an effective workspace: Efficiency, which focuses on AEC employees’ location; effectivity, which looks at the presence of needed technology; engagement, which centers on how employees identify with their respective companies; and environment, which puts importance on what resources will be left for future generations.

Three pilot sites of Accenture follow Workplace 2.0, said Ramos. Two are in Japan and London, and the third one will be opened in Houston by August.

Also at the forum was Dean John Joseph Fernandez, president of the Council of Deans and Heads of Architectural Schools of the Philippines, who talked about challenges in producing globally competitive design professionals, as well as career options for aspiring architects.

Winners of Cirdia Foundation’s Red Point Awards Thesis Competition, which awarded the best undergraduate architectural theses in the country for the school year 2008-2009, were also recognized at the forum, as well as the top junior architecture student of Mapua Institute of Technology, a beneficiary of Cirdia’s Lines to Lives Academic Excellence Program.

Cirdia says the forum is just the first in a series of discussions that it intends to hold to further improve the country’s chances of cashing in on the outsourcing of architectural requirements, among others.

“The 'Building from the Ground Up' forum is a milestone not only for Cirdia Foundation but also for the Philippine AEC sector,” said Cirdia Foundation president Catherine Ileto. “We are one step closer to making the Philippines the premier destination for AEC services and solutions.”

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