Trust Us: AEC Education Needs Collaboration, Integrated Disciplines

Conference organizers pose in front of the Ramblin' Wreck

School of Building Construction professors Pardis Pishdad-Bozorgi and Javier Irizarry have spent two years rethinking the curricula of architecture and construction programs, and this summer it paid off in spades.

The conference, “Building Trust through Collaborative Project Delivery,” used hospital construction examples to explore project delivery in highly complex systems. A hospital design team must consider the requirements of stringent regulatory environments, patient care, and clinicians, as well as the general coordination of various architecture, engineering, and construction firms. For these disparate groups to collaborate effectively, they must trust one another.

Promoting this trust through Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) methods is Pishdad-Bozorgi’s area of research. Some of her recent publications on the subject include "Symbiotic relationships between integrated project delivery (IPD) and trust," and "A schema of trust building attributes and their corresponding integrated project delivery traits," both published in the International Journal of Construction Education and Research.

Different stakeholders don’t realize they’re all working for the same project: so much waste can be eliminated and innovation can take place if they collaborate and work as a team, said Pishdad-Bozorgi.

Collaboration is Key for Complex Healthcare Projects

Panel discussion members seated on stage
Panel discussion on collaborative delivery approaches

Without trust, groups tend to interact competitively or with an eye to protecting their business interest first, she said, which can make major projects inefficient and costly at best, or hostile at worst.

Pishdad-Bozorgi presented research showing a symbiotic relationship between IPD principles and trust. Her research shows that IPD principles, such as early involvement of key stakeholders, shared financial risks and rewards, use of liability waivers, information sharing, and fiscal transparency, foster trust and collaborative, rather than adversarial, behavior on complex projects.

The conference would not have happened without a lot of work and persistence. In 2015, the Architecture + Construction Alliance (A+CA) put out a call for proposals to raise awareness of and to shape future integration of architectural and construction programs. A team composed of Pishdad-Bozorgi and Irizarry along with faculty from Clemson University, Virginia Tech, and Brigham Young University were awarded a project to organize a conference and workshop.

Once the team had crafted their proposal, it was time to find a sponsor. Two of the team members had worked with the Architecture + Health Chautauqua, which is supported by the Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH). Because healthcare projects tend to be complex, with large numbers of stakeholders from different fields, the conference was a natural fit for AAH. The team presented their revised proposal to the Chautauqua team, which executed the conference.

Trust Workshop Evolves AEC Curricula

A roundtable discussion on multidisciplinary collaboration among AEC students
A roundtable discussion on multidisciplinary collaboration among AEC students

Irizarry and Pishdad-Bozorgi, along with their team, facilitated the workshop, which is a new addition to the Chautauqua conference this year. The workshop brought faculty and industry professionals together to discuss challenges of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) disciplines and how they are taught.

The team hopes to make changes to each discipline's curriculum that would promote collaboration from an early stage in the formation of each professional, said Irizarry.

The workshop focused on trust because many of the multidiscipline issues in the AEC industry stem from a lack of trust, Irizarry said. By using methods that promote trust, the hope is that faculty will be able to better integrate a multidiscipline approach to curriculum. The team will use these workshop discussions to develop a report to be submitted to the A+CA, targeting the next board meeting in February. The A+CA will distribute the report to school members to affect curricula and research/practice communication.

Asked if it was worth it, Pishdad-Bozorgi, said, We didn’t lose focus; we thought it was important to be implemented. By creating this report, I’m hoping that we make a good impact, because this report is going to be distributed to school chairs and college deans of A+CA schools.

Even if one school implements it in their curriculum, I think that would be impactful.

Pishdad-Bozorgi's future research plans include continuing to focus on IPD, collaboration, and trust-building, as well as flash-tracking, building information modeling (BIM), smart buildings, and Internet of things (IOT) research.