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Want To Be a Better Architect...Ask your Dentist!

T.J. MeehanMay 9th, 2019

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few hours in a chair at my dentist's office with some time to think about how similar our two professions actually are. It's interesting to think about the evolution of dentistry over the past twenty years and how much it parallels the evolution of the practice of architecture.

Last summer, my dentist of more than fifteen years decided to retire. He was a great listener and did a wonderful job of explaining the process and the expected results. These are skills all good architects possess as well. The irony was that he had terrible teeth, but I would guess that many architects live in ugly houses and it doesn't affect how good they are at their profession. His practice was all analog; he didn't even have a computer. All the appointments were hand written in a schedule book, cleanings were done with simple scraping tools and brushes, and he sculpted all the crowns he created by hand. A true craftsman and what many would label as "old school."

Once he retired, I began going to my wife's dentist whose practice just opened up. This dentist is young and all of her staff are even younger. She utilizes a very modern workflow that includes digital photos and X-Rays, cleaning with water jets, laser scanning, and even 3D printing. I now feel as though I have so much more information available to make decisions. Whereas I used to only have a conversation and maybe a small X-Ray, I now have multiple digital data streams at my disposal. My new dentist charges the same amounts, spends the same amount of time, but I am getting more value for the same price and effort.

I see this same transition first hand in the architecture profession. There are still many practicing architects that work the same way we have been for decades. They provide exceptional service and amazing designs. There are also many architects who have transitioned to a digital practice. They also provide exceptional service and amazing designs, but utilize technology to enhance their workflows, generate more information that is relevant to the process, and provide more value. Static hand renderings are being replaced by virtual reality, drawings are being replaced by models, thousands of design iterations can be generated quickly to find the optimal one, and deliverables now include 3D cutaways as well as information to help an owner manage the facility after construction. Is the traditional method broken? Certainly not, and some would argue it provides a more personal touch. But technology can often make the process better.

I've gone through this transition myself. In school, every piece of work I generated - except for one - was done by hand using various techniques and media. As soon as I began working after school, everything was then drawn by hand digitally with an electronic pen in CAD. Now, everything is a model-based BIM workflow. In addition to almost never printing anything, I now even take all of my notes digitally. I've embraced this change and will, hopefully, continue to do so throughout my life.

In my current role, I'm often asked, "why should I change how I run my practice?" I guess now I can answer them by saying, "maybe go ask your dentist."

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