A Paradigm Change

Every type of professional practice is governed by certain protocol that is accepted as common practice and which sets the standard of care practitioners are expected to meet. Architecture practice is no different. The profession has been governed by a long standing standard of care that puts the architect in charge of documentation when working with existing conditions. This part of the practice has traditionally been a source of revenue for architectural firms working with existing buildings. Traditional means of documentation employed simple, almost primitive methods. Architects typically worked with original drawings generated at the time of construction, augmented by field measurements.

Considering the buildings were never built dimensionally accurate to what was shown on the drawings, the primitive methods always lead to compounded errors. The resulting accuracy is very low.

Now as laser scanning has become affordable it brings about a level of accuracy architects could only dream of in the recent past. Why then are architects still reluctant to employ the technology on every project involving existing conditions?

Lets examine the factors in play and how to overcome them.

1. Revenue source: As an integral task of the work and a source of income, architects are reluctant to give up documentation. They are resigned to the inaccuracies that are built into their work product. This is unfortunately supported by the standard of care practiced for hundreds of years. Whether architects hold on to documentation for control or for financial reasons, one must admit that there is risk to old fashion techniques of tape measuring and photographs. As someone who has given up traditional documentation several years ago in favor of the new technologies, I have been able to analyze the overall impact on project cost and quality.


1.The value brought to the project in terms of accuracy, complete remote access to the site, reliable data to use for design, etc., all leads to more efficient work lowering the cost of the design and construction document phase for the architect. Needless to say a more accurate set of documents translates into lower liability. This impact to overall cost of design has to be made available by people involved in the documentation field. As architects have a better understanding of the issue, I believe the choice will be made easy as there is no loss of revenue to the firms.

2. Standards and Specifications for service: Most architects do not have the depth of understanding of laser scanning that allows them to generate documents identifying the necessary services that a given project may require. This problem is starting to be resolved through emerging organizations such as USIBD (US Institute of Building Documentation) that are focused on creating such standards to assist owners or design professional in defining and requesting the services that suit the specific needs of their project.

3. Post design and construction value: Many architects do not have the knowledge of how the data collected for documentation purposes could be used throughout the life of the building. This makes it difficult to sell the owner on paying for the additional service. Emerging organizations such as USIBD, BIM Forum and others are working to provide the frame work that explores and articulates the many uses of the data which includes: construction cost control, communications, building maintenance data management, marketing, etc. As owners become better informed of these benefits, they are more inclined to invest in the technology.

As architects and others are becoming more knowledgeable of the many layers of benefits and as support is becoming more available for requesting services and obtaining the desired product, a shift is bound to happen with more architects integrating modern documentation techniques of laser scanning into their practice. Along with that shift a change in the standard of care will also take place. It will no longer be acceptable for architects to produce documents related to an existing building or structure that are not accurate. A new standard of care will emerge under which the architect will not be in charge of documentation but rather in charge of managing the data and devising its uses to improve every aspect of the project delivery.