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                                                                                    Volume 1, Issue 4   April 12, 2008

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"In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete."
                                                                                                                           Buckminster Fuller

The American Housing Industry: A Shifting Paradigm

This month, I would like to deviate from my standard newsletter content and discuss the future of the housing industry in America. I recently read a compelling article in the March 2008 issue of Atlantic Magazine called “The Next Slum?” that mirrors many of the concerns I have had about the American housing market for several years.  The premise of the article is that structural changes are taking place in American society that will impact how we live and may make today’s suburbs tomorrow’s slums.  I am glad to see that these problems are being recognized and addressed.

When the Suburbs Were a Great New Idea

I was born in 1943, pre-baby boom, and grew up during the expansive era of the 1950s and 60s. My parents, who had survived the Great Depression, saved until they could buy (in cash) their first house in the suburbs of Baltimore in 1956. That house on Seven Mile Lane, was exactly seven miles from the center of town, where stood the corner grocery story they had inherited from my grandfather, and where both my father and I were born. Our new $20,000 - 1,800 sq. ft. two bedroom house sat on a 1/4 acre of ground and had no air-conditioning. In 1957, my father traded in his ten year old Buick for a new Chevrolet. Those were good times; gas was cheap, the roads were not crowded, and we could stock our store with poultry and produce from nearby farms. We were solidly middle class and we had everything we needed. The suburbs were a great place in which to grow up.


Outgrowing Usefulness

All across America, suburbs have expanded since their post WWII birth, ushering in a lifestyle dependent on personal transportation, i.e. the automobile and personal space which is high maintenance and inherently energy inefficient. A lack of available land has pushed housing ever farther into rural areas which were once farmland. Since the 1990’s the modest suburban home has been supplanted by the newer McMansion model, 5,000 + sq.ft., a two story entry way with chandelier, high ceilings and massive fenestration. Gated communities are desirable and the one car per family standard (a luxury anywhere else in the world), has morphed into one + cars per person.

Today, this lifestyle is becoming unsustainable, aided in part by a souring economy, a drop in housing prices and a sharp rise in energy and gasoline prices. Mortgage defaults are already turning some suburban communities into ghost towns. According to The Atlantic, “the fate of many homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock bottom prices, to lower income families—and eventual conversion to apartments.”

An Uncertain Future

As an architect, I have been concerned for years that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Yet, the pendulum always swings back. I am a dedicated pragmatist, a factor which influences all the environments I have designed and/or built. While, in the short term needed changes may create hardship, in the long term opportunities will emerge to create new paradigms that are better for both the society and for the environment.

A movement back into the cities is growing along with a healthy trend towards new higher density communities with “lifestyle centers” i.e. walkable retail, offices and services. Existing communities that can adopt this model will survive and thrive. Suburbs that are relatively close to urban centers, especially those near rail lines will remain desirable. The future is likely to see new PUD development replacing aging single family housing on land in close proximity to city centers.

Demographics, too, are changing. More accommodations for empty nesters and single person households are competing with traditional family friendly models. Virginia Tech’s Arthur Nelson estimates, as he is quoted in The Atlantic, “that as much as half of all real estate development on the ground in 2025 will not have existed in 2000”. The challenges for planners, architects and consumers in the 21st Century will require radical new thinking, new technology and new solutions. As futurist Bucky Fuller submits, new models make the old ones obsolete.


Ed's Recommendations 

WinEstimator – DesignEst Pro

For years I have been an advocate of automated estimating. With DesignEst Pro by WinEstimator, I think I have found the ideal automated estimating program for Revit users. Unlike other BIM estimating solutions, DesignEst Pro utilizes Revit’s native file format running inside the Revit interface. You can use DesignEst Pro as a design cost analysis tool or as an accurate item takeoff tool generating detailed cost estimates from within Revit. DesignEst Pro links the object and property library in Revit Architecture with the object and properties in a WinEst cost database, allowing both conceptual and detailed estimates to be developed as the building is being designed. This dynamic link provides support for unlimited what-if scenarios during the design phase of the project. As design alternatives are explored, the cost estimate is changed accordingly. DesignEst Pro has add-on integrators that work seamlessly with Microsoft Project and Primavera Enterprise. This program, unlike many others, can be used by sole proprietors for small projects, or by major architects and contractors for large multi-story projects. In discussing DesignEst Pro with Steve Watt, President of WinEstimator, I asked him why he did not choose to use IFCs (Industry Foundation Classes) for file transfer. His response was that the scope of building objects that have been defined by the IFCs is still too limited. Companies that have built software solutions that are dependent on the IFCs are having a difficult time getting firms to adopt their solutions. After all, if only 20 – 30% of a typical building model has been defined by the IFCs, then software tools that are dependent on the IFCs typically provide a 20-30% solution. WinEstimator chose to forge ahead and allow all objects and properties in a Revit library to be mapped to the corresponding objects and properties in a WinEst cost database. We wanted to create a BIM solution that companies could derive practical benefit from today. He also mentioned that he felt that Revit was quickly becoming the architectural design standard for those companies interested in leveraging the value of BIM technology.

DesignEst Pro features

  1. Seamless integration between WinEst DesignEst Pro and Revit Architecture.
  2. Installs with full knowledge and understanding of standard, out of the box Revit Architecture object libraries.
  3.  Custom elements in Revit can be mapped in DesignEst Pro “on the fly”.
  4. Allows access to WinEst’s specification variables within Revit Architecture enabling fine tuning of estimated costs at the CAD object level.
  5. Includes six pre-defined standard building templates.
  6. Comes with WinEst Commercial Assemblies for CAD database.
  7. Is mapped for the RS Means BCCD with assemblies database (optional).
  8. On-screen indicators help keep track of what CAD objects have already been estimated.
  9. Limitless report /proposal capability.


DesignEst Pro sells for $4,200.00. A PC with 900 megahertz or higher Intel or AMD x86 compatible processor recommended; Windows 2000, Windows XP or Vista Business, Vista Enterprise or Vista Ultimate; 128 megabytes (MB) of RAM or higher recommended (64 MB minimum supported; may limit performance and some features); SVGA (800 x 600) or higher-resolution video adapter and monitor; CD-ROM or DVD drive; 100 megabytes (MB) of available hard disk space; 1 Available USB port; Keyboard and Mouse or compatible pointing device

WinEstimator Inc., established in 1992, is an internationally recognized cost estimating software solution provider. WinEstimator provides a family of powerful, integrated, and flexible estimating and bidding software solutions. WinEst easily integrates with leading accounting, scheduling, project management, and CAD software solutions.





Simpad / Blackpoint

Productivity for large homebuilders is based on the ability to create a variety of building types from typical components. The term often used by builders is “lot specific”. This often requires builders to have a myriad of different drawings from which the different buildings are created. This often results in construction mistakes and customer confusion. To solve this problem, Simpad has created Blackpoint software to automatically integrate the many options available from a builder’s portfolio into a single “lot specific” home.

Blackpoint is a software solution for production builders and manufactured housing companies targeted at managing the numerous options these builders offer. The ability to manage these options in CAD drawings and estimates is at the core to success and profitability of the home builder.

The Blackpoint CAD Option Manager is a suite of software tools integrated into Autodesk Architectural Desktop that provides the tools to organize the options throughout the entire company. This powerful configuration engine builds plans "on demand” in seconds from a single CAD model. By providing a sales order to the CAD Option Manager, master sets, lot specifics, vendor drawings, bills of material, etc. are generated in seconds. And when changes are needed, they are made in a single location, one time in the model. Whatever output is needed is again regenerated automatically, in seconds.




The Blackpoint Material Manager is a suite of software tools designed to produce material information from lot specific drawings and options. The tools available with the material manager allow one to easily build components, sub assemblies, and calculation rules with an easy to use user interface. Some of the additional features offered include: missing component functions, material validation reports, and data integrity tools.




Option Costing is one of the most time consuming and error producing tasks for today’s builders. Blackpoint makes these tasks faster, cheaper, and more accurate. Blackpoint will automatically calculate the cost of any option combination one wants to sell. Hundreds of options and option combination costs can be calculated in minutes.

Simpad, established in 1999, provides software tools and solutions for builders to manage their information from point of sale through the sale process, design  center, construction drawings, construction and more though software and consulting services. 



About Ed:

I am a well known analyst in the AEC Industry, having been a journalist and lecturer in this arena for the past 10 years.  In my primary occupation as an Architect, I use the cutting edge digital technology about which I write, for the design and construction of buildings. I have been a Licensed Architect for 30 years, and have designed and/or built dozens of commercial, multifamily, and rehab projects. I also headed the CAD and Multimedia Department at Carroll Community College and the Industrial Design Department at Towson University. For many years I wrote the AEC column in CADALYST magazine. I authored seven books, in as many years, on AutoCAD Architecture (formally Architectural Desktop), for publisher Prentice Hall. My new Revit Architecture 2009 book will be on sale this May.

I continue to attend key industry events and keep abreast of the newest developments. If you see me at an event, please come over and chat with me; I like people, and would enjoy meeting you. You can recognize me by my trademark hat – black in winter, and white in summer.


 Please take a look at my Web Site:


© 2007 H. Edward Goldberg AIA, NCARB, Ed’s Independent Voice. All rights reserved



Ed Goldberg’s new Revit 2009 book will be available May 15th.

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