I had a phone conversation a few weeks ago with a friend of mine at Hazen and Sawyer. I mentioned their work with the City of Tallahassee's wastewater treatment facility and how they use AutoCAD MEP, Civil 3D and Navisworks to integrate all of their wastewater project data.
One of the things that he said really stuck with me. He mentioned public hearings, regulatory workshops, forums and those other comment sessions that we all dread.
Typically, they are early in the process. We go in with our best conceptual designs- usually a series of sketches, line drawings and maybe some color renderings or hatched plans. Inevitably, the room remains silent while we revert to hand gestures and pantomime to try to convey our design intent to people who don't know what to make of the plans, and are typically too fired about about the project in general to take a step back and really understand what you are trying to do. You eek out a few decent comments and head back to finish the design.
Then, weeks later after the construction documents are fully baked and difficult to change (or worse yet- construction is underway), people slowly start to "get it", and then they have comments. Lots of comments- comments that would have really helped you. But by this point, there isn't much you can do without a big change order.
My friend said that when his team goes to one of these sessions with not only their conceptual 2D plans, but a Navisworks walk through, some still renderings and several alternatives, that things are completely different. Suddenly, everyone "gets" it, and you start getting great dialog and constructive feedback right away. Folks who might normally be too intimidated to comment- like maintenance staff of a treatment plant- see things that they can help optimize.
So now, the design team goes back to work with pages and pages of real ideas that they can put to work. And they can do it early in the process, saving frustration for everyone.
As we take on more public infrastructure projects like highway projects, road realignments, floodway improvements, wastewater treatment plant retrofits and brownfield reuse, it will become even more critical to tell our story.
Here are some groups that have caught my eye recently that seem to do a great job of communicating with the public.
I've mentioned the WSDOT youtube channel before, but I spent a bit more time there recently. The Alaskan Way Viaduct alternative videos are seriously impressive, of course, but it goes beyond just that one project.
This DOT really understands that public buy-in and understanding is of critical importance. Saying you are going to change the waterfront is one thing, showing how it will happen is a completely different animal. Other videos that caught my eye included the 520 Bridge Replacement simulation that shows what would happen in an earthquake if the bridge isn't replaced; the new SR 16 Westbound Nalley Valley viaduct, and my personal favorite- a series on navigating roundabouts and why roundabouts are safer, and how they will save drivers time waiting at lights.
Another video that I really like is for the High Line Design. The High Line is a park in New York City that is being built on top of an old elevated railway. I didn't quite understand what they were trying to accomplish until I saw this video showing rendering and a bit of construction sequencing, as well as this slideshow of renderings, elevation drawings, photographs and colored plans.
Are you taking advantage of your model? Are you looking for ways to tell your story so that people understand your concepts? We hate to admit it, but we're all sales people. Sales isn't about forcing someone to buy something they don't want, it's about truly showing them our ideas, incorporating theirs and finding the best alternative.