TZL 1540 (web)

June 3, 2024, Issue 1540 WWW.ZWEIGGROUP.COM


When do firms bill?

Same time monthly

Continuously Preset schedule At project milestone At project completion Every four weeks

The latest data reveals increased billing rates, improved chargeability, and refined collections processes in AEC. Fee and billing trends


0% 25% 50% 75%

Z weig Group’s 2024 Fee & Billing Report of AEC Firms offers insights into fees, billing rates, chargeability/utilization rates, project contracts, and billing practices. Compiled through an extensive online survey across diverse industry firms, this year’s report encompasses analysis on more than 150 job titles and 15 market sectors. Here are some key findings from the report: ■ Billing rate hikes. According to the 2024 report, there has been a surge in billing rates, with 100 percent of respondents reporting fee hikes averaging 10 percent over the past three years. It’s encouraging to see this figure as it’s in line with the base compensation increases Zweig Group reported earlier this year in its 2024 Salary Reports of AEC Firms . ■ Chargeability changes. With strong backlogs and a continued strain on capacity, we saw the gap between actual and projected staff chargeability decline again this year. It has steadily declined from 6.3 percent in 2015 to 2.5 percent this year, indicating both enhanced project budgeting practices and consistent workloads. ■ Refined collections management. A notable shift in the data suggests collections management is shifting from project managers to accounting personnel. This refinement in process and accountability can improve many aspects of the collections cycle, but it can also free up your high performers to focus on higher ROI efforts than sending collections emails! ■ Quicker collections. The report also highlights a standard window of roughly 45 days for considering invoices as past due. Collections have sped up by around four days on average (down to 54 days) when looking at pre-COVID and post-COVID data sets. Again, this highlights improvements and continued attention from firm leadership on improving cash flow and working capital positions for their firms.

FIRM INDEX Bowman Consulting Group Ltd....10 FXCollaborative........................................ 10 SAM.......................................................................8 Tetra Tech, Inc...............................................6 Ware Malcomb.............................................2 MORE ARTICLES n TYLER SUOMALA: Scaring the sell out of you Page 3 n MARK ZWEIG: Building an entrepreneurial firm culture Page 5 n MERCEDEZ THOMPSON: Client extension – friend or foe? Page 7 n BEN ABELMAN: AI-powered zoning tools Page 9 According to Zweig Group’s 2024 Fee & Billing Report , it takes firms an average of 50 days from the date of invoicing to collect fees. If a job is finished soon after the regular billing period ends, a firm that bills on a monthly basis could be stuck sitting on that bill for several weeks before it’s time to send it out. Because of this, firms that bill continuously have an advantage when it comes to decreasing their average collection period.

Will Swearingen




ON THE MOVE WARE MALCOMB ANNOUNCES PROMOTION OF CHRISTINA KOLKAS TO PRINCIPAL, NAMES SEAN FUNG DIRECTOR, MULTIFAMILY IN VAUGHAN, ONTARIO Ware Malcomb, an award- winning international design firm, announced the promotion of Christina Kolkas to principal and welcomes Sean Fung as director of multifamily. Kolkas brings 20 years of interior architecture and design expertise to her role and joined Ware Malcomb in 2017 as director of interior architecture and design in the Vaughan Office. In 2019, she spearheaded the business case for opening both the Toronto and Ottawa offices and was subsequently promoted to regional director. For the past several years she has led the growth and development of the Interior Architecture and Design Studios across Canada in the Vaughan, Toronto and Ottawa offices. Kolkas is also a member of Ware Malcomb’s Interiors Advisory Group, providing oversight on firmwide initiatives advancing Ware Malcomb’s interior architecture and design practice. “Christina is a positive and driven leader who has played a crucial role in the growth of the Canadian Region. We look forward to her continued leadership and contributions to the firm,” said Frank Di Roma, regional vice president of Ware Malcomb. Kolkas is fluent in the office workplace, industrial, retail, government and multifamily sectors. She is a LEED Accredited Professional, a Project Management Professional and is active in various industry associations, including

CoreNet, SIOR, NAIOP, CREW and PMI. She graduated from University of Toronto, St. George Campus with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architectural Design. Fung brings more than ten years of experience in Canada’s high-rise and mid- rise residential market to his new position in the Vaughan office as director of multifamily. Fung has managed a variety of residential projects from concept to production, including working drawings for permit, tender and construction. His experience with complex BIM integration has been a strong skill set while overseeing large teams as prime consultant. In his career to date, he has designed and constructed more than 4,500 multifamily units across Ontario. “We are pleased to welcome Sean and look forward to his contributions” Di Roma said. “His experience in the multifamily sector and diverse knowledge base make him an ideal fit for Ware Malcomb as we continue to grow in this important practice area.” Fung earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from Ontario College of Art & Design University in Toronto and graduated with a Diploma of Architecture Technology from Humber College. Ware Malcomb is a contemporary and expanding full-service design firm providing professional architecture, planning, interior design, civil engineering, branding and building measurement services to corporate, commercial/ residential developer and public/ institutional clients throughout the world.

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Zweig Group’s Fee & Billing Report of AEC Firms is the standard guideline for AEC industry firms looking to benchmark fees, billing rates, and billing practices, and evaluate productivity and utilization. This invaluable resource equips firms with the necessary benchmarks to maintain competitive bids while ensuring profitability amidst evolving industry dynamics. Click here to learn more! Will Swearingen is vice president and director of research and advisory services at Zweig Group. He can be reached at WILL SWEARINGEN, from page 1

THE PRINCIPALS ACADEMY Zweig Group’s flagship training program encompasses all aspects of managing a professional AEC service firm. Elevate your ability to lead and grow your firm with this program designed to inspire and inform existing and emerging AEC firm leaders in key areas of firm management. Join us June 27-28 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here to learn more!

© Copyright 2024. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Scaring the sell out of you

O nce upon a time (that’s always a good start to a story, right?), the very thought of sales sent shivers down my spine. You’d be hard-pressed to find any person trained as an architect or engineer who dreams of selling. Sales is not the monster under the bed – it’s just a conversation, a shared meal, and a chance to offer solutions and forge lasting connections.

But there I was. Fresh into a new position. A sales position. I braced for a crash course in the art of persuasion, expecting to morph into a smooth-talking seller. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I learned something unexpected: sales wasn’t about selling at all; it was about solving. The discovery was as liberating as it was surprising. Meetings and client calls turned from battlegrounds of negotiation into bridges of genuine connection. This shift in perspective turned sales from a fear into an enjoyable, even energizing experience. Here’s the truth: Sales is just an extension of what we already do best – solving problems and building relationships. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Cool story, Tyler – but how can I shift my own perspective?” You’re right. This isn’t about me. This is about how to scare the sell right out of you.

WHAT’S SO SCARY ABOUT SALES? Sales, for many seller-doers in AEC firms, is the boogeyman. It’s seen as pushy, demanding a knack for smooth talk that engineers and architects think they lack. But much of this fear stems from misconceptions: ■ Sales is manipulative. The stereotype that sales involves tricking clients into agreements. ■ Sales is a talent. The myth that only people with a “sales personality” can succeed. ■ Sales steals from technical work. The belief that time spent selling is time not designing or engineering. These fears are exacerbated by a lack of sales training in our education and an industry culture that seems hell-bent on the idea that sales is antithetical to the “purity” of technical work. (Technical work that you wouldn’t be able to do without a sales motion.)

Tyler Suomala




the same investigative and analytical skills you use in your projects to understand what your clients truly need. Continue asking great questions until you have a detailed understanding of their situation. 3. Be solution-oriented. Reframing your role in sales from selling to solving fundamentally alters how you approach interactions. You’re not just offering a service or product; you’re providing solutions to real problems. And you’re genuinely interested in making their lives easier and better. This mentality puts you in the role of a consultant or advisor rather than a salesperson, making the process more fulfilling and aligned with the core values of most AEC professionals. By focusing on how your expertise can address specific challenges, you’ll find the conversations to be all about collaboration, not persuasion. LET’S GO TO LUNCH. There may be no better environment to test your new perspective than with a few lunches. “Let’s go to lunch” symbolizes the informal, relationship-building aspect of sales. It’s a casual encounter that promotes deeper connections and keeps formalities at bay. So here’s my challenge to you: Send three prospective clients a message that says “Let’s go to lunch!” so you can embrace your new perspective. Sales is not the monster under the bed. It’s just a conversation, a shared meal, and a chance to offer solutions and forge lasting connections. And once you see it for what it truly is, it’s not just easier; it’s rewarding and fulfilling. Happy solving and enjoy your lunch! Tyler Suomala is founder of Growthitect. Connect with him on LinkedIn .

TYLER SUOMALA, from page 3

Sure, we’ve all experienced an unwanted salesperson encouraging us to pull out our wallets while embodying all the negative stereotypes. But let me be clear: that is not sales. That’s just greed. SHIFTING YOUR PERSPECTIVE. Shifting your perspective on sales is transformative for you and your career. There are three key components that, when embraced, can turn sales into an aspect of your role that you’re genuinely excited about. Let’s dive into these components: 1. Be empowered. When you start seeing sales as something you “get to do” rather than something you “have to do,” the whole dynamic changes. This perspective invites a more purpose-driven approach to engaging with clients. Sales is a chance to positively impact your team’s well- being and contribute to the overall success of your projects. It fosters growth, innovation, and stability for your firm and yourself. 2. Be client-focused. Remove the pressure to “make the sale” because it overshadows the real goal: understanding the obstacles that prevent your client from reaching their ideal outcome. By removing this pressure and going into conversations with the sole aim of comprehending the client’s needs, you shift the focus away from transactions and toward building relationships. This approach not only relieves the stress associated with sales but also aligns with the natural problem-solving skills that architects and engineers possess. It’s about applying

© Copyright 2024. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




“C orporate culture” is one of those terms that is regularly bandied about by management practitioners, but I am not sure it’s really understood by those who own and manage AEC firms. “Culture” has been defined as the “way of life” inside the company. What behaviors are celebrated; what behaviors are punished. These 10 things will make a difference if you are serious about making your people more entrepreneurial. Building an entrepreneurial firm culture

Mark Zweig

But the whole point of it is this: IF you have a strong culture that guides individual and collective behavior, you don’t need a lot of formal rules and policies on how to do everything. It just tends to happen. And a good culture can take good people and make them great versus sucking the life out them and making good people mediocre. So what if you want your people to act and behave more like entrepreneurs? You can’t do it with policies. You have to manage the culture. Here are my thoughts on some things you can do: 1. Get and distribute more client and potential client feedback. Entrepreneurs are tuned into their clients more so than non-entrepreneurs. So that means you need to get and share more

client feedback if you want your people to be more entrepreneurial than they currently are. One company in this business that we worked for years ago paid us to interview their current, past, and potential clients and then distributed the unedited feedback we got to every single employee every single month, regardless of whether it was good or bad and regardless of whose names were mentioned. That’s being serious about it. 2. Meet weekly to discuss how you use that feedback to make changes in how you do things. It’s one thing to get client feedback, but it’s another thing to actually use it. Put this topic on your regular management meeting agenda

See MARK ZWEIG, page 6



BUSINESS NEWS TETRA TECH WINS $464 MILLION MULTIPLE-AWARD CONTRACT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION SERVICES Tetra Tech, Inc., a leading provider of high-end consulting and engineering services, announced that the U.S. Army awarded the Company a $464 million, multiple-award contract to provide environmental assessment and remediation services at Army installations throughout the United States. Under the five-year contract, Tetra Tech will investigate and remediate hazardous and toxic waste, including persistent compounds such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Tetra Tech’s

scientists, engineers, and technical specialists will perform investigations, implement remedial actions, and conduct munitions response activities. Our teams will combine advanced subject matter expertise with in-house Tetra Tech Delta technologies to provide innovative solutions including PFAS data analytics and AI-enabled mapping. “Tetra Tech has supported the U.S. Department of Defense for decades to safely address potentially harmful contaminants at its facilities and in the surrounding environment,” said Dan Batrack, Tetra Tech chairman and CEO. “We are pleased to use our Leading

with Science® approach to continue supporting the U.S. Army in protecting the safety of our service members and the health of the environment.” Tetra Tech is the leader in water, environment, and sustainable infrastructure, providing high-end consulting and engineering services for projects worldwide. With 28,000 employees working together, Tetra Tech provides clear solutions to complex problems by Leading with Science® to address the entire water cycle, protect and restore the environment, design sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and support the clean energy transition.

paychecks to invest in the company should be allowed to do so. It doesn’t mean they will all be managers or have veto power over anything but they will have a chance to build value if they defer short-term compensation. That is a big part of what being an entrepreneur is about. 8. Emphasize revenue growth, cash flow, and firm value over short-term profitability. Value creation is what motivates the entrepreneur versus short-term profits. The real value of your firm lies in your revenue growth rate versus a multiple of historic EBIT. Just take a look at how software companies are valued and what their multiples of revenue are if you don’t believe me. So stop acting like stodgy old low growth “practice-centered” businesses, and instead act like those who build incredible value in their companies. 9. Promote those who act like entrepreneurs versus those who are the best architects or engineers or who have been there the longest. You can’t say you want more entrepreneurial people and then act like a bureaucratic government organization in terms of who moves up in the hierarchy. And when I say “promote,” I am not only referring to job promotions. I’m also referring to whose accomplishments you talk about both inside and outside of the company. That sends signals, and your people will notice! 10. Put successful entrepreneurs on your board of directors. Successful entrepreneurs – not just retired people from government agencies, your regular outside accountant or attorney – will help you run your firm more entrepreneurially. Get them on your board. It’s affordable. And you will get far more out of doing this than it will cost you. These 10 things WILL make a difference IF you are serious about making your people more entrepreneurial. So do them! Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

MARK ZWEIG, from page 5

and take action on it. This will show your people you are serious about this subject. 3. Formally recognize employees who demonstrate speed and responsiveness. Entrepreneurs move faster than bureaucratic firms. So be sure to point out and recognize those who are extra-responsive and move quickly at everything. Make them the “heroes of the day” versus just focusing on who got registered or who has been there the longest. 4. Institutionalize innovation initiatives in the business planning process. I have talked about this for years but the idea has seen little implementation from what I can see. And that idea is to make it a requirement for each of your revenue-generating business unit leaders to come up with new stuff every single year. New services. New ways to package services. New ways to market those services. “New” means continuous innovation versus resting on your laurels and not evolving. 5. Get rid of your formal job descriptions and fixed pay rates, and reduce versus increase the number of job titles you have. This kind of bureaucracy kills entrepreneurial spirit. Why do more if you are an “Engineer 3” and your rewards are capped? That kind of policy and practice kills entrepreneurial spirit versus encouraging it. And by the way – the more silly titles you have that don’t really mean anything, the worse morale is going to be. 6. Treat everyone in the firm like an owner. Share the numbers and the profits with everyone. Open-book management combined with frequent sharing of cash basis profits gets people thinking more like owners and less like alienated and exploited employees. And that’s entrepreneurial! 7. Sell small amounts of ownership to those who want to make sacrifices to get it. Don’t just try to get everyone acting like owners. Instead, how about actually making them owners? Those who want to sacrifice some of the

© Copyright 2024. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




Client extension – friend or foe?

A client extension should be utilized to review, refine, and enhance the existing proposal, rather than expanding or revamping it.

W e’ve all been there. Hustling to get a proposal submission-ready (because after all, a proposal is never really done, just due) and wishing we had just a few more days. And then, like a gift from the skies, an email arrives announcing an extension.

Who wouldn’t be excited, relieved, even grateful? Me. Over the years, I have seen numerous RFP extensions, but I can count on one hand the times when the extra time was actually used effectively and resulted in a better deliverable. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, shame on you,” but hear me out. When I began my career nearly 13 years ago, the average turnaround time for proposals was four to six weeks. Most clients still required physical copies to be mailed to their office, and it was rare for me to have more than three or four collaborators helping me develop the document. Now, that seems like a lifetime ago. Instead, I’m accustomed to the two-week turnaround

in a wholly digital world, where I’m coordinating among 15 or more SMEs, project managers, relationship partners, business development managers, principals, you name it. While building consensus on our winning strategy, articulating our unique value proposition, and translating our technical solution onto paper (or screen) have always presented challenges, these obstacles are amplified when you have less time and more cooks in the kitchen. And so, one might assume I’d welcome a few extra days, or even a week. Here’s why I dread extensions in four common mistakes: ■ The team relaxes. Thinking they have all the time they need, their efficiency decreases. It’s

Mercedez Thompson




TRANSACTIONS SAM ACQUIRES PRECISIONPOINT, INC. SAM, the nation’s leading provider of professional Geospatial and Inspection services across the utility, transportation, and broader infrastructure markets, today announced that it has acquired PrecisionPoint, Inc. PPI is an innovative 3D laser scanning to Building Information Modeling firm located in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. This acquisition strategically aligns with our existing portfolio of Managed Geospatial Services™ and bolsters our resources in the region. Since its inception in 2009, PPI has assisted AEC professionals in accelerating the data collection and documentation processes for facilities and infrastructure. PrecisionPoint will

join the Managed Geospatial Services™ business unit that is chartered with advancing data acquisition, improving analysis, and developing predictive analytics that redefine and transform how infrastructure assets are built and managed throughout their lifecycle. “We are thrilled to welcome PrecisionPoint into the SAM family,” said SAM President and CEO, Chris Solomon. “This strategic integration is poised to create new opportunities to leverage state-of-the-art scanning and BIM services that enhance informed decisions that support our clients’ strategic business objectives.” SAM continues to pursue a bold strategic growth strategy, both organic

and inorganic, with a focus on adding the capabilities and competencies that strengthen its Managed Geospatial Services™ strategy and deliver the outcomes that its clients seek. As the nation’s largest Geospatial and Inspection services firm, we provide practical, accurate, and high-fidelity deliverables to enhance decision- making, mitigate risks, achieve strategic objectives, and drive costs out of our clients’ business. SAM’s vision is to advance spatial data acquisition, improve analysis capabilities, and develop predictive analytics to redefine and transform how infrastructure assets are developed and managed throughout their lifecycles.

does it waste previous efforts, but it’s likely an overhaul will confuse authors and contributors and muddy our solution to the client’s issues. Overthinking often results in less coherent deliverables, non-compliant proposals, and lower quality submissions. So, what is good use of a client extension on an RFP? It’s simple: A client extension should be utilized to review, refine, and enhance the existing proposal. It allows for a thorough document review and a mock evaluation from the client’s perspective. This time can be used to ensure that the sales message is consistently conveyed throughout the entire document, beyond just the cover letter and “Why Us?” section. It provides an opportunity for subject matter experts to review and ensure smooth flow between sections contributed by different team members. It enables us to condense repetitive information and improve clarity and conciseness. Additionally, it allows for a comprehensive copy edit to correct spelling, grammar, and mechanical errors. By using the extension wisely, we can ensure that the final deliverable reflects the quality and attention to detail the client can expect from us on a project. Effective leadership, particularly from the proposal manager and account lead/sales lead, is crucial to appropriately leverage a client extension. While the temptation to make changes may be strong, it is important to consider the implications of such actions. As leaders of the proposal development process, it is our responsibility to instill confidence in our team and focus on sharpening, rather than expanding or revamping, our proposal. Mercedez Thompson has 11 years’ experience in professional marketing services. As a pursuit manager at PwC, Mercedez collaborates with thought leaders, marketing and sales staff, and client services personnel to develop the firm’s most strategic proposals. She was a 2022 APMP 40 Under 40 Winner. Connect with her on LinkedIn .


important to remember that even though two or three days may seem like a lot, these extensions are actually quite short. I have often found myself questioning whether I should even inform the authors or contributors about the extension. The last thing I want to see is our sense of urgency dissipate. ■ The team thinks we need to do more with the time given. Suddenly, we start considering alternative solutions and additional value-adds. We realize we may have overlooked important details like elaborating on our post- implementation support or commissioning and startup. We start questioning if there’s enough content in certain sections or if we should price multiple options. Now, I’m not saying these concerns are irrelevant, but if they were crucial to our submission, they should have been addressed earlier. Let’s not inflate our page count during the extension – all these additions may come across as exactly what they are, afterthoughts. counterproductive. Without prior involvement in strategy discussions, they will certainly bring different ideas and suggestions, and our precious extension is spent bringing them up to speed and reiterating previous decisions. Additionally, the new team member may feel compelled to make substantial changes or identify gaps, which can disrupt the cohesion of the final deliverable. To ensure a well-thought-out proposal, it is crucial to have the right people involved from the beginning and avoid last-minute invitations. ■ The team gets new players involved. Recruiting another principal or executive in the last hours is ■ The team rethinks our entire strategy. This is the biggest blunder of all. If you have ever managed a proposal where an extension is used to scrap what we had and start afresh, you know this pain all too well. Extensions can lead to uncertainty, questioning previous decisions, and even starting from scratch. This is detrimental. Not only

© Copyright 2024. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.




AI-powered zoning tools

Can artificial intelligence offer a solution to make zoning more rational and reasonable?

A t one time or another, most architects and developers have found themselves frustrated by zoning regulations. Zoning is not an element of design, but a tool used to ensure that our cities are built in predictable ways so they can provide adequate services and infrastructure for their occupants, as well as protect the interests of neighboring property owners. However, as our cities and society have grown more complex (and litigious), zoning has likewise grown to be more complicated.

Ben Abelman, AICP, LEED GA

As a result, zoning can place limiting parameters around creativity in design and development. For example, a meticulously crafted site plan can be met with contention from a plan examiner over an interpretation of zoning text, leading to either a significant redesign of the project or a costly legal appeals process. Or, a project’s viability can hinge on minor variances from zoning requirements, such as a setback dimension differing from zoning mandates by a few feet. In such instances, can artificial intelligence offer a solution to make zoning more rational and reasonable? As AI has gained popularity, many groups have developed platforms that developers and architects

can use to automate zoning analysis and iterate design solutions. With these platforms, one can enter a street address and instantly receive multiple design and development options for the specific site. These tools are impressive and useful, but they currently only capture today’s zoning rules, and therefore are not fully harnessing AI’s potential to improve zoning and advance larger city planning goals. In the next generation of AI zoning tools, shifting the target market from architects and developers to cities and municipalities would allow zoning to shift dynamically in real time.

See BEN ABELMAN, page 10



ON THE MOVE BOWMAN WELCOMES DAVID STICKLES, RPLS, PSM, PLS, TO EXPAND COMPANY’S PUBLIC SECTOR GEOSPATIAL PORTFOLIO Bowman Consulting Group Ltd., a national engineering services firm delivering infrastructure solutions to customers who own, develop and maintain the built environment, proudly announces the appointment of David Stickles, RPLS, PSM, PLS, as director of business development, geospatial survey. Stickles brings to Bowman over three decades of experience working with transportation departments and highway administrations, including the Florida Department of Transportation, the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland Port Administration. Based out of Bowman’s Plano, Texas office, he will focus on securing

government and public sector contracts across Bowman’s 90+ locations throughout the United States. “My goal is to build upon Bowman’s reputation to secure its position as a leading service provider in the public sector,” said Stickles. “This team has the resources, the skills, the technologies and the dedication to address client challenges. The recent Surdex acquisition adds a service that makes Bowman unique in its ability to provide comprehensive end-to-end solutions at all altitudes and resolutions. I couldn’t be more excited to help contribute to this phase of Bowman’s expansion.” Stickles’ surveying career began in 1993, marked by a succession of leadership roles, including vice president, director of survey and SUE, regional practice leader and office manager. He is also a

Registered Professional Land Surveyor in 12 states. “David’s appointment holds strategic significance in enhancing Bowman’s reputation as a top-tier geospatial services provider,” said Aaron McMillan, vice president of geospatial at Bowman. “His leadership and project experience will be key to driving growth and elevating Bowman’s position in the market.” In addition to his leadership and professional licensure, Stickles has a strong portfolio of project experience that spans land development, ports and harbors and stormwater infrastructure. He has worked on several notable projects throughout his career, including M&T Bank Stadium, Dundalk Marine Terminal, and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes project in Baltimore, Maryland.

While most cities and municipalities have existing processes through which zoning can be modified to suit a project’s needs, they can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming, requiring a full suite of consultants, and therefore are typically only considered for larger projects. AI tools for minor zoning modifications could make discretionary actions more accessible to smaller projects. For larger projects, they could support the evaluation of more substantial variances, such as increased floor area or change of permitted uses. While it is important for policymakers and elected officials to have approval authority for these projects, AI can streamline the environmental review process required for zoning modifications, leading to more informed decisions. These tools can also be used in stakeholder outreach and participatory design, allowing constituents to adjust and visualize the impacts of various zoning criteria at reviews. While current AI tools offer valuable assistance in navigating existing zoning regulations, the promise of AI in zoning and city planning lies in its ability to dynamically adapt to evolving urban needs. By shifting the target users of zoning AI tools from architects and developers to cities and municipalities, AI can empower decision-makers to create more flexible and responsive regulatory frameworks, streamline the permitting process, and ensure equitable code enforcement. Ultimately, these tools can allow buildings to meet the needs of the cities they are built within. Ben Abelman, AICP, LEED GA is senior associate and director of zoning and predevelopment at FXCollaborative. Connect with him on LinkedIn .

BEN ABELMAN, from page 9

With AI tools, cities could evaluate proposed buildings based on how they meet specific performance standards, expediting the variance approval process and creating a more adaptable system. Take, for example, New York City’s 15-foot setback regulation. This zoning ordinance creates a universal, city-wide rule that buildings of a certain height must be set back 15 feet from the street to preserve daylight access. Frequently, buildings function better when designed with smaller setbacks. AI tools could assess and approve or deny variance requests based on performance-based criteria, such as maintaining adequate daylight penetration to the street. Existing tools, like the Daylight Evaluation in New York City’s Midtown Manhattan zoning resolution, could provide a foundational framework for these new AI tools. As codes in cities and municipalities nationwide expand and begin to overlap, we have created a complicated regulatory environment that produces inconsistent outcomes. Despite efforts from building departments across the country that strive to interpret and enforce regulations consistently, there nevertheless remains a small, but significant level of discretion. By creating an AI powered plan examiner to evaluate code compliance for buildings, we can ensure that all rules are applied equally. This would also allow designers to iterate and check their work, expediting the design process and establishing a more predictable permitting process. Plan examiners could then spend less time reviewing drawings and more time refining the AI model or confirming that projects are built as designed.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN AEC Subscribe for free AI in AEC news, updates, and articles. This content is intended to help emerging and current leaders be at the forefront of the AI technological revolution. AI is not a trend or fad. AI is here to stay. Click here to learn more!

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