Logo: University of Southern California

Astani Symposium Features Keynote by Internationally Renowned Frank Gehry

Event first of a 5-year series on Megacities; Galen Center shines as venue
Newly Paul
May 05, 2009 —

The Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s USC AGC 15th annual symposium was a great success in bringing together the best minds of the construction industry together under one roof and in promoting a platform for interaction with students.

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(From left) Stefanos Kosmides, symposium co-chair; Henry Koffman, faculty advisor USC AGC Student Chapter; Frank Gehry; Edward Reynolds Jr, moderator and symposium advisor; David Kang, symposium co-chair. Photo: USC AGC
The keynote speaker this year was renowned architect and USC alumnus Frank Gehry, who’s known for designing structures like the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Experience Music Project in Seattle and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.

This year the symposium introduced part one of a five year series on Megacities. In his letter of support, Mark Ridley-Thomas, supervisor of the second district said, “As Los Angeles and California expects significant growth in the future, the challenges and opportunities for building planning are worthy of discussion today and these exchanges may lead the way to plant the seeds of discovery in this very important arena.”

Henry Koffman, faculty advisor of the USC AGC student chapter which organized the symposium, said the event was “over the top.”

 “Our symposiums are unique, not only in the size of the attendance, but that they are entirely planned, managed and executed by Viterbi School of Engineering (VSOE) and other schools’ students, particularly students in our student chapter of AGC.  We had over 100 very organized student volunteers.  No staff or school resources are involved and no one received any monetary compensation. We never have received any University or VSOE funding.  The students alone raised all the money and acted as the ‘party planners,’” he said.

The topic of this year was Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Practice. BIM is
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All-volunteer student staff got all "A's"
an emerging technological and procedural shift within the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry. According to the symposium brochure, BIM harbors information-rich 3D building models that have the ability to run specific tasks such as energy analysis, project simulation, model-estimation and coordination.

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a new approach that integrates systems, people, business structures and practices into a process that aims to reduce waste and optimize efficiency in all phases of a project. This requires collaboration and communication between owners, architects, engineers and, contractors be taken into a whole new level. Symposium 15, BIM and Integrated Practice will look into current projects that are implementing BIM through IPD.

The projects will be looked at from perspectives of the architect, contractor and owner discussing topics such as IPD contracts,changes workflow deliverables, BIM standards, and return on investment.

Having Frank Gehry as the keynote speaker was made possible by the efforts of Professor Burcin Becerik, whose husband, David Gerber, works for Gehry Technologies. Gehry’s company is known as one of the front running companies to use BIM technology in its building projects. The Walt Disney concert hall was one of the first buildings to use this technology. The famous bird’s nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, in the construction of which Gehry Technologies was involved, used BIM successfully to save 30 percent of steel.
(see accompanying story)

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Gehry speaks.
While Gehry spoke about the current projects his company was working on, Dennis Shelden founder and chief technology officer of Gehry Technologies talked about the methods in which this technology is implemented in the real world. He gave the example of New York which had used 3-D BIM modeling, to help city planners manage resources while carrying out several projects simultaneously. BIM helped the city in coordinating traffic, water etc, even when several construction projects were going on. 

This was the second year that the symposium was held in the Galen Center.

 “This year, we had approximately 650 attendees which is slightly up from last year. We were very concerned about the attendance due to our recession, especially in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry. We lost a few table sponsors but picked up new ones, to exceed last year. Now, we have even outgrown the Galen Center,” said Koffman.

He said the profits made from the conference will go into the endowed scholarship fund. The money for this fund is raised only from student efforts.  “It is a beautiful concept of students helping students.  I do not know of any other examples of this,” said Koffman, adding, “I have not received any negative comments (about the symposium), not even from my most severe critics.

It was by far the best of the 15 to date.”

The planning for this event, which Koffman terms “a huge at-risk enterprise with an expenditure budget close to $100,000," is done almost a year in advance. “We were able to host almost 200 students for free, which is great, considering that each seat was priced at $200,” said President of USC AGC, Toan Nguyen Le. 

Le said this was the first time that information booths had been set up for companies to interact with students. “We had software companies, professional organizations and student organizations from campus setting up stalls,” said Le. In another first of its kind event at the symposium, two students won scholarships of $500 each, the amount having been raised over the past 14 years of the symposium.

“Our Symposiums are a great example of project management and interdisciplinary team work.  We challenge our students who have no experience in doing this kind of work. And they have never disappointed me,” summed up Koffman.

Topics for the upcoming editions of the symposium include:

  • Part 2  April, 2010   Sustainability and Energy
Part 3  April, 2011   Transportation

  • Part 4  April, 2012   Environmental, health and pollution   
Part 5  April, 2013   Water and Waste Water