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Computers speed builder/designer estimates.

Computers speed builder / designer estimates

While they are not yet being used to the fullest extent possible, computers are becoming increasingly important to builders and architects.

Their use in preparing rough designs for a drafter to enter into a CAD system is widespread. But this limits the computer to simply a drawing tool, rather than a source of total information about a project.

Putting a desk-top on every designer's table to provide this big picture is still down the road. But a growing number of builders and architects are using computer-provided information in the early stages of design to explore a variety of options. In short, to play "What If?"

A desired brick veneer wall, for example, looks too expensive.

"What if we go to pre-cast, or another siding?"

"What if we made the building square rather than u-shaped?"

"What if the roof was just bar joists and columns, not steel trusses?"

Builders and architects are looking for ways to do this in the early stages of design -- before any detailed plans are drawn. They want to be able to tell the client as early as possible:

"Here's what it will cost. Here are the alternatives."

There are many estimating services which can provide this. But most take time (days for small jobs and weeks for large ones), and are costly ($1,000 and up).

To get construction cost estimates quickly (like within a day), and inexpensively (like $80), many builders and architects are turning to systems such as Marshall & Swift's Conceptual Design Analysis.

The key to any such system is the computerized construction database. Marshall & Swift's system, for example, includes more than 12,000 materials costs and 22 local trades individualized for more than 700 cities. Both union and non-union labor rates are included. This is especially important because an increasing number of smaller construction jobs employ open shop, or non-union labor.

To take advantage of such a service, one need not have any drawings or detailed plans; just a general idea of the project.

The builder or architect simply fills out a form calling for important general information, plus specifics on building use, size/areas, superstructure, type of glazing, partitions, elevators, and finishes/equipment.

All this information is fed into the database, which usually turns out the analysis within 24 hours. With the analysis in hand, the architect can play "What If?"

There are some other valuable uses for such a service. For example:

It can tell the builder or architect if his design specifications are possible or appropriate within the owner/client's budget.

It provides a "no vested interest" third party estimate to confirm or verify an architect's own estimates, or a bid in hand.

"Here's what the contractor said, but here's what you can expect."

Still another use is in depreciation for tax purposes. Normally, buildings are depreciated as a unit. But, in reality, systems within a building have different life expectancies. This service can help segregate the many parts of a building, and thus affords tax benefits through more rapid depreciation.

There are a number of unusual structures now being built based on estimates provided by Marshall & Swift's Conceptual Design Analysis system. For example:

* A first-of-its kind indoor/outdoor flea market surrounded by an enclosed regional shopping mall

* A four-story hotel in Florida that has to be built on elevated piers

* A detention center requiring special materials, along with sophisticated security and surveillance systems.

Whatever the future holds for computers in the hands of builders and architects, one thing is certain: computers will be used increasingly as an information bank, rather than simply a drawing tool.

Robert Crine Vice President Marshall & Swift
COPYRIGHT 1991 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Mid-Year Review & Forecast Section II
Author:Crine, Robert
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jun 26, 1991
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