Digital design and fabrication have been transforming architecture for some time now. To keep apace, large and midsize firms can consider adding a chief technology officer (CTO) to the team. Here, ARCHITECT contributor Jeff Link explains how several CTOs relay the ways their work and expertise have benefited their respective firms.
Consider Your Goals
For CannonDesign, the need for a CTO became clear in 2016 when the 24-office firm opened a private data center outside Chicago for additional digital file storage and computing power. Soon after, the practice hired Hilda Espinal, AIA, to guide its digital design and technology strategies. “Technology [isn’t] something you [can] live without or ignore these days,” she says.
While some firms may have a chief information officer to manage IT infrastructure, CTOs have a more strategic role that is focused on company-wide innovation. The position requires a deep knowledge of not only computational tools and workflows but also of architectural practice and market trends. “You have to be intimately knowledgeable of the profession and technology so that you can marry these strategically,” Espinal says.
But for firms to create such a role, they must be ready to embrace digital transformation. “You should hire a CTO if you’re going to empower them to do what they’re excited to do," Espinal says. "But don’t do it for name, you’re shooting yourself in the foot,”
Embrace New Perspectives
Finding an individual with a forward-thinking, bird’s-eye approach to integrating design and technology is key to leveraging a CTO’s full potential. Cory Brugger, Assoc. AIA, who began as CTO at HKS’s Los Angeles office in February, says his enterprise-level role—meaning it joins those who are responsible for internal workplace management—comes with its share of day-to-day tasks: developing firm-wide policies and procedures for data governance, overseeing the patent process for new design technologies, and ensuring advanced visualizations satisfy client and contractor expectations.The bulk of his work, however, centers on reconceptualizing the role of technology within the firm.