The Internet

CMC in Design Firms

Richard Coyne

Department of Architecture, University of Edinburgh

Fay Sudweeks and David Haynes

Department of Architectural and Design Science, University of Sydney

We examine how the introduction of computer-mediated communications (CMC) technologies, such as the Internet, affect design firms. We interviewed a diverse sample of the small but growing number of practitioners from around the world who use the Internet in their day-to-day operations. The interviews were conducted using the Internet. We found that certain firms are redefining themselves in terms of their entrepreneurial endeavours, as processors of texts, as collaborators, and as players in the global arena. We discuss these phenomena in the light of the philosophical consideration of the way technologies disclose features of a firm's practices. Disclosure displaces need as the means of understanding the relationship between technology and practice.

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a class of computer-based technologies to assist people to get in touch with each other (Hiltz and Turoff, 1993), a facility taken for granted in universities since the inception of the Internet and electronic mail (email) in the 1970s, and now finding its way into the business world. What are the impacts of this emerging technology on design practices? We argue that any technology introduced into practice is implicated in various transformations of that practice. CMC amplifies, re-defines, re-orients, brings to light, or generally "discloses" certain aspects of that practice. Practice in turn reveals aspects of CMC. We show how CMC is implicated in the way certain firms are redefining themselves, focussing on the firm's view of itself as an entrepreneurial enterprise, a handler of texts, a collaborator, and a player in the global arena. Prior to this analysis, we review how firms use CMC and how CMC has found its way into the office routine.

We investigated the small, but rapidly growing number of design-oriented firms using CMC by interviewing a representative sample of nineteen practitioners (mostly in architectural firms) from around the world-from USA, UK, Australia, Venezuela and Italy. We distributed a "call for interest" on the Internet, made contact with respondents via email, and interviewed most of the respondents on-line using the Internet. The firms ranged widely in size from one person practices to 650. Six of the firms we investigated had under five staff. The people we interviewed included CAD (computer-aided design) specialists, systems administrators, directors and principals. The interviewees varied in their experience with CMC. The more experienced had used it for ten years, most had from two months to three years experience, and one had only three weeks experience. Several of the practitioners regarded themselves as experienced users, but most said modestly that they were at the stage of "just exploring."

To date, most studies into CMC have been field or laboratory based studies, and succeed by isolating aspects and behaviours of on-line communication from the vagaries of practical contexts (e.g. Hill, 1982; McGuire, Kiesler and Siegel, 1987; Hiltz and Johnson, 1989; Matheson and Zanna, 1989, 1990; Dubrovsky, Kiesler and Sethna, 1991; Dennis and Valacich, 1993; Valacich et al., 1993, 1994). Constructs, such as social presence (Short, Williams and Christie, 1976; Rice, 1984; Walther, 1992), lack of social context cues (Sproull and Kiesler, 1991) and media richness (Trevino, Daft and Lengel, 1990), support the notion that CMC is best thought of as a task-related and/or problem-solving environment. Some studies in organizational contexts, search for reasons people adopt or "use" CMC, frequently arriving at social influence or cultural construction explanations (e.g. Fulk, 1993; Steinfield, 1989; Schmitz and Fulk, 1991).

The picture of CMC painted by summing laboratory and field studies is incomplete. The validity of laboratory studies is problematic for two reasons. First, most subjects are an atypically captive audience. Experimental subjects do not reflect the CMC environment. Second, an almost natural inclination of experimental design is to contrast CMC with a face-to-face standard of comparison, which may be misleading. Field studies also are problematic as they are usually intraorganisational and thus do not offer global explanation of communication in praxis.

Our study is qualitative and overtly interpretive, attempting to capture insights into CMC in the practice context, with all its variation, through structured interviews. The best insights came directly from the practitioners themselves, so in this article we rely substantially on verbatim reports (edited) to corroborate the patterns that emerged. Our approach borrows from studies in ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967), theories of metaphor (Lakoff, 1987), and contemporary understandings of philosophical pragmatism and phenomenology as articulated by Dreyfus (1990) and by Coyne (1994) in relation to information technology.

CMC in practice

What can practitioners do with CMC? The most prominent vehicle for CMC is the Internet to which commercial users generally connect via a telephone modem. Very few of the firms we investigated had a direct link or a dedicated telephone line connection to the Internet. From a modem you dial into a service provider, such as Compuserve, AppleLink, America On Line (AOL), the Microsoft network, Pipeline USA, or a local university, and the connection to the Internet is made from there. The narrow bandwidth of telephone modem connections is limiting, and the practitioners we interviewed used the Internet primarily for text handling as opposed to on-line graphics. None of the firms yet had direct connections through the fibre optic networks now installed in most cities. Firms have to pay for CMC services, though some of those we interviewed only had to pay for a local phone call. The majority paid commercial rates, which are well within the budget of any practice, comparable to telephone rental charges. The cost is about the same whether they are using Internet or Compuserve, and costs are comparable whether in the US, UK or Australia, though the US is a little cheaper.

The Internet, and its commercial supplements, comprises a range of services. All the practitioners we interviewed used email (sending messages to any other user anywhere in the world), Archie (which allows you to browse on-line databases), Gopher and Fetch (for downloading files from some publicly available server to your own computer), bulletin board systems and discussion groups (dynamic directories, daily digests or individual email messages from people talking on particular themes), ftp (which stands for "file transfer protocol" allowing you to transfer data to/from someone else's computer), Telnet (for connecting to another computer and running its software), Chat/Talk/IRC (Internet Telay Chat) (systems for real-time text-based conversations, used in our interviews), Conference Room facilities (based on the same idea but making substantial use of spatial metaphors), and Mosaic and Netscape for accessing the World Wide Web (WWW). The WWW provides full interactive graphical and multimedia communications, and access to a vast pool of distributed on-line resources. The practitioners typically said they used these services for email, accessing technical support for their computer systems, and finding people with common interests. Use of the WWW was limited because of the slow speed of telephone modems, but it was used by some to find out about individuals and firms (through "home pages" they create to advertise themselves), and for downloading the latest computer software patches (enhancements and bug fixes) and add ons.

CMC and the office matrix

CMC technologies fit within a matrix of related office communication technologies and practices that researchers such as Travino et al (1990) identify as varying along a continuum of media "richness," including face to face verbal communication, formal and informal meetings, the distribution of hand-written and typed memos, informal scriblings on yellow adhesive "post-it" labels, intercoms, internal phones, courier services, the postal service, and formalised written communication protocols such as those afforded by "quality management systems." CMC also fits within a matrix of related office communications technologies, such as computers, fax machines, portable phones and pagers. Some of the practitioners we interviewed used portable computers as part of the CMC matrix, for working from home, connecting to the office computer when at home or out of town, for presentations out of the office, and for working with clients. Some also used mobile phones to keep track of business partners, keep abreast of business developments, maintain contact with clients, and during site visits. One practitioner carried a hand held (notebook) computer on trips, mainly for writing memos and faxing. Only one practitioner used a pager. A couple of practitioners mentioned direct modem to modem connections for data transfer and computer hookup to the public library and municipal offices. One mentioned lease of an ISDN (International Subscriber Digital Network) line (a dedicated phone line). None had used video conferencing, neither desktop video conferencing nor via a video conferencing centre. A couple of people were looking into it, though some remarked that it was too expensive to date.

There are three features of this communications matrix that pertain to our study. The first is that these systems of communications contain redundancy. The sphere of applicability of each of the technologies overlaps in certain ways, such that if the email system breaks down then there is always the telephone or fax as a backup. Second, the communications technologies are inconspicuous and ubiquitous, used by choice and on demand. Once they are installed, or access is paid for, then they form part of ubiquitous communications networks and can be used without deliberate planning. As with the telephone, with CMC there are no heavy capital investments, it is less the focus of special policy meetings than CAD or other conspicuous office technologies, and CMC seems to make little difference to office layout. Third, each technology provides useful analogies or metaphors for the others. So to use email is a little like using the fax machine, though with important differences. Such comparisons assist the practitioner in understanding a technology. The advantage of this analogical connection is that no technology seems entirely new when introduced to an office, even for the first time, and office practices do not always have to be radically altered to accommodate the new technology. Certain technologies seem to pave the way for other technologies and their acceptance, much as telegraph paved the way for the telephone, and the adding machine "prepared" offices for the early computers. Aspects of CMC fit seamlessly into the communications practice of the firm. Its effects are gradual and long term. In this sense, CMC provides less of a shock to the firm than technologies such as CAD, where analogies with drawing board practice are more alien, and which radically alters work practices, office layout and even the staff profile of the firm. The involvement of CMC in transforming the office is perhaps more surreptitious.

The extent to which firms regard themselves as dependent on CMC is a useful indicator of the extent of its absorption into practice. Those we interviewed were equally divided on whether or not they were now CMC dependent. One regarded CMC as a supplement to the phone and the fax machine so he does not do anything critical with it. For another, CMC was only a hobby. For some, CMC was indispensable for the firm to be competitive, in other words gaining clients: "I depend on it. I have met new clients over the net." One practitioner depends on CMC "to gain access to information I consider strategic. Information leads to knowledge which is power, or a competitive edge shall we say." For another practitioner: "I guess in time it will become a habit that is hard to break." For some, CMC was woven into their way of working on projects. One said: "As an information resource I find it indispensable. I've used it for interactive specification writing sessions with consultants in San Francisco. I don't know how I communicated before without it-sort of like what we say about the fax machine sometimes. I find the email capabilities to be my crutch and a godsend." According to another practitioner: "I depend on it for literature searches"; and another: "I depend on email to work co-operatively on complex documents, with my subcontractors in Los Angeles and Scotland, both of whom bring special skills to bear."

Where it is used, CMC seems to involve everyone in the firm. About half the practitioners we interviewed said everyone uses it. Some singled out professional staff, and in a couple of cases only administrative staff use CMC. In one medium sized firm the only user was the interviewee. A couple of firms said that they had no secretarial support as they do all their own administrative work. This pattern of usage demonstrates the surreptitious ease with which CMC can be absorbed into office practice, initially with only gradual alterations to work roles.

However, new work practices are emerging with the introduction of CMC. CMC affects how practitioners use their time, mainly by taking up a lot of it. Practitioners seem to dedicate certain times of the day to using CMC, such as at the start of the working day, just before going home, or in the evening from home. One practitioner had a "web browser" (software to connect to the WWW) open all day and used it when needed. For one practitioner WWW usage was in the evenings as that was when the lines are less congested. Email was used any time during the day. CMC use can take up a lot of time. While a couple only used CMC two to three times per week, one practitioner used it for four to five hours a day, though this had recently tapered off to about one hour. Answering email and browsing for information clearly provides a degree of enjoyment, or at least absorption, for the busy practitioner.

Unlike other technologies, such as CAD, using CMC does not make heavy demands on the expertise of the user. Using CMC is not technically difficult and does not require extensive training, although experience is required to know how to use it effectively and where to find useful information. Services, sites of information, and the technology itself are changing all the time, so one has to keep up to date, or know who to ask about the latest developments. At the time of this investigation, the World Wide Web had only been around for a few years, and "network aware" computer applications programs were just emerging.

The terminology of CMC is also evolving at a rapid rate. CMC seems to bear the trappings of a populist cultural movement as well as a technology, comparable to pop music culture, and hobby cultures, such as citizen band radio in former times. The terminology changes from year to year and is laced with its own idiosyncratic qualifiers and signifiers. One of the practitioners we interviewed lamented that the technology seems to have more impact on the younger members of the practice, who are more open to the changes. This bias towards the young may also reflect the populist nature of aspects of CMC culture. Participation in CMC requires familiarity with both the technology and its language. This particular cultural engagement provides a new dimension to office practice.

Some practitioners provided evidence that CMC challenges other forms of internal office communications. They found CMC a convenient way of communicating within the office. According to one practitioner CMC is used "oddly more than one would think. It does seem so much more convenient and even appropriate in a professional setting. It enables one to get down to what counts in this environment and not have the communicative signals all crossed with a host of other forms of communication." One firm used a local area network communication system (Snapmail), "to replace that blizzard of yellow post-its that seems to proliferate otherwise." Some found CMC communication particularly convenient when the business of communication is CMC. Sometimes email is convenient for sending data, such as email addresses or WWW URLs (electronic addresses of files on servers around the world). But for the majority of those we interviewed, CMC was not used for internal communications. For many this was apparently because the firm was too small or computer workstations were not yet widely distributed in the organisation.

CMC also fits within the practice of drawing and CAD. Most of the practices we investigated were involved with the production of drawings, but most used the fax machine for transmitting drawings electronically rather than CMC. One practitioner had found the transmission of CAD documents too cumbersome. But some already used CMC for drawings: "At work we have transferred drawings to and from architects which are attached to email." According to another: "This is the main form of use for us. Both drawings and 3D models, and formatted long text documents." Most wanted to use CMC for transmitting drawings in the future, which would introduce new office practices, and would radically alter ways of interacting with clients. According to one practitioner: "I'd like to set up my own home page on the WWW (when the price drops). I'd love to be able to have clients log in, and pick from houses I've already designed. I'd have my house plans up there, so that they can look over the plans, and see the elevations before they download them. Then if they like what they see they can order it, and I would somehow transmit to them the whole set of drawings."

In summary, many of those we interviewed reported that their work role or work habits had changed in some way due to CMC use. CMC is implicated in the changing nature of office routine and the issues of running a practice, but the major changes come about when we investigate how CMC is implicated in the way firms see themselves. Our premise is that any new technology, such as CMC, discloses aspects of the practice in which it is situated. We turn now to the substantive changes in terms of entrepreneurship, text handling, collaboration, and globalisation, and the evidence for these changes gathered from our examination of practices using CMC.

The CMC entrepreneur

This is an interesting time for the fortunes of CMC in practice. At the time of writing, CMC is not yet ubiquitous in the business world, including architectural practice. CMC users are in the minority, and as such constitute an interesting group. For some of those we interviewed CMC is merely a means to an end, but most were clearly involved in it because it intrigued them. The process by which we selected the interviewees ensured this to some extent as we canvassed interest through Internet newsgroups. But our interviewees were typical of CMC users in practice, which is currently primarily in the hands of CMC hobbyists, adventurers, practitioners keen to try something exciting and new, interested in where the technology is heading and what are its implications. These people are not only visionaries, but are practical, with a strong sense of competition, and are concerned about long term financial viability. Before CAD became commonplace, early CAD devotees had a similar orientation. As devotees, the opinions of these CMC practitioners are developed and reinforced through their involvement in various discursive communities, sustained by publications such as CompuServe, Microsoft, PC World, NetGuide, PC Magazine, Personal Computer World, PC Week, World, Wired, MACUser, MAC World, Internet, Multimedia), the Architect's Journal, Architectural Record, Progressive Architecture, Building Design, newspapers, and of course on-line communications through the newsgroups such as "alt.architecture," "comp.inforsystems*," "comp.cad.autocad," NetNews, the WWW, and briefings with consultants and fellow users. Some CMC users also imply they have access to "the source," to key development personnel, such as "scientists at Apple Computer Corporation headquarters."

The adventuring orientation emerged when we asked what prompted the practitioners to start using the Internet. A few made the obvious appeal to the need to communicate or gain access to information. For some there was a progression from a particular use that was obvious to another use disclosed by the technology itself. One practitioner started by using email then got involved in library searches via Telnet: "I am currently designing an electronic lock for large manufacturers. I searched about six different article databases to see what the state of the art is." One person wanted to get into CMC to keep in touch with a friend overseas. Other uses developed from this. For one practitioner CMC harboured potential as a marketing tool, and eventually generated five to six email queries per week. Another firm said they had won two jobs so far through the Internet.

For other practitioners the Internet fitted into an ethos of networking, that already imbues the world of entrepreneurial practice: "I'm always interested in networking-tapping in to what resources are available." The networking ethos is also endemic (perhaps "pre-wired") to the technology itself in some cases: "It was preloaded in my computer when I bought it." For some there was an inevitability about adopting CMC. CMC services became available once the practitioners became involved in using computers and CAD. CMC is a logical extension of current computer usage. Some suppliers, such as AutoCAD, also actively encourage the use of CMC, with on-line product support. Some suppliers and user groups offer on-line software updates, modules and enhancements. One practitioner was responsible for developing IT policy for the firm, which inevitably involved an investigation into CMC, and led to them adopting it. The promotion of the computer networking ethos is also abetted by the media. One practitioner simply "read a lot about it and it sounded interesting." Others were introduced to CMC through colleagues, friends, family or as students. One practitioner "caught the bug" and got a modem for his own machine. These rationales highlight the entrepreneurial propensity for making connections (that it is 'who you know' that is important), the communal nature of CMC use, its minority status making you part of an elite enterprise, and the sense that soon it will become very big and important.

It is characteristic of entrepreneurs to be articulate about the issue of resistance. Why is there a resistance to CMC? The interviewees cited lack of the right hardware and software, finding sufficient time to further explore CMC, financial restrictions, and poor reliability. The practitioners we investigated were devotees, but the other members of their firms were not necessarily so committed. Several mentioned other people as the source of resistance, particularly clients. According to one practitioner, most innovations are client led, and there is no demand from clients for CMC: "My current clients and consultants are even bigger neo-Luddites than me." A further impediment was management. According to one interviewee there is "little understanding of the potential of access by senior managers." The technology is clearly at an early stage for wide adoption, though things are changing rapidly. One practitioner pointed out that at the moment the interface to the Internet is mostly Unix or Unix-like, which requires learning. At the time of writing, most practitioners do not enjoy the same quality of access as universities: "most of the people at the other end are accessing the net through some kind of gate (either Compuserve, or a departmental email system) which means that we cannot use functions such as Talk and are restricted to mail only." Even though these are legitimate concerns, there is a sense in which the CMC community thrives on this resistance. If CMC were easy then everyone would be using it, and it would lose its elite status. If they were successful in persuading everyone that it was such a good thing then it may be less useful as a means of gaining a competitive advantage in the market place, and less interesting for them, though many may be happy to move on to some new challenge, or some other aspect of the technology that needs exploring.

A further aspect of the entrepreneurial spirit was the enthusiasm by some of the practitioners to diversify their practice, at the moment and also in their plans. One practitioner hoped to connect with his father, who was an engineer, because they are "starting a building code consulting business and he works in Boston." One of the interviewees was involved in the organisation of a conference via the Internet: "I have participated in any number of projects where we had group collaboration via CMC-like conference planning. We were planning a conference in total, program, speakers, logistics, scheduling, etc, all remotely amongst a group scattered across the USA." Eventually CMC will produce more flexible staffing arrangements: "It will allow some employees to become sub-contractors to their former firms." Information technology provides opportunities to explore new building types and presents new design issues: "We design the spaces to accept the use of CMC devices in many instances."

The entrepreneurial practitioner is interested in profits, and most indicated that their practice was more profitable through the use of CMC. CMC would only be unprofitable if it required a big investment, but unlike CAD ten years ago, it is relatively inexpensive to set up. Like CAD, "CMC pays when changes are required, especially on a large scheme." One practitioner thought that they were much more profitable with CMC: "We are doing quite well thank you. By keeping the juggling game of CMC implementation and profitability going we have been very fortunate." One practitioner thought that CMC enabled the firm to extend its "reach to a larger client base." In the light of the recent UK recession one practitioner cautioned that it is not a matter of "achieving 'more profitability' but rather a matter of trying to achieve 'some profitability' which is the issue." He stated: "We need to be more efficient just to stand still. One can only expect so much productivity from staff, one can only reduce ones overheads so far. The rest is the result of good management and more effective use of IT to improve efficiency." Some cautioned that "it is a competitive business, and one's competitors will also soon use CMC. When competition is taken into account it may well be that the whole industry is no more profitable." For another practitioner it was "less profitable when you take the whole computing enterprise into account-CAD, videoimaging, etc. Primarily it is because we are exploring new technology and we don't know how much it will cost." Most regretted that they would have to reduce their use of CMC if the cost rose sharply, though some regarded it as unlikely that costs would rise, or thought that they would be able to find cheaper alternatives to the usual service providers, such as paying for a direct modem link. The entrepreneur will always find a way.

Entrepreneurs seem to seek out those who support their own enthusiasms, selecting consultants and collaborators on the basis of whether they have access to CMC. But the entrepreneur is also persuasive. Several practitioners said that if there was little choice then they would seek to "convert" the consultants, who would be dropped if they did not catch on. One firm even claimed to have computer literate plumbers working with them: "you must be computer savvy in order to work with us. We have plumbers that must be computer literate and have a modem in order to bid on our work. They are out there-more than most architects that have this technology. It gets scary." One practitioner said that selecting consultants and contractors on the basis of CMC access would "limit the available pool of otherwise qualified consultants. But in the future, as the world becomes saturated with CMC as it did with the telephone, it most certainly will become a critical consideration or prerequisite for business."

This disclosure of practice as an entrepreneurial enterprise extends to three other areas that assume new prominence in practice. The CMC entrepreneur is also an author, concerned with textual material and its dissemination. The new entrepreneur is part of an elite community that thrives on collaboration through electronic means, and the practitioner is ambitious to extend the reach of the firm in the global arena.

Text and technology

CMC discloses design practice as intimately involved with texts. In the electronic age, the concept of text has been generalised to the more abstract notion of "information"-that texts contain information, and drawings can contain information as well. As we discuss elsewhere (Coyne, 1995), contemporary language philosophy suggests that to talk of information content is simply to refer to another textual notion, that of the proposition, which for some purposes is a more precise form of a textual statement. The primacy of the conduit metaphor, that texts contain and transmit information, has been displaced in some quarters by the more prosaic notion that there are only ever texts, and translations between texts. There is value in regarding CMC, and computers in general, as concerned with the manipulation and transfer of binary signals, that are translated into text for certain purposes. By this view it is not helpful to think only in terms of meanings or information coursing through computer networks. Texts and pictures mean what they mean by virtue of our capacity to interpret them, and it is primarily texts and pictures that are exchanged through CMC. For our purposes here, "information" is just another word for "text."

Architecture is ostensibly concerned with buildings, drawings, models, the visual and kinaesthetic experience of space, visual representations, and an engagement with physical tools and materials. Texts are secondary. This priority emerges in architectural education and training, particularly in the discourses of the design studio. The visual and kinaesthetic is prioritised over the verbal. Yet much of architectural practice concerns the written word-annotations on drawings, correspondence, reports, schedules, and specifications. The justification of a design proposal is as much a matter of skill with words (often written as well as spoken) as with drawing, and many prominent architects have been writers (Le Corbusier, Peter Eisenman, and Bernard Tsumi are prominent examples), or their fame was inextricably accompanied by the writings of others, such as the academic Sigfried Gideon as an apologist for the work of Le Corbusier. As shown by the responses to our questions in the practice interviews, CMC brings the text-based aspects of design practice to the forefront, and is implicated in their transformation. The mainstay of CMC is the Internet, which grew to what it is today through the enterprise of academics, particularly in the USA. So it inherits the legacy of Enlightenment concepts of free speech, the transformative power of the printed word, and the mobilisation of an informed and politically aware public. The whole enterprise belongs to a written verbal culture. Were the Internet to focus on communication via real-time video or sound technology rather than the printed word then Internet communities would change in character. Analogies are frequently drawn between the nature of CB (citizen band) radio communities and groups that use the Internet, but as CB radio involves speech (ie aural communication) and the Internet involves writing they involve different kinds of communities. For many reasons, CB radio never attracted and sustained professionally-oriented university-based intellectual communities. Were the Internet to change from text to visual (video) and aural communication rather than text, and were it to be as ubiquitous as the telephone or television, then the profile of its users may change dramatically.

Our interviewees highlighted the renewed written-verbal orientation of the firm in several ways. First, the practitioners expressed a renewed regard for the notion of information as central to practice: "The role of an architect has transformed into being an information manager of a project, not just a leader but a resource of information." To the list of metaphors of a professional as expert, artist, scientist, counsellor, mediator, and so on, CMC vividly demonstrates the emerging metaphor of the professional as an on-line source of information and as information manager. Second, since the introduction of computer wordprocessing, practitioners have taken over the role traditionally concerned with text processing, the secretarial role. CMC seems to advance this trend-only a few of the small firms we investigated still employed secretarial staff. Third, is the renewed regard for consulting. To engage in consulting rather than a commission is commonly to undertake an advisory, and usually a verbal, role. The product of a consultation is frequently a written report of some kind. One of the practitioners thought this role was increasing: "I hope it [practice] will veer towards a consultant role in addition to the traditional roles of the architect. I see lots of people on the Usenet [ newsgroups] looking for architectural guidance and information on products, spatial arrangements, construction, etc." One practitioner hoped to do more consulting in addition to architecture. Another practitioner saw his role as that of the "moderator, communicator, intermediary," as he managed the messages connected with a collaborative project. Fourth, CMC on the Internet has defined new roles and designations that are variants of roles connected with text-based publishing. There are the news group moderators, editors of on line publications, senders, recipients, authors, readerships and browsers. Practice that uses CMC is continuing this chain of usage and taking over some of the metaphors of publishing and CMC.

Fifth, CMC fosters a highly reflexive community, arguably a product of highly literate text-based communities, and design practitioners who use the technology participate in this reflection. As one can see from various indexes of activity on the World Wide Web, a substantial part of CMC communication is about the net, and about the nature of the communities that use it. Our on-line interview survey provides a further example of this reflexivity. CMC has introduced new areas of specialised knowledge and expertise into practice, and the medium itself provides support for the new skills acquired, with on-line support available for almost all areas of computing. The telephone provides a good example of a medium that does not support self-reflexive communities. People using the telephone rarely talk at length about telephones, or about the nature of the communities that gather around their use. The text-based nature of CMC contributes to its reflexivity, and further sustains the need to communicate, and to use CMC to do so. CMC amplifies a trend towards reflexivity that sociologists such as Giddens (1990) tell us are characteristic of late modern society.

Sixth, and most importantly, as a technology of the text, CMC renews the idea of practice as a decision-making enterprise. According to language theorists such as Austin (1966), language utterances do not so much describe situations as make things happen. The archetypal sentence is one that constitutes an action-"With this ring, I thee wed" uttered in the appropriate context is instrumental in uniting two people in marriage. To declare that an object is a table is to participate in a community that makes it a table. This pragmatic strand to language understanding is further sustained by the popular corporate ethos that asserts that people who "control" words are in control of the situation, which is to say, more in control of themselves. The practitioners provided ample evidence of this linkage between text and control: "I think maybe it [CMC] has forced me to respond faster, and also (despite my lack of typing skill) to think more about what I say, and has made me write better, because it is writing rather than talking mostly." According to another practitioner control through information held the future to the professions-as the source of information you are more in control: "Adaptation to a more information source based practice rather than an information research based practice seems to be the course we are taking. By being the information resource for a project, you are a valuable commodity. If architects can control the information and treat it as equity, they will control the construction project and remain in their rightful place of the project leader." CMC also provides an opportunity to relinquish the details of certain aspects of a project to others: "I spend more time structuring work, preparing it, etc for people at a distance. This in turn means that I do less work myself, take less responsibility for particular jobs. More jobs get passed off to someone else, but then I have a larger role in structuring those jobs."

Most practitioners claimed that CMC improves the decision making process. They said it speeds up decision making, renders it more efficient, helps you organise information, provides more resources, provides access to people to talk to, enhances writing skills, makes it possible to research products and services without leaving the office, and enhances confidence. How does CMC bring this about? According to one practitioner, with CMC "decisions have to be written. No hand-waving is allowed. So the decisions get made more deliberately. Is that better? It certainly accords better with classical project management, and it does also feel better (fewer loose ends, fewer 'lazy' decisions)."

Decision making requires good information, and CMC gives the practitioner access to it: "Now when I need something I look for documentation on the Internet, I ask for help on Usenet and then I decide. It takes more time but I can achieve better results in this way." CMC certainly helps if you want information pertaining to the computer world: "you know what is going on in the computer world. You don't fall behind due to lack of information." CMC apparently improves decision making by allowing a good flow of information between practitioner and clients: "We send clients preliminary designs and schematics for approval. They send back comments and questions." CMC seems to make the information processing aspect of decision making practice more obvious, but it also renders the inclination of practitioners to withhold information more apparent: "With CMC, it is more obvious that you are withholding valuable information. You have to deliberately not answer a written query."

Several practitioners implied an elevated awareness of the ability to be precise in processing information and making decisions. The concept of precision in building practice dates back as far as the introduction of measured drawing and drafting. The use of the computer for drafting and modelling is an extension of Enlightenment concepts of objectification, an extension of industrialisation into the building process, and a general quest for mastery and control of nature and materials. According to social commentators such as McLuhan (1962) such trends were already in train with the advent of writing, and reached their apogee with the invention of the printing press. By facilitating the infinite reproduction and distribution of thought, the culture of the printed word reinforces the concept that truth is a matter of precise correspondence between the printed, or digital, word and some state of affairs in the world. Ameliorated by pragmatic concepts of language (such as those of Austin [1966] and Derrida [1988]), the privileged relationship between texts and precision is still apparent. According to one of the interviewees: "[with CMC] I am more efficient, capable of responding faster and more accurately." For another: "It improves the accuracy and thus saves time and money. We are better at [what we] do-being creative problem solvers. It makes for better architecture." According to one practitioner the future lies in the better and more accurate processing of information: "improved integration among different disciplines, better coordination of information, the ability to respond even faster and with greater accuracy, even more extensive use of cut and paste techniques from a variety of sources, and the ability to 'talk' with specialist subcontractors more directly."

However, CMC brings to light the added possibility of error. It is an immediate medium, and one can act in haste: "There can be a tendency towards impulsivity. One must carefully consider." According to another practitioner: "Perhaps some decisions are closed off sooner than necessary." There is also a treadmill effect. There is pressure from clients to perform ever faster, and competition between firms "has necessitated making decisions faster than the next guy." Unfortunately, "clients get used to the service and want things faster still. Sometimes it's like being on a treadmill!" CMC seems to invest practice with a renewed concern with what it is to be careful and precise, and the dangers of acting in haste.

Accuracy and efficiency also pertain to time. Because it is possible to transmit information instantly CMC apparently allows designers to work on their designs up to the last minute: "It gives us more design time so we can send a drawing at 8:00 am instead of using a Federal Express mail service the night before." CMC also seems to make the practitioner more responsive: "It might make it more responsive (ie faster.) We can more easily adjust resources to workload." One practitioner suggested that as the technology becomes more widespread, "coordination with consultants will be greatly improved, resulting in the optimization of the construction process."

Perhaps this focus on texts is a distraction from the real concern of the design practitioner, the built product. We asked if CMC has any affects on the quality of the buildings or structures produced by the firm. A few said CMC was of no consequence on the designed product, but some pointed to the improved product and service provided through the ability of CMC to convey information: "CMC affects my designs indirectly, mainly through knowledge gleaned from literature searches, unless you also take into account changes to better match the customers needs that you only become aware of through better communication." According to one practitioner, better information leads to better service, and better design: "Everything I do, or learn, or whatever, affects my buildings and makes them better, so the use of CMC is no exception." CMC even provides a means of moving out of one's professional circle and gaining better insights into clients' needs: "Sometimes I think I get a better understanding and appreciation of my clients after hearing people trash architects in the newsgroups." Of course, CAD and CMC also conspire to allow better visualisation of the finished product before it is built, and the transmission of the computer generated image. The technology provides: "better ways of viewing an end product before it's built-exploring alternative ways of constructability."

The focus on texts also brings to light the matter of security-the obvious prospect of "messages being misdirected or intercepted." According to one practitioner: "This is a real issue. There have been occasions when I have sent what I thought was a personal message and had it forwarded to the entire listserve [news] group. For myself, I use the ethical considerations for email I would for any written and verbal communication. I treat them as personal, and seek permission to make them public should I need to." According to another: "Any item we wouldn't feel comfortable faxing would never be sent this way." The other problem is "people breaking into the firm's file store, etc." For one practice: "Once a person logs on, he can pretty much have access to anybody's drawings here, because we are all architects and we are all helping each other's projects. We have an access code to get into the machine, but the log on thing is something that is set up in your name, so if you know my name and the code I use you could log on too. Other things are kept locked-accounting files, marketing files [for instance]." One firm had "Firewalls" (access points that are impermeable to outsiders) built into their dial-in server, they use passwords that are changed weekly, and they are as secure as a "Sherman tank." Personal security is also an issue: "I make it somewhat difficult to actually find me, as my street address is not published in any phone book or directory."

One firm had taken extensive security measures, but not for email: "We have programmed our CISCO router [for connecting parts of a network] so that it is not possible to connect to our computers from the outside, but we didn't do anything for email privacy. I was considering to use some package to encipher email messages, but the problem is that I don't know if any of our clients and/or partners use anything like that. If they don't it is useless. Furthermore, I don't think that anything that is really important is transmitted by email." Some said there were certain transactions that they would not carry out over the net because of security problems. Several mentioned financial transactions and using credit cards as something they would like to do, but were wary of. Some had security conscious clients, such as the ministry of defence, so the transfer of drawings was a problem. For more than half the firms we interviewed security was not an issue: "There has not been a problem. We're such a small firm that we don't have to worry about it-as well as the type of business we're in. There is nothing like patient confidentiality as in medicine to worry about." The question of security in the pre-computer office primarily pertained to security against fire, and was rarely concerned with the theft of drawings. In the CAD office it pertained to the corruption of data and file loss. For the CMC office, security extends to the issue of outright theft of data or the use of disk space by cunning hackers, or the inadvertent leakage of information as it is sent through the now pervious electronic boundaries of the practice. CMC discloses security as a new issue.

CMC primarily pertains to texts, whereas CAD is ostensibly about drawings. Most of the practitioners said CAD was still the primary reason for buying computers in the firm-asserting the priority of drawing in design practice. One practitioner said: "I say primarily for CAD, but only because CAD without communications is feasible, but for an architect communications without CAD is in my opinion not feasible (what are you communicating, if you can't communicate drawings?)" But some said that they would now purchase computers primarily for CMC: "I use computers primarily for word processing, spreadsheets, and communications. Starting anew, I would do the same."

The aim of this precise and secure commerce in texts, is to make better decisions, but it is also to gain access to other people, as a means to better decision making, but also as an end in itself.


Much has been made in the popular literature about the ability of CMC to foster community (Rheingold, 1993; Jones, 1995), and many see it as providing an opportunity to realise the Enlightenment notion of an informed and active citizenry-the re-institution of nineteenth century bourgeois cafe culture. From the inception of the Internet, the primary focus of CMC appears to be to put people in touch with one other. In this it differs markedly from other computer technologies such as CAD which is ostensibly concerned with one-way communication via the production of drawings and other contract documents.

Community inheres within practice. The concept of practice (or praxis) as advanced by philosophers of pragmatism, is of engaged action derived not from theory or rule (which pragmatists see as particular forms of practice), but from practices "taken over" from one's community (Dreyfus, 1990). The everyday concept of professional practice also implicates notions of community. Professional practice involves being admitted to a group through the processes of education, training, work experience, elaborate initiation procedures, and being a part of a group. Practitioners are professionals working to the norms of a professional community (Fish, 1989)-the associations with their registration procedures, legal requirements, and various other technologies or institutions of community. The communal nature of practice is often clouded over by the vision of the practitioner as the independent scientist, abetted by computers, CAD and other advanced technologies, and able to apply theories to reason independently and "objectively" about a design problem. The communal nature of practice is also partially obscured by the romantic conception of the designer as the lone creator of new ideas. Under both the objectivist and the romantic schema, design media, documentation, and now computer technologies serve as conduits, or conversely as impediments, to the transmission of ideas to reality. Under this conception, computers appear as a means of efficiently transporting the products of the designer's genius (design ideas) to builders, manufacturers and tradespeople, sometimes ignoring the complex interrelationship between the various groups involved in the building process. As with any communications technology, CMC promotes the conduit metaphor of professional expertise, but the two-way nature of CMC substantially ameliorates this tendency, and conspicuously directs attention towards the nature of professional practice as involving community. In doing so it discloses new ways of interacting with people.

Most of the practitioners we interviewed used CMC for remote collaborative work. Most said CMC was an extension or diversification rather than at the core of the practice's activity, but collaboration by CMC was central for some of the practitioners. For one practice, "collaborative specification sessions are the norm, and also collaborating in the field with my project managers using on-line Chat and Conference Rooms. Internally, using Lotus Notes, we set up a time to 'talk' and go through field condition problems. We expedite problems this way to streamline the project delivery process. We can post specifications, get pricing for materials etc. It is a very useful tool."

CMC is clearly implicated in changing conceptions of collaboration in practice. "I think of myself as a collaborative person, but CMC has made it easier, making me also more willing to help." According to another, "I think it [CMC] makes collaborations much more feasible. I do stuff that I would not have considered practical before." Most said that CMC had affected the way they collaborate with others, it has increased the speed of working with consultants, it involves them with people they would not meet otherwise, and "it speeds up action and reaction time."

How do practitioners collaborate using CMC? Clearly CMC makes it possible to give and receive advice in ways that are more immediate and convenient than conventional means: "I think it will allow greater use of specialists. Suppose I have a really nasty stress analysis problem. I could send the model to some hotshot who could verify my results. It's not that convenient to do that right now. I think it will build a better infrastructure for engineers." CMC also instils new ways of collaboration taken over from metaphors of writing: "Danielle here in my office is working with Chris [in another office] on the production of a set of working drawings. Chris 'controls' the drawings. In other words, only he actually adds to the set. Danielle acts as critic, and conduit of client information, and my own critiques. To use a metaphor, Chris writes, and we edit." Another practitioner said: "Our first real exposure to the Internet was for collaboration. This is what convinced us to use it. Collaboration over the net was actually better than local collaboration because of the structured nature of the communication, the formal passing of the ball from person to person. The fact that when you passed the ball back, it had to be visibly different, or rather, if you'd done nothing, it was readily apparent. Also, just the formality of that 'passing' meant it was clear where the buck lay at any particular time. It was with the last person who received the project. So no excuses such as 'oh I thought that was you.' Also, there's something about the process that encourages each person to contribute just what he/she does best. I don't know exactly what it is. I think it's a product of these. In other words, the responsibility and accountability engendered by the formality of the communication leads one to concentrate on where your own contribution will be most noticed, and of best quality. And to pass off work you're not so good at, onto other members of the team." According to this practitioner, collaboration via CMC has an affect on the building product: "Buildings or structures are subtlety changed, in that Chris (for example) brings a different angle to architecture. So a different mix of people made possible by CMC leads to a slightly different product."

Collaboration is at the core of CMC discourse and practice, and firms that adopt CMC take over and adopt this discourse to their own uses. CMC brings issues of collaboration to the fore in ways not already apparent in practice. One aspect of this preoccupation with collaboration is its extension into the global sphere.

The global enterprise

The fourth phenomenon that CMC discloses to practice is the firm as a global enterprise, extending its boundaries beyond the local, and even the national arena (Deans and Jurison, 1996). One of the most exciting aspects of CMC use is the presumed internationalisation of practice, even small practice: "CMC allows one to be much more involved on a frequent basis in activities which may be at some distance away from ones physical and time based location-something close to telepresence." It seems that this trend is likely to continue: "It will further the trend of architects collaborating with other architects and consultants all over the country and the world." For one practitioner the collaborative aspects of CMC only really came to the fore in the international arena: "It has allowed me to collaborate with people I would not otherwise have met, people far away. Locally, it is a bit helpful but hasn't really changed the collaborative process much." The small firm is also now able to claim international status: "Consultants are now national and coast to coast. Clients are starting to wind up around the world. The notion of practice in your own backyard has been destroyed forever. A small firm like ours can now compete for international work and get the work, and do it better, cheaper and faster than a much larger firm." According to another small practice: "The consultant base has greatly expanded. We now employ two consultants, Chris in Scotland, and Jack in Los Angeles, whom we never would otherwise have considered if CMC were not available." Once the firm has begun operating at an international level then it becomes dependent on global communication. One practitioner provided a graphic example, which also demonstrated the international scope of the small practice's operations: "I am currently working on a joint funding proposal for a project in India, with Howard at the University of Oregon. The proposal and various bits and incarnations get passed back and forth. We also just completed a paper for a conference in Tunis this way, and the whole process broke down, because I left the net (in Papua New Guinea) and had to contribute by fax, which Howard then could incorporate into the main text, etc. It was a good lesson on how dependent we have become on the net for this kind of collaborative passing back and forth."

Many of the practitioners reported that there were now tasks they could accomplish with CMC that they could not accomplish otherwise, and most of these tasks pertained to practice in the global arena. Practitioners did not need to move around as much, had a larger customer base, can possibly advertise the existence of firm and its services, they can discuss problems and issues with other professionals not in direct competition, the idea of working with satellite offices is less formidable than before, they can draw on a broader talent base, and they need never lose people just because they leave the country. According to one practitioner, with CMC you can do "everything from getting contract documents out in half the time to communicating to the world and getting information accurately, and quickly." CMC means you can get access to people anywhere to work on a project, at least in the future: "A virtual office would have the flexibility to select team members and personnel based on factors other than location. I see that it is conceivable for a design team to use talent from all over the world to build and design buildings, and then either disband or reconfigure to adjust to the next job. I feel that more opportunities in the architectural field can open up this way." Apparently CMC also makes communication easier across national boundaries for people who have difficulties with foreign languages. One person for whom English was not their first language reported: "It also helps us because it is easier to write in English than it is to speak it. I can't think to get interviewed by you by voice."

Many of those we interviewed used CMC while travelling: "I have used this often by emailing/Chat/Conference room communications whenever I'm on the road (3 times a month now). Just dial in and you are virtually in the office. I can use either Lotus Notes or a direct dial into my computer through LapLink for Windows, and its as if I'm there." According to another practitioner: "I use it to stay in touch with the office with email. I'll subscribe to Delphi and use their packet switching network which allows local dial-up connectivity in most major cities, then gateway my messages from the field into the Internet to be delivered here at the office." As a transnational project, our interview procedure proved disclosive for some. One practitioner said: "The fact that I am communicating with you at this moment, tells me a lot. I never imagined before using CMC what could be happening at the other side of the world, in an area of my interest."

Poor quality telecommunications are an impediment to globalisation in some countries: "In Europe, I used Eunet to Telnet back to my home account. In Papua New Guinea, there is no local access, and I find the international lines too noisy to dial into Sydney with a terminal emulation program." Apparently, good communications links are vital for the international practice. Most practitioners said that if their firm relocated then CMC would make little difference to where they relocated. Most said it is important to have a good phone connection or low cost access point. Long distant phone calls were considered undesirable. Some said it is necessary to be close to the client base and that is the major consideration. A few implied that CMC gave them more freedom to locate, that with CMC they could move out into the suburbs, the countryside or somewhere more physically isolated. Relocation had to take account of CMC "only if there were no ISDN service planned for the location. Otherwise, it doesn't matter where you are any more. You can practice anywhere on earth and get architecture built." The practitioners did not yet see the Internet as sufficiently ubiquitous to allow unshackled movement: "I don't think we can have the Internet everywhere. Obviously we can't go too distant from our clients, but in Italy the most profitable area for a company like mine is the north, and we can get an Internet connection everywhere in the north of Italy. So there are no problems. I don't think we will move to the south." One practitioner suggested that CMC made it more feasible to relocate to a cheaper cost centre: "When we have better communications it should be possible for one office to handle the 'sales' side of the business with another office (with lower overheads) doing the 'donkey work.' For example, office rentals and salary costs in London are dearer than Yorkshire, so why not do the bulk of the work from a cheaper cost centre?"

There are certain tasks that are difficult to accomplish on the international arena, even with CMC. One practitioner felt that it was essential that you already know the people you are dealing with "face to face," and had never recruited anyone on the net: "We knew both these people [we worked with] beforehand. This is important. We've never recruited anyone via CMC. I am aware, from reading Tom Peters latest book, for instance, plus the newspapers, that some firms are recruiting over the net as well." Professional registration is a further impediment to the globalisation of practice: "Architects and engineers are licensed by state and province, not nationally. There is not always reciprocity between jurisdictions. The process of getting licensed is time consuming. If I got a job in New York or Washington state I could get licensed there, however I cannot get licensed in California, so would have to collaborate with a local architect, and as I would not be the architect of record, would be limited severely in what services I could perform." One practitioner sought to extend his professional registration as a consequence of CMC: "I am discussing doing collaborative work with two people I have met over the net. As a result I am getting registered in the US as well as in Canada."

Several practitioners also reported that CMC had influenced the spatial distribution of their client and consultant base, but some thought that "the fax machine was the most significant technology in that regard," or simply that CMC "makes it easier to keep in touch with them, as now we can send programs by ftp, whereas previously we had to send floppy disks or tapes." One practitioner observed that "people still want to see you before they buy services." One thought that CMC "provides a greater presence at client locations-more constant servicing of the client's needs. Its great for that added touch."

CMC also offers the prospect of working intimately with other designers through real-time video linkages, of the kind explored by various researchers (Minneman, 1991; Scrivener, 1993), though none of the practitioners had yet done so: "People are already talking about interactive design sessions via CMC. I suppose that means no actual meetings except those connected by wire. The intuitive relationships between parties can suffer or be dissipated. But the market possibilities are huge." The intimacy of work connections will extend to working with consultants according to another practitioner: "CMC technology will enable real-time interactive design with design engineering occurring in real time simultaneously with load calculations as well as hazard mitigation options. You will see artificial intelligence wedded to these appliance-like design/modelling tools where clients and providers will work together and collaboratively build the data superhighways. Increasing bandwidth will enable these to occur in the more industrialised nations first then gradually out to the rest of the world as the highways are extended. (My speciality is hazard mitigation.)"

Sociologists such as Giddens (1990) have observed that globalisation paradoxically carries with it a trend towards local concerns. The global and the domestic, even the personal, becoming intertwined. An obvious and literal manifestation of this phenomenon is that most of the interviewees worked from home using CMC, some spending as much as two to twelve hours per week. For some of the interviewees their office was their home. With CMC, the domestic sphere becomes intimately connected with the global. As well as bringing the world of business into the home, the play between the local and the global may have ramifications for the kind of architecture we see: "There will be more sameness of design in terms of regionalism on the one hand, and much more mixing, more postmodern play, on the other. Both would be responses to the increase in communication-an intensification we have already seen from at least the seventies on." According to one practitioner new ways of working will emerge to accommodate the play between the local and the global: "Field services will change drastically. They are the one aspect of architectural practice which cannot be fully automated. As we work elsewhere, field services will increasingly become a specialty of some firms, as will regulatory consulting, ie firms expert in local conditions and regulations. Local architects for field services working with remote architects will become increasingly prevalent. This represents a major shift in project delivery. Traditionally, field services and design services are provided by a single firm. There will be a shift in how we relate to our peers, as there will be much more collaboration and cooperation rather than just local competition between architects."

The prospect of globalised practice has structural ramifications that are already in place for the professions: "If architects catch up in the computer literacy stakes, then I expect that you will see (as perhaps you do in other industries today) a mix of many small, mobile, specialist companies coupled with a few big companies characterised by not so much big staffs as big reputations, capital bases, and computing resources, all getting together into temporary alliances to do specific projects." Another practitioner also drew attention to new modes of practice that are emerging: "I read a piece just today, that Chiat/Day is planning to get rid of its offices. Small teams assembled for particular projects will rent hotel rooms, using mobiles and laptops, then dissolve and reassemble differently for other projects. I need to read up on 'hotelling.'"

This restructuring of the nature of firms and their relationships has been evident for some time (Cuff, 1991; Duffy, 1992), even prior to the incursion of CMC and the Internet. It seems that CMC enables firms of any size to participate in this restructuring rather than wait to be swept along by its tide.

Needs and disclosures

CMC brings certain changes in practice into sharp relief, particularly, as we have seen, in the case of the entrepreneur, a heightened orientation towards texts, a sense that one is always working with others, and a sense of being part of a global network. Our interview process also afforded an interesting illustration of technological disclosure at work. The technology informed the interview process, as the object that was the focus of the study was also the vehicle of communication, and the proof of the applicability of the technology. The questioning and the responses were highly reflexive. In addition, the interview was an exercise in textual manipulation involving the exchange of strings of characters and assertions. Typically, an interview would last for two or more hours, and was tiring for both parties. Much less can be typed than can be spoken in the equivalent time. The interviewer had each question pre-stored ready for release as the previous question was dealt with. There were frequent interruptions to the conversation from outside. There were annoying time delays and disruptions to communication in some cases as contact would be broken through the idiosyncrasies of the Internet and local gateways. It would have been possible to deal with the interview asynchronously, by emailing a questionnaire to the practitioners, but the approach we adopted had several benefits. Real-time conversations in text was an aspect of CMC that most of the recipients had not tried before and so could feature in their reflections. It also afforded the usual benefits of an interview over a questionnaire, in that the interviewer was able to seek clarification during the interview, and could stimulate further responses. Taking on board notions of control and efficiency promoted through text-based CMC use, we could say that an advantage is the efficiency and accuracy of the interview process. Unlike taking notes or transcribing tapes, every word is recorded and already in an editable form. Knowing that there was someone on line attending to one's every word also added an edge to the interviewee's comments, and there was a complete response rate, though some of the interviews were not completed due to technical problems.

The consensus of those we interviewed is that the state of CMC technology as it is at the moment is a foretaste of something more significant around the corner. For one, the future lies with greater connectivity and greater bandwidth for more sophisticated collaborative activities: "I expect that my mobile computer will be constantly hooked to a wide area network. I expect full motion video links over the net (videotelephony). I expect real-time collaborative authoring of text and graphical documents. I expect super easy interfaces, so that it's a matter of pick-up and play, for new staff. I expect to be working more from my living room, with meetings in cafes. I expect my clients to be slightly more computer literate, but don't hope for much there, and I expect to use CMC more for client presentations, bringing remote workers in on meetings." It will be commonplace for people to collaborate at a distance using any item of software: "All programs will have CMC features in them. Now all programs are networked. In the future they will be multiuser." Another saw CMC providing 'intelligent' access to interactive 'virtual reality' images through VRML (virtual reality modelling language): "I can see 'intelligent agents' searching VRML based Web Sites across the globe, searching for 3D images of products that I am specifying on my next architectural project." Another practitioner saw the future in terms of miniaturisation and ubiquity: "I hope all communications will be in small hand held intuitive devices. I want inexpensive and immediate data and voice links from anywhere-cars, home, you name it-and I want access to computer data anytime." For another practitioner, the future also augurs the possibility of designing the virtual, without ever expecting it to become real: "The more you show, the more responsible you are for turning an image to reality. On the other hand, we will be able to make these images to stand by themselves, to create virtual spaces that will never even make the attempt to become real. This frightens me a little." Some see a future of major structural changes to professional life: "I expect to make more and more use of 'mother ship' companies-bigger companies with big computing resources, that I can call on for backup for bigger jobs." One practitioner wistfully remarked: "I don't see architectural practice existing the way it practices today-it will cease to exist due to technology passing by a sleeping profession. But the few that see this trend will keep this noble profession alive."

If these changes come to pass it will not be because anyone "needed" these technological developments, or because there is a pressing need for changes to the professions. There is an inevitability about technology. Some philosophers say we get caught up in technologies because we are inescapably technological beings (Heidegger, 1977; Borgman, 1984). To understand how a technology is taken up by practice we should approach the issue of needs with caution. We began by introducing the concept of disclosure. Disclosure is a philosophical term used by phenomenalists to describe the process whereby something is both revealed, but also changed through that process (Heidegger, 1971). A common example used is that of a work of art. A painting of a tree can be disclosive in that it reveals something, possibly something new, about what a tree is. The painting also changes the way we look at trees, define them, and even how we treat them, but the painting does not communicate first, and then disclose. We bring as much to the painting as the painting presents to us, as does the context in which the painting is created and displayed, the painting's history, and the whole of culture. The notion of disclosure does not foreclose on realist or idealist notions of what a painting is, or which is the subject and which the object. It starts with the whole, with context, community and practice. According to this theory, an item of technology such as a bridge is also disclosive in that it reveals the nature of the river that it crosses. It also clearly influences the patterns of movement of the communities and systems of which the bridge forms a part. To say that the bridge discloses does not foreclose on the matter of agency-whether it is the bridge that causes the change or the circumstances of its building, or the planners, engineers or builders who decided on its configuration, or the users of the bridge. To talk of disclosure does not invalidate talk of causes, but who or what is the agency of change is a matter for interpretation, which is built on the fact that the bridge primarily discloses. To say that a bridge discloses is not to introduce another form of causality, or a new interpretive foundation for understanding technologies. Disclosure is an indeterminate notion. The advantage of using it is that the term itself discloses new ways of looking at the role of technology-at least, it privileges the issue of practice, context, community and the nature of discourses about technology.

In the case of computer technology we can see that its introduction into a firm both discloses aspects of the firm's operations that were perhaps not regarded as important before, it serves to redefine the firm, and it is implicated in the actions of the firm. The notion of disclosure does not even presume that these aspects of the firm pre-exist. To say that the introduction of CAD discloses firms as custodians of databases (Coyne et al, 1996) suggests that firms always had data in the form of drawings, and the new technology made that function more obvious. But we could equally say that the concept of drawings as data, as we currently understand the term, did not really exist before the invention of the computer.

The rhetoric of needs presupposes that the firm has a particular pre-given character, that it is able to identify shortcomings in its operations, that it is sufficiently in control to develop plans to meet those needs. The rhetoric of needs draws our attention to goals, methods, and plans, optimality, and good practice. This is a privileged discourse in today's corporate world. It provides a certain sense of security. On the other hand, the rhetoric of disclosure draws our attention to other issues marginalised by the rhetoric of needs, such as the overall character of the matrix into which technologies are introduced and how they are changing. It draws attention to the paradigm, the culture, the problem setting, the field of metaphors, and practice. The issues of needs is presupposed by the matter of disclosure.

As communication features in our investigation of CMC in practice, it is worth reflecting on the nature of communication as disclosure. We can consider the conventional example of working drawings. The needs oriented way of looking at working drawings is to say that they serve as a means of communicating intentions from the designer to the contractor. This is a valid construct, but, according to the disclosive view, it is presupposed by the more basic phenomenon of the nature of working drawings to disclose (Coyne, 1994). The drawings do not just disclose the designers wishes to the contractor, but they reveal something about the builder's and the designer's practices. Making, interpreting, checking, and working with contract documents are practices. Designers engage in the practices of designing, and builders engage in the practice of building. Through training, experience, and engagement with their various professional communities, these practices are built into their roles as professionals. Builders do not require instructions in order to build. The builder is already caught up in particular ways of doing things when left to his or her own devices. Contract documents are interventions into that practice. Several things happen when the builder interprets these drawings. Every interpretation involves coming to a text, or drawing in this case, with certain expectations. Interpretation involves an indeterminate and cyclical play of expectation and revision. In the process, the drawings disclose aspects of the builder's practice, what is different about the builder's construction practice. Whereas the builder would extend the roof to form an eaves, the drawings indicate something different-the continuation of the wall above the eaves line to form a parapet. The drawings both reveal and also, hopefully, are implicated in the builder's action, though it is not simply the drawings that accomplish this but the various practices that the builder, the trades, the designer and the drawings are caught up in.

According to this view, CAD models of buildings appear in a particular light. As long as we see CAD models as primarily meeting communication needs then we tend to focus on the accurate transfer of information-an elusive quest. The view of CAD models as disclosive directs our attention to the changing practices in which those models operate, including the new emerging practices of managing CAD databases. The same applies to CMC technologies. They are disclosive in the sense that they reveal what someone else at the other end of a communication channel wants us to know, but more importantly, they reveal aspects of our changing practices.

CAD has been around for so long that there is an accepted rhetoric of need. Everyone else has CAD so we need it as well. CAD is an efficient way to handle drawings, though these assumptions have been challenged by many researchers. CMC is an interesting area of study from the point of view of disclosure as there are as yet no well established practices that embrace it. Neither have practitioners constructed a sophisticated rhetoric of needs through which to justify its introduction. CMC is still alien, and as such it has greater power to disclose the nature of current practice. We have described the way CMC discloses the firm as an entrepreneurial enterprise, a handler of texts, a collaborator, and a player in the global arena. What we see ultimately is how CMC discloses the fragility of current modes of practice.


We are grateful to the following people for participating in this survey: Daniel Beaty, Ivan and Rosario Contreras, Jim Cook, Mark Cooper, Pradeep Dhillon, Paul Doherty, Maura Gatensby, Chang W. Jung, Gavin Kirk, Ching-Fung Lin, Richard Maxwell, Paolo Montrasio, Peter Oborn, Chris Pollard, Paul Prosser, Andrew Ray, Jeff Ruppert, Christian Stalberg, David Week. The firms were Abbey Hanson Rowe Architects and Planners, Bloomsbury Place, London, UK; AGORA, Arquitectura y construcciones C.A., Caracas, Venezuala; Array Design, PA, Orlando, Florida, USA; Boccard Suddell Construction Corporation, Westbury, Long Island, NY, USA; Dept. of Educational Policy Studies, Macquarrie University, Sydney, Australia; Design Solutions Inc., Tucson, Arizona, USA; ETNOTEAM S.p.A., Milano, Italy; Gensler and Associates, Houston, Texas, USA; Healy, Snyder, Bender & Asoociates, Naperville, Illinois, USA; Lin Associates Inc., Houston, Texas, USA; Loris & Associates, Boulder, Colorado, USA; Maura Gatensby Architect, Vancouver, Canada; Ormrod and Partners, Liverpool, UK; Pacific Architecture, Glebe, Sydney, Australia; Paul J. Prosser Enterprises, Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Rafael Architects Inc., Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Rawlings Wilson & Associates, Richmond, Virginia, USA; Sony Electronics Inc., Boulder, Colorado; Stalberg & Associates, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; University of Illinois, Campaign, Illinois, USA.

We are grateful to Adrian Snodgrass for drawing our attention to the study of disclosure in philosophy. This research is supported by Australian Research Council grants and a University of Sydney Research grant.


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