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The role of a Project Manager: Insights into the parametric design process

In this informal discussion, I quizzed OMRT project manager Olaf Olden about the parametric design process, about how OMRT kickstarts a project, and on some of the challenges and highlights of working in this space. Enjoy! Hi Olaf. Thanks for joining today. So you work as a project manager for OMRT? Exactly. I’m a project manager in the studio team. And I’ve been working at OMRT for almost a year!

Let’s get straight into it. I’m curious, what does a typical project look like for OMRT? Or is there even a “typical” project?

Of the projects I work on, we can divide them into two main categories. Firstly, you’ve got building level optimisation, and secondly urban massing optmisation: Building optimisation is at play when there is already a preliminary design available. We then try to optimise certain indicators in the design. For example a higher GO/BVO ratio.

Urban massing is a bit more zoomed out. We start with more of a blank canvas, and we make a design that fits with the client's wishes.

And how do one of these projects typically get started?

Usually the first steps for me are the kick-off meeting with the client. Here one of the first steps is making a parametric framework, where we can parameterize the client's request. At the kickoff stage we always have to define the needs, the KPI’s, the parameters and boundary conditions from the beginning. It’s good to spend the time and energy here to clearly understand what the client is looking for. Then we can set ourselves up for success!

OMRT's Design Scout tool visualising daylight in an apartment

So would you say that a good kick-off meeting always sets the tone for a successful project?

Obviously there are exceptions but the correlation between clear requirements and a successful result are pretty high. So I would say it sets the tone, yes.

How does a project manager typically balance their time? Seems to me like a role with a ton of responsibility and intensity.

That’s a great question! It definitely can be quite intense at times. There is deep engineering work to be done. You really have to zoom in to focus on the details. But at the same time, you really have to zoom out to see how the project is progressing. You have to know who to email or who to reach out to at the right time.

And sometimes that zooming in and out comes at the same moment, especially during busy periods where we have to balance multiple projects at a time. I can definitely see the challenge there. Sounds like a lot of mental juggling to keep all this going. So which would you say is a bigger challenge? The detailed engineering work or zooming out to look at the whole project?

The human side is definitely more dynamic, and always presenting new challenges. Each company has its own workflows and idiosyncrasies in how they work. The engineering work is obviously complex, but doesn’t throw the same kind of surprises. There is an objectivity to it.

More specifically to OMRT, we also have the challenge of education to contend with. Because our workflow is new to most of our clients, this is very important. We have to show the possibilities of parametric design. Because our workflow is a bit different, people can naturally be resistant at first. But usually once you can see the benefits for yourself, people are really convinced.

Finally, there is sometimes a challenge in expectation management. If a client expects we are some kind of magic bullet or sorcery, it can be tricky. So it’s quite vital for us to make things clear from the beginning. We need to communicate what we can do and get the initial project inputs as clearly as possible. Once we’re on the same page things are much more smooth.

An insight into the engineering interface of OMRT. Here the hidden complexity of parametric design is revealed.

That’s some great insight. Always interesting to think of this human and computer interplay. I’m also curious if you could speak about what kind of project gets you excited?

That’s a good question. I think for me it is always these innovative projects that get me excited. The kind of builds that are pushing the limits of what’s been done before.

So a project when you’re really pushing into the unknown?

Yes, exactly. When it’s on the edge of Research and Development and there is no established best practice on how we should proceed. These are the real challenges I really

We recently did a project where our current tech couldn’t answer the clients questions. Because of that, we had to develop a new method in order to fully address the client’s questions.

Really nice answers! I’ve definitely learned a thing or two. Just to finish on a lighter note, I heard you recently had a small project in your neighbourhood to build a bench for the street. Did your project management skills come in handy?

That’s a good one! Yes, recently with a few neighbours we wanted to build a nice bench for the street. I guess you could say my skills came in handy when I was running door to door making sure the other neighbours were happy with our project.

I think it was definitely a lot easier to approach than a parametric design study. People don’t need education on what a bench looks like! That’s great! Think that’s a nice place to leave it.

Been a pleasure, thanks!



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