AIA, NIBS Build a Solid BRIK Portal

By A. Ray Pentecost III, DrPH, FAIA, FACHA, LEED AP

brik2Earlier this year a new Web portal, BRIKBase.org went live with a vision no less remarkable than the total transformation of the way the design community sees, experiences, uses, and even conducts research.  The Building Research Information Knowledgebase (BRIK), a joint venture between the AIA and the National Institute of Building Sciences, opened for visitors on January 9, 2013, and both the process of creating buildings and the professional practices of their creators will never be quite the same ever again.  Access to this newly created treasure is free.  Six key characteristics of BRIK position it to make a profound contribution to the built world.

First, BRIK is not just about architecture, even though the AIA is one of the two founding partners.  BRIK has been created to become the “go-to” Internet address for any and all questions about building research.  The portal has been designed to host research from the engineering, construction, project management, building performance, and many other voices in the building research chorus, in addition to architecture.

Second, BRIK is not limited to any one building type.  Healthcare, education, residential, commercial, and other building occupancies will be referenced, as well as building attributes such as green design and high-performance design.

Third, BRIK is not limited to hosting research in the U.S.  BRIK has been designed to accommodate research materials from other countries as well.  Alliances to tap that content are already under development.  Initially, English will be the dominant language on the site.  In only its first three weeks of operations, BRIK hosted visitors from the U.S. and nine other countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Korea, Spain, the Netherlands, and France.  Nearly 3,000 unique visitors took the time to undertake15,000 page views.

Fourth, BRIK offers content that has been evaluated.  The dilemma for many design professionals desiring to use research in their practices has always been the unfortunate reality that not many have had the privilege of formal training in research methods.  That includes the critical evaluation of the research of others.  BRIK has been working very hard to develop a knowledge pyramid for building research, which is a kind of scale by which research can be judged for its rigor.  At the base of the pyramid, typically, would be the less rigorous studies, and at the top the most rigorous.  When fully developed and deployed throughout the site, BRIK will be able to offer visitors not only the research content, but a meaningful assessment of the rigor by which the research was conducted.

Fifth, BRIK is designed to host an active range of interactive functions.  Researchers will be connecting to other researchers about challenges in research design; discussing new findings and their relevance in light of other, more familiar studies; exploring research ideas with colleagues; and formulating research teams with likeminded professionals.  Clients will be coming alongside design professionals to ask more informed questions and develop multidisciplinary, research-informed answers.  The dialogue has the potential to transform the industry’s conversation quickly and dramatically on building research in the areas of design, project delivery, building performance, and even a building’s impact on the community.

Lastly, BRIK activity will be mined for content to help further the building research agenda among its visitors and the greater design community.  For example, imagine a simple annual BRIK report on the most popular searches on the site.  Then picture that list sorted by the searches that yielded the most relevant articles/reports, and those for which there was little or nothing of significance.  That has the potential to shape the research agenda for coming years.  And imagine the list of “most active” research topics that could include those with the most new citations, ranked according to the rigor of the new postings.  Imagine the possibilities for developing networks of researchers worldwide who share a research interest.  Imagine the potential for the site to become a central reference point for multiple ongoing studies for which comparative evaluations of findings could dramatically accelerate the understanding of certain topics.  The variations on these themes are unlimited and immensely powerful.

NIBS Chief Executive Henry Green, Hon. AIA, and AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, celebrate the January 9 BRIK agreement.

NIBS Chief Executive Henry Green, Hon. AIA, and AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA, celebrate the January 9 BRIK agreement.

BRIK hopes to be the impetus for equipping a generation of practitioner-researchers.  The success of BRIK as a repository of research and a portal for the interaction of those interested in research will, at least in part, be shaped by the ability of visitors to tap effectively the content available on the site.  One vision of those involved in the project is for BRIK eventually to help define a series of classes or tutorials to train design professionals of all types, at all stages of their careers, who never had the opportunity to study the conduct, critical analysis, and proper use of research.

The BRIK team is actively seeking content, which can be added to the BRIK portal in one of two ways.  First, it can be posted to the site and actually reside in the portal domain.  Second, it can be linked within the portal to an external host site and referenced by the BRIK search engines to that external host.  As time passes and more content is added and linked to BRIK, the depth and richness of the site will increase; its value to visitors will grow because directed searches for relevant research will be more likely to yield meaningful retrievals.

Becoming a “Knowledge Partner” with BRIK is easy, and those either with access to or who know of high quality research content that ought to be on the BRIK site are encouraged to reach out to the NIBS project representative Stephanie Stubbs, Assoc. AIA, LEED-AP, PMP, to learn how they can begin to participate in and contribute to this powerful initiative.

AIA and NIBS project representatives have asked Ray Pentecost to serve as the chairman of the BRIK Board of Direction for its first two years during its launch and early growth. Questions can be addressed to directly to him.

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