While working on a monumental fish sculpture for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Frank Gehry’s office developed its own software to manage the complexities of the project and gain greater control of the design and construction process. During the design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in the late 1990s, they refined this software into what became Digital Project. By 2002, Gehry Technologies (GT) was born. A spin-off from the design office, GT offered architects the software and expertise that came from realizing Gehry Partners’ complex buildings.
On Tuesday, GT revealed it has spun off Digital Project into an independent company, Digital Project Inc. This followed Monday's announcement that Trimble Navigation Limited—a company that may not be familiar by name, but one whose products are widely known and used—acquired GT (but not Digital Project) for an undisclosed amount.
That acquisition, described as a strategic alliance, is part of Trimble’s broader strategy to integrate the work flow among the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. In 2011 Trimble completed the acquisition of Tekla, a BIM software platform. In June of 2012 they purchased the 3D modeling program SketchUp from Google. Since 2009, Trimble has acquired 29 companies that produce software, including CAD, BIM, GIS, and GPS applications. With GT, Trimble gets GTeam, a cloud-based project management and collaboration platform. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the deal, though, is the fact that Trimble will now own GT’s project design, modeling, optimization, and management services arm as well.
According to Steven Berglund, President and CEO of Trimble, “We’re interested in the entire work process.” Trimble already produces software and instrumentation used in multiple construction, surveying, and transportation fields. From mapping terrain with drones to partnerships with Caterpillar and Hilti to implement construction controls, Trimble is trying to create a company that treats projects as “a continuum of information,” according to John Bacus, product management director of Trimble’s architecture division.
Gehry acknowledges that Trimble was not the first company to approach GT. When asked what motivated the decision to sell, he says, “They have the bandwidth to add (software) developers.” In discussing the acquisition Gehry made it clear he wants to be able to focus on the design office with the knowledge that GT will continue to grow; Trimble’s plan for incorporating GT seems to support that desire. According to Bacus, the GT professional services division will operate independently and the software division will be integrated into a team of developers working on AEC applications.
Trimble aspires to create integration rare in the design and building process. The question is: How the company gets there, and what part GT will play? As for Digital Project, though it is no longer part of GT, it will continue to be a core tool in GT’s professional services business. Future development, marketing, and sales of the program will continue under Digital Project Inc., which has the same shareholders as GT before Trimble’s acquisition.