Posts tagged with "BIM":

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Unity creates new open source tool just for architects with Reflect

Video game software suites like Unreal Engine and Unity have made their way into the architectural arsenal with AEC firms like Skanska, Foster + Partners, and Zaha Hadid Architects using them to visualize and test new buildings. However, these tools weren’t necessarily built with AEC professionals in mind and while they often result in nice-looking environments, they don’t generally offer much in the way of architecture-specific functionality like the ones architectural designers have come to rely upon in BIM and CAD software. To help bridge this gap, the company behind Unity is testing a new piece of software called Reflect. “Unity Pro is a super powerful tool that people use it for creating design walkthroughs and custom application development,” said Tim McDonough, vice president at Unity, “but these firms have a whole bunch of people that would like to be able to view their Revit data easily in a 3D engine like Unity without having to be a software developer, which is what are our current tools built for.” Reflect, which will launch publicly this fall, connects with existing software suites like Revit and Trimble to leverage the vast amounts of data that designers and contractors rely upon, and uses it to create new visualizations, simulations, AR, and VR experiences. Users can view and collaborate across BIM software and Reflect, which are synchronized in real-time across multiple devices for both desktop and mobile. “Users were saying it took them weeks to get data out of Revit into Unity and by the time they got it out, the project had moved on and what was done was irrelevant,’” said McDonough. “We’ve taken out the drudgery so that now what used to take weeks takes just minutes.” https://youtu.be/YnwcGfr0Uk0 A number of firms have already been putting Reflect to the test. Reflect is open source and allows users to develop their own applications, whether for use in their firm or for a broader architectural public. SHoP Architects has been trying out Reflect since the software entered its Alpha phase this summer, creating various solutions to test on their supertall project at 9 Dekalb Avenue in Brooklyn. Adam Chernick‌, an associate at SHoP focusing on AR and VR research, noted that while showing off buildings in software like Unity has become part of standard practice, getting those visualizations attached to critical information has been a challenge up until now. “It hasn't been super difficult to get the geometry into the game engines," he said, "but what has been even more difficult is getting that data into the game engines." One of the first uses for Reflect that the SHoP team devised was an AR application that allowed them to monitor the progress of 9 Dekalb and easily oversee construction sequencing using color-coded panels that map onto the building’s model in their office. Chernick explained that there was a huge amount of exterior window panels to keep track of and that the app really helped. “We wanted to be able to visualize where we are in the construction process from anywhere—whether in VR or AR, and be able to get a live update of its status,” he said. “Now we can watch the building being constructed in real-time.” The SHoP team has also leveraged the power of Reflect—and its integration with Unity—to create new visualization tools for acoustic modeling. “We created an immersive acoustic simulator where you get to see how a sound wave expands through space, reflects off of walls, and interacts with geometry,” said Christopher Morse‌, an associate of interactive visualization at SHoP. “You can slow it down, you can pause it, and you can stop it.” The idea, he explained, is to help architects make acoustic decisions earlier in the design process. “Currently a lot of those acoustic decisions come later and most of the geometry is already decided,” Morse said, noting that at a certain point, all designers can really do is add carpeting or acoustic tiling. “But we want to use these tools earlier and in order for that to actually work, we needed to enable an iterative feedback loop so that you can create a design, analyze and evaluate it, and then make changes based on your analysis." With Reflect, there's also no more grueling import and export process, which Morse said prevented designers from even incorporating tools in their workflow. “Once we had Reflect, we integrated it into our existing acoustic visualization software in order to make that round trip quicker so that people can put on the headset, make a change in Revit, and instantly reevaluate based on those changes.” There is also metadata attached to the geometry, such as material information. While 9 Dekalb is too far along in its construction to incorporate the new software heavily into the design, SHoP’s begun testing out their acoustic modeling app in the lobby of the project. https://youtu.be/f0IA55N_99o Reflect could also provide BIM data in more a user-friendly package to more people working on building projects. “We think that BIM is so valuable, but not enough people get to use it,” said McDonough. “We were trying to figure out how to get BIM in the hands of people on a construction site, so everyone can see all that information at a human scale.” At SHoP, this means creating apps that contractors can use on the job. Currently, their AR apps work on mobile devices, but SHoP hopes that, as AR headsets become more mainstream, they’ll also be able to use the apps on products such as the HoloLens. “This could be a paradigm shift,” says Chernick‌. “We realize that this massive, thousand-sheet set of construction documents that we need to create in order to get a building built is not going anywhere soon. But what we can do is help make this process more efficient and help our construction teams understand and potentially build these projects in more efficient ways.”
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How are architects drawing in the world of digital culture?

We have a lot to thank computers for; the laptop I typed this article on can execute millions of instructions every second. This is a number us humans can’t comprehend, but thankfully, computers can. Computers have changed the way we see and interact with the world around us: able to connect people across the globe and able to optimize oil extraction from prime sites decided through digital derivation. Those most grateful for our microprocessor-driven overlords should be architects: they may romanticize the analog medium of sketching, but the truth is every building constructed today is “drawn” up using a computer at some point and the computer allows them to conceive every shape and size imaginable. Depending on who you ask, this has either saved or ruined architecture, and this friction is acknowledged in Drawing Attention, currently on show at the Roca Gallery in West London, where drawings from 70 participants are on display. Drawing digitally is now part of the process of design, something historian Mario Carpo describes as the digital turn in architecture. Drawing Attention, curated by Jeremy Ficca, Amy Kulper, and Grace La, professors at Carnegie Mellon University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Harvard GSD respectively, attempts to unpack the manifestations of this and asks questions such as: Where does the advent of BIM (Building Information Modeling) leave 2D digital drawing? As evidenced in this exhibition, the second dimension is far from obsolete. In a post-digital age, and as digital representation techniques allow architects to obfuscate renderings and reality, we find these 2D drawings to be evermore abstract as they take on more artistic qualities, representing architectural ideas more so than buildings themselves. The 70 drawings are thematically displayed in the following categories: Drawing limits; Drawing omniscience; Drawing instrument; Drawing environments, and Drawing as world-making. In Drawing limits, architects like Zachary Tate Porter play with scale: his Topographic survey of two Sidewalk Holes in Downtown Los Angeles (see gallery above) is wonderfully ambiguous; the holes could easily be moon craters. “The digital model presents a crisis of scale,” he argued, and the scroll of a mouse facilitates a “seamless” and “disquieting” transition between scales. Architect Achim Menges, meanwhile, achieves ambiguity in a different way. An abstract view of his Bundesgartenschau Wood Pavilion celebrates the structure's parametric qualities, something which is fitting for the exhibition’s venue (the Roca Gallery was designed by Zaha Hadid). However, this view is a reminder of how alienating parametricism can be. Where Porter’s scale subversion was playful and called upon the viewer to interrogate a terrain they see every day but probably ignore, Menges’s drawing is devoid of any scalar reference; it could be any size—a daunting and maybe exciting prospect, but one thanks to Hadid, we’ve already experienced. Rightfully so, parametricism doesn't get much more of a look-in; but still many works on show exhibit the digital tropes from this period (fractals and excessive iteration) which is odd considering, by the exhibition's own definition, this is an examination of the contemporary. ‘Drawing as world-making’ showcases the industry’s biggest names. Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular; Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen (KGDVS); Mark Smout, Laura Allan, Geoff Manaugh, and Tom de Paor are all on show. All exhibit interesting works though only KGDVS’s OFFICE 171 Crematorium from 2014 stands out, a hallmark of the post-digital ‘style’ pursued by other offices such as Point Supreme, Hesselbrand, and Fala Atelier, among others which aren’t part of the exhibition. Drawing Attention also partially highlights how architects are representing the environment. C. J. Lim of Studio8 Architects goes against the grain of using endless amounts of data to inform a drawing, instead opting for a tongue-in-cheek cartoonish depiction of the ocean littered with plastic bags with phrases like “recycle or die” written on them. Lim’s Ocean Cleaning falls under the ‘Drawing Environments’ section of the exhibition, which arguably misses a trick by omitting architects who are aggressively pursuing a more sustainable planet. As the academic Peter Buchanan argues, without the computer we could not grasp the complexities of climate change nor be able to design the built environment to ameliorate it. Where are the drawings that exhibit this way of thinking? We are in a climate crisis after all. That aside, there are some outstanding drawings on show: Sarah Wigglesworth’s The Disorder of the Dining Table is a classic—dating back to 1997—but always a joy to see and still relevant, as evidenced by James Michael Tate's development of this drawing for an architecture office showcased adjacent. Meanwhile, Maj Plemenitas’s MSFM — Territorial Printing with Ocean Currents riffs off graphic designer Peter Saville’s timeless work on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover. That work was informed by radio signals from a neutron star, whereas Plemenitas’ piece is derived from a simulation of the autonomous “production” of islands, seamounts and resilient shorelines. “Drawing is taking a line for a walk,” said artist Paul Klee in 1961. When he said this, he was invariably inferring a pen, pencil, or paintbrush being guided across a page by a human hand. Through drawing, architects conceive spaces and places; stage sets for the theater of life. British anthropologist Tim Ingold takes it a step further, proposing that life is carried out on such lines, not just within them. Today, however, algorithms, scripts, and strings of code are used to represent architecture, serving as more than architecture’s final form before the hand-over to contractors and builders—the people that make architecture manifest in physical, tangible reality. However, contractors and builders will never use the drawings exhibited in Drawing Attention, for drawing digitally is not just a means to an end, like it was before Carpo’s “digital turn”, defined by him as a period between 1992–2012. We’re now well beyond that and Drawing Attention gives us a glimpse of our post-digital trajectory.
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The International Code Council goes to court over free access to building codes

Potential productivity benefits for architecture, engineering, and construction may depend on the outcome of copyright litigation by the International Code Council (ICC) against San Francisco-based startup UpCodes. The firm, which aims to reduce perceived bottlenecks in the implementation of the nation's 93,000 building codes, faces charges that its public posting of codes undermines the public-private partnership that develops them. The nonprofit ICC, which prepares the International Building Code and other model codes adopted by multiple jurisdictions, contends that UpCodes has appropriated its property and “does not need to violate ICC’s copyrights to further its claim to innovate,” an anonymous ICC spokesperson commented for this article through its public relations firm. UpCodes regards its practice as fair use, citing precedents establishing that information “incorporated by reference” into law (the applicable legal term) enters the public domain. Other appeals courts, ICC counters, have protected copyrights in cases it considers comparable. The suit involves a tension that jurists have long recognized in copyright law: the need for material support and incentive for creators (who have exclusive rights “for limited times” under the Constitution's copyright clause) versus the need to prevent monopoly control from stifling the circulation of ideas. The conflict pits ICC's interests in codebook development and sales, and its assertion that its website already provides adequate access, against UpCodes' interests in expanding access and linking codes with building information modeling (BIM) systems. Brothers Scott and Garrett Reynolds, the first formerly an architect with KPF and the latter an engineer with construction-software firm PlanGrid, founded UpCodes in 2016 to streamline the often-tedious aspects of code review. Automating this process, they contend, can reduce errors and free up architects' attention and time. Opposing ICC's don't-fix-what-ain't-broke legal position, Scott Reynolds commented, “I think it actually is a broken system.” An estimated multi-billion-dollar annual expenditure goes into construction rework due to compliance errors, so there's a huge amount of wasted expenditure simply from code mistakes.” He is not alone in finding code review laborious. The Economist, citing McKinsey Global Institute findings on the $10 trillion construction industry's historically low productivity, advocates standardizing codes, alongside steadier public infrastructure investment and incentives for BIM adoption, as strategies to modernize the sector. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that 24.3 percent of the final price of an average new single-family house, over $84,000, is attributable to regulation, with an even higher burden, 32.1 percent, for multifamily developments. UpCodes, supported by the prominent seed accelerator Y Combinator, offers two products out of beta as of May 2019: UpCodes Web, a searchable code repository, and the extension UpCodes AI, a Revit add-in that analyzes 3D digital models and provides real-time compliance checks. The web product is the target of ICC's suit. The AI product uses the code database as its foundation, automatically synchronizing with code updates; it is often compared to editorial tools like spellcheckers and Grammarly, or the Lint analytic utility for Unix. A key feature of UpCodes AI, Garrett Reynolds notes, is that “checking models in 3D is orders of magnitude easier than checking 2D plans... For example, stair headroom clearance is pretty difficult to tell in a 2D plan, but in a 3D, we can just draw a box and check for intersections.” The ICC views UpCodes as infringing on a successful process that makes U.S. buildings safe, balancing efficient standardization with adaptability to local conditions. Its statement notes that the organization “develops the model codes through a rigorous, transparent, consensus-driven process involving nearly 55,000 industry sector members and over 9,500 government agency members. It provides free access to view the codes on its website. The sale and licensing of the codes to professionals and governmental organizations defrays the cost of the code production process.” “The Code Council’s position is that incorporation into law does not terminate the copyright in the Code Council’s model codes,” the statement continues, adding that “UpCodes—a for-profit company—is trying to solve a problem that does not exist because the Code Council already makes its model codes freely available to all to read on its website.” The ICC's website and some jurisdictions, Scott Reynolds allows, offer online access to codes, but not in practical form. “You can't copy. You can't paste. You can't print,” he says. “You just can't work with the text. You can simply have read-only access, and from a professional standpoint, or [for] a homeowner, that just doesn't suit the needs that you have. And then there's even jurisdictions like Michigan where you can't access the code; they don't host free access.” Such limitations, he argues, amount to constriction of the very processes ICC claims to promote. They arguably border on privatizing the law: “If you are legally bound to follow rules of the government, and you will face civil and criminal penalties if you don't, you have to be able to read those rules. They can't be put behind a paywall.” “The key distinction in these cases is not whether something is a code or not but whether it's legally binding,” noted Mitch Stoltz, an intellectual-property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), supporting the Reynoldses' position with a historical comparison. “Supposedly the Roman emperor Caligula would write the laws in small print and hang them up very high, so no one could actually read them. That's a problem for democracy.” The EFF is not involved in the ICC–UpCodes suit but is defending the nonprofit organization Public Resource in a similar case involving publication of documents from three standards-development organizations: the American Society for Testing and Materials, National Fire Protection Association, and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. ICC's charge that loss of copyright could impair code development, Stoltz adds, does not square with the underlying economics. “They are happy to make money by rationing access to codes,” he said, but “their business model in the end doesn't depend on that, because the actual work of creating these codes [in] most industries is done by volunteers from that industry and from the government. They're not paying people to write the things. People are coming together voluntarily to write them.” The Reynoldses emphasize that UpCodes is not meant to put code specialists out of business, but to help more people implement codes properly and safely. “We really wanted to democratize the process of code research and empower all individuals or professionals to navigate through that process themselves,” Scott said. “The first thing we tell a user is, UpCodes AI is not a replacement for a professional code consultant,” Garrett added, noting that “spellcheck doesn't put editors out of work.” He described the ICC's work as “really important, and we want them to continue doing it. Their main revenue stream actually isn't from selling books of the law. It actually comes from program services: things like consulting, accreditation, training, consulting.” An initial co-plaintiff, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), withdrew from the suit but maintains that its materials are copyrighted and describes its economic model differently. Alexa Lopez, ASCE's senior manager for public affairs and media relations, provided a written comment: “Upcodes is a for-profit entity that posted these copyrighted materials online for profit. For awareness, ASCE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a long history of promoting the education, science and profession of civil engineering. ASCE expends significant resources on standards development, including convening staff and volunteer experts from across the country and globe, compliance with ANSI standards, public input, and balloting. ASCE recoups some of these costs through standards sales, the proceeds of which are used to promote the Society’s educational and charitable 501(c)(3) activities. The Society’s standards are protected by copyright and registered with the U.S. copyright office.” The most relevant precedent, the Reynoldses and their allies hold, is Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002), where the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that model codes developed by the SBCCI (one of three organizations that merged to form the ICC in 1994), once enacted into law, forfeited copyright protection. An earlier case, Building Officials & Code Adm. [BOCA] v. Code Technology, Inc., 628 F.2d 730, 734 (1st Cir. 1980), also defined Massachusetts building codes as law not protectable by copyright. The ICC's position distinguishes between legislatively-generated laws and model codes developed through public-private partnerships, pointing to decisions in which copyrights incorporated by reference were preserved for other privately created information, such as the American Medical Association's procedure-coding system, or a used-car valuation guide mentioned in insurance regulations. Stoltz contrasts Veeck, where code was explicitly made part of the law, with the used-car price book case (CCC Information Services, Inc. v. Maclean Hunter Market Reports, Inc., 44 F.3d 61 (1994)): “The court said that didn't put that book in the public domain. But that's different from saying ‘This document establishes rules for fire safety in the construction of an office building, and it is hereby incorporated into this regulation’” To Garrett Reynolds, ICC's action is “a suit where they said, 'Let's try to kill them out of the gate.' I think they thought they could bury us in litigation costs, and they have succeeded in that strategy many times” with other firms. Scott noted that of the three groups that formed ICC, “one of those three is SBCCI, and then another one of those three is BOCA. So, two of those three organizations have already litigated the case and lost. But now it's a new entity, and they can threaten, and they can litigate again. So yeah, I do think it's a tactic of intimidation.” Architects contacted for comment describe UpCodes as a time-saver, though not a panacea. Rob Pivovarnick, AIA, a senior project architect at Michael Graves Architecture & Design and an early adopter of UpCodes AI, has found the program useful, though not without a few false-positives—e.g., mistaking 20-inch stadium stairs, meant for seating rather than walking, for ordinary steps limited by code to a seven-inch height. It is particularly helpful, he said, in checking ADA-compliant bathroom details. “It looks for the ambulatory stall, it checks returning spaces, it checks for accessible sinks and toilet-seat heights.” He is careful to manage expectations: “There's no software out there that you're going to unleash and say, 'This thing is doing my code review,' and they make that clear on their website.... I don't think UpCodes or Revit are ever going to preclude the use of a code consultant on a job. There's just too much information there for somebody to build a pro piece of software that's going to run all those checks.” Yet, since UpCodes is currently free of charge, “if it catches one thing, then it's valuable,” he added. “[It] can be a $100,000 problem if the toilet room isn't big enough to hold the ambulatory stall, and then it gets built, and then walls need to move and plumbing needs to change.” Depending on what price point UpCodes eventually chooses for individual or network licenses for its AI product, Pivovarnick speculated, it may be a valuable investment. At a previous firm he used MADCAD, a program that centralizes codes from ICC and other organizations, largely on a paid basis; he finds UpCodes more flexible, especially in the field. “Instead of having to remember the code section, I can type stairs or firewall or fire partition and things like that, and it brings up all the relevant sections, which is great.” The ICC's statement includes a description of its efforts in the digital realm: “We have worked with our members and partners to harness a variety of innovative ideas to take advantage of breakthroughs in technology, such as MADCAD.com, and will continue to do so. Paramount, however, is ensuring that the public continues to have confidence that buildings are being constructed according to the most modern codes and safety standards.” If Pivovarnick's experience is representative, free digital instruments are already performing more nimbly than their paid equivalents. It now falls to the courts to determine whether a copyright in this disruptive realm hinders or advances aims that all parties share.
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How can new technologies make construction safer?

Construction remains one of the most dangerous careers in the United States. To stop accidents before they happen, construction companies are turning to emerging technologies to improve workplace safety—from virtual reality, drone photography, IoT-connected tools, and machine learning. That said, some solutions come with the looming specter of workplace surveillance in the name of safety, with all of the Black Mirror-esque possibilities. The Boston-based construction company Suffolk has turned to artificial intelligence to try and make construction safer. Suffolk has been collaborating with computer vision company Smartvid.io to create a digital watchdog of sorts that uses a deep-learning algorithm and workplace images to flag dangerous situations and workers engaging in hazardous behavior, like failing to wear safety equipment or working too close to machinery. Suffolk’s even managed to get some of their smaller competitors to join them in data sharing, a mutually beneficial arrangement since machine learning systems require so much example data; something that's harder for smaller operations to gather. Suffolk hopes to use this decade’s worth of aggregated information, as well as scheduling data, reports, and info from IoT sensors to create predictive algorithms that will help prevent injuries and accidents before they happen and increase productivity. Newer startups are also entering the AEC AI fray, including three supported by URBAN-X. The bi-coastal Versatile Natures is billing itself as the "world's first onsite data-provider," aiming to transform construction sites with sensors that allow managers to proactively make decisions. Buildstream is embedding equipment and construction machinery to make them communicative, and, by focusing on people instead, Contextere is claiming that their use of the IoT will connect different members of the workforce. At the Florida-based firm Haskell, instead of just using surveillance on the job site, they’re addressing the problem before construction workers even get into the field. While videos and quizzes are one way to train employees, Haskell saw the potential for interactive technologies to really boost employee training in a safe context, using virtual reality. In the search for VR systems that might suit their needs, Haskell discovered no extant solutions were well-suited to the particulars of construction. Along with their venture capital spinoff, Dysruptek, they partnered with software engineering and game design students at Kennesaw State University in Georgia to develop the Hazard Elimination/Risk Oversight program, or HERO, relying on software like Revit and Unity. The video game-like program places users into a job site, derived from images taken by drone and 360-degree cameras at a Florida wastewater treatment plant that Haskell built, and evaluates a trainee’s performance and ability to follow safety protocols in an ever-changing environment. At the Skanska USA, where 360-degree photography, laser scanning, drones, and even virtual reality are becoming increasingly commonplace, employees are realizing the potentials of these new technologies not just for improved efficiency and accuracy in design and construction, but for overall job site safety. Albert Zulps, Skanska’s Regional Director, Virtual Design and Construction, says that the tech goes beyond BIM and design uses, and actively helps avoid accidents. “Having models and being able to plan virtually and communicate is really important,” Zulps explained, noting that in AEC industries, BIM and models are now pretty much universally trusted, but the increased accuracy of capture technologies is making them even more accurate—adapting them to not just predictions, but the realities of the site. “For safety, you can use those models to really clearly plan your daily tasks. You build virtually before you actually build, and then foresee some of the things you might not have if you didn't have that luxury.” Like Suffolk, Skanska has partnered with Smartvid.io to help them process data. As technology continues to evolve, the ever-growing construction industry will hopefully be not just more cost-efficient, but safer overall.
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Graphisoft CEO talks about changes in BIM possibilities with ARCHICAD

At the 2019 AIA Architecture Expo in Las Vegas earlier this month, longtime architectural software company Graphisoft premiered the newest update to their ARCHICAD software suite, a 3D BIM tool which has been available to architects continually since 1984.

ARCHICAD 23, according to recently-appointed CEO Huw Roberts, a former architect, adds an array of new features and "a whole bunch of really substantial performance increasing capabilities." This includes whole new ways of dealing with mechanical voids, columns, and beams, among other building fundamentals, and a live connection that automatically makes changes within existing software like Rhino and Grasshopper.

Additionally, the new release has more APIs and greater OPEN BIM integration. “We're strong advocates of OPEN BIM," said Roberts, "and connecting our users with all the different tools and products out there through our open BIM." In addition to existing C++ integration, ARCHICAD 23 also adds support for Python and JSON. There is also an API for Graphisoft’s mobile app. “We've got lots of customers that are using programmatic interface through Rhino and Grasshopper, but that requires you to actually be in the software,” said Roberts going over the benefits of the new APIs, "But that API actually can work software to software, doesn't need a human or user interface to make that connection.”

Graphisoft also entered into an agreement with Epic Games to leverage Unreal Engine, the video game engine behind Fortnite and other massively popular mainstream video games. “[Unreal Engine] allows you to add things like trees, and lights, and weather, and cars, and more, in a really easy way,” said Roberts. “Twinmotion is an extension built on Unreal Engine that Epic Games just bought a month ago that we have already had a partnership with, that makes Unreal Engine work really well for AEC, for architects, and designers. And so what an ARCHICAD user can do is we have a live link from ARCHICAD to Twinmotion and the Epic Games Unreal Engine, so that in real time you can be changing your BIM model and a photorealistic movie view of the model updates live,” he explained. “You can fly around in there, and move around, and change the weather, change materials, and it's always instantly the best rendering available.”

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Architects launch startup to attach more context to BIM models

The Lincoln, Nebraska, firm BVH Architecture had a problem. It was awarded the chance to help overhaul the HVAC system at the Bertram Goodhue–designed Nebraska State Capitol, but even with the high-precision BIM model it created over 800 hours, there was no good way to attach additional information—like current status, preservation-worthiness, or any of their 40,000-plus photos and nearly 60 data points needed to map the many elements in each of the 1,300 rooms of the building. It was, as Zach Soflin, an architect and former associate at BVH, described it, “overwhelming.” To tackle this immense issue, the firm created a new software suite for internal use, which after a rebuild from the ground up is being released for any architect, designer, or building manager to add to their own arsenal. Called Layer, the cloud-based app, of which Soflin is COO, runs in-browser or natively on mobile devices and Windows and Mac computers and integrates directly with Revit, to allow the addition of all sorts of notes, imagery, and other data to the workflow. “Layer is a customizable platform,” Soflin explained, “meaning that the data within our platform is able to adapt to any project type, whether it's an existing building or new construction building, or just an owner wanting to use it for maintenance requirements.” The app allows for real-time collaboration, working something like Google Docs or Airtable, with unique user profiles and version histories. Users can also assign tasks to each other, which are directly related to specific elements—rooms, doors, lights, whatever—that have been populated from Revit. After the Revit model has been synced one time, any changes in the model get reflected in Layer and users can click through the Revit model and Layer can automatically pull up information based on where they are in their model. “There's no sync button, there's no exporting information,” explained Soflin. Any changes made in Revit are also reflected immediately in Layer—whether shifting dimensions, adding elements, deleting rooms, or any other action. The goal of Layer is to increase project transparency and ease of use by allowing all of the information on a building to exist together and to allow team communication to happen within the same space. “One of the biggest concepts behind Layer is ‘contextualized information,’” Soflin said, noting that directly integrating with BIM software allows for richer data right in the design process. You can “have conversations directly within the context of the building itself.”
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How the U.K. forged a path to global BIM standards

During my days as a technology vendor, I chafed at the idea of introducing government standards for technology developed by a polyglot group of stakeholders. Users, software companies, and bureaucrats often sought a “lowest common denominator” between various software, sacrificing innovation and progress for vague notions like “open access.” In the early days of Building Information Modeling (BIM), several such efforts emerged, the most prominent of which were the General Services Administration (GSA) attempts to create a standard and the development of BIM-derived digital permitting submissions in Singapore. Both projects garnered much attention but gained little traction in the form of implemented technologies or operating protocols—at least in their early forms. But they had one important effect: In the loosely organized, disparate network of the building industry supply chain, government could provide a galvanizing influence. At least when government spoke, the industry listened.

In 2011, however, we witnessed a welcome change with the publication of the United Kingdom’s “Government Construction Strategy.” Much of the early theory about industry productivity and need for process integration had long emerged from that side of the Atlantic—for example, Sir Roger Egan’s seminal “Rethinking Construction” report—but there was little action. The David Cameron government, however, saw construction as a critical economic engine, concluding that improving the cost and carbon impacts of building while bolstering U.K. capabilities as a global building leader would drive growth. One pillar of the resulting government policy document was BIM, and the following requirement: “2.32. Government will require fully collaborative 3-D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation, and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016. A staged plan will be published with mandated milestones showing measurable progress at the end of each year.”

As upwards of 40 percent of construction dollars in the U.K. are spent by the government, the industry snapped to attention, formed cross-industry collaborations, and established and implemented BIM requirements for all their projects (with logistical and financial support from the government). BIM adoption shot up from 10 percent in 2012 to 70 percent by 2018, and savings on the first prototype projects were estimated at as much as 2.5 percent of the total lifetime cost of designing, building, and operating the project. By my own estimate, that’s as much as five times the fees likely paid to the design team and 25 percent of original construction cost. Not bad for a first effort. And, in typical British fashion, the resulting standards (search online for “PAS 1192”) were clear, rigorous, and implementable.

The success of the U.K. effort has spread across Europe, and EU government leaders have taken similar roles (at least until Brexit) in developing standards for the entire European Union, while also establishing footholds with other global networks, most notably in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Singapore, in collaboration with the U.K. team, has spurred a multiyear effort to create a standards collaboration there. As we approach the end of the second decade of BIM, one can see the slow emergence of a global network of BIM standards leading to a single market BIM, catalyzed by what may be the only cohering force in the building universe: the long arm of the law.

Now that the technology is mature and its use stable, global BIM standards are a good thing. The U.K. effort rightly became the basis of a worldwide standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO; see ISO Standard 19650) and released in early 2019. Based on the now viral PAS 1192, ISO describes its work as “recommended concepts and principles for business processes across the built environment sector in support of the management and production of information during the life cycle of built assets (referred to as 'information management’) when using building information modelling (BIM).” Note the emphasis on business process driving the technology standard; precisely the right relationship for creating a stable platform for the otherwise disparate players in the global building industry.

And there’s an even larger idea here. What’s most powerful about the U.K.’s trailblazing work on BIM standards is the origin point: Rather than start with the prosaic, bottom-up question of lowest common denominator tech standards, they chose a broad organizing principle—improving building through technology is good for the economy and the environment, and doing this in a way that is agnostic to specific technologies or proprietary software drives competitive innovation that helps the entire market.

Driving BIM standards has further benefits to government, not the least of which is transactional transparency. State-run construction is rife with overbidding, conflicts of interest, and corruption. A bedrock principle of “collaborative 3-D BIM” is information clarity—all members of the building team can see and understand the physical and technical characteristics of the project in parametric three dimensions, along with the resulting arithmetic of cost projection—which makes it that much harder to manipulate a bid.

In the early days of the U.K. project there was an appointed Chief Government Construction Advisor with a direct line to high-level policy makers in the Cabinet. The United States’ construction market, roughly five times the size of the U.K.’s, could surely benefit from some policy-driven federal leadership, something that is certainly hard to imagine in today’s administration and go-go economy. But when the inevitable downturn does occur, we’ll know which way to look for inspiration for industry improvement.

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The solar-powered FutureHAUS is coming to Times Square

New housing is coming to Times Square, at least temporarily. The Virginia Tech team of students and faculty behind the FutureHAUS, which won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018, a competition supported by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and U.S. Department of Energy, will bring a new iteration of its solar-powered home to New York for New York Design Week in collaboration with New York City–based architects DXA Studio. The first Dubai iteration was a 900-square-foot prefab home, that, in addition to being entirely solar powered, featured 67 “futuristic devices,” centered around a few core areas including, according to the team’s website: “entertainment, energy management, aging-in-place, and accessibility.” This included everything from gait recognition for unique user identities and taps that put out precise amounts of water given by voice control to tables with integrated displays and AV-outfitted adjustable rooms. One of the home’s biggest innovations, however, is its cartridge system, developed over the past 20 years by Virginia Tech professor Joe Wheeler. The home comprises a number of prefabricated blocks or "cartridges"—a series of program cartridges includes the kitchen and the living room, and a series of service cartridges contained wet mechanical space and a solar power system. The spine cartridge integrates all these various parts and provides the “central nervous system” to the high-tech house. These all form walls or central mechanical elements that then serve as the central structure the home is built around, sort of like high-tech LEGO blocks. The inspiration behind the cartridges came from the high-efficiency industrial manufacturing and assembly line techniques of the automotive and aerospace industries and leveraged the latest in digital fabrication, CNC routing, robotics, and 3D printing all managed and operated through BIM software. Once the cartridges have been fabricated, assembly is fast. In New York it will take just three days to be packed, shipped, and constructed, “a testament to how successful this system of fabrication and construction is,” said Jordan Rogove, a partner DXA Studio, who is helping realize the New York version of the home. The FutureHAUS team claims that this fast construction leads to a higher-quality final product and ends up reducing cost overall. The cartridge system also came in handy when building in New York with its notoriously complicated permitting process and limited space. “In Dubai an eight-ton crane was used to assemble the cartridges,” explained Rogove. “But to use a crane in Times Square requires a lengthy permit process and approval from the MTA directly below. Thankfully the cartridge system is so versatile that the team has devised a way to assemble without the crane and production it would've entailed.” There have obviously been some alterations to the FutureHAUS in New York. For example, while in Dubai there were screen walls and a courtyard with olive trees and yucca, the Times Square house will be totally open and easy to see, decorated with plants native to the area. The FutureHAUS will be up in Times Square for a week and a half during New York’s design week, May 10 through May 22.
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NASA's habitats of the future will be 3D printed on Mars

After four years, three stages, and countless submissions, NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is winding to a close. The space agency’s competition to design a habitat that could be built on the Moon, Mars, or other planets made of local materials is reaching the final stage, and NASA has awarded $100,000 to be split among the three winners of the complete virtual construction stage. Eleven teams submitted proposals for the complete virtual construction stage, and on March 27, New York’s SEarch+ and Apis Cor took first place and received $33,954.11; the Rogers, Arkansas–based Team Zopherus took second and received $33,422.01; and New Haven, Connecticut’s Mars Incubator placed third and received $32,623.88. The complete virtual construction challenge asked teams to digitally realize their designs in the Martian environment using BIM, building off of an earlier stage in the competition that involved renderings. This time, competitors were judged on the habitat’s layout, programming, scalability, spatial efficiency, and constructability. Smaller 3D-printed models and videos were also produced. SEarch+ and Apis Cor proposed a series of tiered, rook-like towers printed from Martian regolith. The habitat’s hyperboloid shape, resembling a squeezed cylinder, arose naturally from the need to contain the building’s inward pressure; in a low-pressure environment, the greatest force exerted on a pressurized structure is a gas pushing outward (think of inflating a balloon). The habitat’s living areas and laboratories are connected but compartmentalized in case of an emergency thanks to a central service core. Each hexagonal window assembly was designed to be easily assembled in-situ and would contain redundant seals and pressure panes. Zopherus’s concept was simpler and lower to the ground, consisting of a series of latticed domes. The habitat(s) would be assembled by a lander, which would launch a series of autonomous robots to collect the raw materials. It would then mix the materials and print each hexagonal structure from the ground up, making “concrete” from Martian dirt, ice, and calcium oxide. The habitat and adjoining modules would be optimized to capture as much sunlight as possible, but would also include sliding panels to shield the windows for when the solar rays would be too intense. Mars Incubator chose to use a modular panel system for their proposal, utilizing regolith to create the panels’ plates. A central icosahedron would connect to several supplementary pods, and the entire structure would be elevated via a series of support struts, with the critical systems buried below. The primary living space would branch off and connect to a vestibule, multi-use space, and bio-generation pod where plants could be grown. The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program and is managed in part with Bradley University. The complete virtual construction stage was the fourth of five stages in the third phase, and the last leg of the competition will be held from May 1 through 4 at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where teams will 3D print one-third scale versions of their habitats. The winners will split an $800,000 pot.
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Startups are riding the tech wave to build the future of the AEC industry

There’s a perfect storm brewing in the AEC industry with respect to technology, and startup tech companies are stoked because the waves are finally rolling in. A number of factors are contributing to the sudden surge. An increasingly urban population along with a changing climate is placing unprecedented pressure on the built environment, according to Jesse Devitte, co-founder of Borealis Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm geared toward the AEC industry. Fortunately, mobile devices, cloud computing, and endless sensors capturing data have reached near-ubiquitous status just as a slew of game-changing technologies such as BIM, AR/VR, and Blockchain are arriving, he notes. “It really does feel like the industry is at a unique moment in time,” Devitte said. “I can tell you one thing for certain: in my three decades of involvement in AEC software I have never seen so much activity. In fact, I wake up to a new startup in my email every single morning, seven days a week.” As a veteran who was part of Autodesk’s former Softdesk team and who organized the company’s AEC business unit, Devitte is well versed in venture capital. Upon leaving Autodesk, he co-founded Borealis Ventures to support the next generation of software entrepreneurs. “Today, we are focused on overcoming the traditional fragmented and resulting industry inefficiency by backing startups focused on driving data across the entire building lifecycle,” he explained. The Borealis team identifies and works with teams and technologies materially improving how the built environment is designed, constructed, operated, and experienced—and the potential for a startup to achieve industry disruption has never been better, he says. “That doesn’t mean it is easy,” Devitte pointed out. “You are still selling to project-based businesses, which, on the design side, have more work than ever but are facing narrower margins,” he said. On the construction side, he paints a rather harrowing picture. Likening it to upgrading a plane mid-flight at low altitudes, Devitte says construction professionals are “attempting to safely deliver the highest quality product on time and budget for the real estate owners, who have their own challenges including the phenomena of ‘space as a service,’ which is the opposite of the long-term investment/cash flow ROI model that built the asset class.”

Welcome to the Start Tank

But shifts of this magnitude are precisely what’s needed to create waves for real market transformation. “These big waves may indeed be the proof that digital transformation of this industry has reached an inflection point—and that is the ideal time to invest for maximum return,” Devitte observed. To those willing to test the tech-infested waters, they’ll have the opportunity to dive in during Start Tank, shark tank-like feature for exhibiting start-ups to pitch their winning ideas to potential investors and customers at this year’s TECH+ expo in New York City on May 22nd. Led by Devitte and featuring special guest judges Dareen Salama (Lehrer) Justin Hendrix (NYC Media Lab), and Greg Schleusner (HOK), Start Tank will enable startups to get their stories out to the market. “For potential customers it is a unique opportunity to learn about solutions they can deploy to advance their businesses,” Devitte said. “To make sure we deliver on both of those fronts, the judges are industry professionals who are potential customers for the startups. And as we say in the venture business, we will see if the ‘dogs eat the food,’ all while having fun in a positive environment.”
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Meet the Georgia Tech laboratory advancing digitally integrated design

Meet the incubators and accelerators producing the new guard of design and architecture start-ups. This is part of a series profiling incubators and accelerators from our April 2018 Technology issue.  Founded by Professor Chuck Eastman, a renowned trailblazer in building computer sciences and one of the creators of BIM, Georgia Institute of Technology's Digital Building Laboratory (DBL) in Atlanta quickly earned a sterling reputation after its founding in 2009. Now led by Associate Professor Dennis Shelden, an architect and digital technology expert who previously was the director of research and development and computing for Frank Gehry, the lab aims to harness its educational position as an indispensable source for knowledge capital. “We have a strong connection to the professional practice,” said Shelden. “Our ability to connect between technology and projects as an academic institution is one of our most valuable assets. We are very much focused on solving concrete problems through our research and our role as an academic and open research institution.” The DBL particularly focuses on “helping students disrupt the industry in order to collectively advance it.” This includes pushing open-source initiatives and embarking on ventures that might be too risky for a company to take on, with the awareness that free innovation now could yield big returns later. In addition to supporting Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture, the DBL creates programs around entrepreneurship along with developing new and advancing technology. “What is happening now is that reduced friction across the building industry creates new opportunities and risks,” said Shelden. “Architects have an expanded reach into other domains and can tackle environmental engineering and other tasks that used to require retaining an outside consultant. But on the other side, that means developers and contractors can do in-house architectural and consulting work. So, we see a convergence in the industry, and there are great opportunities but also a lot of new competition that didn’t exist before.” The incubator champions AECO technology-related entrepreneurship while focusing on four technical areas representing the most disruptive potential for the AECO industries: data standards and interoperability, integrated project systems, design and construction automation, and smart buildings and cities. The laboratory currently hosts several departments: the living laboratory campus, a testing ground for “digitally integrated design, construction, and operations projects;” the technology test bed, a place for testing data exchange and interoperability scenarios; and a Digital Fabrication Lab, a 13,000-square-foot space for prototyping and research; as well as research and entrepreneurship programs. Contributing members to the DBL are Autodesk, Oldcastle, and Vectorworks, and associate members include Perkins+Will, the Smithsonian Institute, Thornton Tomasetti, Skanska, and SmartBIM Technologies.

Notable alumni include:

Kereshmeh Afsari

Defended thesis in November 2016 and is now an assistant professor in the School of Construction Management Technology and the Department of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue University.

Marcelo Bernal

Graduated spring 2016 and is now an assistant professor in the department of architecture, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María.

Yongcheol Lee

Defended thesis in November 2015 and is now an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in the department of construction management.

Hugo Sheward

Defended thesis in fall 2015 and is now an assistant professor at the School of Architecture, University of Kansas.

Shiva Aram

Defended thesis in December 2015 and is now the strategy lead and senior product line manager at Cisco.

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Talking about our tech future with the Digital Building Lab

When examining technology transforming the AEC industry, Dennis Shelden emerges as a thought leader. He is an expert in applying digital technology to building design, construction, and operations, with experience spanning across research, technology, and development, and professional practice, including multiple architecture, building engineering and computing disciplines. He was director of R&D and led the development of Frank Gehry’s digital practice from 1997-2002, eventually co-founding Gehry Technologies. Shelden has lectured and written widely on topics concerning computational applications to architecture. He currently directs the Digital Building Laboratory (DBL) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. AN Special Projects Director Marty Wood sat down with Shelden to learn more. The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you talk about the DBL and the new directions you are pursuing given the trends in emergent technology and software tools? Dennis Shelden: The DBL has always been an academic institution oriented toward industry advancement through applications of technology. We’ve pursued that ambition through three mechanisms. First, the DBL serves to create a community among professional firms, technology companies, and academic programs across Georgia Tech. We are at our most effective when we can be a bridge among these three constituencies through “active education and research”—connecting research faculty and students to real-world projects and enlisting emerging technologies in new ways. Second, the lab has a research mission of its own. Under my predecessor Professor Chuck Eastman, the DBL has become an important source of innovation and leadership in design computing, specifically in BIM, collaborative processes, open information exchange, and interoperability. Third, we are focused on building the next generation of technical leaders in architecture and construction, through educational curricula at all levels of the architecture and building construction programs at Georgia Tech. I believe that these three functions and our historical areas of research set us up to tackle some of the emerging trends in technology for the built environment. BIM data is finally moving to the web and the cloud, which will create a host of new opportunities connecting to and making use of this data. Some of these possibilities include connections to real-time data from building systems, Internet of Things, and connected mobile and social networks. We are also seeing a convergence between building level and city level information, where you manage and interact with large-scale built environment data that scales down to the individual room, fixture, or device. How is the business of AEC technology changing, and is there a role for academia in building out these new directions? The nature of technology development is definitely changing. In the 20th century, it required very large companies with many different functions to be able to develop and sell a software product. The technology product business was completely different than professional consulting services. But today the barriers to “industrializing” technology to the point where it can be consumed by others are much lower, since there is so much infrastructure out there that can be leveraged, and the web makes marketing and distribution so much easier to scale. Professional practice is changing, too, and we’re seeing firms that are exploring new ways of capitalizing on the innovations they create. More firms are creating open source software, developing plug-ins, or creating spin-offs to either offer new specialized services or pursue product innovations. At the same time, the AEC world needs open platforms for these innovations to be built on and connect to. Some of these are offered by software companies’ plug-in and app development platforms, but the world really needs open standards and communications capabilities based on modern web paradigms that can bridge across AEC disciplines. I believe that academia and government have important roles to play in building these open industry platforms. Being connected through the cloud is one thing, but is this just about better design tools? There is a lot of emerging discussion of cyber-physical systems and the idea of the digital twin. The idea of the digital twin is essentially that BIM will become part of the post-occupancy delivered building and “run in parallel” to the building systems and experienced environment. We’ve historically focused a lot on the technologies for designing and delivering buildings, but the possibilities for these technologies to create a continuum of information is potentially a huge opportunity for the industry. We also see a lot of interest from the tech industry starting to come into the AEC industry precisely because it sees the built environment as the next platform for interaction with technology. Are these things you practice internally? University campuses are small, contained cities with all the necessary functions from design and construction to the daily delivery services under one umbrella. So if we get this right for Georgia Tech, then we have a model for delivering built environment technology innovation that we can scale to the broader industry. Again, I think the open platforms for industry innovation will be built by academia and nonprofit enterprises to start. There must be examples of industry, in terms of interoperable standards, that get shared and not privatized. Novel delivery systems can give you a competitive advantage. Think about what it took for government, academia, and industry working together to create the internet. I think that’s a model for what AEC needs to do now. The next layer of what AEC needs to make that kind of value creation a possibility for all the stakeholders still has to be built. That’s kind of the nucleus, that kind of vision of a possible industry state, that we are trying to help build out in the next phase of the DBL.