Posts tagged with "computers":

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Architects must redesign their profession before technology does

This is the third column of “Practice Values,” a bi-monthly series by architect and technologist Phil Bernstein. The column focuses on the evolving role of the architect at the intersection of design and construction, including subjects such as alternative delivery systems and value generation. Bernstein was formerly vice president at Autodesk and now teaches at the Yale School of Architecture.

Disabling (Professional) Expertise

In 1977, social critic Ivan Illich argued that the mid-20th century should be named “The Age of Disabling Professions,” asking whether “if this age, when needs were shaped by professional design, will be remembered with a smile or with a curse.” Illich’s skepticism about the importance and role of doctors, lawyers, and architects was an inflection point in the ascendance of the professional class that began with the industrialization of America. What followed for architects—who, at just about the same time as Illich’s query, were subjected to the emergence of alternative forms of project delivery (like design-build), new incumbents treading on our turf (like construction managers), and influence from extrinsic forces (like lawyers and insurance companies)—was several decades of existential angst with which we are all familiar.

Forty years later, there are more architects, and more work for us, than ever—yet the existential angst remains: If recessions, construction managers, and liability insurance underwriters didn’t manage to dismantle the profession, now what? Answering that question comes the Oxford duo of Richard and Daniel Susskind and their 2015 tome The Future of the Professions, an exhaustive examination of how the broad influences of digital technology may be the end-of-times challenge to the professional class so desired by Illich. The Susskinds argue that it will not be a loss of faith in architects, lawyers, and accountants, but rather the broad democratization of expertise through big data and data sharing, expert systems, and automation that will “transform the work of human experts.” As knowledge work begins the same transfiguration in the world of computation that manufacturing experienced with machine automation, the bespoke relationships curated by architects with clients will be circumvented by widely accessible knowledge systems, architects will no longer be the anointed “gatekeepers” of professional knowledge or judgment, and the increasing complexity of building problems will face economic pressures demanding that architects provide even more service for less money. Large swaths of professional services will be routinized by computers, further decomposing those services into discrete automated tasks. New systems of design and construction delivery will reconstitute from traditional professional scopes disintermediated by algorithms and big data.

But if the essential value of architects is our ability to design—see the world creatively, synthesize disparate information, generate new and innovative ideas—aren’t we safe from this digital onslaught? Not so fast, according to the Susskinds, who ask, “To what problem is judgment the solution?” They cite the 60 million disputes on eBay resolved with automated mediation (and no lawyers), medical advice dispensed by WebMD on smart phones around the world, or the online tax-preparation software used by millions of taxpayers each year; many of these folks would have never dreamt of hiring a lawyer or an accountant. And this is the core of their argument: Technology will democratize expertise, making it available to many more recipients than could ever by curated by 1:1 professional relationships.

Since society created the professional class to codify and distribute professional expertise, shouldn’t this trend to democratization be embraced? And since architects design a small percentage of the built environment, isn’t this trend, in theory, all for the good? Should architects cede our authority to algorithms, it’s likely we’ll lose all control and influence over the forces that often reduce great design aspirations to mediocre results. It is difficult to argue, however, that the changes that automation and the resulting process innovation that the Susskinds predict will put great pressure on the role of our profession while simultaneously eliminating the need for broad swaths of production work like working drawings.

How to respond? As far back as Illich’s original provocation, architects have decried our diminishing influence while embracing new technologies and their opportunities with at best mild enthusiasm and at worst outright hostility. This wave of automation-innovation will be much more profound than CAD or even BIM. Perhaps it offers a chance to deeply examine the value proposition of architecture and architects, and, using our skills, to design our roles in the future supported and accelerated by new technology rather than, once again, threatened by it.

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Inside Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank

This article is part of  The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!

BIG Ideas is an in-house think tank at the Danish studio Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). It delves into three initiatives: simulations, product design, and conceptual ideas. The simulations are carried out by a team of experts in computationally derived methods of design. With this close collaboration, they solve the designs from BIG’s architectural department while addressing the sustainable and environmental needs of a project, maximizing its potential when they see fit. An example of its work can be seen with its ski-slope-sporting, smoke-ring-spouting Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant currently being constructed in Copenhagen.

The Architect's Newspaper senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with Jakob Lange, a partner at BIG and director of BIG Ideas. Lange has been working with Ingels since 2003, when the pair were both at PLOT, Ingels’s and Julien De Smedt’s now defunct studio. Shaw and Lange discussed the role of parametricism in realizing and optimizing the diagrammatic passive-aggressive schemes at BIG.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What setup is in place at BIG Ideas that allows parametricism and sustainability to go hand-in-hand?

Jakob Lange: We have engineers working in-house, which facilitates a continuous loop of iterations, creating a build-up of simulations that can then become parametric. This breaks away from the old-school way of calling up an engineer, where you can get bogged down by discussing fees while having to wait to get a result weeks later.

With this new setup, we can do this on a daily basis. Once the project is in the system, it takes two minutes to change the parameters and see what the output is—say, if we change the overhang of a building. Here we can see how much energy it uses if, for example, we just cantilever it a little bit more. We also look at how it changes the big picture, which can be addressed by building all this information into our system.

To achieve this, we’re collaborating with Dell Inc. We have a supercomputer that allows us to accelerate the amount of simulations that we can do. Prior to this, one of the limiting factors of doing very comprehensive simulations was computer power. Subsequently, this means that the quality of the results that we get out is much higher than what was previously possible.

Now it is very simple. The designers-architects send us an email with a link to the 3-D file and a little description of what they need. There may be a few questions back and forth—depending on how busy the guys are—but it’s done in a short time.

The engineers are actually based in Copenhagen, so those in that office can just simply walk up to them and ask. Some simulations are also difficult to set up, so they take a bit longer, but it is usually a very short back and forth.

As far as this diagrammatic idea of expressing sustainability as “fun” goes, how did that emerge in BIG?

It’s been in our DNA from the beginning. All projects, back from when Bjarke had PLOT, had to have an idea, an idea that we couldn’t just design a beautiful sculpture or something. And of course, very often one of the main idea-drivers is to solve a challenge. A climate around your building is always a challenge; say, if you’re in the Middle East or in Finland. Then, of course, we have this idea that making sure that whatever makes your building so nice is that you’re improving the life quality around your building.

So do the simulations end up altering the form of the building?

Oh yes, often. We did a facade for a museum in Marseille [France] that has louvers, but instead of using horizontal louvers, we used some that curved around with the building. Depending on the location of the sun, the louvers can also be angled individually to be most effective.

To do this, we made some parametric models into which we could feed the facade—no matter how organic it was—and it would generate the optimal angle and then space the louvers out onto the facade.

We are also currently doing a project in Amsterdam and we simulated a facade system. We set the simulation up and just let our supercomputer run all night. In the morning we had a wealth of data that was then compressed, giving us the final result. It really enables us to do some very, very high-quality simulations.

For more "Passive Aggressive" articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typologyour brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design, and MOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability.

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Products> High-Tech Hardware for Architects

The right hardware can go a long way toward easing the design process. From analyzing infrastructure and documenting site conditions to monitoring construction and updating archives, there's a tool for every task. Laser Scanner Focus3D X Series FARO These ultra-portable scanners enable fast, straightforward, and accurate measurements of objects and buildings. They record architectural façades, complex structures, production and supply facilities, accident sites, and large-volume components. Models are equipped with GPS and offer the possibility to perform scanning even in bright sunlight. Remote scanning as well as almost limitless scan data sharing via SCENE Webshare Cloud make the laser scanning solution truly mobile. Instant Transmitting Paper to iPad Pen Hammacher Schlemmer This pen digitizes handwriting to instantly transmit notes written on paper to an iPad. Combining the ease of handwriting with the convenience of electronic backup, editing, and emailing without the tedious steps of retyping or scanning, the comfortable stylus writes like a familiar ballpoint pen, and it pairs with a small 3” receiver clipped at the top of any piece of paper. The Bluetooth device transmits handwritten notes or drawings to a tablet or smartphone. The pen is ideal for sharing sketches on social media, marking up work files by hand, or jotting a missive in a cramped airplane seat while your tablet stays packed away. The receiver stores up to 100 pages of content. Compatible with iPad, iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPhone 6, 5/5s/iTouch 5c, or 4/4s. GigapixelCam X10 EarthCam This camera is capable of auto-generating 360° panoramas up to 10 billion pixels in size. The user-controllable PTZ system can capture jobsite progress in super-high-definition for verifying compliance, disputing claims, and historic archival records. A specialized Nikon lens adds another element to this project management tool: With high-powered optics delivering a 17x optical zoom, users can examine specific areas on the jobsite in extreme detail, via 24 megapixel images. RollerMouse Red Contour Design The ingenious device, with its integral roller design, eliminates the need to grip or reach for a mouse, which can strain the neck, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Centered on the keyboard in an optimal work zone, it corrects posture and prevents repetitive-stress injury. ScanSnap SV600 Contactless Scanner Fujitsu The ScanSnap SV600 Contactless scanner provides a new perspective on document scanning. It easily scans newspapers, magazines, documents, or books directly without cutting or damaging them, and compensates for curved pages with an image-flattening technology. There’s even a function that erases any errant appearances by a fingertip. It automatically detects when pages are turned, and allows users to set a timed interval for that operation. The scanner creates searchable PDFs and JPEGs. Sprout Hewlett-Packard Part of Hewlett-Packard’s "blended reality" initiative, this machine is more than a Windows-based desktop computer. It's also a dual-screen creative console with its own projector, a giant touch-enabled screen, and a 3D-capable scanner. Sprout aspires to bridge the gap from the real world to the virtual one, allowing users to interface with 3D products and hands-on creation. The product is the result of a partnership between HP, Microsoft, Intel, and 3M.
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Archi-Tron

As architecture grows more technical and technologically dependent, it can become harder for designers to navigate the sea of new programs and computer code. Columbia University GSAPP professor David Benjamin is here to help, offering a panel discussion Monday night about the future of computing and design, “Post Parametric 2: Demo.” The program is the second event in a series that brings expert programmers and researchers together, providing a unique opportunity for architects to learn from people outside their profession. “The first event last fall, "Post Parametric 1: Data," focused on how our new era of massive data might affect computing and design,” Benjamin said in an email. “Monday’s event involves five innovators demonstrating new technologies and speculating on the future directions for computing and design.” The event, which is co-sponsored by the Columbia Department of Computer Science, aims to enliven dialogue about the relationship between computation and design. Benjamin believes that by creating a sustained discussion about issues of technology, a complex, insightful dialogue will develop. The subject matter of the discussion will address current technologies but will primarily look to the future by bringing upcoming innovations to the table. “By future, I mean near future,” Benjamin said. “The series addresses how we might be designing in architecture in ten years.”
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P!LA: Beers With Benjamin Ball

After Mike the Poet finished his set Thursday night, I found Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio still in the crowd. He had been the second to last presenter, mostly talking about the firm's work, and he was now taking compliments from admirers and shooting the breeze with friends. I, never not working, asked about the teepee in Woodstock he'd mentioned, though Ben was more interested in chatting me up about the paper, Venice, and my bowtie. Soon enough, a group of us found ourselves in the lobby, but the drinks being overpriced, we hit the street. The five of us--Ben, three of his artist friends, and myself--deliberated on one of LA's countless quiet street corners. The establishment across the street, Library Bar, was deemed "too USC" and abandoned. Where to go? A loud, hipstery joint, Bar 107 was settled on some blocks away. This being LA, everyone split up, with two headed for a car, another to her bike, and Ben and I on foot. As we make our we across town, I begin to interrogate Ben, especially about his adopted home, a place, during my brief stay, I find to be incredibly fascinating. Not very far into the conversation, we pass through Pershing Square, a park in downtown LA redesigned in the '90s by Ricardo Legorreta and Laurie Olin, a place Ben is not exactly fond of. "God," he says, as we cross the street and enter the park, "they need to bulldoze this shit. It's a perfect example of how stale thinking was in the 90s." Still, this hasn't hindered the development of downtown, a movement Ben is very much a strong believer in, having moved his and partner Gaston Nogues' studio into a loft building in the area. "The rent is still dirt cheap," Ben said. "You can get a place for less than a dollar a square foot, which the developers are happy to do because they know you'll pave the wave." When I pointed out that the streets were dead and devoid of many necessary amenities, he conceded that this was true, but as with all gentrification, bound to change--if you build it, they will come. When we arrived at 107 it was seemingly swamped with teenagers, so we opted for the adjacent Pete's Bar & Cafe, a neighborhood institution that seems like it's been there forever, with its lush interior and old black-and-white prints of the downtown of yesteryear, even if it opened less than a decade ago. I stepped out to find an ATM, something that took 20 minutes of wandering around desolate downtown blocks--like I was saying about those amenities--that, despite the postindustrial charms of the area, had me longing for a New York City bodega. By the time I returned, we had been joined by Ben's artist friend Beverly, who had arrived on her bike. Like Ball-Nogues, Beverly uses the computer to create much of her art, and the two got into a long conversation about the various design and rendering programs out there. As we shared Pete's delicious cheese fries, I sat back to revel in the excitement these two shared. My eyes glazed over due to jet lag, but it was mistaken for disinterest. Trying to bring the discussion back around, Ben expressed his frustration that all the SCI-Arc kids who only conceive of computers as a means to an end--usually some overly slick building--and not just another tool to realize a clever building. "It's why, in the end, we try and build everything by hand, to do all the fabrication ourselves," Ben insisted. "Architecture always has been, and always will be, a craft." Salut!