Posts tagged with "innovation":

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For Suffolk Construction, new technologies must deliver value, not just change for change’s sake

In his panel presentation, “Enhanced Realities and Immersive Experiences,” at the upcoming Tech+ conference on May 22 in New York City, co-presenter Chris Mayer, chief innovation officer at Suffolk Construction, will discuss how innovative technologies like AR and VR are changing the industry. But chasing the latest “shiny, new object” isn’t what the talk—or even the Tech+ expo—is all about. “It’s not a lack of available technology solutions that could potentially be deployed,” he said. “It’s the idea about how do you focus on delivering value, not just delivering change, and how do you make sure that communication and collaboration are effective in supporting the organization?” Mayer has worked at Suffolk Construction for the past three years, applying what he learned during his 30-year tenure in print media at The Boston Globe to effectively integrate people, process, and technology. In an industry that experienced significant disruption, Mayer says the challenges and solutions employed, along with "focusing on not just bright, shiny objects and technology, but how to create value out of that and the necessary steps of engaging people in the organization, and putting processes in place, were all potentially applicable” to the construction industry where he landed.

Creating value across the board

Data drives innovation, and value creation must remain front and center of the process. Otherwise, organizations risk going out of business if they focus solely on technology for technology’s sake, he says. “Part of the way we want to make sure we’re driving that [value] consistently in the innovation that we’re supporting is, ultimately, 'the juice is worth the squeeze.' You want to find something that’s going to matter.” And what counts isn’t just making incremental improvements to specific functions within the design and construction industry, which Mayer observes is highly distributed. Rather, it’s about taking a holistic view and rethinking the entire process end-to-end, he says. “I think we are at a point in time where looking both at opportunities vertically—which is traditionally where I think people would focus on productivity gains—but also looking horizontally at the entire value chain of the construction process from the initial touch point with the owner, through the design, through the financing stages, through the planning and optimization stages, through the execution and construction control periods into the warranty and the quality control process,” he explained. “The idea about how to scale innovation is a big opportunity for us in the industry.”

The right tool for the job

To that end, Suffolk Construction has created “smart labs” internally that serve as sort of operations control towers where technologies can be invented, tested, implemented, and scaled. Utilizing a series of interconnected screens on what Suffolk calls "huddle walls," the team at Suffolk can simultaneously view project information and financial reports or engage in lean strategies and design planning throughout the lifecycle of a project. The labs also feature a virtual reality "cave" with head-mounted displays in which projects can be viewed individually or as a group. Naturally, Mayer doesn’t see immersive technology as a replacement for existing communication tools, but rather as an alternative. “When I look at virtual reality or augmented reality… I see those as additional options to add value to the conversation,” he said. “Because some information is going to be most effectively delivered in sort of static form on an iPad, but some of it is going to be much more effective if you put on a headset and engage with it.” Whatever is most effective—whether it’s a 3-D model, a 2-D model, or shop drawings—is the tool that should be used, he adds. At the end of the day, that’s what adds the most value.

Smart Cities New York

Smart Cities New York (SCNY) is North America’s leading global conference exploring the emerging influence of cities in shaping the future. With the global smart city market expected to grow to $1.6 trillion within the next three years, Smart Cities New York is guided by the idea that smart cities are truly "Powered by People". The conference brings together thought leaders from public and private sectors, academia and NGOs to discuss investments in physical and digital infrastructure, health, education, sustainability, security, mobility, workforce development, and more, to ensure cities are central to advancing and improving urban life in the 21st century and beyond.
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Immersive technology may be architecture’s best tool for communication

This year’s Tech+ conference—an upcoming and groundbreaking event showcasing technological innovators in the AEC industry taking place on May 22 in New York City—will feature pioneering speakers that are rethinking existing technological paradigms. Among them is Iffat Mai, practice application development leader for Perkins + Will, who will be co-presenting a discussion about enhanced realities and immersive experiences. As a self-described technology geek, Mai is excited about the fact that the design and construction industry, which has traditionally lagged behind the times in terms of adopting new technology, is finally showing signs of receptivity. “What I’ve seen is a shift in some people’s attitude, of designers and project teams, who are very open-minded about accepting these new technologies and integrating them into their workflow and process,” she said. Mai notes that a number of software companies are making virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platforms more compatible with existing design tools that allows for greater integration and efficiency. “I’m really happy to see that’s happening in all different levels in our industry.”

It’s all about communication

Mai’s enthusiasm for change stems from her belief that these new tools are improving communication and client engagement—an assessment that’s been tested in practice at Perkins+Will and the results of which she’ll share during her presentation at Tech+. “I think VR/AR is the ideal communication tool for the AEC industry,” Mai said. “As architects, communication of design is the bread and butter of our business.” Noting that many clients aren’t particularly adept at visualization, Mai suggests that 3-D technology can help them better understand not only how a design looks, but also gain a better sense of scale and how the space will actually feel. Oftentimes, clients look at drawings and say they understand them, but are surprised when a space is built because they don’t conceptualize the same way design practitioners do. Mixed reality solves the problem in many ways. “We’ve been implementing all these new technologies into our everyday design process and really looking to engage our stakeholders and our clients, and offer them the opportunity to be fully engaged in the design process,” Mai explained. “It’s not just giving them nice little drawings; we really put them into an immersive environment and encourage them to evaluate things by really understanding what the design is about so that, in the end, I think that the clients are a lot more comfortable and happy with the final product.”

Overcoming barriers to innovation

As a result, Mai says VR and AR technologies are streamlining the design and review process, saving both time and money. With the cost of hardware and software dropping, she suggests the barrier to entry will be lowered, especially to smaller firms that currently may not be able to afford them. Ultimately, wide-scale adoption of mixed reality technology boils down to two things, according to Mai: fear of change, and a company-wide commitment to innovation. “If you can get over the fear of changing and have kind of long-term sight of the future and not be afraid of changing, that’s a critical component of innovation,” she said. “And then your company leaders have to be really promoting company-wide innovation, to have people just think out of the box and looking for new ways of doing things in every aspect of the company.” [vimeo 261011445 w=640 h=360] TECH+ Expo from Architect's Newspaper on Vimeo.
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Katerra promises to transform the construction industry without sacrificing design

“Every building shouldn’t be a one-off prototype.” That’s an underlying and provocative premise behind Katerra, a technology company that’s on a mission to optimize the way buildings are developed, designed, and constructed. Truth be told, the industry is primed for an overhaul. Construction companies traditionally invest less than 1 percent of revenue in new technologies—lower than every other major industry, according to the company’s literature. As a result, simultaneous productivity decreases and cost increases during the last several decades have created a quandary that requires fresh thinking and outside-of-the-box solutions. “The one thing that’s become very apparent is that—and this is typical in an up-cycle—it’s very difficult for architects and contractors to keep up with material costs, with cost escalation in these upturn markets,” explained Craig Curtis, FAIA, Architecture, Interior Design at Katerra. “And if you couple that with the fact that the skilled labor shortage is becoming more and more critical, where we’re headed right now as an industry I think is kind of a train wreck.” To help avert such a debacle, Katerra is completely rethinking the existing construction model and replacing it with technology, design, and supply chain innovations that aim to revolutionize the world of architecture and construction.

 The Silicon Valley Approach to Building

“What we’re trying to do is take on every aspect of the entire process as the Silicon Valley way of looking at an industry so that it’s not just focused on supply chain, which is where we started,” Curtis explained. “We’re really looking at from initial site concepts to own the process all the way through design, through component design, manufacturing drawings, offsite manufacturing, and final site assembly—the entire package all in one with one hand to shake.” [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyoTBNLaXAg] For those who cringe at the term “mass customization” and shudder at the thought of a skyline full of banal, indistinguishable prefabricated structures, take heart: Katerra is, at its core, a company in the business of preserving and improving the design process, rather than dismantling it. “We’re a design-first company here,” Curtis noted. “This is not a company that is producing cookie-cutter-looking buildings; the cookie-cutting part of what we’re doing is all stuff that can easily be redundant without affecting the beauty of the architecture,” he continued. “So, we’re really concentrating on making sure that everything we do allows for that customization of not only the experience inside, but also how the building fits into a particular culture or climate or place.” In other words, Katerra does not build prefabricated modules or completed hotel room pods, for example, and truck them down the highway on a flatbed. Rather, Curtis said the company takes a cue from global furniture giant IKEA to flat-pack building materials and interior components to improve logistics and reduce shipping costs. By doing so, it offers greater flexibility in the final look and feel of a building and allows architects to do more of what they do best—not less. “By optimizing a lot of the interior and the systems that are within these buildings, we’re actually finding that as architects, we have more time to spend instead of less time to spend on the thing that really matters and that’s: What does the building look like and how does it fit into a community?” Curtis said. “We’re not spending all that time redrawing bathrooms or mechanical systems or electrical layouts because that’s done; it’s repetitive. A lot of that work can be done in the computer,” he added.

Executing the Design

Katerra operates under another premise as well: “A transformative approach to building begins with design.” As such, the company developed a novel building system to strike a balance between standardization and configuration. Based upon a standard kit of parts, Katerra’s design system utilizes structural building components and curated interior products and finishes to create a multitude of elegant, custom configurations, according to company literature. Katerra’s BIM modeling links directly to its global supply chain through proprietary technology to ensure ease of ordering, tracking, and manufacturing. Its integrated logistic network, global product sourcing, and manufacturing teams reduce the number of suppliers and manufacturers, creating aggregate demand that establishes negotiating power to the benefit of clients.  The company’s end-to-end building process mimics the process of precision-sequenced product assembly, moving labor from the job site to its factories, promising improved schedule and product quality assurance. “We have customers who are very interested in having a partner who can create a more systemized approach to what they do and just streamline the process from the very beginning,” Curtis explained. “Instead of every single project being bespoke and starting with an entire new team, which is what the industry has been forever, we can become their partner and help them develop their systems, building tools, and custom assemblies suited for their operation and what they do and what they do well, and help them execute that faster and cheaper.”
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Alex Barmas on implementing innovative facades in New York City

For Enclos' Alex Barmas, true innovation in facade design and fabrication is about more than the latest technological bells and whistles. Rather, it is about exercising creativity despite the restrictions posed by tight budgets, compressed timelines, and aggressive real estate markets. At Facades+ NYC later this month, Barmas will moderate a conversation on implementing innovation with AEC industry leaders including Cutler Anderson Architects' Jim Cutler, Arup's Tali Mejicovsky, Michael Stein, of Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, and Richard Meier & Partners' Vivian Lee. "My intention is to get the panelists talking about the possibilities of producing truly fantastic architecture while constrained by very real-world budgets and schedules," said Barmas. "They have all worked on projects where an intelligent and responsive approach to design, and an intelligence about materials and tectonics have allowed them to deliver great projects under tight constraints. The panel will focus on the commitment and perseverance required to execute and deliver such projects." New York is a hotbed of facade innovation exactly because of the particular constraints at play there, said Barmas. In much of the United States, he explained, the litigious nature of the building design and construction market tends to discourage integrated project deliver. But "the New York market is actually a counterbalance to this. Due to the complexity of building projects, compressed construction schedules, and the need for coordination throughout the design and construction process, projects must take on a more holistic design mentality." At the same time, said Barmas, the drive to build taller and faster for the top of the market "has meant that there are some very interesting building envelopes either recently built, or under construction." As a case in point, he cited BIG's 625 West 57th Street (W57), calling it "a fantastic example of a really interesting curtain wall." All of this is not to say that new technology is not compelling—especially when made a part of built projects. "I'm very excited about the continuing integration of sensors, actuators, and other electrical components with the building envelope to create active and responsive facades," said Barmas. "This seems to be turning into a virtuous cycle where integrated systems are becoming more robust, system integration is improving, and all the parties to a building project are becoming more comfortable implementing these systems. System intelligence and integration enable us to achieve better performance with traditional building envelope components." To hear more from Barmas and panelists on bringing facades innovations to fruition, register today for Facades+ NYC. More information, including a complete symposium agenda, is available online.
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MammaFotogramma Brings Motion to Plywood

Fabrikator

MammaFotogramma designed a plywood and high-performance mesh composite that is scored on a CNC mill to facilitate textile-like movement.

WoodSkin is a flexible wood surfacing material developed by interdisciplinary design studio MammaFotogramma. The concept is an exploration of movement developed for Autoprogettazione 2.0, an open-source design competition from 2012 that originated in the firm's work in stop motion animation. "We're still in animation production, but what we do is all about movement," said studio founder Giulio Masotti. MammaFotogramma’s current work includes architecture and design projects as well as a lab that evolved naturally as projects came in, where collaborators develop new techniques for hybridized exploration. "Project after project, we saw we were applying movement everywhere, not because it was a need but because it's how we work and what we explore," said Masotti. Later in 2012, after the competition, the composite wood material was first fabricated as an interior finish for the lobby of Allez Up, an indoor rock-climbing facility in Montreal. "When we figured out what we wanted to do, we knew we needed something different," said Masotti. "We needed a system, not just a project solution." The goal was to design a visually appealing material that could be used in a static way with the possibility for movement.
  • Fabricators MammaFotogramma
  • Designers MammaFotogramma
  • Location Montreal
  • Date of Completion 2013
  • Material plywood, nylon, polymer composite, custom adhesive
  • Process CNC mill
To realize this, the studio devised a flexible wood composite by sandwiching Russian plywood sheets around a high-performance nylon and a polymer composite mesh, joined by a custom mix of adhesives. The mesh acts to free the plywood from its flat state and facilitate movement. The three-part compression process also strengthens the adhesive bonds and supports the skin's movements. For the Allez Up lobby desk, 15,000 triangular tiles were scored into the composite's surface via CNC mill to form a boulder-like organic shape. What began as an "analog process" of sketching and handcrafting has been adapted for parametric tools because of software’s capabilities to adapt to changes throughout the design development process. Though the design capabilities are quite extensive, fabrication methods can still be quite expensive. "The processes of computer aided design can bring you far, but when it comes time to build, the technology is behind and the process becomes complicated and expensive." To start bridging this gap, MammaFotogramma is developing a custom plugin for Rhino, with the hope that the process of fabricating WoodSkin could be replicated in multiple materials. "The skin is made of wood but the process allowed us to collaborate with other companies that can apply their solid materials," said Masotti. "These kinds of skins will hopefully be applied to existing materials for different finishes, such as fire and water proofing." WoodSkin prototypes were exhibited at Fuorisalone in Milan. A recent collaboration with Italian fabricator Biffi Carpentry has opened the WoodSkin process to the possibility of more commercial projects, as well as innovative indoor/outdoor structures like cover systems or flexible walls. "You can transform the shape you have in the skin and you can dictate the quality, thickness, and pattern for something totally unique," said Masotti.
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Plumen Light Bulb Wins Design of the Year

If one of the main complaints lodged against the compact fluorescent lightbulb is that it’s ugly, all that’s about to change with the Plumen 001. The energy efficient bulb has been hailed as one of the first major re-designs of the CFL, and today, it won Brit Insurance Product Design of the Year 2011. Created by product designer Samuel Wilkinson and British electronics company Hulger, the Plumen is made out of two interwoven glass tubes. The curved design has a new silhouette from every angle. In addition to radiating warm white light, it uses 80% less energy and lasting eight times longer than incandescents. According to the Financial Times, the Plumen is the most recent Brit Insurance Product winner in a pattern of awards recognizing products for their innovative interpretation of everyday objects. Jury chair Stephen Bayley explained, “The Plumen light bulb is a good example of the ordinary thing done extraordinarily well, bringing a small measure of delight to an everyday product.” Will Self, a jury member, also remarked, “2011 was not a year to reward high-end design devised purely for conceptual reasons or added-value results.” The light bulb aims to address both the quality of light and design lacking in traditional CLFs. In an interview with Fast Company, Hulger founder Nicolas Roope explained that the light bulb was born out of the desire to bring sexy back to a universal product badly in need of a re-design.
"'Designers always look in the same places,' says Roope. 'They overlook the small things time and time again.' They decided to look the one place no one was looking. 'The lightbulb is completely barren, so '90s,' says Roope. 'It's an incredible source of ubiquity. If you can change the form even slightly you can change the whole game.'"
  Though the Plumen is only available in Europe right now, the award comes at a time when light bulbs is a political hot potato in the US. A 2007 bill will require 100-watt bulbs to become 25 percent more efficient by next year. The Tea Party has adopted the light bulb as a cause celebre against government regulation (notably referenced in Rep. Michelle Bachman's (R-MN) response to Obama's State of the Union address earlier this year). The Plumen is slated to go on sale in the US at the end of April 2011, and currently retails for £19.95 in the UK and €29.95 in the rest of Europe.
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Start Your Engines!!!!

AN's California Editor Sam Lubell will be hosting a panel about the creation of new and unconventional design at Gensler and USG's Design Process Innovation Symposium this Saturday at 10:55 a.m. at the A+D Museum. Panelists will include none other than Gaston Nogues, of inventive Silver Lake architecture/art installation/sculpture firm Ball Nogues; Matthew Melnyk, of the omnipresent and hyper-advanced design and engineering firm Buro Happold; Richard Whitehall, whose firm, Smart Design, patterns everything from cool-looking thermometers to Serengeti sunglasses; Scott Robertson, a creator of ultramodern, books, bikes, and even the cars used in video games; and Tali Krakowsky, of Imaginary Forces, who co-designed the flashy set for this year's Victoria Secret fashion show. Another talent-loaded panel, at 2:30 p.m., will be hosted by KCRW and Dwell's Frances Anderton. Tickets ($70, $45 for students) are still available: visit http://www.gensler.com/xtr/dpi2/