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.”
Posts tagged with "Software":
Cove.tool is an energy vs. cost optimization software for the AEC industry. It offers users the ability to simulate the material performance of a building in its context by assessing energy against cost over a given period of time. It empowers architects, engineers, contractors, and owners to make better decisions about building by presenting cost and energy information in a simple app, with the ultimate goal of helping buildings reduce their carbon emissions in an affordable way. The problem, as they phrase it, is: “When a contractor and architect make choices, they are unable to perceive all of the choices and their impacts collectively.” The software therefore uses large data sets to create material performance profiles for building components which can be run through millions of possible combinations before providing users with optimal solutions for a project’s constraint space. The software has been iteratively developed over the last several years by the sustainability consulting firm Patterns r+d, based in Atlanta, GA. While energy simulation is of course nothing new, Cove.tool is distinct in that it is the first affordable, easy-to-use energy software in the AEC industry to introduce cost into an advanced combinatorial building simulation. It is potentially a watershed development for the sustainable building industry in that it can incentivize sustainable ethics through cost analysis. According to the Cove.tool team, this software is part of a much larger shift. They make the bold assertion in their white paper that “it will not be possible to build any building without simulation within the next five years,” a relatively short time horizon in an industry which is usually slow to innovate. The tool also offers the foundations for a programmable library of materials whose construction and energy costs can be incorporated into the larger BIM workflow. Cove.tool is available as both a Revit and Grasshopper plug-in with dedicated development. It can hypothetically be integrated into the vast majority of medium-to- large scale AEC projects in which marginal savings on energy costs may represent millions of dollars over time and incentivize an increasingly sustainable building culture. For under $3,500 a year, a team of five can leverage Cove.tool in almost any project context, adding robust energy modeling value to their proposals. With a simplified graphical interface which is effective for internal and client-facing purposes, the tool is likely to gain widespread adoption.
Miles Kemp, the brains behind a new virtual-reality visualization software for architects, has been around architects and builders for as long as he can remember. The son of a contractor, Kemp took his first job with an architect at the age of 14. By age 21, he was on a team at SOM. Kemp eventually made his way to SCI-Arc, where he completed an M.Arch2 in 2006 with a thesis on robotics. Since then, Kemp, the founder and president of Variate Labs, has worked on over 100 interactive media projects. “I’ve always been into this idea of user-experience design, of being able to create almost like a conversation between people and the built environment,” Kemp said. Kemp’s latest venture is Spacemaker VR, software that allows architects to share virtual reality models with clients and other designers. The program exports 3D design files from a variety of formats (including .osg, .dae, .wrl, and .3ds) into walk-through models for viewing on a head-mounted display or two-dimensional screen. Users can simultaneously project the same view in mono or stereo to multiple displays, and control movements through the virtual space using a keyboard or mouse. Real-time snapshots and videos captured while in the virtual model can be saved for later viewing. According to Kemp, Spacemaker VR has the potential to change the way architects work in two crucial ways. “First and foremost, it is a one-of-a-kind presentation tool, so that designers can communicate with other people in a better way,” Kemp said. In addition, by allowing architects to experience the spaces they create early on in the design process, Spacemaker VR encourages experimentation and risk-taking. “Architects can really push the limits of their imagination earlier in the process without risk,” Kemp said. “It’s easier to design insane things and test them earlier in the process.” The current version of Spacemaker VR is a “base model” Kemp explained, focused on visualization. “For now what we’re trying to do is get a simple product out that has really easy-to-use features so that people without a technical background can use it.” Kemp and his colleagues at Digital Physical, the company behind Spacemaker VR, are working on features that allow architects to design in real time from within their virtual spaces. Digital Physical is currently fundraising for Spacemaker VR on Kickstarter. The campaign ends this Saturday, December 14.
A team of SCI-Arc–trained architects establish a sweet set up in Southern California.Liz and Kyle Von Hasseln wanted to bake a birthday cake for a friend but, unfortunately, their rented apartment didn't have an oven. Not to be deterred, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) alumni hit upon a solution that would leave most bakers scratching their heads: They decided to 3D print one. Earlier that year, the couple had been awarded the school's inaugural Gehry Prize for their work on Phantom Geometry, a 5-axis fabrication study of UV-cured resin within a shallow vat system that responded to real-time feed back and feed-forward mechanisms. "In our graduate work, we were really interested in the way free form fabrication would influence architecture," Kyle recently told AN. "We thought a lot about the potential for the intersection of culture and technology that would be accessible to the public, so printing sugar was that." The Von Hasselns began working on a combination of SCI-Arc machinery and printers they built themselves. The initial ambition to 3D-print the entire cake was scaled-back to 3D printing just a sparkling cake topper made only from sugar, a process that Liz likened to a micro architectural challenge. As with any material, working with sugar presented inherent propensities and limitations. However, Liz said the process of working with food had its own distinct challenges. "Because it's a food object, we've found it becomes important to consider those inherent characteristics," Liz said. "People have expectations about what food looks, tastes, and feels like, and its really important to hit those notes, otherwise you have a cool design that might not look like dessert." Once the designers embraced the inherent qualities of the material, they developed a proprietary 3D-printing process capable of fusing sugar crystals together without deforming or discoloring them. The finished product is as white and sparkling as a sugar cube. Though they missed the birthday by a long shot, the end result spelled their friend's name in a cursive scrawl made entirely from sugar. Sugar Lab, the Von Hasseln's company, has yet to build an entire town out of sugar like the utopian village brought to life by Richard Brautigan in his novel In Watermelon Sugar, but the couple has received hundreds of inquiries from around the world. They are also excited about the role of the designer in the 3D printing revolution. "We think what will move the field forward in the future is not solely additional technological enhancement, but how artists, architects, and designers utilize those capabilities," Liz said. "A 3D printer is a tool and what comes of skilled artisans wielding that tool is what will make the technology resonate with people, and make it culturally relevant."
New modeling software enables experimental volumetric designIn a revolt against the realm of the 3D renderings they feel contemporary architects are confined to working within, Matter Design's principals Brandon Clifford and Wes McGee founded a studio grounded in digital design that addresses the realities of materials, loads and physicality. Clifford in particular mourns the loss of our "ability to work with volume," so much so that he spent his year as the 2011-12 LeFevre Emerging Practitioner Fellow at Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture researching volume in building with a special focus on stereotomy, the art of precisely carving solids. It was this research that led him to design La Voûte de LeFevre, a vaulted wooden structure that soars thanks to weight and mass, not in spite of it. La Voûte (French for vault) is a compression-only structure, meaning there is zero tension. Think of it like the inverted spires found in Gothic cathedrals. "Those spires are not decorative," said Clifford and McGee in an email. "They are, in fact, redirecting this thrust network down into the column. If you took the spire off the cathedral the structure would collapse" (Watch two short videos Matter Design made to illustrate this point). To design a reverse spire with a perfectly balanced weight ratio, Clifford found that the computer modeling software he needed didn't exist, so he wrote his own. Called Thick Funicular, the program runs a particle-spring library across a desired geometry. "Each particle in the system calculates the distance from the desired geometry and then reassigns that value to its weight,” said Clifford. “It can open and close apertures to make a unit weight more or less relative to its neighbors. Once the calculation has guaranteed that a solution holds a thrust network inside its thickness, the process is complete and the units are carved with their uniquely dimensioned holes. I think the key here is to think of these holes as controlling the volume (or weight) of each unit relative to its thickness and location in the figuration of the vault." Even though stone is traditionally used in stereotomic projects, Clifford and McGee had, among other constraints, a budget to consider, and so chose to work with Baltic birch plywood, which "is homogeneously dense and has significant self-mass." Unfortunately, it only comes in ¾ inch sheets, hardly thick enough for La Voûte's 2 to 12 inch-thick structure. Clifford and McGee knew they would need to glue the wood together in layers, but to reduce waste they "segmented the units, cut them from the ¾ inch sheet material and stacked them together into the rough geometry of the final unit (plus ⅛ inch for safe measure). Those sheets were then placed on the five-axis mill and carved to the precise geometries." If you can't wrap your head around that, watch the video of the milling process. You'll see the five-axis Onsrud router, an incredible machine fitted with a large bit that cuts with the tip as well as with the sides, removing the most material with the minimum effort. After it was fabricated in University of Michigan’s FABLab, where McGee is the director, it was transported to the Banvard Gallery at Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. Clifford and McGee installed La Voûte from the top down using a compression ring around the perimeter of the room as a tool against which they could measure each row as they worked their way down. Like the spires of Gothic cathedrals, La Voûte was built with a vertical thrust designed to last a lifetime, but because the installation is temporary the individual units are held together with screws and wooden dowels to allow for their removal. Still, La Voûte – or rather the ability to design and fabricate a structure like it – lives on in Clifford's remarkable new Thick Funicular program.
Imagine snapping away at a favorite building, fountain, or desktop tchotchke, then uploading your photos to that super-computer in the sky we call the cloud, and after a just few short minutes being presented with a detailed three-dimensional digital model. That future, it appears, is finally here. Core 77 tipped us off that a new product by Autodesk called 123D Catch performs that basic photo-to-3D-model conversion, and the best part (if you're running a PC) is that you can try out the beta version for free. We're on Macs here at The Architect's Newspaper HQ so we haven't had a chance to test drive the software ourselves, but if it's anything like Autodesk's slick video demonstration (after the jump), we'll be sending our photo archive cloud-side soon!