Posts tagged with "Tech+ Expo":

2018’s TECH+ Expo explores VR, integrated solutions, and the future of BIM

The second annual TECH+ Expo, presented by The Architect’s Newspaper, has returned to Manhattan with a bevy of vendors, lectures, and talks about where architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) are headed. After a round of breakfast and networking on the expo floor, president and founder of programming partner Microsol Resources Emilio Krausz and AN’s publisher Diana Darling took to the TechPerspectives main stage to welcome attendees and introduce the two keynote speakers. Dennis Shelden, director of the Digital Building Laboratory (DBL) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, took the opportunity to discuss the challenges (and opportunities) that technology brings to the interoperability between AEC industries. Virtual reality, and the integration of models with the ability to walk through and coordinate with the trades, could ultimately save money and time for everyone. And looking ahead even further in the future? Augmented reality, where VR is projected into the real world, could help visualize projects in real time and could ultimately lead to a “Minority Report”-style future. Architect, technologist, and newly appointed associate dean of the Yale School of Architecture Phil Bernstein followed up with an industry keynote on computational design and integration. The field has already moved from hand drafting to CAD, and then into BIM, so what comes next? Bernstein presented six points that he felt were the next logical stepping stones, from using big data, to improving computational design, to integrating machine learning into the design process. The availability of data and cloud computing power could eventually help architects design more optimized buildings and reduce the waste that comes when expectations don’t line up with how a building actually performs in the real world. On the expo floor, companies were lining up to present the latest advances in virtual reality, 3-D printing, and rendering technology (and visitors all had the chance to win their own HTC Vive by throwing down their business cards). Implementation was a major theme this year, whether it was through IrisVR’s use of virtual reality to bring architects, engineers, and construction workers together for meetings, or Morpholio’s easy-to-use sketching tools. As Bernstein contends, architects will make fewer mistakes and save more money as the gap between ideas and implementation closes.  

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.

Take a sneak peek at this year’s TECH+ conference

This is a promotional post presented by TECH+. The landscape of the architecture, engineering, and construction industries is changing dramatically, and those at the forefront of the transformation know that technological innovation is among the driving forces behind it. That’s why for the second year, The Architect’s Newspaper presents TECH+, an annual trade conference and expo that explores innovative technologies used in design and construction, taking place May 22 on the heels of NYCxDESIGN. Located at Metropolitan West in Manhattan—the center of one of America’s fastest-growing tech markets—TECH+ will showcase the latest in smart building systems, advanced materials, and innovative products that are reshaping the built environment of today and tomorrow. From cutting-edge virtual reality–aided design tools to mobile apps, parametrics to rapid prototyping and fabrication, this inspiring and forward-thinking event will feature a lineup of visionary speakers, compelling panels, and live product demonstrations from industry-leading developers and start-ups alike. TECH+ will bring together architects, engineers, designers, builders, real estate professionals, investors, entrepreneurs, software developers, students, and makers to inspire new ideas, encourage cross-pollination, stimulate innovation, and establish vital connections. Far from a run-of-the-mill mega-conference, TECH+ consists of a highly curated group of architecture and technology leaders responsible for the strategic direction of their firms. “We are excited to bring back TECH+ to New York City for the second time,” said Diana Darling, publisher of The Architect’s Newspaper. “This year features two stages with industry leaders and innovative disrupters primed to change the way we do business.” This year’s keynote speaker is Dennis Shelden, director of Digital Building Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who led the development of architect Frank Gehry’s digital practice as director of R&D and director of computing prior to cofounding Gehry Technologies in 2002. Presented by Microsol Resources, the keynote will take place at the TechPerspectives main stage, from which four additional panels will explore topics including BIM, collaboration, sustainability, and visualization. Also, new to TECH+ is a series of Lightning Talks throughout the day from leading exhibitors and cutting-edge start-ups located on the expo floor stage. Panel discussions include Jonatan Schumacher, director of CORE studio at Thornton Tomasetti, and Jan Leenknegt, architect and BIM manager at BIG, who will examine how to connect design and data through the project life cycle; Paul Kassabian, associate principal at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, and Steve Jones, senior director at Dodge Data & Analytics, will address unifying project teams and technology; Ian Molloy, senior product manager at Autodesk, Alexandra Pollock, director of design technology at FXCollaborative, and Christopher Mackey, building scientist at Payette, will discuss designing for energy efficiency; and Iffat Mai, practice application development leader at Perkins+Will, Christopher Mayer, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Suffolk Construction, and Christopher Connock, design computation director at KieranTimberlake, will explore enhanced realities and immersive experiences. “TECH+ is a new type of conference,” said Darling. “We’re focusing on completely new ideas and techniques, and gauging where the future of the AEC will be and how we get there.” Below are some of the exhibitors who will be at this year’s TECH+ conference: Founded in New York City in 1898 as National Blueprint Inc., BluEdge has evolved into an industry leader in print and technology services for the AEC industry and beyond. BluEdge is widely recognized for its unmatched customer service, and expertise in 3-D technologies, creative graphics, managed print services, and document management solutions. Today, its service footprint extends across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Cove.tool is the first commercial software for optimizing cost and energy. The tool provides automated guidance to save up to 3 percent off the cost of construction while increasing performance of the building by up to 40 percent. The cloud-based tool helps architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners make better selections of building technologies by running thousands of parallel energy simulations. Developed by architects, building science experts, engineers, and sustainability consultants, the tool is integrated into the design process with plug-ins to Revit and Rhino for interoperability and parametric design. Adoption of cove.tool could dramatically reduce carbon emissions worldwide while helping owners reduce the cost of their buildings. FenestraPro Premium for Revit is an intuitive and easy-to-use add-in that enables architects to design energy-efficient building facades to comply with building regulations and required performance, without compromising the aesthetic of the facade. It integrates building design with performance, allows the architect to maintain control of the aesthetic of the building, and improves the design process by eliminating costly late-stage redesign fees. GRAPHISOFT® ignited the BIM revolution in 1984 with ARCHICAD®, the industry’s first BIM software for architects. GRAPHISOFT continues to lead the industry with innovative solutions such as its revolutionary BIMcloud®, the world’s first real-time BIM collaboration environment; EcoDesigner™, the world’s first fully BIM-integrated green design solution; and BIMx®, the world’s leading mobile app for BIM visualization. GRAPHISOFT is part of the Nemetschek Group. InsiteVR is a platform for AEC companies to create and manage virtual reality presentations across their offices. InsiteVR’s tools allow users to remotely control VR presentations, collect feedback from clients, and easily share to mobile headsets like the GearVR. IrisVR tackles the biggest problem in the architecture, construction, and engineering industries: What will a space actually look and feel like when it’s built? Iris created intuitive, user-friendly software that empowers virtual reality to experience depth and scale. JUJU IMSV employs the most advanced VR technology to create convincing, elegant, and easy-to-use marketing tools for off-plan sales across the globe. Our all-in-one marketing tools tell the story of the future property and not only help to efficiently raise money for the project, but also streamline the sales cycle. LERA IMMERSE is a virtual reality and augmented reality consulting service offering solutions to architects, owners, developers and construction managers. The custom-designed systems and tools enable users to navigate, interact with, and collaborate in the VR space, all while collecting valuable data that can be retrieved, analyzed, and fed back into the design process. Microsol Resources has been delivering integrated solutions to the architecture, engineering, and construction industries for over 30 years. The company is a recognized leader in BIM and CAD-based solutions, as well as an Autodesk Platinum Partner. Besides CAD & BIM software, Microsol also provides training, consulting, staffing, 3-D printing, and data management services to help customers gain a competitive advantage and improve their overall productivity. Morpholio makes apps that put designers first, fusing the fluidity and speed of hand drawing with the intelligence and precision of mobile and CAD technology. Its Trace app for architects is the unique software created to take design through every phase of the process, from concept to reality. PlanGrid is construction software made for the field that allows plans and markups to be instantaneously shared with everyone on a construction project—no matter where they are. It lets contractors, architects, and building owners collaborate from their desktop or mobile devices across all of their project plans, specs, photos, RFIs, and punch lists. Solibri is the leader in BIM quality assurance and quality control, providing out-of-the-box tools for BIM validation, compliance control, design process coordination, design review, analysis, and code checking. Solibri develops and markets quality assurance solutions that improve BIM-based design and make the entire design and construction process more productive and cost-effective.

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.”

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.” TECH+ Expo from Architect's Newspaper on Vimeo.

Autodesk puts R&D first with its BUILD Space in Boston

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.  Located on the first two floors of a concrete-framed former army base in South Boston, Autodesk’s BUILD Space (BUILD stands for building, innovation, learning, and design), which opened in 2016, has become one of the software company’s best tools for keeping up with architecture’s hyper-speed technology changes. The cavernous 34,000-square-foot facility, whose adaptive reuse was carried out by Boston and New York-based SGA, contains two chief components: First, it houses every piece of digital manufacturing equipment under the sun, from CNC routers and multi-axis robots to microelectronics, metal fabrication tools, and a giant crane; second, it hosts over 70 organizations and 500 people, including architecture and design firms, start-ups, and universities, who use the facilities, supported by Autodesk’s software engineers. In return, Autodesk gets to make important new contacts and learn how to position its software for the coming years. “By investigating these technologies with these teams, it gives us a view of what may be coming, and what we need to start thinking about,” said Rick Rundell, Autodesk’s senior director, who has carefully curated the community with his colleagues. “I could hire a team of 30 researchers to use this equipment,” said Rundell. “Instead, I have 500 researchers that I’ve been able to curate. They’re doing their own work, but it keeps us in touch in a way that would be much harder otherwise.” The word has gotten out, encouraging the company, with SGA, to grow the space by another floor. “We get five or six calls a week,” noted Rundell, who has hosted researchers from the Middle East, all over Europe, and the far corners of the U.S. “We only review the most promising.” To prepare the space for all this activity, SGA implemented some R&D of its own, employing carbon fiber supports to help brace the building after it made large cuts through the thick concrete floors, and using the facility’s crane to haul in extra-large items. The firm needed to install new electrical and HVAC on top of what the building already had in order to support the teams’ extraordinary infrastructure needs. Autodesk, whose Boston software team works on the building’s sixth floor (also designed by SGA), has opened a handful of similar innovation facilities, each catered to a different aspect of digital design and manufacturing. The San Francisco office, which hosts Autodesk researchers as well as independent ones, focuses on micro-factory models, the Toronto office looks at artificial intelligence and generative design, and the Birmingham, England, office centers on advanced manufacturing. “We know this is happening, but we’re seeking to learn more,” said Rundell.

Some of the residents include

Perkins+Will

The architecture firm investigated new framing systems for mass timber.

Bechtel Corporation

The engineering company explored inflatable shading devices.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT students have created self-deploying fabric canopies that can be dropped via aircraft.

Construction Robotics

This construction manufacturer is developing a system for robotically constructing masonry walls.

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.

Gehry Technologies’ accelerator takes architecture start-ups from zero to sixty

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.  Trimble-owned Gehry Technologies (GT) launched a three-month design-and-technology-focused accelerator program called ZeroSixty that is geared toward helping a new generation of innovators revolutionize project delivery across the AEC industry. The accelerator program will help start-ups based out of its Marina del Rey, California, offices to “build and scale” their services by connecting new entrepreneurs with “people, networks, and technologies,” according to the company. The effort is aimed at turning back the increasingly common trend among mega-projects of being over budget and behind schedule. ZeroSixty comes three years after software developer Trimble purchased GT in an effort to integrate and disseminate innovations in technology-driven project delivery across its various platforms. GT was originally founded in 2002 by Frank Gehry and his team at Gehry Partners to adapt techniques from the aerospace and automotive industries and apply them to the firm’s most complex building projects. In the years since, the group has worked on a variety of challenging projects across the world for various high-profile architects, including the Beijing National Stadium with Herzog & de Meuron and the Louvre Abu Dhabi with the Ateliers Jean Nouvel. ZeroSixty was founded by German Aparicio and Lucas Reames, both GT veterans, earlier this year and is currently accepting applications for its first cohort of companies. “The idea is to help entrepreneurs scale their products and services by leveraging our past experiences, field expertise, and client base while continuously seeking to innovate,” Aparicio said. The GT team has always been at the forefront of this niche within the AEC industry, including back in the early 2000s when, working on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, they were among the first to utilize virtual reality visualizations for on-site construction. Now, Trimble and ZeroSixty seek to build upon this legacy by focusing on new AEC-related applications for emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and data analytics. “These technologies offer the opportunity to provide greater insights using a data-driven approach to project delivery and increase the quality and efficiencies of our industry,” Aparicio explained. With ZeroSixty and its no-equity support for emerging practices, Trimble has its eyes firmly set on building the future. Aparicio added, “These technologies promise to create services on the web that can be used on demand to automate everyday tasks so designers, project managers, contractors, and facility operators can focus on the more interesting or important part of their everyday lives.”

Meet the incubators and accelerators fostering the next generation of architecture start-ups

Technology is developing at an exponential rate, and while architecture still moves significantly slower than the latest transistor, things are picking up. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) speaks to tech experts Craig Curtis of Katerra (Katerra’s approach could make factory construction a model for the future) to learn more about the revolutionary changes that are in the pipeline for the construction industry, and Dennis Shelden of the Digital Building Lab (Talking about our tech future with the Digital Building Lab) about how we've gotten to this point, and what's next. We also profile several incubators and accelerators behind some of the most influential design and AEC technology start-ups that promise to revolutionize the construction and architecture industries. AN profiled the following: The MINI-owned URBAN-X in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a younger incubator which leverages its assembled experts to guide startups through a semester-long program; Digital agency R/GA, long a major player in the advertising field, has carved out spaces in all of its offices for accelerator space and given startups an easy way to hit the ground running; ZeroSixty, a three-month design-and-technology-focused incubator program, was launched by Gehry Technologies to help bring disruption to the AEC industry; The one-stop shop Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which gives its members access to makerspaces, fabrication labs, and plenty of research space across a 60,000-square-foot campus; Georgia Tech’s Digital Building Laboratory, which has already released a suite of programs that architect's (especially those who use BIM) have already come to rely on; The advanced offices of the Autodesk BUILD Space, one of the company's best tools for keeping up with the rapidly changing worlds of architecture and design; and New Lab’s 84-000-square foot flagship collaborative tech hub in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The interviews and profiles were originally printed in our April 2018 technology issue.

Katerra’s approach could make factory construction a model for the future

Some of the most fruitful innovation in the AEC industry right now lies in the realm of factory-built buildings. Whether they include experiments with prefabrication, mass-timber construction, or modular components, architects are increasingly working with building assemblies that are fabricated off-site and under controlled conditions. And while some designers work in these modes on a one-off basis, a new crop of technology-focused, end-to-end construction service firms have sprung up that can take a project from idea to finished building all on their own, including construction and fabrication. Established in 2015, Katerra is one of the firms that are shifting how buildings get designed and built in the United States by pioneering a hybrid business model that combines prefabrication with mass-customization. The Menlo Park, California–based company is a relative newcomer in the field, but with over $1.3 billion in projects and an expanding nationwide presence, Katerra is poised to make factory construction a thing for the future. AN’s West editor Antonio Pacheco spoke to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture, to discuss its business model, examine how the company integrates technology into its workflow, and delve into the firm’s new project types. The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you tell us what Katerra does? Craig Curtis: Katerra is an end-to-end construction and technology service company that applies systemic approaches to remove unnecessary time and costs from building design and construction. Our services include architecture and engineering, interior design, materials supply, construction management and general contracting, and renovation. What are some of Katerra’s short- and long-term goals? Since the company’s founding three years ago, Katerra has accomplished a significant amount: We have more than $1.3 billion in bookings for new construction spanning the multifamily, student and senior housing, hospitality, and commercial office sectors. [During this time] our global team has grown to more than 1,400 employees and we also opened a manufacturing facility in Phoenix and started construction on a mass timber factory in Spokane, Washington. Going forward, we are focused on delivering the projects in our pipeline, bringing our Spokane factory online in early 2019, and continuing to build out additional domestic factories like the one in Phoenix, where we fabricate building components. We will also continue to expand and improve Katerra’s technology platform, which underpins our vertically integrated model. What does it mean to use a “systems approach” with regard to building design and project delivery? Katerra’s model uses technology and end-to-end control throughout all levels of design, development, and construction. By moving from individual project thinking to a systems approach, we deliver greater precision, higher productivity, and improved quality control. With design, we combine product standardization with customization. This provides the efficiency of manufacturing without sacrificing design freedom. Through our global supply chain of curated, high-quality products, we eliminate middlemen, passing savings directly to our clients. We also integrate Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools and computational design with our global supply chain infrastructure. So, plans go directly from design to the factory floor and to the construction site. Materials and products arrive at our construction sites on time and ready to install. As a result, the activity at a Katerra construction site more closely resembles a process of precision-sequenced product assembly than traditional construction. Speaking generally, how much time does Katerra’s business model shave off a project timeline compared to traditional project delivery? In 2018, we are beginning construction on the first series of fully optimized buildings designed by Katerra. This particular building type is a three-story suburban product for workforce housing. We anticipate being able to achieve up to a 40 percent reduction in project schedule for these projects, providing significant benefits to our customers. As we develop similar tools for other market sectors, we anticipate significant schedule reductions, with the percentage dependent on the complexity of the building type. What are some of the innovative technologies Katerra employs from a design, fabrication, or construction point of view? A great example is our use of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID). We add RFID tags to all the components fabricated in our manufacturing factory. These tags are accessible from mobile devices either on the production floor or in the final assembled product at the job site. Each RFID is linked to an archived file showing the entire assembly of the selected component, including video of each step in the manufacturing process. With this RFID technology, enclosed wall panels can be delivered to the job site, allowing local building inspectors and third-party verifiers to perform virtual framing and air sealing inspections. Application of RFID is just one of many ways Katerra is using technology to drive down costs, improve quality, and deliver a superior customer experience.

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.

URBAN-X accelerator wants to transform cities, one semester at a time

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.  The age of the car as we know it appears to be winding down—that is, if the diverse initiatives started by car companies is any indication. For example, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the BMW-owned MINI recently launched A/D/O, a nARCHITECTS-design makerspace and the headquarters of URBAN-X, an accelerator for start-ups seeking to improve urban life. Although URBAN-X is only two years old, the company has hit the ground running thanks to MINI’s partnership with Urban Us, a network of investors focused on funding start-ups that use technology to improve urban living. Through that partnership, URBAN-X is able to use its funding from MINI to take on companies that lack finished products or established customers and then connect them to the Urban Us community. Through a rigorously programmed five-month semester, up to ten start-ups at a time work with in-house engineering, software, marketing, and urbanism experts and given access to the outside funding and political connections that URBAN-X is able to leverage. Competition to join the cohort is fierce, especially since the chosen companies are given $100,000 in initial funding. Architects, planners, urban designers, construction workers, and those with a background in thinking about cities have historically applied. At the time of writing, the third group had just finished its tenure and presented an overview of its work, at A/D/O, at a Demo Day on February 9. The companies have since followed up with whirlwind tours to court investors and realize their ideas. The diversity of projects that have come out of URBAN-X represents the wide-ranging problems that face any modern city. The solutions aren’t entirely infrastructure-based, either. For example, Farmshelf has gained critical acclaim by moving urban farming into sleek, indoor “growing cabinets”; Industrial/Organic is turning decomposing food waste into electricity; and Good Goods has created a platform for smaller retailers to occupy space in large vacancies by pooling money. Ultimately, as cities evolve and become more interconnected, addressing the problems found within them will require ever more complicated and multidisciplinary solutions. The fourth URBAN-X cohort will be announced on May 10, 2018. Notable alumni include: Numina A start-up that uses sensor-integrated streetlights to map traffic patterns. Lunewave A technology company that claims its spherical sensor for self-driving cars is cheaper and more effective than the LiDAR (light detection and ranging) currently in widespread use (likely a win for MINI and BMW). Sencity A platform that encourages human engagement in smart cities. RoadBotics A tool that uses smartphone monitoring to improve road maintenance.0 Qucit This software aggregates urban planning data and uses AI to optimize everything from emergency response times to park planning.