Posts tagged with "Technology":

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For L.A.-based start-ups, a downtown tech incubator offers a boost up

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.  At the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), participating members get a lot of bang for their buck. Originally started in 2011, the outfit moved in 2016 into a 60,000-square-foot complex, known as the La Kretz Innovation Campus and owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The campus is one of the inaugural public amenities of a new Cleantech Corridor planned by the City of Los Angeles for a vast area stretching from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, in East L.A., to the Arts District, downtown. The complex is made up of an adaptively reused and seismically retrofitted historic warehouse, among other components, designed by John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects. The mix of offices, labs, and makerspaces offers LACI's portfolio of cleantech companies access to cutting-edge fabrication and prototyping tools. With six specialty labs, the LACI-managed Advanced Prototyping Center (APC), is also open to the public through memberships starting at $250, making more than $10 million in specialty equipment available to budding innovators and entrepreneurs. The innovation hub is being marketed by LACI as a one-stop shop for ambitious, tech-savvy groups and individuals looking to develop and test new industrial-scale ideas and products. The one-of-a-kind APC offers some of the most advanced, industrial-grade fabrication and research tools, as well, including professional-grade laser cutters, CNC mills, water jets, and even a full-blown biochemistry lab. The facilities allowed the designers behind Hive Lighting to model, test, and fabricate prototypes of their high-performance, energy-efficient plasma and LED lights. Kay Yang, APC director, explained, “This is where you come to get off the ground if you’re an L.A.-based start-up;” the incubator also boasts a new artist-in-residence program and a slate of professional advisers, who hold office hours, as well as mentorship for members. Yang added that, for certain participating companies, “LACI has cut 12 to 18 months off start-up times” while also allowing these groups to maintain full intellectual and copyright protections, part of LACI’s “intellectual property–neutral” setup. According to LACI’s calculations, in the past six years, the incubator has helped 72 portfolio companies raise $165 million in start-up funding, generate $220 million in revenue, and create 1,700 jobs across the region.

Current portfolio companies include:

Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing

An all-electric bus manufacturer with goals to create 100 percent zero-emission transportation.

Ampaire An all-electric airplane fabricator.

Avisare

A cloud-based software-procurement platform.

Connect Homes

A prefab home company based in California.

Perception Robotics

A touch-and-vision-based industrial robot manufacturer.

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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.
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Talking about our tech future with the Digital Building Lab

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

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.  With a cutting-edge client list that includes Nike, Google, and YouTube, digital agency R/GA is committed to staying way, way ahead of the competition. So, when it came to the rapid rise of start-ups and disruptive technologies, R/GA was quick to jump in. “We knew we would need a platform for innovation, even if we didn’t always know which forms of innovation would ultimately take off,” explained Stephen Plumlee, global chief operating officer of R/GA and founding partner of R/GA Venture Studio, a division of the company. “In order to find more and better innovations, solve problems for our clients, and offer new opportunities to our staff, we needed to get deeper into technology and start-ups.” R/GA Venture Studio partnered with the mentorship-focused start-up accelerator Techstars and launched theR/GA Venture Studio program four years ago. The accelerator offers approximately ten-week-long thematic programs with R/GA, sharing its creative capital in terms of marketing, business strategy, branding, design, and technology; partners invest in each start-up and retain approximately 4 to 8 percent of their equities. R/GA also plays matchmaker, strategically partnering clients that have particular problems with start-ups that have potential solutions. Recent programs yielded a media technology initiative with Verizon and a collaboration with the Los Angeles Dodgers; an Internet of Things and connected devices program in R/GA’s London office has proved to be immensely popular. “We are constantly experimenting with our own program and have evolved beyond the traditional accelerator format into something unique to us,” said Plumlee. One of the things that set the R/GA Venture Studio apart is the age of the start-ups accepted into the program. Rather than limit applicants to new ventures, R/GA will accept older start-ups that are more established and have completed as late as Series B funding rounds. It is also not tied to any one location—R/GA Venture Studio spaces are available in any R/GA office—allowing start-ups to continue business as usual beyond Demo Day and other important mentoring events. To avoid being boxed in and missing potential opportunities, R/GA will also accept applicants year-round for various programs—currently it has four running simultaneously. Within this ethos of avoiding constraints, the accelerator’s start-ups and programs have varied widely and have included blockchain, pet care, smart home technologies, wearable devices, and ad tech, to name a few. Notable alumni include: Keen Home A smart vent system that allows homeowners to create climate zones throughout their houses. Clarifai Clarifai is an artificial intelligence company that empowers businesses and developers to solve real-world problems using visual recognition. LISNR A software that connects devices to speakers and/or microphones by sending data over audio waves.
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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.
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What role do architects have in a driverless future?

The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is inevitable and—depending on who you ask—they’ll either eliminate car crashes and save the environment, or muscle out pedestrians from the street, steal our personal data, and create biblical levels of gridlock in our cities. But despite the divide over how the technology should be implemented, the common thread that runs between apostles and bashers alike is the belief that cities, planners, and architects are woefully unprepared for the changes self-driving cars will bring. In November 2017, the AIA held an event centered on the topic, "Anticipating the Driverless City,” and the furor seems justified following the death of a pedestrian at the grille of an autonomous Uber car. “Planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today,” Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, said. “Urban planners should be terrified.” Larco’s not wrong. Only a few states even have regulations for driverless cars, let alone ideas for designing a future without parking. With Ford launching self-delivering pizzas in Miami, Google’s Waymo rolling out an autonomous ridesharing service in Arizona, and driverless taxis making inroads in cities all over the world, architects and planners will either need to look ahead or be stuck in triage mode. Sam Schwartz, former New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and founder of his eponymous traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm, has categorized the potential futures as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The “good” A utopic self-driving car scenario would have driverless cars constantly circulating and on the prowl for riders, while providing “first mile, last mile” access to and from souped-up mass-transit corridors. If AVs truly take off and replace a sizable portion of manned cars on the street, then parking lots, garages, and driveways—not to mention thousands of square feet of on-street parking per block—would sit vacant. Walking, cycling, and autonomous (electric) buses would feature heavily in a multi-modal transit mix, and streets would narrow as bioswales and strips of public parks replaced parking spots. There has been movement on designing for that future; FXCollaborative, HOK, Arup, KPF, and other prominent firms have all put forward scalable designs for reclaiming the urban fabric. Speculation has already forced public officials in Pittsburgh to put together plans for integrating self-driving cars into the city’s fabric by 2030, and developers in New York are building flexible parking garages that can easily be converted for other uses. However, the key to actually enacting any of these schemes lies in large-scale government intervention. Without a concerted top-down reclamation and conversion of unused streets, AV-centric zoning policies, or renewed investment in mass-transportation options, cities will never be able to integrate AVs into their infrastructure. The largest hurdle to achieving the “good” future isn’t technological, it’s political; even self-driving evangelists have conceded that a laissez-faire approach might result in increased traffic on the road. The “bad” Uber, Lyft, Google, and a raft of competitors are already jostling to bring self-driving taxis to market so that these companies won’t have to pay human drivers. Under the guise of preventing traffic fatalities—there were nearly 40,000 lives lost in the U.S. alone in 2017—the big players are lobbying all levels of government to allow their AVs on the street. If vehicle miles traveled per person in AVs were allowed to increase without intervention, society could slide into an ugly scenario. This dystopic outcome would see mass transit hollowed out by a lack of funding and pedestrians shunted out of the streets in the name of safety. Studies have already shown that existing ridesharing services increase congestion and cause bus services to deteriorate, and if commuters get fed up with slow commutes and turn to ridesharing services, mass transit options could be sent into death spirals due to decreased revenue. Driverless cars are often touted as being spatially efficient, especially as they can join each other to form road trains—tightly packed groups of vehicles moving along optimized routes. But considering how much space on the road 40 bicycles or 40 commuters in a bus would take up, the flaw in that thinking becomes self-evident. Even if artificial intelligence can route traffic more effectively than a human, putting more cars on the road offsets the gains in speed by decreasing the amount of space available. Although computers might be great at coordinating with each other, the external human element will remain a wild card no matter what. Well-planned cities that prioritize walkability and ground-level experience would place pedestrians over passengers, but a worst-case scenario could see cyclists and walkers forced to wear locator beacons so that AVs could “see” them better, while hemmed in behind fencing. The “ugly” The worst driverless car scenarios take Le Corbusier’s famous claim that “the city built for speed is the city built for success” to heart. The high-speed arterial thoroughfares Corbusier envisioned in The Radiant City were realized in the destructive city planning policies of the 1950s and '60s, but municipalities have spent heavily to correct their mistakes 50 years later. Much in the same way that widening roads actually worsens traffic, if planners and architects ignore or give deference to driverless cars and continue to prioritize car culture in their decisions, congestion, gridlock, and withered public transit systems are sure to follow. The adoption of self-driving technology will likely birth new building typologies with unique needs, from centralized hubs where the cars park themselves to AV repair shops. As futurist Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, points out, self-driving cars aren’t a new concept. Their lineage can be directly traced to ideas introduced by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair, but this is the first time that the technology has caught up with the vision. Planners and politicians have had 80 years to grapple with solutions; they can’t afford to take any longer.
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SCI-Arc show postulates a fictional energy future that doesn’t go far enough

In a recent installation at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Mark Foster Gage Architects attempts to bring the notion of parafictional art fantasy to the realm of architecture—with mixed results. Gage’s Geothermal Futures Lab considers the notion that, given the current regime of “fake news” and “post-truth” reality, architects might have renewed license to create new visions for the future rooted primarily in fantasy. In lectures and writings, Gage argues that architects from Vitruvius onward have always engaged in some form or another with parallel or alternate versions of reality through their works and that conditions are ripe today for this tendency to take hold once again. Furthermore, Gage posits that these efforts represent a facet of the Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) school of thought and could potentially be used to fend off the ever-increasing erosion—or flattening—of a shared reality that occurs when the people who lead and represent the nation are fundamentally preoccupied with telling lies. In the exhibition text, Gage asks, “Might architecture’s power in this new world be conducted through an elasticity of the real that encourages citizens to develop doubt about their presented realities—and therefore perhaps become more resistant to ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts?’” For the installation, Gage seizes this opportunity as a justification for postulating a new energy-generation technology called “laser ablation geothermal resonance” that draws its power from sources deep below the surface of the earth in order to sustainably supply Los Angeles with over two-thirds of its daily energy needs. To convey the fundamentals of this fictional energy revolution, Gage fills the SCI-Arc gallery with a stage setting meant to approximate a control center for the power generator, installing lab equipment, a metal detector, a faceted gold-leaf-covered reactor, a pile of rocks, and a collection of high-powered lasers and imaginary technical drawings for display. Technically speaking, the student-produced machine drawings are exquisite in their effusive and cheeky detail. Drawn to convey exploded axonometric views of the reactor and other components, the starkly outlined assemblage drawings also incorporate recognizable pop cultural elements, with hidden My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head figurines buried within the constructions. The reactor mock-up is impressive in its detailing as well; it features the fractal and agglomerated geometries Gage’s other academic work is known for, while spewing fog from its lower extremity. But overall, the exhibition—and Gage’s interpretation of what parafictional fantasy in the era of “fake news” can provide to the field of architecture—falls flat. It’s not the physical objects that result from Gage’s exploration that are in question, but rather the interpretations that underlie them. For one, it belies a fundamental misreading of the current political-cultural moment to describe the Trumpian notion of “fake news” as a symptom of the so-called “great flattening” of intellectual hierarchies OOO represents. Practically speaking, “fake news” is not so much a product of the erosion of objective truth as much as it is an acknowledgment of multiple, covalent, and oftentimes contradictory perspectives that have always existed. Like it or not, “fake news” represents not merely plurality, but a new era of simultaneity writ large. The president and his lackeys have not so much created a fantasy world for their devotees to occupy as elevated a parallel existence that has always been very real to its adherents. In a lecture supporting the exhibition, Gage cites the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements as emblematic of “flattening” as well, a comparison that also doesn’t really apply. If OOO ideology is rooted in the “removal of human as primary subject” from perceived reality, how can two movements entirely rooted in acknowledging and prioritizing the fundamental humanity and agency of two often-maligned social groups serve as a case study? The comparison is flawed and problematic, representing a misunderstanding of not just what drives these movements, but also of what we can learn from them as architects, as well. And lastly, like so many other recent attempts at projecting future scenarios, the project is not really “speculative” in the literal sense and represents merely an intensification of existing modes and technologies, raising the question: If architecture’s power right now lies in its ability to speculate, what does it mean to have so many of its fantasies seem so underwhelmingly conventional? Southern California Institute of Architecture January 26 through March 4
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First-ever luxury space hotel shoots for the stars

Forget all about skyscrapers hung from orbiting asteroids, the next big trend in astronomic real estate may be in space stations. Developer Orion Span has revealed Aurora Station, a luxury space hotel that will house guests 200 miles above the Earth’s surface come 2022. First announced at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California, on April 5, Aurora Station is laying claim to the world’s first fully-modular space station. While Aurora’s first capsule will only be 43.5 feet long and 14 feet across, renderings show the station branching out as extensions are added. “We developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space. Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travelers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before, while still providing an unforgettable experience,” said chief executive officer and founder of Orion Span, Frank Bunger, in a press release. “Orion Span has additionally taken what was historically a 24-month training regimen to prepare travelers to visit a space station and streamlined it to three months, at a fraction of the cost. Our goal is to make space accessible to all, by continuing to drive greater value at lower cost.” The aforementioned three-month training certification, the Orion Span Astronaut Certification (OSAC), is completed in three parts; the first online, the second at Orion Span’s state-of-the-art training facility in Houston, Texas, and the third on Aurora Station itself. While rocket launches have become exponentially cheaper in recent years thanks to private competition, guests will still pay a premium for their zero-gravity stay aboard Aurora Station. A 12-day trip will cost $9.5 million per person, or nearly $800,000 per day, with a refundable $80,000 deposit. According to Orion Span, the first four months of reservations have already sold out in the three days since the station was revealed. The initial Aurora Station capsule would fit six astronauts in a 35-foot-by-14-foot living space, two of whom would be trained crew. Once onboard, guests could watch the sun rise and set as the station rotated around the Earth every 90 minutes, grow food, and use a VR setup that Orion Span has dubbed a “holodeck”. While space tourism is nothing new (Russia is aiming to attach a luxury hotel to the International Space Station by 2022), it remains to be seen how much of Orion Span’s plan will be realized. As Bloomberg notes, the company hasn’t released its funding goals or contracted a launch provider yet, and the four-year window is an ambitious one for building a space station. Still, if Aurora gets into Low Earth Orbit in 2021 and begins accepting guests in 2022, Orion Span plans to branch out into space condos and may sell attachable capsules for those looking to claim a slice of space life.
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AIA awards $100,000 in research initiatives grants

The winners of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 11th annual Upjohn Research Initiative have been announced, and $100,000 in grants will be split among the four recipients. Those chosen will receive funding for 18 months to pursue research projects that push the boundaries of design, and their results will be published nationally. This year’s grant recipients leaned heavily on designs inspired by nature: Half of the group will study the various benefits of biophilia, while another project will examine how biodiversity impacts a structure’s ecological resilience. The 2018 winners are as follows:
  • The Impact of Biophilic Learning Spaces on Student Success
Principal Investigators: James Determan, FAIA (Hord Coplan Macht) and Mary Anne Akers, PhD (Morgan State University) With help from the Salk Institute and Terrapin Bright Green, the team will create a biophilic classroom using patterns and shapes from nature, as well as improved views and natural lighting. The performance of students in the classroom will be measured over time to examine the relationship between biophilic design and the success of the students using it.
  • Biophilic Architecture: Sustainable Materialization of Microalgae Facades
Principal Investigator: Kyoung-Hee Kim, PhD (University of North Carolina at Charlotte) How can algae be integrated into facade systems? That’s what Kim’s team is trying to find out, and the project will involve prototyping a microalgae facade and codifying best practices for using it in the future. These “live facades” have been used to generate heat and algae biomass in past small-scale projects successfully.
  • Biodiverse Built Environments: High-Performance Passive Systems for Ecologic Resilience
Principal Investigator: Keith Van de Riet, PhD, Assoc. AIA (University of Kansas) What are passive architectural systems that architects and designers can use without needing to expend operational energy? Van de Riet’s team will study the integration of biodiversity requirements into the criteria for high-performance passive systems. In this case, a full-scale living wall panel will be installed over an existing seawall in a tidal estuary. The integration of living systems with the built environment will be monitored for both the health of the panel as well as its performance in a stressful, real-world situation.
  • Tilt Print Lift - Concrete 3D Printing for Precast Assemblies
Principal Investigators: Tsz Yan Ng (University of Michigan) and Wesley McGee (University of Michigan) 3-D printing concrete has been used to great effect in producing boxy structures, but Ng and McGee will be researching how complicated wall panels can be produced in the same way. The process should theoretically allow wall panel systems to be produced in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the novel, geometric designs will need to be performance-tested before they can be used in the field. The team will also be looking into how 3-D printed panels stack up to precast-produced pieces. All of the previously published Upjohn research can be viewed here.
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At Lehrer, changes in construction practices requires a holistic approach to technology

If a company is looking to affect change in the AEC industry, where does it start? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are sexy (in a nerdy kind of way), but practical application is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. That intersection is where Dareen Salama, director of technical services at design and construction advisory firm Lehrer, LLC, found herself upon completing her Master of Science in Civil Engineering & Construction Management from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and entering the workforce. As the complexity of construction projects continues to grow due to advances in technology, Lehrer guides owners, developers and institutions through the process. “I started here in New York and realized [there’s a] divide between what is possible in terms of technology and what is really implemented in the industry,” she recalled. “So, then I took a step back and said, 'OK, so let’s keep machine learning and artificial intelligence on the side for now and kind of focus on the practical applications that are there.’” The project controls specialist concentrated her work on project management systems, building information modeling, project control systems, and other facets of the design and construction process to help implement new technologies within an industry that traditionally has been sluggish to adopt them.

Reaping the benefits of efficiency

The shift was pivotal. As Salama built the case for BIM, it opened the door to participate in many significant infrastructure projects across the country, including LaGuardia Airport, where she guided the Port Authority in implementing BIM and cloud-based systems to modernize its processes. After landing at Lehrer last year, Salama discovered “the real strength lies with the [building] owners. The owners have that holistic view of the full life cycle,” she explained. “They would reap the benefits of efficiency through design, construction, and facility management and operation. So that’s what Lehrer focuses on,” she said. Lehrer’s primary function is to advise clients engaged in major construction projects, but the firm’s view of a project doesn’t just begin with design and end with TCO or construction completion, however. “Aiding in delivering a beautifully-designed project within budget and schedule is a given—we are thinking beyond that, thinking about the end user, whether it is the person using the building as a resident, or the person running the building as the operator,” said Elissa Conners, marketing manager at Lehrer. “And that’s really where the data piece of leveraging the efficiency that is slowly but surely becoming mainstream in the industry in design and construction [comes in] and utilizing it to help optimize facilities, operations and maintenance when running the building.” Salama is currently involved in one of New York City’s major infrastructure upgrade projects at the Jacob K. Javits Center expansion, focusing on design, construction, and facility management to realize efficiencies through technology and innovation. Implementing technology in projects like the Javits Center and across the industry boils down to three things: technology, people, and process. “I think the industry is really facing challenges with all of that,” she noted. While many may argue technology has “arrived,” Salama disagrees as far as the AEC industry is concerned­. “The technology is out there in terms of concepts and algorithms and platforms that we use in anything else but construction,” she observed. While the industry continues to lag behind consumer electronics, for example, Salama sees growing interest from investors in startups that have emerged in the industry during the past year.

Cultural, process challenges are significant

The people variable presents an even more significant barrier to progress, not only from a hierarchical or cultural standpoint, but also in terms of attracting talent. Salama explains how on any given project, there may be 60 to 70 different companies involved, from the owner to the consultants and the subcontractors. As a result, “it’s quite difficult to change the culture throughout all these different companies and try to figure out technology that works for all of them given the duration that you have.” She notes that during the course of a three-year project, a third of that time may be spent attempting to get people on board with process and technology modifications. Additionally, she said, it’s rare to see young talent coming from computer science schools entering the AEC field. “It’s just not the go-to industry for top talent. They would definitely go in other directions,” she explained, adding that if technology graduates better understood the opportunity, the industry would be well-poised to attract them. Finally, altering construction practices requires much more than a surface-level application of new technologies—yet attempting to automate old processes is commonplace. Existing document standards, contracts, and specifications that function in the world of hard copies and standard contract delivery methods simply doesn’t translate well into cloud-based systems, BIM, and mobile apps, she noted. “It’s not an easy fix of, ‘Let’s just apply technology; let’s just buy this piece of software,’ which people are frankly looking for,” she said. “It’s not really about what you buy, but it has to be embedded in everything that you do: your people, your process, and then at the end, what you buy fits that world.”
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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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A modular apartment factory is set to touch down in Chicago

Chicago-based general contractors Skender are getting into the modular manufacturing game, with an announcement that they will be building a factory on Chicago’s southwest side that can crank out hotel rooms and entire apartments. Skender is going all in on the new factory and modular fabrication startup, which they claim will put 100 people to work (an impressive number, as Skender only has 300 employees), and is using the opportunity to shift towards a design-build model. The company has bought out local firm Ingenious Architecture and will use the 10-person studio to guide the design and manufacturing of the modular units. Tim Swanson, formerly the head of CannonDesign’s Chicago office, will be joining as Skender’s chief design officer, Kevin Bredeson has been named the chief technology officer, and the company is hunting for a CEO to lead its factory. The move represents a huge expansion in scope for Skender, which has also changed its name from Skender Construction as part of the new direction the company is pursuing. “We are asking new questions,” said Skender President and Partner Justin Brown in a statement. “Why can’t we apply sophisticated design principles to modular manufacturing? How can we eliminate weather delays by bringing large parts of the process indoors? How can we significantly boost productivity without sacrificing quality?” Skender is expecting to roll full apartments, hotel rooms, and pieces of both multi-family residences and healthcare buildings off its new assembly line. Everything can be fabricated at the factory by tradespeople, from cabinets to light fixtures to units that have been pre-wired and set up for plumbing, then shipped to the potential construction site and unloaded via crane. Besides being able to construct modular buildings from the ground up (similar to New York’s Carmel Place), Skender plans to use the factory to work on both the interior and exteriors of its projects simultaneously, and standardize production. To say that modular architecture has had its ups and downs in recent years would be an understatement. While the world’s largest modular hotel, the Stephen B. Jacobs Group-designed CitizenM, is nearly complete in New York, the industry is still smarting from the bruising battle it took to complete 461 Dean Street in Brooklyn. The Pacific Park tower eventually became the world's tallest modular building, but was mired in lawsuits between Skanska and developer Forest City Ratner until the latter cut their losses and sold their modular manufacturing factory to architect Roger Krulak and his company, FullStack Modular. It remains to be seen if Skender can make the model work for them, but their smaller scope should help. If all goes as planned, Skender expects to pick a site for the factory in the coming months and to begin production in the fourth quarter of this year.