Monday, December 18, 2006
I have started to receive messages inquiring about the future of Revit at SOM and I'd like to make it clear that DP is an addition to our BIM toolbox, not a substitution. Let me explain. On many projects, we incorporate complex external structure and curtain wall, while maintaining fairly regular and efficient cores. If we look at the digital deliverables for these two areas, there remains a clear divide. Fabricators in both the steel and curtain wall trades are pioneering the use of 3D deliverables for direct fabrication. Many of the companies with which we've collaborated in the recent past seem to be using similar tools for their 3D BIM deliverables. For the steel industry, XSteel (now known as Tekla Structures) and either Solidworks or CATIA for those in curtain wall - although we have talked to a few starting to implement Inventor as they evolve from Autocad.
While this concept sounds simple enough to implement, it really takes on a whole new life when you actually start to share files with your contractors and fabricators. I believe Graphisoft first started to address the issue of having a variety of representations of the design data (which I like to refer to as the 'onion concept' and described it in an older post). The design model must coexist, but serve a differing purpose than that of the construction model, the fabrication model, and the owner's model.
To this end, we must develop a method of eliminating data loss or production redundancy when our exchanges take place (ala Phil Bernstein's famous 'sawtooth' diagram).
Because models relating to our designs for exo-structures and curtain wall enclosures are the most likely to be utilized as direct-to-fabrication, these would be the likely candidates to use Digital Project.
Why not Revit? The geometric tools in Revit have not had the luxury of evolving along the same path as those of Dassault. Some twists and turns are simply not possible to achieve in Revit or are too cumbersome to emulate. On the other hand, the powerful simplicity of Revit as an 'architectural production engine' allows us to efficiently develop everything inside the exterior shell with blazing consistency and a minimal learning curve.
It is one of my objectives for 2007 to further build upon this translation and conglomeration of data from different platforms. Once further developed (and out of my brain...), I will share some insight into exactly how this all will come together in future posts.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Finally, the big night! Most presenters will be finished with their classes by tonight and the main event this year features the return of comedian Don MacMillan and a special performance by the world renowned Blue Man Group.
8:00 AM - Revit Rocks: Tips from Around the World
Rich Taylor, an Autodesk Customer Success Engineer for Revit, gave an excellent presentation on some common, but sometimes obscure tips in Revit he has picked up from working with customers across the globe. He demonstrated the [unsupported] use of journal files to generate rooms in the Room Schedule and another technique using room separation lines to create spatial bubble diagrams - then moving each 'bubble' into an actual room and deleting the room-sep lines. The room then 'inherits' its new space! He demonstrated a house configurator which was similar to the one shown in "Expanding BIM" with Emile Kfouri.
10:00 AM - The JamesVan show, Part 2: Effective Collaboration
My second and final presentation was Effective Collaboration with Revit, DWG and DWF. The challenge with this clas? Background jazz being pumped into the house system! Lent to a nice, mellow mood - but was quite a distraction when trying to concentrate on your presentation. My esteemed colleagues Chuck Mies (Autodesk) and Wes Benn (Benn Design - Australia) joined me for this class, exploring real-world scenarios of data collaboration. First looking at the interaction between Revit and Autocad using DWG imports and exports, then a quick review of DWF output and markup using Design Review. Finally, Chuck and I donned the A/E hats and performed a live coordination demonstration between Revit Building, Structure and Systems. That was fun, but we seemed to be running out of time. Next year, I'll probably divide the content into two classes - Revit/2D collaboration and Revit-Revit.
11:30 AM - Building Industry Roundtable: Enabling Process Improvement with BIM
Once again, I found myself running to another function during lunch. This one had the potential of being an informative gathering as a select group of professionals were invited to a private luncheon. First, the logistics weren't the greatest - a propped-up 'corral' at the far end of the dining hall. We were at the mercy of 8,000 people enjoying their lunch, but we had a microphone! Jim Balding and Mario Guttman hosted the event and cycled through some of the hot topics around BIM implementation in the AE community. We shared our experiences, but didn't really propose any action items.
1:00 PM - Revit Detailing
One of my favorite classes is Scott Davis' presentation on Detailing in Revit...and as Scott just pointed out, it was taught by Paul Aubin this year! (Oops) Unfortunately, I fell victim to scope creep once again and missed Paul's class, but I'll be sure to catch the rerun on AU Online! Wound up having a detailed conversation with our Digital Design Director - Paul Seletsky and Andrew Arnold from Tectonic Network about their future products.
3:00 PM - Beyond Revit: Where's This All Going?
Good question. Kudos to Jim Balding for putting this presentation together without much prepared content. It was an open discussion about the future of BIM - risks and rewards, opportunities and challenges. Jim seeded the discussion with some provocative thoughts..."Death of the Architect?"
5:00 PM - Designing Sustainable Building Solutions with Revit
This class was not about using Revit for designing sustainable building solutions. Huh? Yes, in my opinion it deserved a different title such as "Revit's Potential to Impact Sustainable Building Solutions" which might be generous. So why did I stay? I'm an avid supporter of environmental awareness and sustainability and Ken Hall delivered one of the best-prepared and thought-provoking lectures this week. Some call his tactics harsh, but sometimes we have to shake people up. For just a sampling of information, check out these links: Autodesk Sustainability Center, The Long Now Foundation, design:e2, and Architecture2030.
6:30 PM - Dinner and TWO shows!
Some light food and lighted entertainment. While we dined and (as my Mother says) "hob-nobbed with the goober-smoochers," we were entertained by a troop of fiber-optic-entwined roller skaters and jump-ropers - very cool. Then it was up to the main ballroom for comedian Don McMillan. What can I say? I almost passed out from laughing so hard. Be sure to visit Don's website to understand what I'm talking about. Finally, the Blue Man Group gave an outstanding performance for the exhausted AU crowd. I especially liked the "How to be a Rock Star" tutorial.
The Interlude - Thursday to Friday
Legend has it that the best partying occurs through the night from Thursday into Friday and you're advised to just stay awake or you run the risk of being an hour late for your Friday morning class...particularly painful if you're the PRESENTER. You know who you are.
8:00 AM Friday - Advanced Revit Techniques
Ah, Phil Read...he's the man. You're not going to get a better class for a 3 hour, Friday morning, post-party lecture. Easy-going, engaging, witty - I could go on. Greg Demchak and Lilli Smith had end-of-week duty last year and this year Phil brought some cool new tips. Pleated curtain wall panels, using Room Name in a key schedule, the famous void-driven geometry, reference line tricks with blends and exploded axon project views.
Monday, December 04, 2006
6:30 AM - Breakfast with a few of my team members. Looks like we're getting the hang of the column grid locating plan. "Hello. We're at D-22! Wait...stand up and wave. Oh, there you are!"
8:00 AM - Building Solutions Main Stage
The Main Stage event for each individual industry has traditionally been the arena to show off new product functionality and/or betas for new products. I was disappointed to hear little new information about BSD products this year. They did demonstrate a "drawing compare" feature in AutoCAD, but it took an awfully long time to compare in relation to viewer products such as Brava and the Newforma Viewer. Armundo Darling demonstrated Revit Systems' integration with IES tools, but that was already displayed in the keynote presentation on Tuesday. Now that Autodesk has moved most of their products' major release dates to the Spring, we probably won't get too many more exciting announcements on the Industry Main Stage in the future.
10:00 AM - I'm on...Techniques for Large Projects in Revit Building
The first of two classes I'm teaching this year. This class used to be called "You Can't Do That in Revit," but based on my evaluations of the past two years, my attendees expected to actually hear about things they couldn't do in Revit! Thus, I re-aligned the course expectations and objectives (without the silly title) and focused the content around my expertise. Hit my mark with the timing of the content, special thanks to Bob Yori for driving. New this ear...MindManager instead of PowerPoint. We'll see what the audience thinks when I review the evaluations. By the way, you can find old content from the "You Can't Do That" classes on WikiHow - click here to search for Revit entries.
11:30 AM - Off to the races...to the DWF Executive Customer Council
I had the honor of joining a select group of industry colleagues in the DWF Executive Customer Council. The Q&A session after my class extended another 10 minutes so I had to run downstairs to the DWF lunch. 4 to 5 members from each industry were selected to present their current and future uses of DWF format and Design Review along with our top 3 wishes for new features/functions. Most of us were focused on scalability for large datasets, yet there were some interesting tangents for those in the manufacturing industry and public sector. Other suggested enhancements included digital signatures, integration of ordering data, dedicated sketch mode for single markups and others.
1:00 PM - Ditching class
Supposed to take Beau Turner's class on Revit Phasing and Design Options, but I wanted to search around for something a little more advanced (sorry, Beau). And that's the beauty of AU Online - worth the price of admission alone! - to return later and download handouts and data from classes you missed.
I slipped into "Extreme Architecture: Complex Geometry with Inventor and Revit." If you set your expectations high, be prepared to have them hit bottom even harder. I was again somewhat disappointed by the overall context of this class as it didn't have enough technically oriented content to learn something extra about using Inventor, and didn't really get to what I would call "extreme architecture." It seemed to be a class focused on sharing data between Inventor and Revit, but I would have enjoyed a really robust class weighted more toward complex design issues and buildability with Inventor.
3:00 PM - Wow.
As a welcome pick-me-up on 'hump day,' the class "Expanding BIM with the Revit API" was probably the best of the week. Emile Kfouri and Miro Schonauer of Autodesk shared some real-world examples of the Revit API in action. The examples were smaller, but completely relevant and expandable to ideas we have at SOM. First was the House Configurator - an ETO (Engineering to Order) solution to give the client/owner a simple interface to choose from many design options with a template residence. Once the options are chosen, the Revit model swaps groups in and out to complete the final design. Obviously, alot of pre-planning has to go into the Revit model, but I can definitely see the potential. Next up, a bi-directional link to MS Project for phasing data. Revit elements are ported out to Project, where a PM might push and pull the timeline for various elements of the construction. The data is then imported back into the project, updating custom parameters for every element in the database.
A VRML exporter was shown, but it was for a specific client request to produce a VRML file format. Not too much use in the general public, but the potential is there to use the API to export your Revit model to any other software (Digital Project, Rhino...) via the API. Next was something I thought was outstanding: collaboration with web services. Miro demonstrated a Revit project consisting of a bookshelf with some book families (which he happily demonstrated their parametric flexibility!). OK, so what's the big deal with a bookshelf and some books? With the books selected, he opened a custom window which allowed you to type in a search phrase which searched Google first - "autodesc rewit"..."Did you mean 'autodesk revit'?" The second module then searched the Amazon website for the top 10 titles matching the phrase and displayed book titles including those by authors Paul Aubin and Chris Fox (who happened to be sitting in the class!). The data pulled from the Amazon web service included the title, author, retail price, Amazon price and sales ranking. This data was then pushed into the selected Revit element with the last part of the app. Cool.
5:00 PM - Raise the Roof
For the last class of the day I was scheduled to take Steve Stafford's Family Lab, but it was already full when I entered so I decided to sit in on the Scott and Scott show on Revit Roofs. As always, the Scotts (Davis and Brown) gave an excellent presentation and I always manage to walk away with a few new tips. The picking order when joining soffits to walls, splitting a roof sketch to work with overlapping eaves of varying heights, and more.
6:30 PM - Networking
Wednesday night is jam-packed with networking events and I had to choose only a few. The DWF Executive Customer Council and Consulting events were both at Canaletto, but I only had time to chat with the DWF team - apologies to Mark, Hunter, Dave, Phil, et al. Next was a fantastic dinner with our Autodesk reseller - Imaginit - at Wolfgang Puck's Postrio restaurant. It was a "wine pairing" dinner where each course had a complementary wine selected by the chef. Thought I was going to make it to JET for the Building Industry reception, but the great food and the fake sky in the Grand Canal Shoppes messed with my mind and it was time for bed before I knew it.
Friday, December 01, 2006
6:00 AM - Rise and shine! I have to say...the Venetian's alarm clocks are the trickiest I've seen yet.
7:00 AM - Gather the SOM team and head off to breakfast. So how do you feed close to 8,000 hungry attendees? Think airplane hangar! Venetian breakfast=delicious! Staff=Efficient and quite courteous.
8:00 AM - Tuesday's activities began with the Keynote Presentation on the Main Stage by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass and the entire presentation can be viewed as a screencast here. We were treated to some unique customer perspectives and demonstrations during this presentation - a departure from previous years. Watch the screencast to check out cool uses of technology such as a highly detailed digital model of a 36 square kilometer chunk of London by GLM, the use of IMOUT in the military, PB Co. 39's 3-D presentation (including kooky glasses!), LivingHomes.net and acheiving LEED Platinum for modular residential construction, Digital Mockup and Alias for automotive design.
10:30 AM - Class #1: Basics of the Revit API
Kudos to Danny Polkinhorn for bringing forth some new, refreshing content to his second year presenting this important topic. In addition to the standard fare of getting your feet wet with the Revit API, Danny shared some examples of useful external tools such as exporting element data to Excel, modifying it and re-importing the data. This has the potential to really help those large-project Revit teams.
1:30 PM - What is buildingSMART?
Informative session by Mario Guttman (HOK) and Frank Moore (Autodesk) covering the meaning of the term "BuildingSMART" - a term coined by the Int'l Alliance for Interoperability. [More info later.]
3:30 PM - Overview of Microsoft Office 2007
I went a bit off the beaten path to take in some information on the latest Office software. Saw some neat new productivity enhancements to Word, Outlook, Excel, One Note and othe tools in the suite. Well worth further investigation.
6:00 PM - Time to rehearse
As a three-time AU Speaker, I've learned the benefits of being prepared and ensuring a predictable demonstration. With that, I hunkered down with my co-presenters Chuck and Bob to ready our classes for Wednesday and Thursday.
7:30 PM - AUGI Beer Bust
Each year, the AU Exhibit Hall opens with the AUGI Beer Bust. Food and spirits share the floor with exciting booths from Autodesk-collaborative vendors representing all the industry divisions.
9-ish to ??? - Catching up with the gurus. I happened to bump into old AU friends and fellow gurus and decided to catch a late meal at the Grand Lux Cafe. Jim Balding, Steve Stafford, Scott Davis, Steve Schell, Cathy Hadley and Mario Guttman had me reminiscing of AU's past...always worth the lost sleep! Finally back to catch the last few numbers from Dr. Ruth - AU's favorite band. Jamming out to Kansas, Journey, and...Wild Cherry! What a blast. I'm tired, time for bed.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Onto business...Day One is pretty casual with dedicated events such as the Autodesk Developers Network (ADN) and AUGI Leadership Conference, but my arrival time only allowed for the annual AU Revit Mixer. Back in 2003, the Revit Mixer was an informal gathering of about 50 Revit users to mingle and show off their work. This year, we had to limit the crowd to about the first 300 responders! This year might be the last year for the Mixer, but we'll see what we can do about that ;-)
Jim Balding of WATG has done an amazing job for several years as the AUGI Revit Product Chair, but formally stepped down and passed the torch on to yours truly. I am honored by this opportunity and hope to continue meeting more fascinating people in my tenure. Classes begin tomorrow, so I'll be taking notes and sharing more with you all soon.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Mr. Prince-Ramus repeated the need for the redefinition and redistribution of the oft-shown Owner-Architect-Contractor triangle relationship. He called for the architect to be able to ‘let go’ of preconceived formal notions in order to find a solution truly fitting for each design problem and cited the Seattle Public Library project as an example of a team effort. The Project Manager for the SPA expected the three major cost centers to balloon uncontrollably, thus killing the project. OMA was able to redistribute cost allocations for those three centers and redistribute the costs among all three centers, thus keeping the project budget stable and the project viable.
To prove his point about ignoring predefined outcomes, he continued describing his collaborative work with Front, Inc, in developing a cost-effective solution for the façade. The key, he explained, was Front’s ability to develop appropriately-sized glass panels that could be bolted into place with little additional labor. The panels, he further explained, were also optimized for panelization, efficiency of materials, ease of installation, and portability for transport. He explained that architects don’t focus on the issues that are important to developers, issues such as financing. Without beginning to understand and address these and other issues, we’ll remain limited to being façadists.
Finally, his demonstration of innovation within severe cost limitations is evident in the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts project. He took what they considered to be the cheapest ‘monumental’ building material, aluminum, and explored it fabrication. They rationalized that extruding aluminum in different shapes produced by standard dies and tools would cost roughly the same as a standard extrusion, e.g. corrugation. They experimented with different arrangements of these standard dies and arrived at a unique extrusion that became the panel profile for the project.
Prince-Ramus and REX are extremely visible right now, probably partly because of REX’s new status as an independent office, partly because of the success of the Seattle Public Library. I found a recording online of a similar speech he gave about a month earlier. If you’re interested you can watch it here.
It was only natural that Marc Simmons spoke next. Front, Inc. has worked closely with Prince-Ramus, giving Mr. Simmons the opportunity to explain some of the specifics of the Seattle Library project. Front has also worked with quite a few others of the most recognizable architectural firms, including Renzo Piano, Peter Gluck, Frank Gehry, KPF, and Gluckman Mayner. It’s definitely worth a visit to Front’s website to check out the projects. I find the SCL Glass Headquarters project to be very interesting in its use of technology to determine the limits and possibilities of glass construction.
Mr. Simmons spoke most engagingly about his work with Ryue Nishizawa on the Novartis Office building, located in Basel, Switzerland. Nishizawa’s design is little more than opaque horizontals and transparent verticals. Front was consulted to help realize this most minimalist of designs, and to ensure an all-glass building could meet the strict energy efficiency requirements of Switzerland.
Front immediately opted for the highest-efficiency double paned, argon-filled glass panels available, and due to the architect’s requirements sandwiched motorized Venetian blinds between the panes of glass. They then devised a system so that there would be no mullions visible in any of the operable panels. They even went so far as to model the MEP objects to ensure a fitted coordination and adherence to the minimalist design of the building. You can see all of this on their website (did I mention you should check it out?)
This leads to a question: what, exactly, does Front do? Mr. Simmons explained that they don’t consider the firm to be an architectural or engineering one. The staff, however, is comprised of architectural professionals as well as a variety of different types of engineers. Often he positions himself and the firm as a “curtain wall consultant” but only because there’s already a slot in a project’s fee structure for that. This firm serves as a highly technical consulting firm to assist in realizing a client’s designs. If ever there was an example of the re-merging of architectural and engineering professions into a single office, this would be it. However, Front seems content to assist in projects only, making it a rare breed.
Coren Sharples began her portion of the session by responding to some comments made by Mr. Frampton in his Friday night keynote. She agreed with him in that architecture must be grounded in space, light, materials, and context. What she disagreed with was his belief that these premises couldn’t be achieved through the collaborative digital process. It was a polite and reserved response to Frampton’s comments, which were obviously designed to provoke. By responding in such a manner, Ms. Sharples effectively neutralized them, inasmuch as they didn’t even deserve a lengthy retort.
SHoP has identified some major roadblocks to an office adopting a new working method. Management will defend prior technology purchases, and the staff will defend existing skill sets. SHoP’s management has taken a clear and decisive step in declaring the digital workflow to avoid any confusion of the firm’s message. They reinforce this position by working with students from John Nastasi’s students at the Stevens Institute in developing software tools outside of what’s currently available. (I know I promised I’d talk about them. I will.)
The first of two projects shown was SHoP’s Camera Obscura building, located in Mitchell Park in Greenport, Long Island. SHoP’s philosophy of many of their design and building process is exemplified in this work. It was designed entirely via 3d modeling, including mid-construction adjustments due to site discrepancies. The construction process was approached as if the building was a model airplane, packaged as a ready-to-assemble kit of parts. The construction documents were created to be more like a set of assembly instructions than a traditional set of working drawings. What enabled this process was the modeling and digital fabrication via the model. Everything except the slab was manufactured offsite and simply assembled upon its arrival. Traditional 2d drawings were still required on the project for agency review and estimation, but they were irrelevant for construction.
Certainly this isn’t a completely new process. Modeling and fabrication have been the talk of the community for some time. What makes SHoP’s endeavor unique is that they’ve developed a digital design, fabrication, and assembly methodology and successfully applied it to a low-bid public works project. Wow! One point of caution is that by providing the digital files, SHoP inserted themselves into the CM-subcontractor relationship. Doing so required an allocation in their compensation structure, as they assumed more risk.
The second project shown, a residential development in NYC, was SHoP’s pilot project in implementing a parametric design and production workflow. A standard brick panel was deformed by shifting the faces of each of the bricks from what would ordinarily be the front face of the panel. The result is a panel that, in section, undulates like a shallow sine wave. The limits of the material, maximum overhang dimensions, optimal panel sizes, the site, cost, and building and zoning codes were all analyzed and adjusted through the use of modeling, and determined the amplitude of the wave. Ms. Sharples called the parametric modeling of the work “essential” to achieving the end result, as there were dimensional changes to the brick panels that would not have been coordinated without the use of parametrics.
Through the appropriate use of modeling, the “document” (model) also allows for many different types of outputs. For example, changing the panel sizes would affect the dimensions of the panel molds, as well as the actual square footage per apartment. A simple extraction of data from the model yields accurate results.
Ms. Sharples ended by reiterating what others have stated, but it’s worth repeating. The relationship between the exterior wall subcontractor and architect through the entire design process was essential to the project’s success. Again we have an example of two crafts joining early on in the process to create something truly unique.
Howard Ashcraft started his presentation by reminding us all that we can’t lose the passion for design amidst all of the legalities, contractual obligations, limitations, and management issues. He sees that in the future, digital design processes will be a given. The real question is how it will be used.
To manage risk, he continued, one has two choices: to insulate oneself from it by shedding responsibility, or by “owning” it. By assuming the responsibility, it’s giving the architect greater control and hence, less chance for errors, omissions, miscalculations, etc. If you haven’t guessed by the theme of the symposium, he advocates the second choice.
The legal concept of “responsible charge”, said Mr. Ashcraft, kills collaboration. Communication is channeled through very narrow, very specific channels. What is needed is a rebirth of the process, known as “Distributed Design”. As one would expect, a battery of questions arises: what is the “design”? Who is the “designer”? Where is the design? Is it even in a physical location? Who is now in “responsible charge”, and how is that shared? An “we, not I” attitude is required, as intellectual property rights merge, and the designer is drawn into owner/ contractor disputes. The “standard of care” changes, too, as would be expected when “responsible charge” becomes distributed across the team.
Commercial barriers to this workflow include excessive risk with little short term reward. There is no standard business model, either, so few collaborators are available. Implementation is easiest if the “Distributed Design” model is scaled back a bit, i.e., it’s practiced internally by a firm. That limits the benefit, but if there’s nobody around to collaborate with, it can’t hurt the benefit that much.
Mr. Ashcraft spoke a little about the shared design processes currently being shaped in the UK and Australia (see my comments about Kent Larsen’s presentation), and he sees it as a great first step to developing a business model. He ended with this caution: “We’ll all get there, but we should get there with a plan.”
Concluding this session, Phil Bernstein offered some comments. Designers are viewed as people who “think about things” and don’t really make anything. Constructors (his word), are supposed to “make things” and not really think about what they’re making. Eliminating the boundaries that separate the two camps is when “issues arise”, as he so subtly put it.
Construction Management industries are based on the “dotted-line” (non)relationship between the Architect and the Contractor. Front, Bernstein continued, falls on that dotted line. SHoP is also doing its part by “warping” the project delivery paradigm. Firms such as these are demonstrating a growing interest in who has control over the entire process. There’s a fork in the road ahead – do we want to see a future that holds the Architect as an asthete or as one in a position of control? Finally, he ended by proclaiming that reinvention of the business model is critical to the change. Software technology will follow, and should not lead the charge.
To start the Q&A session, Mr. Bernstein posed a “what if” question to the speakers: what if Mr. Prince-Ramus was hit with a lawsuit on the Seattle Public Library? How would the legalities and responsibilities work out? Mr. Ashcraft spoke of the importance of developing a strong client relationship to head off the lawsuit. He advised that an architect call the client immediately to show that she was being proactive and was working to solve the problem that drove the lawsuit. Mr. Simmons advised firing 10% of your clients each year, and more pragmatically, involving your employees in the “ownership” of the design. Doing so increases morale and project quality rises. Ms. Sharples repeated the importance of crisis management, and that when the owner and contractor see your involvement, the crisis becomes much less severe. The overarching response was: be honest. Show you want to fix the problem.
The next question was about “doing the extra work” for the 3d model, and how (if) it was reflected in the architect’s fees. Mr. Prince-Ramus was able to secure a percentage of the General Conditions from the contractor on a particular job, since he was doing the shop drawings in his model, but that’s so often not the case. Ms. Sharples’ firm takes the opposite approach by rolling it into (what she hopes is) a higher overall fee.
From the audience, James Timberlake brought up the role of “the Academy” in the educational process, and if it places the emphasis on individuality and isolation rather than collaboration. Dean Stern defended Yale by describing the design/ build studios and co-op programs. Mr. Prince-Ramus thought that students need to learn the notion of “other” in the design process, namely one who cannot be convinced that the student’s design is the way to go. “Collaborating with like-minded people is easy,” he said. “What you need is denial.”
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Saturday’s sessions began with a series of speakers addressing Information Sharing. William Zahner, from A. Zahner fabricators, Hilary Sample of mos architects and Yale University, Kent Larson from MIT, and Chris Noble, a lawyer from Noble & Wickersham LLP. Cristiano Ceccato from Gehry Technologies provided the response to the presenter’s speeches and led the Q&A session.
Zahner’s company is highly regarded for its ability to build the skin for projects requiring sophisticated metal skins such as Morphosis’ Eugene Courthouse, Herzog & de Meuron’s deYoung Museum, and many of Frank Gehry’s works. He presented several, and talked about how using tools such as Pro Engineer and CATIA enable the models being made to be directly translated into built form.
The deYoung museum was a good example of the Architect and the Builder collaborating early in the project. The desired effect for the metal skin was to mimic the effect of light filtering through trees. Zahner and HdM worked together to develop a series of perforations varying in densities across the façade, enabling the light to filter through selectively.
More pragmatically, his collaboration with Frank O. Gehry Partners in the design of his ‘Pods’ project for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Mississippi. Apparently, the cost of the steel structure combined with the cost of the metal skin almost cancelled the project. Mr. Zahner’s company worked with Gehry and “took the steel out of the project”, enabling the work to continue. Through their use of model-based collaboration and solutions, re-engineering the metal skin panel structure to also handle the buildings’ structural loads was possible. Unfortunately, the project has yet to be built, as Katrina ravaged the region before construction began.
Hilary Sample then spoke about what an “office” is. She reviewed today’s popular digital technology, and began to reinterpret the office in today’s YouTube/ Google/ Wikipedia/ Flickr world. Using tools such as these enables an ‘office’ to share information on such a scale and at such a speed that it’s truly in sync with today’s “interface culture”. She expands on the Flickr model of following a predefined set of trails (photos), to developing and posting your own via del.icio.us, and establishing your own connections via archinect.
She performed an analysis of SOM’s website and noted that there are very clear divisions between many of the disciplines and sub-disciplines that the firm markets to and contains. Her proposal is, from what I understood, to provide the antithesis of such a website. Interesting that her firm’s name (mos) is an anadrome of SOM. I’m sure it was her grand plan from day one. (disclosure: I work at SOM, in case you forgot)
Mos architects has developed a website that embraces this interactive environment. It encourages more transparent collaboration, and fosters the ability to work from a jobsite or client’s location. It provides access to both the client and contractor and enables communication via all the modern accoutrements of the web, such as image posting, tagging, chatting, and blogging. Project schedules are shared and coordinated, and the entire site is auto-archiving so that the entire process is as automated as possible.
I wish I could provide you with a link to the site to see it, but Archinect, Google, Yahoo, MSN, Altavista, Ask.com, and Lycos turned up nothing. I find it a more than a bit ironic that Ms. Sample’s website of collaboration and interactivity doesn’t turn up as a result on major search engines and wasn’t immediately accessible. Perhaps this is by design? I wonder if, since the client’s projects are so easily accessible on the website, that it’s hidden from general view? It would make sense, but then one gets into the argument about the purpose of a firm’s website. SOM’s website, for example, is meant to be a portal to the casual browser as well as having a link to project specific information that’s protected via login. Wouldn’t that be the same thing as having a website that’s hidden from the general public? I would imagine her ideas about information sharing via the web would be best implemented in that ‘hidden’ mode, accessible by employees, owners, and contractors. It then begins to separate itself from the marketing side of the practice and becomes the ‘digital office’. Of course I could be wrong on all these counts, and the website may still be under construction.
Kent Larsen's comments focused on the pragmatics of making modular fabrication possible, as well as making the client/ owner more interactive in the design process. His presentation began with the statistic that Architects have no real role in 95% of the housing that is built in this country. While this is surely a debatable figure, I’m sure we could all agree that there’s a lot of housing being done out there without direct consultation of an Architect. So how do we fix this problem? (I assume, of course, that there are others besides architects that consider it to be a problem.) Kent argues that speculative development must no longer be a viable option for the builder, and that managers need to take control of the logistics of planning, whether it be urban, suburban, or rural.
Kent’s proposals are refreshing in that they seem so tangible, so easily implemented. He suggests that site information come in the form of digital point data, weather and climactic information, and other site specific data that enables a proper holistic approach to the parcel. In the case of urban environments, each unit would be delivered with a set of critical dimensions outlining location of services, critical dimensions, and the like. It would provide a consistent base of data for anyone to start planning their project.
A “Design Engine” would be crucial to involving the client in the earliest stages of designing their residence. He drew the parallel to the “build your own car” section of many automobile websites, giving Maserati as an example (an excellent choice if I do say so myself). The Design Engine allows the user to design/ configure their spaces. His slides showed what looked like a rigged-up light table that’s configured to respond to user input in the form of rearranging objects on the table’s surface.
Coupled with the Design Engine, there should be a ubiquitous search engine that allows the objects to be sourced immediately, and an iTune-like download process for accessing specifications and components. Builders are then simply assemblers of this “modular, disentangled plan”. Sounds good to me.
Going further, he proposed modular HVAC systems, and called for the need for a universal connection for services within these modular components that are to be snapped together on site. The construction equivalent of a USB port, this connector would allow disparate components from disparate manufacturers and sources to be combined easily. He completes his idea of the process by suggesting an eBay-like process for bidding on the assemblies, and gives Target as an example of a company who does something similar today.
Finally, Chris Noble spoke about the issues involving collaboration and intellectual property rights. He observed that today’s B141/ B151 agreements’ “Ownership of Documents” sections are very much rooted in a paper process in that they distinguish between originals and copies. This is all rooted in copyright law, and assumes that the Architect is the Author.
The fact is that architects are not the full authors of any of the “instruments of service”. And what about the specifications? Have any of you tried to get your spec writer to give you the Word files of their specs for a job? I’ve never had much luck with it. Between the specs, manufacturer data, and consultants contributions to those “instruments of service”, there are many authors. But it’s ignored.
The 1991 Architectural Works Copyright Act was, presumably, passed to protect the built work, not just the documents that define the work. For example, in principle, someone couldn’t duplicate the design of a building; under the Act it would be considered a copyright violation. But again, who actually is the “Owner” of the work? The building’s owner? The architect? The builder? All of this is unclear an open to interpretation/ litigation.
Mr. Noble sees the Federal Copyright Act to continue to be the basis for intellectual property (IP) rights. He also sees a continued dependence on contracts in the US, mainly because of the fragmented nature of the industry. There are many small firms (architects, engineers, consultants, builders) who aggregate themselves for a specific job. Because each of these organizations is separate from the other, what binds them together are the contracts. He also sees the need for tighter and more comprehensive contracts, because, in the future, we will shift from doing one-off projects to prototypes. Lastly, migrating collaboration to the internet will require legal language. The entire audience seemed to groan audibly when he suggested that when logging on to a site such as mos architects, one may have to click through an IP-like “licensing agreement” box, similar to when installing software on one’s computer today.
With that cheerful thought, Cristiano Ceccato presented his extremely brief response to the speakers. From his experience working in a digital environment, he’s seen the relatively new role of “3D Coordinator” rise to prominence, and argues for its centrality.
Diving right in to the Q&A session, his first question was about sharing models from disparate software platforms. With this workflow, there’s a need for translation from one file format to the other. While each player is responsible for the validity of his or her own data, who validates the accuracy of the translator software? Mr. Noble responded by describing the ‘defensive’ nature of the current transmittal structure, and hasn’t seen that the ‘validator’ really has a defined role yet. Mr. Ceccato answered his own question with the observation that Foster’s office shares raw numerical coordinate data and not models.
Adding another tough question, he asked about the vulnerability of data and the hackability of websites, and what could be done to address the potential? Kent Larson gave the most applicable answer, in that he recommended architects look to supply chain management software used in other industries as a model for security. He went on to posit that we don’t have “big players” in our industry, which inhibits rapid adoption of standards. He gave the example of residential window manufactures who haven’t agreed on something as simple as a common insertion point for their CAD blocks. This “big players” comment echoes Mr. Noble’s sentiments about why we’ll continue to depend on contracts.
It’s obvious that Larson has spent considerable time evaluating the logistics of standards implementation. He gives the example of initiatives in the UK and Australia, among others, that have successfully “flattened” the risk factor. I visited www.productioninformation.org just today and am excited to see that standards are emerging, albeit not in the US.
Scott Marble (of Marble Fairbanks) was concerned that managing the 3D model would add extra cost to what is often a fee that’s too low to begin with. Ceccato responded with a brief “no”, explaining that he had worked on some very small 3D projects without any extra expense.
Finally, and I feel it’s important to note the dissenting voice, Bob Gutman (who later gave the symposium’s closing comments) pointed out that he’s seen more than his share of ideas designed to reduce coordination problems between architects and engineers, and so far, they’ve been of limited success. “Anything we can do to get people in the same room will fix the problems,” he said. His point? Technology is not the answer. Communication is.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Sessions were grouped into six sub-themes. The first of which, entitled Craft and Design, began with the speakers addressing the notions of each. James Carpenter, Klaus Bollinger, Scott Marble, and Branko Kolarevic each presented their positions. I was unmoved by any of them, probably because I couldn’t hear them from the traffic jam we were sitting in on I-95. We did, however, manage to make it in time for Kevin Rotheroe’s response, as well as the Q&A session that followed.
The Q&A session reinforced themes that many of us have heard before: the manifesto to reintegrate the notion of material knowledge, creation of new materials, exploration of contemporary material limits, etc. Ensuing dialogue addressed the need to “own” risk to take control of the design process once again.
What isn’t heard as often is a discussion of the reinterpretation of craft itself. Phil Bernstein and Paul Seletsky both posed questions about it. Phil asked what happens when the tools are used in a way to evaluate something beyond form, and Paul gave an example of some of the work being done at SOM (disclosure: I work at SOM with Paul). Their line of questioning was prescient, as we would learn on Sunday when John Nastasi presented his work in developing a program at the Stevens Institute of Technology. More on that later.
The evening continued with Kenneth Frampton giving his keynote address, entitled “Intention, Craft, and Reality in Contemporary Architectural Form.” Basically, what he said, was that there wasn’t any. He often cited Renzo Piano’s Building workshop as an exemplary firm, and praised the “no-name” architects that “one doesn’t remember, because big names take up all the space.” I point out that he failed to mention any of the architects so deserving and so denied of that very recognition in favor of talking about Renzo, Rogers, Corbusier, and Mies.
Lobbing verbal incendiaries such as “formalistic obsessiveness” and “promethean technoscience”, he felt that architecture’s anachronism is its virtue. He proceeded to critically ravage firms such as SHoP, in that they dare merge design, fabrication, and development. The ‘classic’ notion of architecture being the “gentleman’s profession” (also alluded to later by Reinhold Martin) was upheld in his criticism of Greg Pasquarelli’s desire to “want a piece of the action” when it came to development. I wonder if Dean Stern’s office doesn’t have a piece of his new 15 Central Park West development going up right now? I don’t say that as accusatory, I simply wonder why it’s considered to be an immoral act of sorts by Mr. Frampton. Several friends of mine had a discussion about this when the Central Park West building was first going up some months ago. We thought it would have been only natural for Mr. Stern to negotiate it into his agreement with the developers.
After riling the crowd, Frampton left town, under the legitimate excuse of having to attend Columbia’s 250th birthday festivities. We were all left to mill about the “Some Assembly Required” exhibit in the school’s gallery and react to all that he had offered in his keynote.
I quite enjoyed the exhibit, as it focused on the current trends in prefabricated housing, and this is a hobby of sorts. If you want to see a catalog of the exhibit, your best bet is to pick up this month’s issue of Dwell Magazine. With some notable exceptions, most of what’s in this month’s issue was on the walls (and podiums) in the gallery. Steven Holl’s Turbulence House, works by Pinc House, and Alchemy Architect’s WeeHouse aren’t in the magazine. I was particularly struck by Pinc House’s work – perhaps because I hadn’t seen it before, perhaps because it began to broaden the aesthetics of modern prefab housing. Dean Stern observed later in the symposium that he felt all the current prefab housing looks alike. While there’s quite a lot of truth to that, Pinc House begins to combine traditional forms and points of inspiration to the body of work.
The symposium was held in the (in)famous Arts + Architecture building by Paul Rudolph, AKA Hastings Hall. The entire event was held in the building’s auditorium, located in the basement, where the ceilings are low and it’s not instantly navigable to the first-time visitor. Entry and exit logistics notwithstanding, I was struck by the auditorium’s intimacy and flexibility. The multi-level design of the seating is more akin to a concert hall than it was a standard auditorium. The central “parquet” seating area is flanked on either side by the “first tier” raised seating. This gives the room a wonderful adaptability to varying audience sizes. There could have been 50 fewer people in the room and it wouldn’t have felt any emptier.
Even though the seating arrangement is well-designed, there’s a comfort issue. A serious comfort issue. If you’ve ever sat in church pews for two and a half days straight, your body will feel how mine did by Sunday afternoon. The one good thing about these repurposed pews is that they were carpeted, which helped. A little. I don’t know where else the event could have been held in the building, but a three-day-long symposium was definitely not what Mr. Rudolph had in mind when he developed the space.
I remember learning in school that the students hated the corduroy concrete because it was so unfriendly and harsh. I didn’t find it to be the case, although, in the criticism’s defense, the concrete has had a while to age and smooth out. The finish is actually quite beautiful. Spotlights in the auditorium cascade down upon it and provide a wonderful interplay of light and shadow over the relief of the surface. James Timberlake also later pointed out that it’s a self-finishing surface, meaning you don’t have to paint it every several years. The finish also does a great deal to cut down on the amount of the reflected noise in the space. Coupled with the carpeted pews and floor, it was acoustically fantastic for me – I often have trouble understanding anything that’s bouncing off of multiple surfaces.
My final bit of building commentary is about the abundance of room afforded in the stair spaces. Rudolph seems to have classified the stairs as “served” rather than “service” spaces. Ample room is afforded for the stair landings to become a place of meeting and congregation, of discussion, and, in some cases, of leisure (there are seating areas in some locations). They are spacious enough to accommodate bike racks at the ground level, giving the students a sort of garage for their bikes. I certainly would have appreciated something like that when I was in school.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Another part of me tends to see the short term argument: what's in it for the design professional who shells out big bucks for new software and training? Those who stand to reap maximum benefit from BIM are the owners. In today's market, the owners, operators and developers are just starting to grasp the concept; however, take a look at the upcoming BIM requirements from GSA and you might think again. Right now, even early adopters of BIM are not likely to be delivering a Revit or IFC model to the client. They still require 2D vector format - or even just paper
Architects and Engineers face a simple choice: evolve or become obsolete. If we remember a time when ink on mylar was the medium of choice, we'd see a similar paradigm shift. Our BIM work on Freedom Tower was recently part of the National Building Museum exhibit "Tools of the Imagination" in which tools I used only 10 years ago were on display under glass cases!! What happened to those practitioners who decided to maintain their traditional ways? Believe it or not, they're still around. I volunteer for my village's Architectural Review Board and you'd be amazed at the number of pen+paper, diazo blueprints we review every month. That said, from my day-job perspective we see a growing number of small to mid-size firms starting to compete for our work. They can only accomplish these types of projects and provide value-added services using BIM tools. Eventually, it will be commonplace for owners to require a Building Information Model which they will assimilate into their facilities management programs and report data back to the A/E's on the continuing performance of the occupied structure.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Over here at my firm, we're working on about 9 million square feet of building in Revit - which is only THREE projects! We are very familiar with the scalability issues using any fully 3D BIM solution. I completely sympathize with Laura who states, "2D drafting components are 'unintelligent' components; there is no way to incorporate them in the BIM-derived schedule, cost analysis or interference check." However, there's no need to despair.
In the current release of Revit, more attention has been given to the 'hidden' data in such elements as 2D Detail Components. Now, even these elements can be mapped to keynotes and assigned the all-powerful Assembly Code and Description. [Note: Revit utilizes the Uniformat Classifications]. What this means to people like me and Laura is that even 2D details can be scheduled and connected to intelligent specifications via eSpecs. While true, the lowly Detail Component cannot contribute to a clash detection report or cost estimate, it can advance your overall Building Information Model. An example of this concept in action might be bracing angles at the tops of masonry walls where they meet slabs above. This is a condition which you might model to detect any slight clashes with duct penetrations, but these angles are usually cut to lengths not usually exceeding 3 foot (1 m) segments at some regular spacing. It's certainly not outside the realm of having someone model it - but that's alot of work for an entire building! Now imagine I can create typical wall head details with a steel angle Detail Component - not just lines or a filled region. Because the component can carry information such as the size of the angle and the strength of the steel, the Architect's specification can most accurately reflect that small, but important piece of the building and maybe help the GC and/or steel fabricator to expedite the correct size material to the job site.
Hope to hear more great discussions from (bim)X!
Friday, October 13, 2006
This week, I had the exciting opportunity to attend a private workshop on pedestrian and crowd simulation at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Hosted by Director Ali Malkawi PhD and Nuria Pelechano, PhD candidate of UPenn's Center for Human Modeling and Simulation, we participated in an excellent discussion about the objectives, requirements and potential limitations of such simulations.
We learned a great deal about STEPS software from Mott MacDonald as we created "people groups" and "events" which help form a simulation relative to the behavior of certain types of actual humans. Patience level, walking speed and type of event (emergency vs. normal movement) all help to customize the values you're trying to extract from the simulation. Keep in mind that the more expensive simulation packages might not be as slick as some others, but you're paying for the calibration - the amount of real performance data the software developers collect and compare with their simulation algorithms.
Most crowd simulation programs use certain flavors of cellular automata - essentially pixelating the floor plan and allowing each cell or pixel to be occupied or vacant. Like a tic-tac-toe grid, when the center square is occupied, the program constantly analyzes the eight possible surrounding cells for the least resistant path, thus creating a motion path for each of the occupants much like moving on a checkerboard.
I'm also reminded of a passage from André Chaszar's recent book "Blurring the Lines" in which he reminds the reader of a specialized knowledge that must be applied to the results of any computerized simulation. In other words, the results are only as good as the professionals interpreting those results.
In summary, such simulation tools are quite exciting to use as part of the design process; however, most tools still don't have the ability to efficiently share 3D data from Architectural design applications. Analysis programs such as Simulex from IES have been working for us in generating simple, one floor occupant simulations based on exported floor plans from Revit, but we still have to apply an overlay of data to the points of egress. I'll post more details as we make more progress with these tools.
Other crowd simulation tools for Architectural and gaming simulations: EXODUS, viCROWD, LEGION, OpenSteer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Ever heard of "Personal Rapid Transit"? Check out this link and share your thoughts.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Click here to view the article.
In the Sept/Oct 2006 edition of AUGIWorld, Mark Kiker writes an insightful article on the best ways to work with difficult co-workers from a CAD Manager's point of view. You can get the whole issue and past issues for free when you sign up for AUGI...also free! See a trend here?
Once you're in, follow the "Publications" link. Mark's website can be found at www.caddmanager.com.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
If you're a big Revit fan or just want to get a full dose of it before you start implementing it, check out the Revit Power Track. It's a coordinated group of presentations featuring the best Revit gurus around using a common dataset, eliminating redundancy and providing a broad spectrum of topics from freeform schematic design to construction detailing. Check out the AU Blog...
This year's event was opened with an inspiring lecture from Ernest Burden III of Acme Digital. He spoke eloquently of the art of design visualization and used a Rolling Stones caricature to note that the cartoon is often more like the person than the person themself. I find an interesting analogy in the world of trying to implement 3D BIM in a firm so used to producing 2D drawing deliverables. In essence, the 2D drawing is like a caricature - it is more like the building than the actual building. What I mean is that we Architects have been trained to enhance important areas of the design intent, while skillfully minimizing those elements deemed potentially intrusive or offensive to the scheme. Today's BIM tools have yet to completely embrace that subtlety and is a constant source of frustration for those who don't grasp the bigger picture.
Next was a fantastic, although lengthy, presentation from Lon Grohs and Nils Norgren of Neoscape. They described the cinematic approach utilized to produce an architectural animation sequence. I'm a big fan of the cinema (even my thesis project was a residence/studio for Oliver Stone!) and this really drove it home. Following Lon and Nils was the Paul Doherty AIA, Vice President of Land Development and Home Production for K. Hovnanian Homes who spoke about "Sustainable Business Models in the 3D Industry." Their company is using BIM software out of Europe called Argos to quickly customize and deliver their prototypes to each client while ensuring maximum quality and efficiency. They are also even using 3D printing to give new clients a scale model of their future home to share with their families and friends - nice!
Finally, I participated in a panel session along with Martin Summers of Morphosis who spoke briefly about the amazing work his firm is doing with the CALTRANS headquarters among many other fantastic projects; Ron Reim of Oculus, Inc. who is leading Revit implementation at his mid-west architectural firm; and Jonathan Ward of NBBJ who shared his reflections on life, art and the state of the architectural industry after an 18 month sabbatical travelling the globe.
In summary, a fantastic new community worthy of signing up early for upcoming events. The next conference will be in Monaco...yes, MONACO!...in February 2007, followed by San Diego, CA in August 2007.
The how-to can be found at http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Freeform-Roof-in-Revit. Enjoy.
OK, that said...let's have some fun!