Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Building (in) the Future @ Yale, Part 2

Written by Bob Yori.

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.

Building (in) the Future @ Yale, Part 1

This past weekend, a symposium was held at the Yale School of Architecture exploring "how contemporary design practices are rethinking the design/construction process, especially as it relates to fabrication, detailing, and, ultimately, the organization of labor." Unfortunately, I couldn't attend, but my esteemed colleague Bob Yori was gracious enough to take notes and report back. His notes are so insightful and thorough, I will be posting them in several parts.

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

A/E BIM Adoption

In response to a recent post on the bim(X) blog, I am disappointed to hear the frustration of an industry colleague over the state of BIM adoption witnessed in the A/E sector. As we have begun to implement these new tools and methods, we find ourselves collaborating at a much higher level than ever before with contractors, fabricators, suppliers and subcontractors. Our junior team members are learning so much more about construction by modeling (both the 3D and the metadata) than through drafting alone. We are starting to perform analyses earlier in the design phase and in-house - an effort which was previously farmed-out to specialists and consultants. We're looking for those services which will set our firm apart from those simply offering it faster and cheaper. Architects in particular have the extraordinary opportunity to start manifesting the evolution by educating their clients on the enormous possibilities of BIM and how it can revolutionize both the construction and design processes.

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 - what's the point?

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

(bim)X and LOD

Word is quickly spreading about Laura Handler's blog (bim)X - a contractor's BIM blog. In a recent post, she comments on the level of detail (LOD) professed by Paul Aubin during his latest Revit seminar. I'd like to share a few tidbits of wisdom in this area I hold so dear.

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

Crowd Simulation Workshop

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

Environmental Awareness

Like me, you're probably into Star Wars and The Matrix,...you know who the Myth Busters are and you get excited about the Roomba! You probably also have a keen sense of environmental consciousness. This is the first offering I'll provide to promote increased awareness of issues that will affect the global environment.

Ever heard of "Personal Rapid Transit"? Check out this link and share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A wall too tall might fall

I'm at it again...yet another addition to WikiHow. This time I illustrate the use of Revit with custom wall parameters which allow you to use your design model to verify the validity of your construction through a process of using a wall height checking schedule.

Click here to view the article.

Challenging personalities

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

Hey you! It's AU 2006!

If you act quickly, you might not miss out on the $500 early registration discount for Autodesk University 2006 - but so what?! Get on over to www.autodeskevents.com/au2006 and register now, it's worth the extra money. This will be my fourth consecutive year at Autodesk University and I just can't say enough about the experience. It truly is the "premier learning and networking event" of our industry.

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...

Vismasters Conference

I was invited to speak at the first semi-annual Vismasters Design Visualization Conference in Boston, MA on August 4, 2006. Vismasters is a new group formed by Randall Stevens, founder of Archvision and Jeff Mottle, founder of the CGArchitect community. The two apparently had lobbied the folks at SIGGRAPH to lend more of a focus on the architectural visualization community in addition to graphics hardware and the like. After a few years, the pair decided to create their own dedicated community and event which would occur on the coat-tails of the annual SIGGRAPH event in the same city. The event has since been re-labeled as the "Design Modeling & Visualization Conference" to more accurately reflect the diverse audience of visualizers, designers, architects and engineers.

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.

Revit Freeform Roof Tutorial

As Steve Stafford already mentioned, I have posted a tutorial on WikiHow based on a segment from my Autodesk University 2005 class "You Can't Do That With Revit!" The site is a collaborative effort to build the world's largest how-to manual. It's really a breeze to join (Free!) and start posting your own content. Sure, there's been debate over the validity of wikis in today's society, but heck - it can't hurt!

The how-to can be found at http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Freeform-Roof-in-Revit. Enjoy.

A new day

I've created this new blog in part due to the new beta blogger site and also to avoid confusion between the old site address and the mission of the message. The old site is still at http://bimguru.blogspot.com until any unforeseen change in service eliminates it.

OK, that said...let's have some fun!