AECbytes Newsletter #48
(Nov 18, 2010)
AIA TAP 2010 Conference
AECbytes has covered most of the annual AIA TAP (Technology in Architectural Practice) conferences including the 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 events. I have found these conferences extremely helpful as an accurate reflection of the state of the art of technology in architectural practice, as the presentations are primarily from practitioners sharing their current technological processes and experiences. Being vendor-neutral, they serve as an important counterpoint to user presentations at vendor events, which are primarily focused on the use of that particular vendor’s applications. For anyone working on the technology side of architecture, the AIA TAP conference has been one of the leading forums to learn about how others in the field are using cutting-edge technologies such as BIM as well as participating in new delivery methods such as IPD (integrated project delivery).
Unfortunately, I could not make it to the 2009 AIA TAP conference that was held in Chicago last year due to a scheduling conflict. This made me especially appreciate the 2010 TAP conference that was held last week. While the main event was held in Washington DC, it was also held simultaneously in seven additional cities around the US. The plenary sessions were scheduled so that they could be viewed at a convenient time in all the different time zones in the US. These plenary sessions were supplemented by local sessions in each location. For those who could not make it to even the regional venues, there was an option to register for an individual Web connection, which allowed the plenary sessions to be watched via WebEx, thereby opening up the conference to anyone with an Internet connection. I opted to watch the conference virtually, and was able to participate in the discussions by submitting questions through the WebEx interface. While this was definitely not an adequate substitute for attending the event in person and talking face-to-face with the presenters and other attendees, I was glad of the opportunity to least follow the event instead of missing it completely as I was forced to do last year.
This year’s event was entitled “New Technologies, Alliances, Practices: Technology in Project Design, Delivery and Facility Management” and it was organized by the AIA TAP Knowledge Community (KC) in collaboration with the AIA Center for Integrated Practice, the AIA Project Delivery KC, and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). The focus was on the use of technology in the design, delivery and management of architectural projects. My virtual attendance allowed me to see all of the plenary sessions, which covered a wide range of topics including BIM implementation, sustainably design, IPD, cloud computing, standards for BIM, and new ways of designing and visualizing. An overview of all the presentations in the plenary sessions is captured in this AECbytes article.
First Plenary: Alliances & Technology for Project Delivery & Lifecycle Management
The opening plenary started with four rapid-fire Pecha Kucha style presentations that were each allotted seven and a half minutes. The first of these was by Ramtin Attar of Autodesk on the topic of extending BIM to real-time building performance monitoring. Currently, standards such as LEED are used as benchmarks to ensure that buildings are designed incorporating a specific set of sustainability principles; however, these do not take into account the energy performance of a building once it is built and actually occupied. Autodesk is working on a research project that will integrate a highly detailed BIM model of a building with sensor networks that can measure the activity in every location and adjust the building control systems accordingly. The sensors can detect, for example, the thermal values in an office space that will occupied by a person using equipment such as a computer, printer, lights, phones, and so on, throughout the course of the day. By combining the data from the sensors with the intelligence from a BIM model, it is possible for building owners and operators to get detailed inputs and visuals—in a rich 3D environment—on how a building is performing in real-time. This 3D performance monitoring can be used to adjust the controls automatically, allowing the building to respond to each of its occupants more quickly and effectively while also minimizing energy usage and waste. Autodesk is testing out this technology by implementing it in its Toronto office. More details about the project can be seen at: http://www.digital210king.org/.
The second presentation was by Jennifer Knudsen of CO Architects, a Los Angeles-based architecture firm that specializes in healthcare, academic, and science and technology architectural planning, programming, and design. The presentation focused on one of the firm’s recent projects, the Health Sciences Education Building in Phoenix, and how BIM was used for the design and construction of its exterior cladding, which was intended to reflect the red rock lines of the local canyons in the area and was one of the main design features. The panels were of different sizes and seemed to be randomly placed to better convey the impression of natural canyon walls. This made them very complex, and the use of BIM was the key to realizing their design and construction. BIM was used to not only design the panels—Revit was used for the project and each panel type was modeled as a Revit family—but also to communicate the design intent to the cladding sub-contractors and subsequently for the actual fabrication of the panels. It was a lot of effort, but the firm found that the final design was well worth it. Construction on this project has just commenced and it is scheduled for completion in summer 2012.
Up next was Patrick Mays, formerly of Graphisoft and now with Dassault Systémes, who focused on the topic of “building lifecycle management” (BLM). This was hardly surprising coming from the representative of a leading company in the mechanical design field where “product lifecycle management” (PLM) is a key requirement of software applications. While it was not clear whether Dassault Systémes is trying to come up with a BLM solution for the building industry, Mays argued for the need of BLM which supplements the design data captured in a BIM model with the management data that will be needed to manage and operate the building throughout its lifecycle. He also highlighted three key requirements needed to facilitate BLM: reducing the divide between construction drawings and shop drawings; the enhancement of design documents so that they also show the means and methods of constructing a building rather than just the final design; and greater consolidation within the industry between contractors and manufacturers as well as sub-contractors, which are typically regional and therefore do not see much consolidation. It was not entirely clear, however, how these three trends would enable BLM, and this presentation was one example where the limited time prevented a more comprehensive explanation and understanding of its concepts.
The final rapid-fire presentation was also related to the topic of a building’s lifecycle and it was by Aram Kailian of Leo A Daly, which ranks among the largest architecture/engineering and interior design firms in the US. John Russo of Architectural Resource Consultants and Jan Reinhardt of Adept Project Delivery also collaborated on the presentation. While BIM affords the capability to capture and use information to adapt, operate, and manage a facility throughout its lifecycle, building owners are currently not able to do this as they lose control of their data because of the poor hand-off from one stakeholder to the other during the design and construction process. While it may be easy to blame the data loss on the lack of interoperability between AEC applications, it is important to keep in mind that interoperability is not the cure-all for the problem, as it is sometimes portrayed to be. Interoperability cannot capture lifecycle-related information magically if it is not there to begin with, and it cannot solve the problems of lack of investment, resources, and leadership that are the main reason why BIM’s potential for building lifecycle management has yet to be realized. Building owners must realize that they have the most stake in the building data and should make systematic plans to control and manage it, through the intelligent use of available and upcoming technologies and the adequate investment of resources. There is a need for a project and building information plan right at the onset, which brings a focus on maintaining data and its relevancy through all the lifecycles of a facility. Investment in a spatial data manager or equivalent will contribute to better designed, constructed, operated, maintained, sustainable, energy efficient, and decommissioning of properties.
The first plenary concluded with a panel discussion between Phil Bernstein of Autodesk, Jonathan Cohen of Brookwood Group, and Howard Ashcraft of Hanson, Bridgett, LLP, on the topic of how BIM can be used to facilitate IPD. It was moderated by Randy Deutsch of Deutsch Insights. The key points which emerged are that while the AEC industry is on a continuum of IPD adoption, we do not need all projects to be IPD in the future. The diversity and complexity of the industry calls for many different paradigms rather than just one “best way” of doing things. It is possible for the different disciplines to collaborate even without IPD, and it is important to think about how to incentivize people to collaborate. At the same time, IPD has clearly proven to be more efficient than traditional design-bid-build processes, as it reduces the feedback loop between the different parties, provides for rapid estimation of design alternatives, improves collaboration and coordination, and provides a continuity to the design and construction data that can be harvested for facilities management. The decision to adopt IPD on a project requires a very committed owner, which does not fit many projects since for most owners, the building is not their core competency. So far, peer pressure has been a major factor in IPD adoption, as evidenced by the large number of IPD projects in healthcare—owners want to do what their competitors are doing. The use of BIM is indispensable for a successful IPD project, and it can be used to convince owners that IPD is the way to go, but only if architects can do a good job of “selling” BIM to owners. Telling owners that BIM can remove errors and inconsistencies in the design is not very effective, as owners expect this from architects anyway as part of their job, whether they are using BIM or not. It would be more helpful for architects to emphasize the cost savings enabled by multi-disciplinary design coordination, energy and cost analysis, construction scheduling, and most importantly, the ability to use the BIM model for facilities management.
Second Plenary: New Thinking in Practice
The second plenary session was focused on new ways to think about practice, and it started with a keynote by Zigmund Rubel of Aditazz, a new venture in AEC that is focused not only on high performance buildings but also on high performance processes. While Rubel did not disclose what exactly Aditazz was doing, he did mention that his partner was an electrical engineer and that they were applying solutions from that industry to AEC. An example of what Aditazz can currently do is functional space modeling prior to design, which can help to improve the operational efficiency of a building before the architect has even started thinking about possible spatial layouts. The current focus in the AEC industry is on “building the building right” whereas it should actually be on “building the right building”—a very thought-provoking idea. In order to build the right building, we need to first validate the clients’ needs. Very often, clients do not know what they want, or they have wrong ideas about what they need. Rather than designing the building to satisfy these needs, we need to let the clients know about what is erroneous about their assumptions. We need to learn from other industries and methodologies such as that of systems engineering, where the formulation of a problem is often considered more crucial than its solution. These are certainly unique ideas for the AEC industry, and it should be interesting to follow Aditazz and see how it eventually addresses the problem of “building the right building.”
The other presentation this plenary was by Marty Doscher of Morphosis and Synthesis Technology Integration (a new venture) along with Pavel Getov of Studio Antares, who talked about their work together on three Morphosis projects: the Comerica (Dodge) Theatre in Phoenix, the Caltrains District Headquarters in Los Angeles, and the Cooper Union project in New York. While all three projects were designed and built at different times and using different delivery methods, what they had in common were that they were all custom projects requiring a custom approach to their architecture, which the presenters referred to as “building memetics.” This term was unfamiliar to me, and I must say that even after I looked up its meaning online (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memetics), its connection with custom architecture that requires unique rather than standard solutions was not clear to me. But the main idea of the presentation made sense—that advanced architecture is only possible through a collaborative effort supported by cutting-edge technologies such as BIM and integrated project delivery methods. At the same time, every unique project requires a unique project delivery method based upon a specific design and construction technology. In other words, you design the process and the project simultaneously. It is important to put the right team together and empower them to make decisions on the spot, as contemporary projects are not just about design but about negotiation between the different disciplines and parties involved. The closer integration between design and construction allows the design to be changed even during construction and solutions to be found for construction problems as they emerge, leading to incredible time and cost savings, as was realized on all of the three Morphosis projects discussed in this presentation.
Third Plenary: Technologies in Practice
The final plenary of the AIA TAP 2010 conference again featured some rapid-fire Pecha Kucha style presentations, starting with Keith Holloway of RLF, a Florida-based architecture, engineering and interior design firm, who discussed how his firm has modified project deliverables in the light of their BIM adoption, more specifically in their healthcare projects. Some of the changes include conducting early planning studies to determine the right placement of spaces and equipment, early stage energy analysis, using the model to run virtual simulations for design as well as animations for client presentations, populating the model with 3D equipment which are so critical in the design of healthcare facilities, harvesting the model for clash detection and construction scheduling, and creating “smarter” drawings and details in construction documents that are interlinked to communicate the design intent more quickly and efficiently.
Next, Jeffrey Franklin of Limitless Computing Inc. presented a basic overview of cloud computing and how AEC firms can utilize this computing resource effectively. While a much more detailed discussion of cloud computing in AEC has already been published in AECbytes (see the feature, BIM and the Cloud), the presentation was helpful in providing some information about cloud computing to those who don’t know much about this emerging technology. It talked about the three main aspects of the cloud: applications (more commonly known as “apps”) such as Gmail and Yahoo; cloud storage, which can be public or private; and finally, cloud computing, which refers to a pool of shared computing resources that can be significantly more powerful than a single computer. This makes it an attractive option for hosting BIM applications and/or BIM models, which users can access from their computers using RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).
The last rapid-fire presentation was by Dianne Davis of AECInfosystems, and while it was supposed to be focused on defining and managing BIM project deliverables using a standardized structure, it started off by an intriguing reference to Christopher Alexander’s seminal book “A Pattern Language” and the need to create “patterns of BIM.” Patterns are repetitive pieces of information, and while the pattern language concept has been widely adopted outside the AEC industry in technologies such as Google, Wikipedia, and SimCity, we are still nowhere close to even defining, let alone standardizing on patterns for building design and construction. We do have a number of standards such as the IFCs, Omniclass, NBIMS, and so on, being developed by different standards organizations, but we need to move to a common lingua franca for the industry—including clear definitions of an architectural model, structural model, MEP model, analysis model, and so on—to derive the benefits of a pattern language that other industries have achieved.
The third plenary ended with a presentation by Eve Edelstein of Innovative Design Science, who is working with a team in the University of California, San Diego to develop new 4D immersive visualization techniques that can be used to not just experience a proposed design from inside it, but also explore it with a team as well as make changes to it in the process of navigating through it. While immersive CAVE technologies have been around for some time at research institutions, what is different about the UC San Diego’s StarCAVE technology is that it is being developed jointly by a large team from a range of disciplines including architecture, engineering, neurology, and anthropology. It is also building on existing immersive technologies research by including the collaborative experience as well as design intervention capability, and has improved on the user experience by making the interface more intuitive—all the commands are now compacted within a cube instead of having a clutter of menus to manipulate during navigation. In addition to experiencing a design in full scale, the technology can also be used for tasks such as way-finding and construction simulation. While the technology seems to be too expensive to become mainstream anytime soon, it was fascinating to see the kind of technological advancements being developed at universities that provide a glimpse into what the future could be like for the AEC industry.
As always, the AIA TAP conference presented a wide range of perspectives on technology and process changes in the AEC industry from a diverse group of AEC practitioners, software vendors, consultants, and academic researchers. It was interesting to see the discussions going well beyond BIM and even IPD, highlighting that BIM is hardly the “be all and end all” of the AEC industry. Much more can be done ahead in terms of improving design and construction processes as well as ways to collaborate on and visualize designs, agree on standards and develop “building patterns” to improve quality and efficiency, enable the building data to be used for the continuing operation and maintenance of a building throughout its lifecycle and integrate it with building sensors for improved performance monitoring, and last but not least, re-think the process of defining the client’s requirements to ensure that the “right building” is built. The ability to participate in the AIA TAP conference in regional venues as well as virtually at a relatively low cost is a very welcome development and should open it up for many more AEC professionals to benefit from in the years to come.
About the Author
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes.
She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC
Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building
modeling, and consults
and writes on AEC technology. She
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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