AIA Conference on Architecture 2019AECbytes Newsletter #98 (July 11, 2019)

The annual AIA 2019 Conference on Architecture was held last month in Las Vegas and it provided me with the opportunity to see the latest AEC technology offerings, both from established vendors as well as some new ones. They were all conveniently located together in the Technology Pavilion at the AIA Expo, which also featured a whole host of other building products and services that would be of interest to architects—there were over 650+ exhibitors in total. The AIA is the largest annual conference for architects in the US, with an average attendance of close to 15,000 registrants. Needless to say, this makes it a key conference for any technology vendor looking to demonstrate how their product(s) could help architects design and deliver better projects more efficiently and effectively, and it is therefore an excellent venue to get a rundown of the latest and greatest technologies that are available.

For the 2019 event, they fell, broadly speaking, into the categories of BIM, performance analysis, project information management, specifications, model checking, and of course—this being an architectural conference—visualization.

BIM for Architecture

BIM continues to be the centerpiece technology in architectural practice, and all the leading BIM vendors were at hand (with the exception of Autodesk, who I could not find in the Technology Pavilion) to exhibit the latest versions of their solutions. GRAPHISOFT had just come off its KCC 2019 event held earlier that week (described in AECbytes Newsletter #97), and showed a preview of ARCHICAD 23, its BIMx Pro mobile app, and the upcoming integration with Twinmotion which wowed attendees with its stunningly photorealistic renderings incorporating real-time raytracing (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The upcoming integration of Twinmotion with ARCHICAD will include real-time raytracing.

At its YII 2018 conference last October (see AECbytes Newsletter #94), we heard about Bentley’s plans to rebrand all its core applications to start with the word “Open,” including rebranding its multi-disciplinary BIM application, AECOsim Building Designer, to OpenBuildings Designer. At the AIA 2019 Expo, we had the opportunity to actually see the rebranded product, including improvements such as physically based rendering, the incorporation of GenerativeComponents within the application for script-driven computational design (Figure 2), and a built-in Energy Simulator for building performance evaluation. Bentley also showed its new OpenSite Designer application (Figure 3), which is the rebranded and enhanced version of the generative tool for site design, SITEOPS, that it acquired in 2014 (see the AECbytes archived article, “SITEOPS: Applying Optimization Technology to Site Design”).

Figure 2. Bentley's GenerativeComponents algorithmic design application is built into OpenBuildings Designer. (Image courtesy: Tower design by Tapani Talo)

Figure 3. Bentley's OpenSite Designer has evolved from generating optimized site design to becoming a full-fledged design and documentation tool for civil engineers.

Vectorworks showed its new annual release, Vectorworks 2019, that has a host of new features including a new live-sync plug-in that allows designers to perform real-time rendering in the popular rendering application, Lumion, while making design changes in Vectorworks; the ability to use Vectorworks Cloud Services to generate presentations of designs with a simple drag-and-drop interface (Figure 4); a new filtering capability when searching through layers and classes; the ability to use the clip cube on sheet layer viewports in addition to regular viewports, providing greater flexibility in creating more lucid presentation drawings (Figure 5); a new Data Tag tool for tagging and displaying the BIM data in objects, with the ability to automatically tag multiple objects; the addition of BIM data sets to all architectural symbols making it easier to exchange BIM data with others; bi-directional control with COBie, which not only automatically updates the COBie worksheet when the model is edited, but also enables data in the COBie worksheet to be updated to drive changes in the model; better control over IFC export; the ability to batch import Revit families for improved collaboration with Revit; and many more.

Figure 4. The new Vectorworks Cloud presentation feature allows presentations of designs to be created online using a simple drag-and-drop interface, with the ability to link interactive 360 rendered panoramas.

Figure 5. The ability to use the clip cube on sheet layer viewports in Vectorworks 2019.

Performance Analysis

On the energy analysis front, IES showed the key features of its new IESVE 2019 release that would be of most interest to architects and building designers. A new Schematic Design Geometry Wizard is available for quickly creating the schematic-level building model for building performance analysis, only requiring the designer to specify the building footprint and orientation, the number of floors and the kind of roof, and the window-to-wall percentage of external glazing (Figure 6). The tracking of a building’s performance against the AIA 2030 Commitment has been greatly simplified with a one-click Navigator tool that sends building data and building energy model results to the AIA 2030 Design Data Exchange. Additionally, IESVE 2019 also includes a new Daylight Glare Probability (DGP) metric which, when coupled with the daylight performance simulation, allows a better evaluation of the visual comfort for the building occupant (Figure 7). There is a new glazing database which includes all of the popular commercial glazing manufacturers, making façade design and glazing specification easier for the designer. And finally, we also saw how IESVE 2019 helps designers with decarbonization by estimating energy consumption and carbon emissions of buildings with graphic-rich performance metrics and outputs.

Figure 6. TThe new Schematic Geometry Wizard in IESVE 2019 and the resulting analysis of the building’s energy and daylight performance.

Figure 7. The new Daylight Glare Probability calculation in IESVE 2019.

There was also a new performance analysis tool unveiled at AIA 2019 called PlanIT Impact. This is a web application that analyzes the performance of a proposed building design at the conceptual stage and suggests different strategies to optimize it; it also provides the costs and savings associated with each option. There are four different modules for the performance analysis—energy, stormwater, water use, and transportation—some of which are further developed than others. In particular, the energy module is the most advanced. The proposed design can input into the tool by specifying the building geometry, location, baseline code, and building program. There is also a Revit plug-in that can be used for importing building geometry into the tool (Figure 8). One this is done, you can set an energy use goal and run an Energy Discovery engine, which runs through multiple scenarios and finds the best design strategies that meet the specified goal. The suggested strategies are broken down by energy savings and added building costs, and the expected payback period for when a building owner will see a return on the energy reduction investments is also provided (Figure 9). In addition, there is streamlined reporting for the AIA 2030 Commitment. The idea is to help AEC professionals design buildings to meet net zero energy or AIA 2030 Commitment energy goals, and the tool specifically looks for strategies that maximize energy savings with the quickest ROI.

Figure 8. The Revit plug-in that can be used to export the building geometry to PlanIT Impact.

Figure 9. The different energy strategies for a proposed building found by the Energy Discovery engine, showing energy use, cost, and payback period. The lower image shows one of the strategies in more detail.

Project Information Management

The field of project information management (PIM) seems to have expanded considerably in the last few years. As I mentioned in my recent review of TonicDM, the only solution for PIM in AEC for over a decade was Newforma Project Center, the flagship application from Newforma. Not only were there both Newforma and TonicDM at the AIA Convention, we also had Deltek exhibiting the PIM solution it recently acquired, as well as a new solution called Layer which started off by augmenting Revit project data but has morphed into a full-fledged PIM solution.

While we had a detailed look at the PIM capabilities of TonicDM just two months ago, the company demonstrated two new features that it has just added: "Request Files" and "Default Submittal Actions." The first allows you to send a link from TonicDM requesting the files, and all the recipient needs to do is click the link, drop the files into the box and click Send. TonicDM will email you and them an automatically created transmittal as well as log the transfer into the project File Transfer log, so that all the details are recorded. For the second new feature, the Organization Settings page now includes a section for configuring the default Submittal Actions that will apply to all projects. After these have been configured, each new project will start with these. If like most firms, all projects use the same submittal stamp, there will be no need to adjust the Submittal Actions per project. If a project does need a different set of Submittal Actions, this can be set up in that project’s Settings.

Newforma, in addition to providing an overview of the capabilities of Newforma Project Center (NPC) for accessing and organizing project data, managing email, collaborating with team members, and managing design and construction projects (see a detailed review of NPC in this archived article), showed two new integrations. The first is with Autodesk BIM 360, which gives users a unified solution for searching and accessing project information wherever it resides, either from the BIM 360 home screen or from within NPC. The second integration that Newforma announced is with Procore, which connects the construction administration tasks being done by the contractor, such as submittals and RFIs, to the design team focused review process in NPC. The integration will allow construction and design teams to work where they are most efficient without requiring anyone to double-enter data.

I had the opportunity to get a detailed look at Deltek’s new PIM solution which is based on its acquisition of Union Square in 2016, an established technology company focused on providing project information and collaboration software to the AEC industry. Deltek has added to its functionality and rebranded it as Deltek PIM, providing access to critical project information in one central location with proactive email management (Figure 10), simplified document management, organized drawings, secure file sharing, and streamlined construction management, enabling efficiency by bringing order into what is typically a chaotic and disorganized process. It also includes a Revit connector for bringing in the projects details directly from the model, if Revit is used, as well as a mobile app that can used to access and input project data from any location. While most of these capabilities have, by now, become standard features in any PIM application, I found the Deltek offering very comprehensive. It also has the advantage of being fully integrated with other Deltek products such as Deltek Ajera and Deltek Vision, enabling firms to go beyond managing single projects to organizing firm-wide business documents, forms, marketing materials, etc. in one central location, and allowing project managers to access information such as schedules, budgets, financial data, etc., that would typically be created outside the PIM solution.

Figure 10. Filing an email to a specific project in Deltek PIM using its Outlook plug-in.

I found another brand-new entrant, not just to the PIM field but to AEC technology in general, in Layer. With a tag line of “A home for your building’s data,” Layer began as an in-house solution at the architectural firm, BVH Architecture, for a rehabilitation project of the Nebraska State Capitol that required documenting more than 1,300 rooms, which included 1,200 windows, and 57 data points per room. The firm did not find a good solution for organizing and coordinating the vast amount of building data that it collected—which included notes, images, videos, task lists, and so on—so it created its own software solution and subsequently spun it off as a separate company that has evolved into a full-fledged project management application. While the starting point was connecting all captured data to a Revit model through a Layer plug-in, the application can now also be used as a standalone system for collecting, managing and sharing building data project information independent of BIM (Figure 11).

Figure 11. Real-time collaboration in Layer, enabling building data gathered in the field with the mobile app, to be associated with a project from where it can be immediately accessed in BIM.

Specifications, Model Checking, and Visualization

In my 2018 AEC Tech Updates article published last September, I provided an overview of Overtur, a cloud-based suite of tools for project team members to collaborate on specifications and the security design of doors and openings, for both BIM and non-BIM projects. It is developed by Allegion, a global publicly traded company with over 30 brands focused on building products such as doors and related security devices ranging from mechanical locks to advanced biometric scanning devices. In addition to exhibiting Overtur at the AIA, Allegion unveiled the Overtur Mobile application, which allows users to connect to the door hardware data of the project and collaborate with colleagues while in the field or away from their traditional workstations. The app includes tools to review and edit project details, add and remove collaborators. email collaborators, transfer ownership of a project, view project files, and create punch lists with added notes, photos, or voice memos (Figure 12). Once completed, the app synchronizes the field data back to the Overtur platform for collaboration, reporting and administration.

Figure 12. The new mobile app for Allegion’s Overtur platform that allows users to work on door hardware specifications for a project from the field.

The leading model-checking application for AEC, Solibri, showed its new product family at the AIA. Rather than a single product, Solibri Model Checker (SMC), that has been the mainstay of the company so far, Solibri now comes in four different versions, designed to expand the reach of the tool and brings its model-checking and quality assurance capabilities to different types of users (Figure 13). The solution closest to the earlier SMC application is Solibri Office, which brings all the models from different disciplines together for advanced model checking and quality assurance, allowing the BIM manager, engineers, designers and other involved parties to collaborate and solve any issues that are detected.  The Enterprise version is targeted for firms that have multiple users doing model checking—it can be customized for maximum scalability and ease of wide-spread use. Solibri Site is intended for use at the construction site, where you don’t need the full array of functionalities, just the ones that provide you the relevant information such as viewing the models, quantity take-off, measurements, markups, etc. And finally, Solibri Anywhere is a free version that allows subcontractors and other involved parties to view the model and access the information they need.  

Figure 13. The expanded Solibri product family, including Anywhere, Site, Office, and Enterprise version.

And finally, on the visualization front, there was Epic Games, of course, showing the newly acquired Twinmotion (shown earlier in Figure 1), as well as its long-standing visualization engine, Unreal Studio, for industries such as architecture, product design, and manufacturing that use geometric models; these can be imported from a variety of CAD and BIM formats including 3ds Max, Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, and CATIA. Another leading visualization company, Unity, best known for its gaming engine, showed its upcoming product for the AEC industry, Unity Reflect, that allows users to create immersive, interactive experiences from multiple BIM/CAD models, enabling real-time data visualization and data collaboration. It has a live link with Revit, allowing changes made in Revit to be seen in Unity Reflect in real-time, and includes APIs to allow other applications to publish and sync to the Reflect framework (Figure 14). I saw a similar offering from a company called VIM AEC, which, in addition to visualization, also preserves all the BIM data and makes it accessible from its platform.  I also got the opportunity to try out an immersive VR walkthrough using Prospect from IrisVR, which can convert Revit, Navisworks, Rhino, SketchUp, and Navisworks 3D models into VR.

Figure 14. Viewing a Revit model in real-time in the upcoming Unity Reflect.

Conclusions

For anyone interested in software applications for architecture, the AIA convention is a must-see, bringing all the latest technologies together under one roof. Almost as interesting as those who exhibited were those who did not, highlighting specific trends. For instance, I didn’t see applications such as SketchUp, form.Z, or Rhino, which are usually mainstays of the event, indicating that BIM has well and truly taken over in AEC and the use of generic 3D modeling has reduced. Similarly, there were no traditional CAD applications in sight. The field of project information management (PIM) has significantly expanded, indicating a lot more focus on business processes and workflows rather than just design. There were no “breakthrough” technologies as such—for me, the gold standard is the AIA convention years ago when both SketchUp and the now defunct Autodesk Architectural Studio made their debut. We also didn’t see much of the AI (artificial intelligence) hype that seems to have taken over the rest of the world, which was just as well.

All in all, the AIA is a great show to attend to get an overview of the current technology trends in the field. The 2020 event is scheduled to be in Los Angeles, and I look forward to seeing what changes the coming year brings to AEC technology.

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 lachmi@aecbytes.com.


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