Firm Profile: SHoP Architects AECbytes Profile (July 24, 2018)

SHoP Architects, a young, award-winning architecture firm with an innovative design approach, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

SHoP Architects was founded twenty years ago to harness the power of diverse expertise in the design of buildings and environments that improve the quality of public life. Our inclusive, open-minded process allows us to effectively address a broad range of issues in our work: from novel programmatic concepts, to next-generation fabrication and delivery techniques, to beautifully crafted spaces that precisely suit their functions. Years ago, we set out to prove that intelligent, evocative architecture can be made with real-world constraints. Today, our interdisciplinary staff of 180 is implementing that idea at critical sites around the world. We are proud that our studio has been recognized with awards such as Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Architecture Firm in the World” in 2014, and the Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt’s “National Design Award for Architecture” in 2009.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

Since 1996, SHoP has modelled a new way forward with our unconventional approach to design. At the heart of the firm’s methodology is a willingness to question accepted patterns of practice, coupled with the courage to expand, where necessary, beyond the architect’s traditional roles. We are proud to have worked with clients such as Google, Goldman Sachs, and the United States Department of State. A snapshot of our current work includes a 1,400 ft Manhattan skyscraper at 111 W57th Street; the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York; 447 Collins, located in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District; the Botswana Innovation Hub in Gaborone; the Syracuse University National Veterans’ Resource Complex; and Uber’s new headquarter offices in San Francisco (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Some current projects by SHoP Architects. Top left: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, USA. Top right: 447 Collins Street in Melbourne, Australia. Lower left: Botswana Innovation Hub in Gaborone, Botswana. Lower right: Uber Headquarters in San Francisco, US.

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

At the heart of our process is set of evolving tools and techniques that have come to be known as Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). In a multi-dimensional environment, VDC is the process of digitally simulating the complexities of a design project under the lens of construction processes. This can include geometric rationalization, systems development/fabrication, logistics analysis and cost estimation, from concept through construction (or fabrication through assembly). The VDC workflow leverages emerging, cloud-based technologies to promote collaboration throughout all phases of design, production and building operation. SHoP has been a long-time pioneer of building information modeling (BIM), bolstered by Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) processes, a focus which has resulted in unparalleled architectural results under challenging delivery environments. SHoP identity has always embraced technology as a means to magnify creativity without sacrificing rigorous quality standards. SHoP views technology as a tool to embolden the rich nature of human collaboration. Some examples of SHoP’s technology implementation are shown in Figures 2, 3, and 4.

Figure 2. Some of ShoP’s technology implementation on the Barclays Center project. Top left: Fabrication in weathering steel factory. Lower left: CATIA screen shot of canopy structure. Right: Mega panel mock-up.

Figure 3. Some of ShoP’s technology implementation on the Botswana Innovation Hub project. Top: Façade exterior. Middle: Digital modeling screenshot. Bottom: Façade detail.

Figure 4. Additional technologies used at ShoP Architects include laser scanning, point clouds, and mixed reality.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

For nearly two decades, SHoP has pioneered architectural design, encouraging owners, architects and contractors alike to form strategic relationships and deliver built work. The reason we do this is simple. By demystifying the process of construction, by presenting complex processes in a manner that even non-specialists can immediately comprehend, we can access the knowledge of every stakeholder in real-time. The result is broader, more fruitful, more fluid, and far more equitable collaborations. And that means better-performing buildings.

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

A major challenge is that the standard AEC toolkit is not robust enough to facilitate the federated way that we should be working. We should have much more control over the pieces, parts and products, and their respective lifecycles, within a portfolio of projects. The platform should facilitate parallel processing as opposed to a linear construction. Our design work, in collaboration with all trades and stakeholders, should result in a digital twin of the project that can be meaningfully leveraged for the delivery of the project.  Traditional deliverables and contractual arrangements pose a challenge to adoption of new collaborative workflows, so truly innovative technical practice will begin with creative definitions of these relationships early on.

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

The traditional drawing set has had a good, long run. But the future is elsewhere. While the recent emergence of so-called ‘Building Information Modeling’ (BIM) in architecture has reformed the coordination of systems from various trades in a federated 3D environment, little has been done to challenge the primacy of the old-fashioned 2D deliverable as a means to communicate with the client, as well. Even as the increasing availability and sophistication of laser scanning, CNC, and Direct-to-Fabrication processes make it possible to truly manufacture buildings—skipping altogether the old forms of documentation—all too often, the static drawing remains the primary method of communication between parties.

SHoP is working to address the hurdles preventing the industry from realizing greater efficiencies, offering expertise in specific technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, reality capture, product life-cycle management (PLM), virtual design and construction, and real-time rendering. We are working on establishing a framework that positions the design workflow for the AEC industry’s inevitable shift to a purely model-based delivery.

If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

While we realize that the answer does not lie in a single tool, our greatest "wish list" item when it comes to AEC technology is a scalable digital environment that allows the project to move seamlessly between the gestural "sketch" and robust systems-design with real-time performance metrics. Authorship and review happens in an immersive experience, and factory/on-site instructions are pulled directly from the digital-twin and super-imposed on physical space.

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