Tech Trends Influencing Architecture and Design

Posted by Brandon Garrett

Brandon Garrett, Associate / Architect and BIM Manager, discusses technology trends influencing architecture and design. He and his team continually evaluate new tools and refine workflows to enhance design, produce better models, and speed production. Brandon is an Autodesk Revit Certified Associate and a member of the BIM 505 User Group. He has presented about best practices and emerging applications of technology in Building Information Modeling at numerous conferences across the country.

What have been your team's biggest technology accomplishments in the past year?

It's an exciting time to be involved in the technology side of Architecture. New tools and processes have provided us with the ability to quickly run various simulations to understand how design and site factors impact the performance of buildings.

Advances in 3D scanning have brought new means and methods of capturing existing conditions like never before. Our BIM capabilities have expanded to new heights through the use of visual programming and computational applications like Dynamo for Revit. Dynamo extends BIM with the data and logic environment of a graphical algorithm editor. D/P/S has developed and manages a package for Dynamo called Rhythm, which is currently one of the top 5 most downloaded packages in the community. The move to use smart and robust PDFs for file sharing has enhanced our deliverables and improved collaboration throughout the design process.

Luis Aramburu, Tavis Browne, and Herman Agoyo at the Bluebeam eXtreme awards.

To top off these advancements, we were also honored to be a finalist in the 2015 Bluebeam eXtreme awards, and the Design Technology Summit's Innovation awards. In addition, our presentation on energy analysis workflows at the 2015 Revit Technology conference was voted as a top 5 session.

What are some of the biggest challenges you and your team face?

The biggest challenge when dealing with technology is balancing the rapid pace of change and advancements with our current workflows. The applications we use can change monthly or even daily. So when implementing new tools and processes we have to be cognizant of this and allow for flexibility.

3D scan of existing building.

A challenge that we faced in 2015 was how to best utilize 3D scans of existing conditions. Three-dimensional scans are the most accurate way to capture these conditions but as with any new technology, it presents new problems. Our previous workflow involved going out to a site, taking measurements and then going back to the office to create models. Now we manage an enormous amount of data and very large (40+ GB) file sizes. With such high levels of accuracy we have had to develop workflows that give us the best model representation of something that in reality is imperfect. Walls undulate both horizontally and vertically, floors and ceilings slope, and there are very few clean dimensions. We're not alone in tackling these issues, as we are excited to be an industry partner with Navajo Technical University as they work to create new metrology certification. From this collaboration we hope to share our workflows and work with the University to improve and streamline the process of reality capture.

How does technology currently implemented by D/P/S contribute to design excellence?

I like to equate the new tools and technology that we implement to that of an artist getting a new type of brush, a photographer acquiring a new type of camera; it's all about the possibilities that the new tools and technology give us. These tools don’t necessarily drive the actual design but they allow us to better communicate ideas to clients and the community. In some cases, ideas that used to seem impossible can now become reality as technology advances. Technologies related to data visualization and energy analysis are augmenting the design process by giving us access to information and analysis that were previously unattainable. This enables us to make more informed design decisions which enhances our design process.

What is your BIM team currently working on? What new trends do you see, and how do you think BIM and other technology will continue to change the design process?

We are currently working on the implementation of early stage energy modeling and simulation, expanding our computational design and data visualization capabilities, and exploring custom application development. In the past, energy analysis was often very time consuming and required external expertise. Many of these tools have been integrated into our design software and they leverage cloud computing for both speed and accuracy. Now we have the ability to understand how design changes will potentially impact building performance. We no longer need to solely rely on rules of thumb but can make informed and meaningful decisions based on the results of these advanced simulations.

BIM team at Autodesk University.

With access to unprecedented amounts of data and through data visualization we can now translate large data sets into valuable information about the site, impact, and context of our projects. With this information we can see patterns and connections in both macro and micro scales.

With Computational BIM we have the ability to write custom scripts and optimize and explore design in entirely new ways. Not only are we using this as a new design tool, but also as a way to improve the quality and consistency of our deliverables. We are developing new tools and applications to meet our clients' needs and improve our current design tools beyond their normal functionality. Thanks to affordable computing power, we will also be looking into generative design which is a process where we can run innumerable scenarios based on a given problem and have the computer narrow down the top performing results.

Looking forward, we're going to be seeing a lot of new exciting developments in technology and architectural visualization. Consumer versions of virtual reality headsets, like the Oculus Rift, will be hitting the market and is poised to change how clients can experience their projects. The proliferation of affordable sensors and an expanded Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure will allow building owners to gain real time analytics about their building performance to reduce energy consumption. I believe that the continued trend of software companies to make available the source code of the tools we use most will have the largest impact on what we doing this coming year. No longer are we bound by the limitations of existing software; we can make our vision for the future a reality and that is what is most exciting to me.