October 2, 2023
Updating the tech stack: Ask a Design Technologist
With the rapid development and emergence of new technologies across all sectors, professionals working in architecture, engineering, construction and operation (AEC/O), too, often struggle with determining which product or tool best fits their needs. In search of ways AEC/O firms discover and utilize the latest tools and technologies in practice, aec+tech asked design professionals & technologists at various AEC/O companies the following questions to learn more about their process.
- What are your favorite Tools/technologies in the last two years?
- How have new tools/technologies helped you solve a problem, or improved an existing workflow?
- What are the biggest challenges companies have when integrating new tools?
- What is your wish list for future AEC technologies and/or tools?
Oliver — Bjarke Ingels Group
Oliver Thomas is the design technology manager at BIG Architects in London. In addition to attending conferences and events, learning from colleagues & friends about the latest technologies, Oliver’s team is occasionally approached by technology companies & start-ups to test their products. It’s difficult to say how much on average the team annually invests in new tools, sometimes we directly invest in new software or hardware and other times we will collaborate with the companies directly to develop a technology. Oliver’s favorite new technologies in the last two years have been real-time rendering (Enscape mostly) and interoperability (Rhino.Inside) for their day-to-day workflow. These new tools were applied to pretty much all types of projects. Both tools allowed teams to streamline the design process and free up designers to spend more time on critical design thinking and less time on production, waiting for renders, or manually modeling duplicates within different programs. Another great technology we have been working with over the past couple years is Virtual and Augmented Reality with companies like Fologram, Akular and Spaceform. New developments in these areas has enabled us as architects to expand our bandwidth both in the design process and the act of making.
The biggest challenge and question when deciding to bring on a new tool into the workflow — is if the tools can survive or be adopted within the unique/fast pace design process in the office. Oliver is personally especially excited about 3D printing tools, the integration of ML into the design process, and various evolutionary generative design tools. Oliver’s wish list for future AEC tech innovations is first more integration of Unreal and other game engines with existing software and more accessible computational tools for designers to help automate, streamline or inform the design process.
Jared — Walter P Moore
Jared Friedman is a registered architect and senior technical designer at Walter P Moore where he helps in leading the development and deployment of digital workflows across the structures group. Walter P Moore is an engineering company with 700+ professionals working across 21 U.S. offices and six international locations.
A couple of the tools that have made a major impact on their workflows over the last couple of years include pyRevit and Rhino.Inside.Revit . With pyRevit we’ve been able to quickly develop and deploy custom Revit integrations using Python, which we’ve supported with Python training across a large number of our staff, Jared explains. The team has also recently been increasing the use of Airtable as a way of storing metadata that can be easily accessed and manipulated outside of heavy and expensive design software. Jared’s wish list item is for project delivery processes to become less reliant on drawings and more reliant on models and data.
Julie — Linked-in
Julie Chau is a design manager for the workplace design & build team at Linkedin. Julie oversees architectural, furniture, technology, and environmental graphics design and partners for Linkedin workspaces — from programming and space planning to practical completion for Linkedin’s exclusively commercial project types. In terms of actively looking for new technologies, Julie said it is often case by case depending on projects.
The team primarily relies on partners, coworkers, colleagues, and friends for recommendations of new technology and innovation. Miro, an online whiteboard platform, is a new tool Julie’s team has added into their workflow for communication, real-time comments and feedback, and the ability to easily collaborate in one space. Julie says that facilitating team adoption and fluency in new technology is the biggest challenge when introducing new tools in workplaces.
Danwei — SF Bay Area Architecture firm
Danwei, a senior designer with 8+ years of experience, works closely with emerging technologies as the firm’s lead of architectural visualization. Danwei estimates that the firm spends $1,000 to $5,000 towards testing/adopting new technologies each year. D5 Render, a real-time ray tracing 3D rendering software, is one of the latest tools the team recently implemented for one of their commercial projects.
Danwei and the team believe the tool has directly improved their efficiency and quality of work. Danwei considers the biggest challenges for integrating new tools into existing workflows are: firstly, the vast amount of time required in learning the new software and programs, and secondly, time spent gradually integrating the new technology into established workflows. Danwei’s wish list for future AEC/O tools are products that can easily automate repetitive work and products allowing for better real-time visualization.
Ricardo — MBCC Group
Ricardo J. Rodríguez is MBCC Group’s global construction technology & digital excellence specialist. MBCC Group is one of the leading suppliers of construction chemicals and solutions worldwide and has emerged from the former BASF Construction Chemicals. The organization consistently leverages new software and emerging technologies to showcase its product solutions and support customers.
Ricardo finds AR/VR platforms, drones / field-robotics, and sensors amongst the most exciting tools that MBCC has piloted in the last two years worldwide, particularly in large infrastructure projects. One new technology that has improved MBCC Group’s workflow is a remote solution that overlays a digital twin with a 360 video scan and is then experienced through an Oculus Quest. Ricardo believes the most significant challenge teams face when incorporating innovation is traditional stakeholder buy-in towards engaging in digital innovation. On Ricardo’s future AEC/O wish list is Intellectual Property management via tokens.
Takbir — DesignAware
Takbir Fatima is an architect at DesignAware, a small-scale architecture and interdisciplinary design firm based out of Hyderabad, India and Dubai, UAE. The firm has been exploring Fologram, a mixed reality three-dimensional tool, for its installation projects. Fologram eases the fabrication process, without relying on expensive equipment. They have also worked in VR platforms such as Sansar and Mozilla Hubs. Their international online workshop, Fractals Workshop, culminated in a perpetually-growing VR exhibition which can be accessed by anyone here. Takbir claims that getting the entire team to learn new tools continues to be their biggest focus for adopting new tools, and her wish list item is open-source technologies for the industry.
Todd — GKV Architects
Todd Drucker is a designer on a team of planners, interior designers and projects managers at GKV Architects with 40 peers. GKV used Vectoworks as a drafting software for many years and currently has a handful of projects with BIM delivery, or Building Information Modeling. GKV has had BIM workflow seminars with its staff and has had successful coordination with consultants using project execution plans and IFC data transfer protocols found in all BIM softwares. The goals are to optimize project delivery between design and construction with automation of building parts and data management.
To expand the appreciation of technology, GKV has had virtual presentations with software and design technologists in other fields. These 15-minute videos featured expressive structural designs, energy simulations, and photo-realistic renderings. BIM modeling allows for a more cooperative design of technologists in the AEC community which is required to design the buildings of tomorrow’s performance standards, Todd explains. The software’s capability continuously expands and more synergies will be developed in the coming years to improve the utilization of data for everyone’s benefit.