Sunday, May 7, 2017

Staying ahead of the Architecture Curve

Technology is changing architecture. The world of computational design means architects are pursing new frontiers where architecture can be generated through the writing of algorithms and software, where interactive physical mechanisms can be built that respond to their environment, adapting and evolving as necessary.

Advancements in the technology we use in our daily architectural practice will continue to rush at us like breaking waves. As much as the design technology of the future excites our imagination (holographic design, anyone?), the most exciting tech is the kind we can actually use right now: the kind that makes us better designers and leads to a better built environment for our clients.
Recently, on a visit to Autodesk University I found myself engaging with a number of potentially revolutionary technologies. I came away thinking that architects have much to look forward to in the coming years. But my team and I realized that before we can contemplate architecture’s technology of the future, we must look at sharpening our existing set of tools and extending their worth in our industry. Perfecting one’s digital craft is crucial to, as they say at technology conferences, “investing in our digital economy.”

VIRTUAL REALITY AND AUGMENTED REALITY VIEWERS
VR viewers can now be purchased for under $20 (the cardboard version), while posh versions come complete with head tracking devices. VR viewers can be connected to a smartphone and will soon feature software that responds to voice commands. This means we can walk into a client presentation, hand out a pair of Google Cardboard viewers, ask them to scan a QR code, and just like that, have our client virtually exploring their space. Autodesk has come up with a handy Cyberspace Developer Kit, which makes the process of creating virtual environments user-friendly. We must prepare ourselves for the idea that our clients will soon be inhabiting our models.

NVIDIA AND IRAY RENDERING MACHINES
Technology has come a long way in terms of its ability to quickly produce photo-realistic renderings. The latest technology isn’t just faster, it’s also becoming more intuitive. With the right workflow in place (not to mention the RAM and graphic cards required to run these apps), higher quality renderings can be created with confidence. The days of waiting until after construction to inhabit your space are essentially over.

MOBILE WORKSTATIONS AND SKETCHING
Mobile workstations are already in vogue. Typically firms are providing their designers with tablets, a docking station and additional monitors in addition to their trusty rolls of trace paper. This technology enables industry professionals to actively use touchscreen monitors and tablets during the CA process, and issue instant site reports with mark-ups. At Autodesk University, I saw how this technology (currently in use by VOA) enables us to use the touch screen tablet to sketch directly into software, which can then translate information into 3D modeling applications.

ROBOTICS AND 3D PRINTING
The way we make things has changed —but will change more drastically still. Robotics is coming to the construction industry. It won’t be long before we are assisting in designing to a construction process that involves assembly robots. Assisted robotics, in which a human and robot work together to direct the construction process, is also on the horizon.
We’ve seen 3D printing of consumer items, but new algorithms can actually value engineer a structure, while solving the equation for structural resilience and material use. In architecture, we have seen parametric design tools assist in creating amazing structures. Now the use of large-scale 3D printers will help push the materiality of those structures. 3D-printed construction will greatly expand the limits of construction technologies.

A SHOUT-OUT TO REVIT
Much of AU focused on the technology we use most at VOA, Autodesk’s building design software, Revit. My team welcomed improvements in Revit 2016, the flexibility of Revit to interface with a multitude of Autodesk products to enhance workflow, tips and tricks for bettering your production flow and your Revit families. Many of the features we dreamt of having in Revit are being added to each new version. These features offer the ability to temporarily add or remove a view template from a view, show worksets in color, and a new fan favorite e-transmit. 3D modeling is already an industry standard, and I only see more uses for it out there.

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