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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

2016 in Review Through AECCafe Stories

December 14th, 2016 by Susan Smith

No one would contest the fact that 2016 has been a tumultuous year, with lots of shifts worldwide and many disruptive technologies coming onboard.

Oak-paneled Auditorium inside the Aliyev Center - photo by Helene Binet

Oak-paneled Auditorium inside the Aliyev Center – photo by Helene Binet

Along with technologies have come an approach to technologies that shifts the focus to the human rather than to simply technique-driven solutions. Messaging moved from the latest widget to how can we experience our designs more effectively and in a way that gives us information on how it will be to actually live in the spaces we create.

The following are some of my favorite picks along those lines.

The Human Experience

One of my favorite topics of this last year was Review of Humanism in Architecture.

Practicing architect, Robert Lamb Hart wrote a book called “A New Look at Humanism” in which he brings neuroscience, ecology and evolution into the world of architecture. Hart is currently Chairman Emeritus of Hart Howerton, a planning, architecture, landscape, and interior design firm with a global practice, headquartered in New York and San Francisco. A panel discussion was held at AIA 2016 on the topic, “Neuroscience, Evolution, Ecology: a new look at humanism in architecture,” based on research in that field.

“After starting to practice, and watching styles come and go,” said Hart. “I realized that our education, focused on buildings and the ideologies of celebrity architects, had taught us little about our audience—the people who were counting on us to design the places and the ecosystems where they would spend most of their lives. I set out to fill that gap.”

“The sciences that underlie construction related technologies – structures, materials, systems and software – have revolutionized how we design and build today. But the insights emerging from the maturing science of human life – evolution, ecology and neurosciences — are only beginning to be incorporated.” – Bob Hart.

Throughout the year, this theme emerged in other venues morphed to various concurrent agendas.

Dreamcatcher - Generative Design

Dreamcatcher – Generative Design

Autodesk CTO Kowalski spoke about “generative design” embodied in their Dreamcatcher product in the making, promising a new way to approach design. “We don’t tell it what to do, we tell it what we need,” he said. “we let it explore the entire solution space on its own.”

While this may seem very futuristic, Autodesk’s vision is that we are moving into an era of considering the needs of people, and letting the human experience drive the use and development of software.

Dreamcatcher is designed to expand users’ perspective and elucidate their ideas. They might decide to use it with Fusion or other tools, so they won’t be dropping other products to use it.

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass said that self-driving cars are about creating a great experience for the drivers, so that it becomes more of an “ultimate passenger experience.”

“Cars will need software that responds to the world in milliseconds,” said Bass. “These companies can’t just be building cars; they need to build drivers.”

Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM showcased some of the new directions Dassault is heading. Topics revolved around experiences and platforms as transformative. The message delivered was essentially how experience is transforming the economic model – not only for products but for the built environment as well.


Monica Menghini, executive vice president, chief strategy officer, spoke on “The Age of Experience is Transforming the Economic Model.” “It transforms the way we design, discover, fabricate forever. Everything has new meaning: design, science, manufacturing, marketing,” Menghini pointed out.

For design, each product will become a portal to deliver something else and to attract and drive participation in an ecosystem. We have products that can gather data and personal information, noted Menghini.

Science is becoming fashionable, said Menghini, and is blending of all sciences and all technologies. We know distinction between natural science and social science.

Menghini said that “The 3DEXPERIENCE was not designed as an engineering platform, but rather a much bigger, new type of platform was needed where business experience, engineering, manufacturing and marketing can be combined.”

Dassault is creating a 3DEXPERIENCECity of Singapore. There is a scale factor, complexity factor, an element of massive integration of existing data and creating a consistent reference of the city, which sounds a lot like a smart city model to me.

The simulation of Singapore looks at city as platform, which then leads to:

  • Energy/smart grid as platform
  • Education as platform
  • Healthcare as platform

While Dassault is definitely not the only one creating digital cities for their clients, Virtual Singapore sources all intelligent information. They estimate 30% growth by 2030, with a single version of truth used, which they do not call a building information model.

The efficiency of a city can be improved with a model of services, emergency services, based on ages of people, being able to index everything around, all information which can be an element to help improve cleaning up the city, provide new citizen experience, reuse of information.

Vice president Industry, AEC, Dassault Systèmes, Marty Doscher, talked about the role of AEC at Dassault today.

“There’s a whole lot that’s not being included in AEC,” said Doscher. “Owners are expecting something different, building partners and manufacturers are figuring out how to contribute. They now know they need BIM. But there is another side to the story besides design tools and construction management.”

“We have big sustainability challenges,” said Doscher. “We can’t just make our buildings more energy efficient, they have to behave as intended. Buildings never behaved as intended, no matter how advanced your design process is or how cutting edge your sustainability strategy is.  You would never accept that your car doesn’t behave as it was intended. There is the expectation this is the way the industry is, but we can’t do that for sustainability.”

In discussing the sustainability or livability of cities, it’s not just about making things more efficient. 3DEXPERIENCECity claims to offer a unique user experience to map and analyze “all parts and processes constituent to urban life in a holistic manner.”

Wearable Technology

Moving right along with the humanistic experience: David Smith, CTO, Wearality, a 3D pioneer of VR, AR, and other technologies, spoke at the SPAR 3D Conference in Houston earlier this year, about how his company is dedicated to delivering and creating AR products for consumers and business.

Wearality Sky

Wearality Sky

“Think of AR is a superset,” Smith said. “I’ve have seen the evolution of computers from a different perspective. My mentor is Alan Kay, creator of the personal computer. We’re on a threshold of something that is going to empower us in a way none of us can imagine.”

According to Smith, the emergence and innovation of smartphones have been the primary driver of the VR revolution. We are coming close to visual acuity, he said.

That’s where Wearality comes in with their head wearable displays. New capabilities required by Lockheed Marin customers required new kinds of devices. The Wearality panorama lens creates a very wide field of view (FOV).  Existing lenses provide a small FOV (70 degree in Cardboard).

This one is designed for humans to look through. Almost every other lens has been designed off the shelf. You can get a full 180-view with the Wearality lens and it works through your phone.

There is huge cell phone use in many countries for entertainment, so to have this type of experience on the phone will be a real selling point. This technology is possibly two years away.

“When you buy a mobile device it’s not going in your pocket, it’s going to be something you wear,” said Smith. “It will change the way you think, work and communicate. You’re defined more by how you communicate than anything.”

Virtual Reality, Reality Capture, Reality Modeling

Whatever you want to call virtual reality, it is here to stay and has become a ubiquitous player in the AEC experience. In our Special AECCafe Report: Reality Capture to Reality Modeling in February, we took a look at the industry at that time, and have revisited various related product solutions throughout the year. The technology loops in Wearable technologies with the heightened interest in such products as Google Cardboard and new Oculus offerings. The role of virtual reality in upcoming virtual smart cities cannot be ignored.


Read Going Live with Autodesk LIVE Visualization Service about a unique interactive visualization service for Revit users, allowing them the ability to transform their designs into fully-interactive 3D models, and draws viewers into the story of an architectural design much like a video game.

Autodesk LIVE takes the worlds of visual effects, gaming software and BIM and take them to the next level of visualization. Autodesk senior vice president, Amar Hanspal spoke about how cloud and mobile computing as well as additive and subtractive manufacturing make things easier to manufacture and blur the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds.

New developments in virtual reality emerged in our story, Reality Modeling Goes Viral at Bentley’s YII 2016 Conference where Bentley’s ContextCapture is used to process digital photos from a variety of cameras including smartphone cameras, and aerial photography, including UAVs, to provide engineering-ready reality meshes.

The latest development in the offering is the ability to include point clouds from laser scans that can be combined with photos in a “hybrid” input to form a reality mesh.

“With the confluence of digital photography, ubiquitous with UAV, it’s a greater opportunity for you because surveying can be done continuously rather than occasionally,” noted Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems.

Common Data Environment

Buildings are now generating vast amounts of data, cities need to be sustainable, flexible and producers of resources. AEC professionals must also have their eye on environmental impact and diminishing greenhouse gas emissions in design and construction as well as operations. As owner/operators get more involved in the entire lifecycle of the project, there is a greater need for convergence and collaboration of AEC teams. In this article AECCafe Special Report: AEC Collaboration Platforms and the Cloud, we explore the ways the cloud has allowed for more collaboration and the inclusion of vast amounts of data in a common data environment.

Check out this blog on How to Integrate Data Capture: BIM, CIM, GIS and CAD

At an industry session held at SPAR3D 2016 in April in The Woodlands, Texas, Lou Bush, Director of Survey, Bowman Consulting Group, and Steve Hutsell, Chief, Geospatial Section U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Seattle District, gave a talk entitled: “Integrated Data Capture, BIM, CIM, GIS and CAD – Owner and Industry Perspectives on Products, Processes and Policies for Informed Decision Making.”

Bush is a licensed professional surveyor and mapper with over 35 years of experience in photogrammetric mapping and surveying, LiDAR mapping, subsurface utility engineering (SUE), conventional land surveying, BIM, civil information modeling (CIM), 3D modeling and LiDAR technology.

In his role as Chief of the Geospatial Section at USACE, Seattle District, Hutsell is leading the USACE/Industry BIM & CIM Consortia in a partnered development of AIM Contract Requirements for civil and military projects. He has over 20 years’ experience with AEC and Geospatial technology implementation and support at USACE Fort Worth, Europe and Seattle districts, as well as regional military installations.

The lines between survey data capture, building and civil information modeling, GIS and CAD are vanishing, according to the speakers. Helping to bridge those boundaries are National BIM, CAD, GIS and evolving CIM standards.

Beyond the Cutting Edge

Toward a Material Future brings us ideas from the outer reaches of architecture, exploring all manner of materials and the way they might interact with the human body, their environment, all the while recognizing their inherent ecology. “Towards a Material Ecology” was the topic of Neri Oxman’s provocative keynote at AIA 2016. Oxman is an architect, designer and MIT professor whose pioneering work explores biologically-inspired fabrication technologies that enhance relationships between designed objects and the environment. Oxmans’s creativity knows no bounds and spans from art to fashion to architecture, featuring such works as an organic-like, adaptable chaise lounge called “Gemini” and a biomorphic spacesuit and biologically-inspired wearable art.

3D printed vascular skin

3D printed vascular skin

She calls it “material ecology,” and it goes far beyond the description, using all manner of technologies to achieve it: additive manufacturing, 3D printing, materials science and engineering, synthetic design and computational design.

I think this was my favorite story of the entire year, primarily because it exhibits such excellence – in critical thinking, in thinking way outside the box, in extending the reach of possibility eons beyond the everyday norm.

Whether or not our work in AEC takes us into such unknown realms or not, ideally, Oxman’s journey informs our individual creativity in ways that we may not realize for many years hence. Hopefully, they will resonate with our own journeys as we take on the nuts and bolts daily work of concept to contract, to design-build, to environmental health, to operations and maintenance of the buildings of the future.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, 3D printing, 3DExperience FORUM, Autodesk, Autodesk LIVE, Bentley Systems, BIM, building information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, consumerization, convergence, Dassault Systemes, Deltek, engineering, geospatial, GIS, greenhouse gas emissions, holograms, interactive display, Internet of Things, MEP, mobile, Neri Oxman, Newforma, video, virtual reality, visualization, wearable devices, Year In Infrastructure 2016

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