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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 »

AEC Predictions for 2017

February 2nd, 2017 by Susan Smith

AEC technology company spokespeople weigh in on what their predictions are for 2017, with their thoughts on “going digital,” virtual and augmented reality, smart cities, “assembled architecture,” drones, self-driving cars, big data and much more.

Stay tuned for some very insightful comments on the state of industry going forward this year.

Self driving electronic computer car on road, 3D illustration (courtesy Bentley Systems)

Smart Cities

City of Helsinki – Helsinki 3D+
Helsinki, Finland. Image Courtesy of City of Helsinki

“A smart city is a visionary statement for urban development that aims to converge information technology, operational technology, and engineering technology to better manage a city’s assets, and ultimately improve the quality of life for all. Technology is the enabler for smart cities around the globe, spanning mega projects to smaller scale initiatives that focus on streamlining processes, realizing efficiency gains, and improving services to its citizens. To realize the potential of a smart city, a concerted focus is being placed on a digital strategy that will enable comprehensive project delivery and enhanced asset performance for the supply chain and asset owners that build, construct, and operate and maintain infrastructure.” — Aidan Mercer, Industry Marketing Director, Government, Bentley Systems

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

“Watch for virtual reality and augmented reality to move from use by a few pioneers in design and construction today to much wider adoption as software solutions, such as Revit Live.Prices for VR headsets will fall, enabling architects, engineers, and project stakeholders to evaluate designs by experiencing and interacting with them.”  — Joy Stark, senior industry manager, Autodesk

“The way Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) help “sell” a project and the wow factor alone should be enough to inspire firms to invest in developing this technology in the coming year. The biggest impact came from Google that have introduced its simple and affordable yet rather powerful Cardboard product that helped “democratize” this up and coming technology by providing access to a broad audience. In 2016, a number of vendors started to offer solutions for their clients to utilize AR/VR equipment built on one of these platforms. Very trendy technology indeed – however if this becomes a must-have part of AEC workflows is yet to be seen. 2017 will contribute to that either way for sure.” — Akos Pfemeter, vice president, Marketing, Graphisoft

“If I had to drill down to a few key aspects that will have a tremendous impact on the AEC industry this year, it would be Virtual Reality, computational design and OPEN BIM™.

VR at Vectorworks

We will not only see Virtual Reality (VR), but also Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) used more frequently in different parts of the design process to communicate ideas in instances where renders and drawings are insufficient. For example, you could use VR/MR systems to show a client how a building will look in the context of a site, as well as inside the structure itself, or a contractor could use VR/AR to verify site conditions against designed intent. These technologies will enable AEC professionals to involve clients in ways that they’ve never been involved before – giving them control over what they’re looking at from the early planning stages of a project. Additionally, VR will allow clients to spend as little or as much time reviewing and offering feedback to better inform the designer and ensure both parties are on the same page for the final project. At Vectorworks, we had our sights on VR way before it became a trend, which is why our Vectorworks® 2017 software line, released this past September, includes our new web view and virtual reality features that allow users to easily share designs with clients and collaborators by generating a link that allows anyone, anywhere to walk through models in 3D on any device.”  — Rubina Siddiqui, product marketing manager – architecture at Vectorworks, Inc.

Computational Design

Marionnette BIM computational design, Vectorworks

“Furthermore, the importance of computational design will continue to grow this year. Computational design has been growing in popularity, especially for design exploration with complex geometry. However, many people are seeing computational design as an opportunity to not only create unique geometric shapes, but a way to gain efficiency through automation of tasks and customization of tools. Many platforms have limitations with how they can address the needs of graphical scripting in a larger BIM context. However, Vectorworks is the only software to provide a native, built-in computational design tool within a BIM platform: Marionette. Everyone knows that AEC professionals are always looking to be more efficient, and Marionette addresses that need as it allows you to save time by generating not only geometry, but also scripts and plug-in objects, so you can produce intelligent building models with Marionette all within one platform. Marionette can automate routine tasks in the design process such as drawing analysis, database creation and file organization. These factors can save hundreds of hours on projects. We see computational design being adopted by more and more students and younger designers entering the workforce, meaning this capability is well on its way to becoming common in architectural practices. Looking ahead, our Research & Development team will continue to invest time in advancing Marionette.” Rubina Siddiqui, product marketing manager – architecture at Vectorworks, Inc.


“Drones will become commonplace on the jobsite – According to a March 2016 report from Goldman Sachs, construction will be the largest use case for commercial drones in the immediate future, generating $11.2 billion of the projected $100 billion in global spending over the next five years.  Already in use today, drones will become the “go to” choice for photogrammetry “reality capture” of jobsites before construction to help generate initial 3D models of building and/or infrastructure projects.  And drones are also proving to be time and money saving tools for inspecting high-rise building components, eliminating the need to expose a human inspector to potential falls.”  — Tristan Randall, strategic projects executive, Autodesk.


Graphisoft Rhino AC 2

Lightweight access to BIM

“Making BIM more accessible will emerge as priority in 2017 as BIM moves into the mainstream. Mobile technologies help give equal opportunity to everyone to use BIM, through purpose-made apps providing lightweight access to the BIM database on hand-held devices and tablets. This will open up the door to BIM for one of the last segments – the most important one in fact – owners and developers to start seeing the direct benefits of BIM. The most recent statistics from the 2016 AIA Firm Survey shows nearly all firms (92%) are using some sort of mobile technology so we anticipate with the evolution of available software this will become mainstream sooner than later as well.” – Akos Pfemeter, vice president, Marketing, Graphisoft

“Smart devices, tablets, and mobile phones combined with cloud services will, over time, help jobsite teams become smarter and more efficient by delivering design and planning data from the office directly to the field for streamlined execution.  Cloud and mobile integrated project platforms, such as Autodesk Forge, will help make it possible for project data to flow among multiple project teams from the earliest design phase, through construction and on into operations.”  — Sarah Hodges, director, Construction Business Line at Autodesk.


“Jobsites will evolve to be more like factories with increased use of prefabrication and manufacturing techniques.  Revolutionary changes don’t come along very often in the building industry, and when they do, usually a confluence of stuff pushes those changes forward. Prefabricated architecture, sometimes also called “assembled architecture,” looks to be one of those transformations. In the past decade, a few pivotal events shaped the transformation of “manufacturing buildings” from hyperbole (or desperate banality ) to reality.” — Phil Bernstein, Lecturer, Yale University School of Architecture; Autodesk Fellow.  

Going Digital

“‘Going Digital’ is a phrase that will resonate with both the AEC industry and asset owners in 2017 as a heightened level of focus is placed on engineering as the means to deliver this promised strategy. The enablement of a digital strategy is being realized as infrastructure professionals can take advantage of software that has, for example, a Microsoft Azure-provisioned connected data environment that digitally connects and converges people, processes, data, and technology to yield significant results. The transformation will have a profound effect on the realization of a smart city – a term which has yet to realize its full potential. The burgeoning use of digital engineering models, the models created by engineers, will act as visual operations and connected infrastructure asset performance as they take advantage of cloud computing, the Industrial Internet of Things, big data, and operational data from a variety of sources. These models will be referenced through the full lifecycle of a project, adding longevity and performance improvements as a result.

Going digital will further take advantage of new and exciting technology that can capture entire cities, easily and efficiently. The proliferation of reality modeling – the process of capturing existing site conditions with the use of digital photographs or point cloud data – across infrastructure project delivery and asset performance is now widely adopted by infrastructure professionals. Reality modeling describes the potentially continuous capture of infrastructure assets’ as-operated conditions for processing into engineering-ready reality meshes, and their “enlivening” for immersive interaction. To date, reality modeling has processed digital photos into reality models, but now offers available point-clouds from laser scanning that can now be combined with available photos, as “hybrid inputs,” for reconstruction into a reality mesh. This enables the capture of assets in a digital format, further converging the virtual with the physical and offering new potential.

The future is bright for the infrastructure community. The promise of going digital will ultimately improve project delivery and asset performance with operational-intelligence analytics to have open and live access to information within digital engineering models so that a city can be truly smart.” — Aidan Mercer, Industry Marketing director, Government, Bentley Systems

Wearable Technology

“We’re moving far beyond the tool belt and hard hat – wearable technology will connect workers to job data and help boost safety.  In the not-too-distant future expect to see jobsite workers wearing helmets with visors displaying project and augmented reality [e.g. DAQRI head gear].  And many may start sporting vests with embedded sensors to help manager track a worker’s location, or alert them if a team member has not moved, or has fallen down [e.g. Redpoint Positioning].”   — Sarah Hodges, director, Construction Business Line at Autodesk.

Unlocking Funding with Technology

“Unlocking Funding with Technology – Existing infrastructure assets are an increasingly popular investment class, delivering a steady attractive income. But that same investor enthusiasm doesn’t always translate to new infrastructure projects. Risk of project cost and schedule overruns during construction, and unproven performance of a to-be-finished asset, can make investors wary. With such pent-up demand for infrastructure expect more project sponsors and supply-chains to turn to digital technology to help bridge the funding gap. From the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to improve predictability of projects, to big data platforms and gaming engines to help pick the right projects to build, to predictive analytics and IoT data to better understand how assets are likely to perform, even before they’re built, the future is going to be a lower-risk place for infrastructure investors.” — Dominic Thasarathar, Industry Strategist: Construction, Energy and Natural Resources, Autodesk.

 Big Data

“Big Data to tackle Big Challenges – Most future demand for construction output is going to come from increasingly complex cities and the energy and resource infrastructure to support those cities. Within just 10 years, nearly two-thirds of all global demand will come from today’s emerging economies. But in such a high-stakes industry, where and how should AEC firms respond? Increasingly the answer will be found in the data, or rather, in the big data. Trends in population demographics, economic growth, energy requirements, disposable income, and more could be crunched by cloud computing to help companies gain insights into the best opportunities and better understand the risks. Expect that to drive demand for new tools capable of modeling building and infrastructure information at the macro scale, in the context of those complex trends.”  —Dominic Thasarathar, Industry Strategist: Construction, Energy and Natural Resources, Autodesk.

Tackling the Skilled Labor Shortage in Construction

“Demand for digitally hip construction professionals will explode – Tackling the known skilled labor shortage in construction head-on is a “must” for the future of the construction world.  Look for private industry to team up with construction firms and organizations to help recruit and develop new, technologically smart workers we’ll desperately need as boomers retire at an alarming rate.  A good example is Autodesk’s collaboration with Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to offer its members training on building information modeling (BIM), 3D design and visualization, fabrication, unmanned aerial vehicles, mobile and cloud collaboration and other technologies.” — Sarah Hodges, director, Construction Business Line at Autodesk.

BIM Expansion

“With more than $218 trillion worth of existing infrastructure assets requiring care and upkeep in the world’s top 32 countries, the use of BIM is moving from an option to a “must”.  The rapid adoption of BIM within the global civil infrastructure community, driven, in part, by government mandates, will help dramatically reduce construction for taxpayers.  In fact, McGraw Hill’s 2012 Smart Market Report, “The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure” (PDF), noted that 67 percent of the BIM users surveyed reported a positive ROI with BIM—and in fact, it led to better public engagement, lower project risk and better predictability of project outcomes.”  — Terry D. Bennett, senior industry strategist for civil infrastructure at Autodesk.

“The adoption of BIM standards and initiatives by governing bodies and industry organizations will undoubtedly drive the use of BIM further and further. For most designers, BIM technology needs to adapt to the design process and not try to replace it. This adaptation will greatly increase adoption and improve the benefits of BIM.

Moreover, OPEN BIM™ and its emphasis on the collaborative design, realization and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows will also drive us forward. This is evident by the increased collaboration between Vectorworks and its many sister brands from the Nemetschek Group. We work with many of our partner brands to create BIM workflows connecting various products and demonstrate how models/data can be exchanged via open, international standards like IFC and PDF. This includes: SCIA for structural engineering; Solibri for BIM data validation, quality checking and data mining; Data Design Systems (DDS) for MEP engineering; Bluebeam for PDF-based document management; dRofus for building programming/owner requirement tracking; and Precast for precast concrete element design and fabrication. Additionally, Vectorworks uses MAXON’s Cinema 4D as its engine for our integrated rendering solution, Renderworks®. The brands within the Nemetschek Group have a strong, unified support of OPEN BIM™, which bodes well for open exchange with products from other companies.” — Rubina Siddiqui, product marketing manager – architecture at Vectorworks, Inc.

“The biggest trend in 2017 will be the demand for full BIM-based workflows in AEC projects,” according to Akos Pfemeter, vice president of Marketing for Graphisoft. “This also drives the actual utilization of many of the technology trends in 2017 including more integrated BIM workflows, the involvement of a broad array of various stakeholders directly into the BIM workflow with augmented and virtual reality providing lightweight tailor-made access to BIM data as well.

Integrated BIM workflows

Interoperability continues to grow in importance as BIM transition and adoption becomes more widespread. GRAPHISOFT has long-supported the notion of OPEN BIM / workflow integration to enable project members to participate in the design of efficient buildings of any size no matter their choice of software. If the promise of massive infrastructure improvements comes to fruition in the US, integrated BIM workflows will be critical to success. These types of projects demand the universal language of OPEN BIM as it lends itself to quality transactions between industry and government that inherently requires transparency, comparable service evaluation and assured data quality. These long-term projects additionally benefit from OPEN BIM as it provides enduring project data for use throughout the asset life–cycle, avoiding multiple input of the same data and consequential errors.

Algorithmic design to BIM

We see a different kind of workflow integration is happening between ‘designers’ and ‘drafters’ in larger offices. Designers work in freeform design environments in many cases equipped with generative design capabilities. With the availability of various algorithmic design tools there is a natural need for workflow integration with BIM environments. There are basically 2 different strategies to achieve this: one prevalent strategy is introducing algorithmic features directly in the BIM tool, the other one is connecting algorithmic and BIM workflows in an open and intelligent way. The first approach has the advantage of familiar work environment for BIM users while the second one offers a much wider array of algorithmic capabilities ‘out-of-the-box’.” — Akos Pfemeter, vice president, Marketing, Graphisoft

Artificial Intelligence

“Artificial intelligence is a technology with never-seen potential as well as various threats in similar scale. Certain industries have been utilizing AI more than others (i.e. AI’s utilization in diagnosing on the medical field), while the AEC industry hasn’t really seen any true utilization of this technology so far. Potential would be huge though, in particular in analyzing “big data” of smart cities on the urban scale or seismic and weather data on country or regional level. In a much smaller scale BIM tools could also offer a helping hand to designers with complex design problems by “predicting” potential solutions to those problems. If 2017 will make any advancement in this field is the biggest question marks of all big technology trends foreseeable in the next 12-18 months to come.” — Akos Pfemeter, vice president, Marketing, Graphisoft

Self driving electronic computer car on road, 3D illustration (courtesy Bentley Systems)

Self-driving Cars

Self-driving cars to revolutionize road design. Are you ready?

“Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is a hot topic in the transportation industry, and it will drive the future of road design. As vehicle-to-vehicle communication and vehicle-to-pavement and assets communication are utilized, vast improvements are expected in the way our roads are designed and built in terms of safety and efficiency. For example, vehicles will have situational awareness and knowledge along the route they are travelling. With this ability, vehicles can travel closely together (i.e. platooning of vehicles), which may affect the number of lanes required, acceleration and deceleration lane lengths, and more. The upshot, most AV studies report that equipping cars and light vehicles with this technology will likely reduce traffic accidents, energy consumption, pollution, and, most important to drivers, congestion.

To accommodate AV technology, roads of the future will need to be advanced but affordable, safe and secure, environmentally friendly, and intelligent, providing dependable transport. These roads will also need to be adaptable to vehicle-to-vehicle communication, as well as vehicle-to-pavement, and vehicle to other assets communication. New technology, such as Bentley’s OpenRoads application, will provide engineers with the capabilities necessary to design and build roads of the future. These capabilities include supporting new stopping sight distances, visibility and sight lines, road communication needs, and other standards to meet the design codes necessary to support AV traffic flow on the roads. New advancements in civil design software will help engineers design the type of roads needed to interact with road operators and the vehicles that operate on them to assure safe driving.

Designers will need tools to build roads that can identify where repairs are needed, adapt the speed and route of drivers, and meet the geometric requirements to support roads of varying sizes, with fewer lanes, different intersection and interchange configurations, vertical and horizontal curves, as well as analysis to support traffic volumes and driving patterns of AV vehicles. Roads of the future might also require evolved drainage, subsurface utilities, and other communication requirements to support AV technology and new fabrication requirements.

The advantage of using advanced technology such as OpenRoads is its ability to enable the project delivery of road networks through construction-driven engineering. Moreover, it delivers all the information needed to support operational workflows. These applications will continue to help redefine best practices for design and construction deliverables to support the design and build requirements of the highways of the future.” — Rachel Rogers is director of product marketing for road design applications with Bentley Systems.

Additional Future Thoughts

“In addition to VR, computational design and OPEN BIM™, a few other technologies that will become more relevant include: robotic 3D printing, an emphasis on high-performance buildings, as well as the smart city initiative that strives for more livable cities and tackles challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate and improving the delivery of city services. It’s an exciting time to be in the AEC industry and technology will continue to help professionals go where they’ve never been before.” —  Rubina Siddiqui, product marketing manager – architecture at Vectorworks, Inc.


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Categories: 2D, 3D, 3D PDF, 3D printing, AEC, AECCafe, apps, AutoCAD, Autodesk, Bentley Systems, BIM, building information modeling, Civil 3D, civil information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, engineering, field, field solutions, file sharing, greenhouse gas emissions, IES, IFC, infrastructure, integrated project delivery, IoT, mobile, Nemetschek, point clouds, reality capture, rendering, site planning, Vectorworks, video, virtual reality, visualization, wearable devices

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