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Technology in the Modern AEC Firm

By Gregory Matthews, CAD/BIM Manager at Southern A&E

The motivation behind this post is to cover existing process changes that are being presented within the AEC profession and not to discuss architecture as a process or design intent, especially in the way we generate our art. At the end of the day, we must communicate our ideas and thoughts in the best way possible and provide value to our clients. Remember, every client is different and each one needs to be communicated with differently.

In today’s A/E design world, the ever-increasing demands for the ability to extract information from our models is at an all-time high. We use multi-dimensional 2D, 3D, and 4D drawings to aid in the mining of this information. To top it off, many of these “dimensional” terms are not universally agreed upon. That train of thought does not even consider the definitions of L.O.D. (level of detail), which should be clearly defined on every project and billed accordingly. Yes, the A.I.A. has defined them, but not everyone agrees with it; especially clients.

Please be aware of “buzz word bingo”. You will get sales representatives or so-called experts that will bury you in the lingo. Sadly, most of them have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to how it applies to you, or your firm. Don’t take this the wrong way, many sales representatives are doing what they think is best, but no one knows your practice like you do. Your first move should be to make sure that those around you who are tech savvy and know your firm’s culture are involved in the process form the beginning.

The last few years have allowed us to experience things we’ve only dreamed of since many of us sat down to our first CAD (Computer Aided Design or as I called it vectorized drafting) session over 30 years ago. CAD would eventually evolve into CADD (Computer Aided Drafting and Design)within a few years. Architects and Engineers are professionally learning, understanding, and implementing BIM, VDC, VR, MR, AR, clashing, time lining, and computational design. Beyond that we must explore and capitalize on things such as BAS (Building Automation Systems). Requirements for our models are evolving rapidly; owners are now looking for tools/datasets that will allow them to leverage their building data for the full life cycle of the building.

BIM applications allow us in the AEC profession to work in a manner that was unimaginable less than a decade ago. Redundant, everyday tasks have been all but eliminated. Interoperability with other tools/applications bidirectionally is almost seamless today.

VDC allows for the unforeseeable to be very foreseeable, depending on the tools you use. For example, since Navisworks models are very small in size, we write rules for our specific needs and reporting for use in our clash coordination meetings. These are the same files used in Mixed Reality / Augmented Reality (MR/VR) which is optimum for our use in the field. Today we can take a model in preliminary design and experience it in VR. In under an hour we can see what is working and what is not spatially acceptable or desired. Plus, we clash models from the beginning to guard against conflicts before a project develops too far and we have to retreat in our design to deal with it. Most importantly, the client can be involved and have an exact understanding of what we are creating for them. VR becomes the ultimate communication tool. It helps us see firsthand what is there and what is not; it’s one of the best methods of checking model completeness and quality. We can see in minutes what hours of reviewing 3D snapshots, sections, and camera views will never show us.

Always keep in mind, BIM is a process, not a product (This is a common catch phrase, take the time to really digest what that means). No matter what tools/applications you use, we can schedule and coordinate everything in the model. Model completeness is everything and model quality is just as important for data extraction.

Computational Design is one of the most important tools today that Architects, Engineers, designers, and coordinators can use. We can correct issues in a matter of seconds, not hours or even days. For example, we updated over 20,000 families in under a day using a dynamo script.

Dynamo Player: Not everyone on your team needs to be a programmer or have advanced degrees in mathematics to do this. The Dynamo Player is extremely powerful for the non-programmer or your production staff.

Complex design needs can be achieved with computational design. Unique engineering solutions will be generated, reviewed, and implemented. Everyone in the A/E profession should be truly excited by this tool-set; its uses are endless.

All-in-all, we at Southern A&E are excited as these tool-sets mature. Leveraging these assets and having all disciplines (Architecture, MEP, Civil, Structural, Interiors, and Kitchen Design)under one roof is what makes us one of the premier A/E firms in the Southeast United States.