Technology in Architectural Practice


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The AIA Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community (TAP) serves as a resource for AIA members, the profession, and the public in the deployment of computer technology in the practice of architecture. Technology in Architectural Practice monitors the development of computer technology and its impact on architecture practice and the entire building life cycle, including design, construction, facility management, and retirement or reuse.

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Virtual Design and Construction

  • 1.  Virtual Design and Construction

    Posted 13 days ago
    The Search for a Solution: Transforming Design + Delivery through Virtual Design and Construction

    Architects are being called on with increasing frequency to deliver more complex buildings with shorter delivery schedules.There is more to accomplish and less room for error; and in my opinion, the traditional approach by many architects, contractors and owners has many challenges and issues to overcome.

    My firm has harnessed progressive and highly advanced technologies and integrated them with the most essential element in design: the relationship among human beings. With the right technological tools and the implementation of thoughtfully created execution success plans, the project delivery process can shift from adversarial to cooperative, a culture where blame follows failure to one in which trust fosters success - a winning formula for our enlightened clients.

    In the spirit of the AIA's call to action in its 2006 Report on Integrated Practice, SGA has invested significantly in increasingly powerful software programs and tools, which ultimately led our firm to establishing a Virtual Design and Construction discipline in 2014.  Time and again, on a broad spectrum of commissions, VDC has produced precedent setting milestones. Implementing Virtual Design and Construction in modeling, project delivery, curation and facilities management represents a paradigm shift for the profession of architecture. Our mastery of VDC has resulted in substantial cost savings, schedule reductions, elimination of on-site waste and has elevated my role as the architect in the project delivery process without comprising design quality. It is an architect led process that takes the confrontation out of the team dynamic and addresses directly the issues of waste, change orders and cost overruns that have plagued the design and construction industry.

    Historically, architects were once viewed as Master Builders; I believe that by thinking beyond the boundaries of traditional practice and technology, and embracing the commanding power of VDC, architects can rise up into the position of Digital Builders. VDC is the long awaited "bridge between design and construction".

    Alfred Spagnolo AIA
    Spagnolo Gisness & Associates, Inc.
    Boston MA

  • 2.  RE: Virtual Design and Construction

    Posted 6 days ago
    Hi Alfred, thanks for posting, I must agree with your take on VDC and maybe even expand upon the differences it makes to a firms accuracy and ultimately the bottom line of a project.

    For those who are unaware of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) and what it entails, I will briefly elaborate.  Essentially VDC is the construction of a project virtually with priority items represented via Geometry. I am not sure what technology you are using Alfred, however, I know of two programs that automate the process, the first being Tekla and the other being PlusSpec, which works inside of Sketchup.  Now there is a process and Virtually designing every single component that actually goes into construction is a decision to be made by the end user, the real question is what components are required to be represented by geometry and which are simply a waste of time?  One other factor that comes into play is what is realistic to be known by an architect or designer and what is not.

    Right about now I am dancing around the subject of experience learned under tuition versus experience gained by practising in the real world. Most all of the people reading this response probably have 10 plus years of experience, and most of what goes into a project is understood, however, the readers with this amount of experience are less likely to be "computer scientists or advanced software operators and more likely to be design experts. On the other hand, we have the brilliant young 3D BIM wizards who somehow naturally pick up a piece of software in hours and make it sing like a bird, yet know very little about what goes on behind the empty shell of a Revit Model.

    I am curious Alfred, you mention your firm has been working with advanced technology since 2014, it would be great to get an understanding of what that means and what it took to be confident with the VDC process. I also think that many reading this post would like to know how long it took before you felt comfortable with the output of detail-rich designs?

    Many wrongly shy away from the VDC process as A. it could potentially open the door to vexatious clients, or B. increase the time it takes to get a project from concept to Authorities for planning approval.  My response to "A" is; you are less likely to make a mistake as the VDC outlines the mistake and to  B. is; yes you are doing more than representing walls or floors with hollow shells yet the technology automates the process in most if not all cases.

    I am fortunate enough to have learned design after I learned construction so VDC was the most natural progression for me,  essentially (just Like Alfred said) it reduces waste, not only in material onsite, it reduced communication time, RFI's, distraction, paper, administration and it allows me to be confident that the projects I deliver are actually going to meet the client brief/design expectations at the same time as coming in on budget. With the technology that is available today, I can deliver more in less time at a high rate of pay per hour. I feel sorry for the firms who see gross turnover as a reflection on a design firms success, as it is genuinely not the case. No matter how much we enjoy the design process, net profit is the key to enjoying life outside of a successful career and VDC is in my opinion the only way to make this a reality.

    Alfred, I can not agree more with your finishing statement; Historically, architects were once viewed as Master Builders; I believe that by thinking beyond the boundaries of traditional practice and technology, and embracing the commanding power of VDC, architects can rise up into the position of Digital Builders. VDC is the long awaited "bridge between design and construction".

    If architects truly want to be recognised for the hard work they did to become accredited, they would be looking to improve their output in line with the expectations of today, and the demands of tomorrows millennial clients. For those who are still using 2D CAD you probably saved yourself time and money as some of the so-called BIM packages on the market are merely 3D drawing packages with hacks, masks and workarounds that will never be VDC.

    I am happy to offer any advice if interested in my experience with VDC, respond here or PM me, I will answer as soon as I can.  B)

    Andrew Dwight
    Designer/BIM manager AAD Build
    BDM RubySketch
    Sydney Australia

  • 3.  RE: Virtual Design and Construction

    Posted 4 days ago

    Having been one of those involved with this automation effort since the time before CAD included graphics and my first graphics on a Techtronics 4014 (round green screen) in the early 1970's, I applaud and embrace the promotion of VDC, as we do need to build electronically and work out issues before we build physically. We should also recognize that VDC is a subset of Building Information Modeling (BIM). Sadly the "I" in BIM has been largely unexploited to date, but that too is quickly changing. The desired concept is to have a digital twin of the built environment so that not only can we understand the asset prior to physically constructing it, but also provide the owner a product they can use to operate and maintain their asset. There are many exciting aspects which are still "under construction" including the full implementation of tools such as COBie supported with digital product libraries such as BIM Object. So the goal of BIM has always been generating a seamless digital thread of usable information from inception until after the asset has outlived its useful life. VDC will provide information to that thread  prior to and during construction. Another emerging strategy is the total cost of ownership which will provide the metrics needed to understand the complete impact of planning, design and operating decisions. Again I agree with both Alfred and Andrew that architects should step up and be the initiator and steward of that digital thread for the owner, but sadly I have not seen this to be the case to date, perhaps this next generation will take on that challenge.

    Dana Smith FAIA
    Herndon VA