AEC Technology Symposium 2015

CORE studio | Thornton Tomasetti held their third annual Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Technology Symposium last Friday in New York City and BUILTR was there to hear first-hand about some of the coolest innovation taking place in the industry.  They had a great cast of speakers that included some of the best and brightest from leading industry firms, new technology startups, and consultants & researchers.

Right from the start of the symposium, there was a feeling of openness and sharing of information, a true desire to share research, data and ideas to help other firms overcome some of the building industry’s challenges. Through the hallway conversations and the dialogue of the participants, it was apparent that this symposium was going to deliver some real beneficial knowledge for everyone who attended – and they did deliver!

Each of the presentations were jam packed with information, and quite frankly we could write a short book about each one, but for this overview, we’ll try to focus on the primary takeaway from each session.

Measurement Moxie


Christopher Connock, Kieran Timberlake

Both the topic and the speaker were an excellent choice for the first presentation of the day. By diving into data and measurement before the caffeine from the morning coffee kicked in, reinforced the idea that this conference was going to drill into meaty topics. Chris did a great job of explaining why you can’t just take data at face value, but you need to question everything and test everything. Having this culture of questioning at Kieran Timberlake has led them to develop their own high-density network of data-collecting sensors, coupled with an online interface to be able to view the data.  Part of the reason they built their own network was the lack of available off-the-shelf options for the nimble measurement they wanted to record. More data, and more importantly, more accurate data allows for better design for their clients.

Evolving Modes of R+D in Practice


Stephen Van Dyck and Scott Crawford, LMN Architects / LMN Tech Studio

Stephen and Scott from LMN Architects and their in-house research and development lab LMN Tech Studio shared some of their projects where they took a number of innovative approaches to using computational solutions to optimize the design and fabrication of complex architectural assemblies including the impressive Northgate Pedestrian Bridge and the University of Iowa Voxman Music Building. BUILTR was especially impressed by the fact that they went the extra effort to actually fabricate a smaller scale version of their designs, proving that the designs were not only possible to fabricate and install, but would produce the optimal results.

Grow Up, Grasshopper!


Andrew Heumann, NBBJ

As a digital practice and design computation leader at NBBJ, Andrew has some strong thoughts on the use of Grasshopper and computation in architecture that he shared with the audience. However, one of the things he shared was how they would use cardboard cutouts to help experience the physical space as well as tracking the data through a Kinect motion sensor device.  He also shared how NBBJ hold their own hackathon events as a way to continually innovate and learn new ways of doing things. BUILTR believes that more firms should be looking to innovate from within like NBBJ.

The Future is Flatter


Gareth Price, Ready Set Rocket

Ready Set Rocket is a New York City based digital agency committed to connecting brands and consumers through innovative multi-channel experiences. At the core of Gareth’s message was that the future is flatter and that means the top down business hierarchy is going away. Unfortunately, BUILTR wasn’t able to see the presentation, but we agree with his message.

How Open Source Enables Innovation


Mostapha Roudsari and Ana Garcia Puyol, CORE studio | Thornton Tomasetti

Mostpaha and Ana shared with the audience some of the most recent web-based development projects at CORE studio that were enabled by open-source initiatives.  They showed off a really cool “Design Explorer” that really impressed the audience. It is an open source web interface for exploring multi-dimensional design spaces and is available to try on Once again, CORE studio | Thornton Tomasetti show why they are regarded as one of the most innovative firms in AEC.

Dynamo Now, Dynamo Next


Matt Jezyk, Senior Product Line Manager, AEC Conceptual Design Products at Autodesk

Matt’s presentation on Open Source in Commercial Software Development featured Dynamo, the open source graphical programming for design that extends building information modeling with the data and logic environment of a graphical algorithm editor. Matt shared some great examples and their vision of building a platform to reduce the amount of rework and effort. It is great to see industry giants like Autodesk focus on bringing innovation like a startup.

Beyond Exchanging Data: Scaling the Design Process


Owen Derby,

The AEC industry has always had a problem of interoperability, which is why Flux is entering the scene with a robust system for exchanging data between design tools.  Owen explained how Flux can seamlessly exchange data between Excel, Grasshopper, Dynamo and more via the web. With Flux plugins, data is synchronized between the tools used by different team members across sites without the issues associated with tedious and inefficient file transfers. This allows every team member to use the design or analysis tool that is best suited for the task, without worrying about compatibility concerns.  For all those computational designers out there, this is definitely a must-have!

Holly Whyte Meets Big Data: The Quantified Community as Computational Urban Design


Dr. Constantine Kontokosta, NYU Center for Urban Science + Progress (CUSP)

Dr. Kontokosta is part of a very ambitious initiative to turn Hudson Yard into New York City’s first smart development. Basically, everyone who passes through New York City’s Hudson Yards development will contribute data to a project intended to help plan the cities of the future. The data sources include administrative records, traffic, health, social media, etc. along with visible, infrared and spectral imagery, lidar, seismic & acoustic data, and more. It was especially interesting to see the “Day in the Life” of Water Street as seen through data. It is exciting to see all the data collection and analysis that is taking place as part of this project with the ultimate goal of designing better cities. BUILTR looks forward to seeing how this project plays out.

Data-Driven Design and the Mainstream


Nathan Miller, Proving Ground

Nate did a great job exploring the concept of “data-driven design” and its value for building practices. In Nathan’s presentation, a data driven process is at the intersection of 4 overlapping technologies: Computation, Simulation, BIM, and Analytics. One of the memorable quotes that was really at the core of his presentation was that “Buildings are slow, expensive, and risky… Data is fast, cheap and can provide certainty.” BUILTR loved that quote! We also agree with Nathan that data may not be the answer to everything, but data coupled with great processes will help move the industry forward.

The Biggest IoT Opportunity In Buildings Is Closer Than You Think


Josh Wentz, Lucid

Josh brought us through the “Life of a Building” and how it is currently a one way process, a linear path where the architects and engineers receive no feedback as to whether their designs and recommendations produced the performance results that they were expecting. Now that more and more data is being captured by “smart” devices, and with better cloud based analytics tools, we should be able to better track the performance of the buildings. That is where Josh’s company Lucid comes in, they have a very interesting solution called BuildingOS that is a powerful, cloud-based building management platform that integrates and aggregates metering systems data for simple collaborative analysis.  Their platform even allows for online performance competition to gamify energy reduction between dormitories on a college campus.

Capturing Building Data – From 3D Scanning to Performance Prediction


Dan Reynolds and Justin Nardone, CORE studio | Thornton Tomasetti

Dan and Justin were very open and shared some of the research and development being done at CORE studio | Thornton Tomasetti, detailing the firm’s process and some current projects. They shared their experiences with converting 2D photos to 3D models and all the ways of capturing data through aerial images, HD video and infrared. While everything they did was impressive, the way they used machine learning so that they could reduce calculations from taking 95 years to 45 minutes was amazing.

Data-Driven Design


Luc Wilson, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC

Historically, architects working with developers typically rely on past projects and data analyzed in isolation, however, Luc shared with the audience how KPF is leveraging the increasing data richness of cities integrated with 3d spatial analysis tools to produce better designed projects ranging from a master plan to an individual skyscraper. Cities are complex environments, with many different data sets that need to be incorporated into the design process. That data needs to be visualized in 3D so all the stakeholders in the project can visually see how various designs will fit into the urban environment. Being able to create “what-if” scenarios and compute the impact of different designs provides for a better experience and a better project.

Cellular Fabrication of Building Scale Assemblies Using Freeform Additive Manufacturing


Platt Boyd, AIA, LEED AP and CEO of Branch Technology

3D Printing has the capability of being one of the biggest disrupters in design and construction and Platt shared how they developed a method for construction that uses industrial robotics, freeform 3D printing technology and economical building materials to make the analogy of cellular structure formation in the natural world. Over the course of the last several months, Branch has been able to create some intricate 3D printed demo pieces of their walls. These walls are based on natural forms, combining light-weight architecture with super strong engineering. Platt definitely got the audience thinking about all the amazing opportunities to incorporate this technology in their designs that would not only give them more freedom in designing, but would allow for optimizing the use of materials in the building process.

IrisVR – Experience 3D models the way you imagined them


George Valdes and Shane Scranton of IrisVR

In addition to all the presentations, one of the sponsors of the event, IrisVR had a virtual reality station just outside the auditorium where everyone could experience the power of VR and the IrisVR solution first hand. George and Shane were there to guide people through an awesome experience and truly see the value and potential of what virtual reality will be able to bring to the AEC industry. With a single click, a Revit model was brought into Oculus Rift. Simply amazing.

Wow – What a Day

When we reached the end of the day, it was hard to imagine how much information was shared throughout the day. It was a great day for all who attended and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the social libation time at the end of the day where the conversations and the shared enthusiasm of the presentations were replayed with excitement.

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Jessica Gracey

Interior Designer – Gensler

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