- Article by Maitiú Ward
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Yale lecturer Phil Bernstein leads industry strategy and relations for Autodesk’s architecture, engineering and construction division, where he is a vice president. Responsible for the future vision of the company, he has some strong views about where design and construction in the built environment is heading. Architects, in his view, will either embrace that future, or simply get left behind. AR editor Maitiú Ward spoke to him at Autodesks 2010 conference in Las Vegas.
Maitiú Ward: Weve seen a lot of uptake of BIM in Australia, but many practices that have embraced it are really struggling with the workplace culture aspects, the workflow aspects.
Phil Bernstein: This is just my opinion, but the industry in Australia is trying to implement these technologies without having the broader discussion about what the process implications are. In the US, the uptake of the technologies occurred simultaneously with a deep examination of the structural challenges of the industry, addressing questions of productivity, limited profitability, problems of project delivery, project organisation, sustainability, opportunities for digital fabrication. In Australia the whole thing started with a question: Which technology platform am I going to use to create my same old deliverables? In the US, the discussion has addressed how we can change methodology to increase productivity, how we should change the means of delivery because the technology has made the relationship between design and construction different. So in the States, with adoption rates in some areas pushing 60 percent, we see architects experimenting with different kinds of delivery structures, new insurance models, new contract models, all kinds of new processes.
MW There are all kinds of questions there around ownership who owns the model, whos liable, who bears the risk?
PB In the old structures, these are big issues. In the new structures, they’re less so. In a project delivery structure thats been optimised to really take advantage of a building information model, nobody gives a shit who owns the data. Because the project delivery structure has been remediated to change the nature of the risk proposition. And people are starting to embrace this very counter-intuitive concept that by embracing more of the risk of the project, they reduce the overall risk of the project.
MW Jeff Kowalski talked about predictive modelling for foot traffic flows and that kind of thing but Paul McRoberts talked about the need for more capability and less complexity. Behavioural modelling is pretty grainy detail that necessitates a particular level of expertise, and that field is probably not familiar to most architects.
PB I agree, so the bad news is exactly what you just said. But the good news is that analysis is very subject to algorithmic description. For example, the media and entertainment division needs simulation algorithms to make people behave naturally in gaming platforms. We can take that same set of algorithmic strategies and translate it into a simulation environment that does fire exiting. That sort of stuff wont run on your desktop computer, but it will run on our cloud. Its completely analogous to energy calculations. Energy calculations are very computationally intense and architects dont know anything about them.
MW Well its one thing to create an empirical data set from solar patterns, its another thing to create an empirical data set from human behaviour.
PB I was the project manager for the domestic airport in Washington DC, and we had a consultant who had built a set of very simple algorithms using AutoLISP. You could plug in the flight schedule for a day, and he would disperse into his model a bunch of little dots and they would run through the terminal and you could figure out whether, at this particular moment in time, that escalator was big enough to get all those people down to bag claim. And that was using AutoLISP routines. If computational power is essentially unconstrained by the cloud, the simulation problem is trivial.
Our research group at Autodesk recently wired up our office in Toronto with sensors so they can tell when anybody is in a work cube and how much energy theyre using. Theyve created this very complex data collection mechanism that basically builds an energy map of the building relative to the occupancy of the building. So they know that when someone is in cube 623, theyre there for 18 minutes, they use their light for 22 minutes and their computer for 32 minutes. Then were aggregating all that data; thats harder.
MW Theres been a lot of talk in Australia about a common BIM file format, is that something you guys are looking at?
PB Theres just no way theres going to be a common BIM file format. Autodesk has spent, by my rough calculations, US$600 million on this BIM thing. The theory of building representation that that data format represents is the family jewels. Interoperability? All for it. Clear data exchange formats? All for it. Open BIM data formats? No way. We think our walls work better than ArchiCADs walls, and our parametric relationships between walls and floors are better than Graphisofts parametric relationships. No way are we letting all that stuff out for the world to see. Politely speaking. Im sure some of my colleagues would put that in more polite terms
MW That augmented reality stuff how serious are you guys about that?
PB Think about some kid whos 15 years old. Fifteen years from now, hes going to be the designer, the builder or the client of the future. My generation grew up reading plans, sections and elevations and were pretty good at it. These guys grow up flying F18 fighter planes on iPhones theyre going to expect to interact with designs in some sort of augmented reality format. So, we have an entire division that does nothing but work on that problem the Media and Entertainment Division. We just steal their stuff. Were already doing it, if you look at our project like Showcase, which is our realtime walkthrough visualisation platform. Take a Revit model, plop it into this thing and its basically a gaming engine. Things unquestionably have to go in that direction. The days of plans, sections and elevations are dead. Theyre over.