Monday, August 08, 2016

Brick Laying 3D Printing Robot For Architecture

It seems like the doldrums of summer have hit my news feed with very little in the way of architectural 3D printing news being released this week. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the most interesting robot video of the week comes from Australia, where it’s winter. The attached mesmerizing video is of the Fastbrick Robotics’ Hadrian 105 robot at work. Many assume 3D printing necessitates materials emerging from a nozzle but this is not the case. I guess there is an argument to be made the topic should be reframed as “construction robotics” but in this case the software used is directly related to architecture. I’ve written elsewhere that the development of quality software played an important role in the spread of architectural 3D printing. Here the Hadrian robot interprets already existing plugins for Solidworks 3D – a program I’ve used in the past to design of models for 3D printing – to calculate out the brick laying pattern. Mike Pivac, CEO, has this to say about the company’s expectation for the technology: “Fastbrick Robotics aims to make improvements in the areas of speed, accuracy, safety and waste” . I can’t blame him for wanting to get into the brick laying market; the brick laying market is worth a staggering $12 bil. globally.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hierarchical Metallic Metamaterial Invented For Use In Architectural 3D Printing

The following story was all over my news feed last week so I thought I’d break it down here for our readers: Researches at Virgina Tech have invented a new material with several interesting characteristics, combining stiffness, strength, low-weight, and high flexibility. These desirable characteristics are normally associated with the aerospace industry but are easily transferred when used architecturally. The notable behaviour results from the material reacting hierarchically depending on the forces applied. Nano-scale materials engineering allowed designers to print the material in such a way that regions of the lattice react differently depending on how the piece is intended to resist applied forces. Nature has already provided us with a versatile material that mirrors this behaviour in bone. Here 3D printing is really key to the development of this metallic metamaterial since rarely in the past have human-made materials allowed for such fine control of the nano- and macro-scale structure. The article goes on to stress that one of the major benefits of this process is its scalability. One of the major hurdles in the development of graphene was the fabrication of pieces useful on a human scale. Researches are confident this process can delivery much larger pieces. Will this a material help build the perfect architecture of the future?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Calgary Folk Music Festival 2016

I was a bit busy volunteering with the Calgary Folk Music Festival recently but will be back  posting this week. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Rock n’ Roll Lives of General Contractors: A Mini-Financial Analysis

In an effort to model the steps in a preliminary economic analysis of an industry and highlight the role of the general contractor in design and construction we describe below the economic characteristics of the general contracting industry:

On any given project of considerable size the flow of money to the general contractor will dwarf the design costs of the project. This has implications for the design fee structure negotiated which are usually ranges between 5-10% of total construction costs. From the Engineering News Record database we learn the top two international general contracting firms by revenue are France’s Vinci and Spain’s ACS Group with annual revenue of 53.7 bil. (in CDN$ 2011) and 55.9 bil. (in CDN$ 2012) respectively. These are massive companies grown through acquisition which glean most of their revenue through infrastructure projects but as one can see they are much bigger than even some of the world’s largest construction projects.

Moving toward more regional players for contrast, Edmonton’s PLC Construction and Calgary’s Graham Construction are two of the biggest companies in the province with revenue of $8 bil. and $2 bil. in 2014 respectively. For comparison, removing oil and gas projects, the top four infrastructure projects currently under construction in Alberta are the Valley Line LRT in Edmonton at $3.2 bil., the StoneGate Landing development in Calgary at $3.0 bil. and the Anthony Henday Drive Expansion in Edmonton at $1.8 bill. Falling just outside the top ten, the next architectural development down the list Calgary’s new airport concourse at $1.4 bil. As one can see, even a billion dollar company can be exposed to risks associated with a project representing a significant portion its annual revenue. After-tax profit margin is estimated to be in the single digits. Ultimately for these companies, controlling construction costs is central to giving gross profit margins the space to cover company overhead. 

Helpful Links: 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

REVIT Safe Mode

As complex a tool Revit is to build with, sometimes the problems encountered are even more complex. Throwing Revit power users a bone, design firm Stantec created a great problem solving tool that allows one to basically start Revit in Safe Mode. Third party add-ons and extensions are popular for increasing productivity but also have a history of creating discrepancies and conflicts which might freeze or otherwise corrupt your model. Stantec’s utility allows for the precise control of what’s on when Revit starts up. This can greatly decrease the number of possible conflicts when trying to troubleshoot a model. I posted it here because I thought the tool might come in helpful for some of our readers in the future and as a way to thank Stantec for sharing their work with the community. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mini-Review of Proposed Architectural 3D Printed Home

Branch Technology recently announced the prestigious Chicago firm WATG Urban Architecture Studio winner of their Freeform Home Design Challenge. Leaving aside the debate over how The Perfect Architecture Company would have fared had we known beforehand, at least now we have the opportunity to reflect and compose a response much like we did back in April.

The challenge to design a “55 to 75 square-meter single-family home that would rethink traditional architectural aesthetics, ergonomics, construction, building systems and structure, from the ground up” sounds like one of many architectural studio assignments given in grad school. The winning proposal, “Curve Appeal”, loses a point right off the bat because of the pun in its title but that’s hardly a death knell for its architectural merits. I’m pretty open minded when it comes to radical design and applaud the extreme form though question its choice of materials; the exterior shell in particular seems hard and metallic, contradicting claims the form is organic in nature. Being somewhat familiar with the classification of curves and surfaces the form to my eye moves away from organic shapes and is better defined as hyperbolic.

There’s also some practicalities to consider: the extreme form leaves no straight lines for art or books which makes this house truly outside the mainstream. The extreme form also depreciates some of the exterior spaces around the structure creating inhospitable voids. I’d probably turn to Feng Shui to flesh out these ideas more fully but ultimately the sustainability goals of modern architecture dictate these sorts of uninviting non-functional areas be avoided in favour of excellent multi-functional design. I will reserve final judgement, however, until I see some floor plans since maybe this design really does offer a powerful interpretation of modern home life in architecture.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Euler Line in Computational Architecture

There are many connections between circles and trigonometry so when I found a great example of this in a new book I got I wanted to try it for myself in Dynamo/REVIT. The theorem, named after the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler, can be constructed several different ways but in essence describes a line created by the following three points derived from a triangle inscribed in a circle:

  1. The center point of the circle;
  2. the intersection of each side’s midline bisectors and;
  3. the orthocenter created by each side’s altitude line when each side is split into two right angle triangles. 
If it’s hard to explain, it was even harder to code for a novice programmer like myself. This geometric proof holds for any 3 points on a circle. I can’t image how long one would have stare at a triangle to uncover a relationship like this but it does indeed hold when experimenting with the code as shown in the images accompanying this post.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Software for High-tech Structural Engineering Applications

While I’m still struggling to understanding Dynamo for REVIT gracing the blog yet again is the good work of structural engineering software consultants Oasys Software who I’m sure would be happy to instigate a full-scale engineering attack on your next engineering mega-project. AEC Magazine highlights two projects featured in the 2015 Structural Engineering Awards which showcase custom applications of advanced structural modelling software.

SSE Hydro is a 12000 seat sports and entertainment complex Glasgow, Scotland with the roof geometry parametrically defined by Oasys GSA software and the remaining structural modelling done by Bentley Solutions. I’m not sure how common it is for the same high-profile building to use different two software approaches but the finished structure is stunning and I’d love to see Radiohead play live there (should the opportunity ever arise). 

Recognized in the Arts or Entertainment Structures category, the second featured structure is the Vegas High Roller described as the “tallest observation wheel in the world”. Because of the pun in the title I will spill the beans and admit 1) it’s just a ferris wheel 2) I’ve never been to Vegas and 3) I’m not particularly drawn to designing novelty entrainment structures. That said, the structure is notable for two engineering reasons: The wheel resists horizontal forces with a single graceful arm to the side and secondly note the lovely use of delicate spokes brace the rim. The total effect of which is a transparent, light and delicate structure, all of which screams innovative high-tech design.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Architectural 3D Printed Ceramics in California

Amazing company, Emerging Objects, just introduced a wonderful new innovation in 3D printed ceramics with their project GCODE.Clay. They were previously involved in another successful ceramic 3D printing project at UC Berkeley I blogged about. This time the resulting pieces are smaller but experiment with several different mediums - porcelain, bmix, terra-cotta, and recycled clay – as part of an exhibition showcasing patterns. The article goes onto note: “GCODE.Clay was first exhibited at Space 2214 in its inaugural exhibition investigating Pattern, Predictability, and Repetition, which explored the themes of repetition, and rote action—a defining peril of modernity. In this project, the unpredictability is the fundamental aspiration of the object making. Patterns emerge and disappear in the variations of the experiments explored.”

GCODE is actually the design computer language used but I’m more interested in the results. Here the pieces capture subtle visual rhythms I quite like and the tiny imperfections (seen in the close ups) lend the pieces great warmth. The architect in me deeply questions the structural properties of said pieces in addition to their wear patterns over time. Setting these pieces in a gallery is very different than placing them architecturally in a busy public space.

So what do you think? Quirky experiment or revolutionary architectural feature? Leave your comments below!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

BIM-generated Real-time Architectural Visualizations and Photo-realistic Renderings

Following up on my post about the Gamification ofArchitectural Renderings the comes a great article from AEC Magazine of BIM-generated real-time visualizations and photo-realistic renderings. Though I personally forgo real-time digital renderings in favour of more traditional architectural renderings I will admit to liking BIM’s ability to extract line work for all sorts of architecturally communicative reasons. The argument the writer puts forward is that the period of high quality real-time visualization has arrived and is already being used innovatively by several firms mentioned in the article. Some of the more advanced renderings’ treatment of light is extremely realistic. The writer has kindly summarized the benefits in one paragraph referencing Abu Dhabi International Airport's new Midfield Terminal:                         
A money saving point of view BIM (Building Information Modelling) is in some minds just another way of saying “3D”. But when modelling takes centre stage it becomes easier to add visualisation into the workflow. When Kohn Pederson Fox Associates, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Consolidated Contractors Company were partners on the Midfield Terminal project for Abu Dhabi International Airport, they adopted a “4D” BIM workflow that used threedimensional visualisations and time studies to review construction and design issues from a holistic perspective. The result was documented savings of more than $5 million due to better clash detection and a visualisation study that validated early calculations on crane allocation.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How Building Codes Change

After a short vacation I’m back in professional mode trying to keep abreast of the latest structural engineering and building information modelling news. Perhaps with my background in architectural history I’m more apt to take an interest in the evolutionary changes which slowly occur within the field of structural engineering. Though of slightly more relevance to civil engineering, a recently released report of a January 2015 subway fire in Washington D.C. noted - among the many other safety short comings of the Washington D.C. metro system - that a contributing factor in the poor emergency response was that the tunnel had been built in the 1970s to 1970s standards where controlling temperature and heat had been main priorities. In the 80s, cumulative experience shifted this view instead to focus on the evacuation of smoke in an emergency and codes subsequently updated. Another example of this is what engineers learned from 2011 Japanese Tsunami; my connection being I use to live there. The article notes, “The debris fields along the devastated coastal areas of northeastern Japan quickly became a laboratory for investigating not only the direct hydraulic loads but also many related phenomena, such as building buoyancy, backwash and scour.” Concluding, “Concrete structures with deep foundations and good shear bracing survived, but others with weak foundation connections lifted and rolled.” Ultimately this has led for calls to change the building code for essential structures in coastal areas which could be used as places of refuge in an emergency. The article conveniently summarizes the recommended changes in one paragraph: “The new ASCE standards were developed based on a maximum considered tsunami (MCT) that has a 2% probability of being exceeded in a 50-year period, or a ~2,500 year average return period. The MCT is characterized by the site-specific inundation depths, run-up and flow velocities during inflow and outflow—all based on probabilistic tsunami hazard analysis”.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Material Optimization in BIM

Myself in general and my firm specifically focuses on cost sensitive clients and while I love love love the sector always central to this goal is material optimization. I’m not an engineer and therefore can’t optimize the design through steel selection and so mostly concentrate on reducing steel through an excellent grasp of geometry. However, I often struggle to understand how our drawings are used downstream by the steel supplier to optimize the design and was happy to find information on the subject in a recen
Revit Structure Blog postOur firm is always specifying just such braces seen in the post but does not explicitly design them (though we can). Our firm’s role is to calculate all the loads which go into the piece and then the steel supplier can (if they wish) optimize the piece which, as the link shows, can significantly reduce the amount of material needed with no change in capacity. It’s a very interesting read and I hope the knowledge will lead to better integration with our building design partners.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Architecturally 3D Printing Art History

With a great title like “WinSun 3D Prints TwoGorgeous Concrete Chinese Courtyards Inspired By Ancient Suzhou Gardens” I enthusiastically clicked through to the article only to be immediately underwhelmed. I’ve come back to the piece several times in preparation for this post but my conclusion remains changed: Great technology, mediocre architecture. With a background in architectural history perhaps I was expecting too much (being somewhat familiar as I am with Chinese architecture from previous trips to the region). Perhaps the overcast skies drain the images of any sort of life. The project looks endowed with the wrong type of stillness; the kind brought about from non-use and loneliness. For comparison I’ve included a picture of a 12th century Suzhou Garden. One can see the underlying “blockiness” of the forms are similar but real 12th century gardens include a lot more detail and texture missing from the 3D printed version. These visual elements are key as to why people are drawn to historic buildings in the first place.
Real 12th Century Suzhou Garden
Stories about the art history angle to architectural 3D printing now routinely appear online - such as the SyrianPalmyra Arch - and for the most part I’ve past over them for recognition on the blog because I haven’t found them to be truly compelling examples, even if the technology shows great promise. WinSun executive Ma Yi He’s statement about the project - “I like the 3D printing technology, its science, art and simple culture” - draws us to the crux of the conversation: Should architectural 3D printing be leveraged to define new architectural forms or perfectly represent old ones? I’ve covered the debate before with Dutch designer Michiel van der Kley going way over the top to call for a whole new design language be established around architectural 3D printed forms. I like old buildings so I wouldn’t go that far but do think the Suzhou Garden project would have been more successful had the medium been explored further. From a technological standpoint I really liked the Suzhou Gardens project. The sweeping curves achieved and textured finish (below) have all sorts of great interior and exterior applications.