Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Architectural 3D Printing on Mars

NASA - by way of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Mars Society – bring us their vision of an architecturally 3D printed Mars habitat through a competition meant to “develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts”. Side stepping the technical depth of their submission – this is not like building with LEGO – I jump directly to the proposed structure’s architectural qualities. The article makes pains to stress the design’s “French sci-fi aesthetic” but when running down that angle in preparation for this post I was greatly confused: French sci-fi architecture is normally associated with the appearance the structure has always been there or, though futuristic, has been aged and distressed in some way. To my eyes, however, the proposed structure is pure Japanese modernism; non-threatening and simple. I find the concept itself quite strong, the linked article describing the habitat resembling “nothing so much as an igloo crossed with a large droplet of water sitting on the surface of Mars, contained by its own surface tension.” I can’t help but feel, however, that had I known about the competition earlier I could have taken a design even further. Be that as it may, I will withhold my final verdict until we see more renderings.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Engineering Marvel Being Built in Toronto

More and more often in our cities, the need for development clashes with the desire to save our shared architectural heritage. Our forefathers having inconveniently established architectural gems on land which would later become much more valuable than the buildings which sit on it. This conflict is addressed in the addition to Toronto’s Queen Richmond Center. In the images accompanying this post, one can see the proposed office building perched above the historic 4-storey masonry building.

But does this structure constitute an “engineering marvel” as the article suggests? Here I come down firmly on the negative. That this is being built this way did not confound my expectations of what is possible in field of structural engineering. However, I do wish to applaud both the client and architect for the boldness of their thought. I congratulate them for committing substantial funds to such an innovative and unique design. It is for these qualities I wish to celebrate the building, as it signals how a group of people value good design.

“The obvious solution of using conventional columns would not work since a large size and number of columns would have been required. What consulting engineer Stephenson Engineering Ltd and Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co Architects Inc decided to do was to use a series of 70-foot-tall “delta frames”, each comprised of one-metre-diameter tubular steel columns shooting up through the new development’s atrium (already a part of the four-storey structure) to support the new tower. With high lateral stability, the tubes that make up the delta frames are positioned at angles to intersect each other at midpoint for improved gravity and lateral force resistance. The key to the strength of these steel tubular columns is that they will be filled with concrete to increase load-bearing capacity.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

“Engineering Firm Acquisition not about LEGO Architecture” says No One

WSP Global continues to acquire high-quality private firms with news reaching us this week the firm has acquired Halvorson and Partners ("H+P"), a 40-person structural engineering firm based in Chicago. WSP has some kind words to welcome their new employees:
“H+P has completed structural designs for high-profile, award-winning projects throughout the U.S., as well as internationally through an office in Shanghai and a strong presence in the Middle East. Its portfolio includes the Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid Tower in Abu Dhabi, which won the "2015 Best Tall Building Award" for the Middle East and Africa from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Other prominent projects include: OneEleven, a 60-story luxury apartment tower in Chicago which recently won a "Best Project Award" from the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois; Wolf Point West Tower, the first tower in a multi-phase US$1 billion development along the Chicago River in Chicago; and Vantone Tower, a 600-foot-tall corporate headquarters in Tianjin, China.”
This, of course, comes in the context of the much larger acquisition by WSP in 2014 of Parsons Brinckerhoff which extended WSP’s service capabilities around the world. The acquisition seems mostly to have been about expanding their position in land and air civil engineering services. WSP goes on to say about their current service offerings: The firm provides services to transform the built environment and restore the natural environment, and its expertise ranges from environmental remediation to urban planning, from engineering iconic buildings to designing sustainable transport networks, and from developing the energy sources of the future to enabling new ways of extracting essential resources.”

Trying to derive WSP’s growth strategy from its behavior is difficult. Not only because it’s not my area of expertise but also because from the preliminary evidence presented they seem bent on global domination through acquisition. Locally the firm has multiple offices in Calgary spread around the city but offers little information on its website on what distinguishes each office. I assume in Calgary each is rooted in different phases of oil production. But considering all the small offices located around Canada, growing to 500 offices located in 37 countries around the world, that means a lot of money being sent back to the mothership. WSP Global’s headquarters are in Montreal.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Creating Engineer and Architect Stories

It’s rather trivial to prove countries with more engineers per capita are generally economically better off than comparable countries and from this point flows all sorts of other positive benefits such as higher levels of education among the general population, increased resources for arts and sciences, better health outcomes, etc. Less easy to prove is that to increase engineering enrollment; engineering needs a PR campaign. This is exactly what Polarmedia.co.uk are trying to do, except perhaps with even more ambition.
There is an established pattern of neglect for high quality engineer and architect narratives. Compare the portrayals seen of other professions like doctors and lawyers. There’s really no equivalent to Game of Thrones for engineers and architects. The long temporal nature of building projects is an obstacle to audience engagement for one. More surprising is the neglect of architect stories: Architects tend to be egomaniacs (full disclosure; I trained as one) and therefore when two meet in opposition, because of each’s inherent energy, more often than not, sparks tend to fly. Why this point hasn’t been leveraged as a source for architect stories is a mystery.

Ultimately I don’t mind these efforts to promote STEM professions, or “humanize” them as the Polar Media representative suggests. So long as we don’t get carried away by imaginary narratives and remember to address at the same time the real obstacles people have in entering the engineering field. Removing barriers to higher education, be they financial or academic, seems just as important as “sexying” up the engineering industry. But otherwise, good luck to Polar Media. If interested in helping them with their project, more information is available through the link above. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Architectural 3D Printing With Glass

I’ve had a lot of admiration for MIT since learning Noam Chomsky once taught there. But more recently its MIT’s engineering prowess which draws attention. Their work on drones - and the swarm mathematics which drive them - is especially innovative. But for this post I wish to focus on news this week MIT’s Material Lab has introduced a method for3D printing glass. A technology which they are calling “G3DP” effectively prints molten glass, which, when cooled, can be used for a variety of architectural features. Left missing from the article is specifications as to its strength. One of the architecturally useful characteristics of glass, if manufactured with a minimum of imperfections, can be its high compressive strength. Normally 3D printed materials can be assumed to be weaker than their traditionally produced counter-parts. If, in the meantime, only smaller architectural features are feasible with the technology I think the process will be a boon for great design. Vimeo Video

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Data Mining Application for Architecture and Engineering Design

An unusual place to find innovative architecture, engineering, and construction industry news, Techcrunch.com introduced me toBerkeley, CA based Vernox Labs, a Y-Combinator backed company which recently released an interesting data mining product for the industry. The tool shows great promise to uncover, predict, and streamline design and construction issues for complex projects. I have no connection to the company but have great interest in all technologies which help me build.
Vernox Labs product is, essentially, a private searchable AEC industry database. One can see parallels here with the recent emergence of private medical databases for doctors. The article reports the company has spent resources collecting and cataloging all sorts of reports and emails from the AEC industry and thereafter analyzes it for trends. Perhaps the value of such a database to the AEC industry is best shown with an example: While a project is in the design phase one could query the database about a specific product or material. The system would then return information about the product's performance and installation, including any issues which might cause delays.
The application of big data and data mining to the AEC industry is complex, probably worth its own seminar or university degree. But needless to say I can already identify a couple variables which could affect the usefulness of Vernox Labs' tool which are unknown to me as of this writing. For one, the size of the database is of paramount importance. A large comprehensive database could actually be quite useful. But a skimpy database would be next to useless, returning only shallow results for any one query. Traditionally the AEC industry has been very protective of their internal communications and data because it can have such a large impact on construction pricing, fee structures, real estate and future projects so it will be interesting to see where Vernox Labs got their data from. The other dominating factor is the analysis and searchability of the data. Well structured, one could always hope to find what they are looking for and uncover trends which are not readily available without using mathematics. On the other hand, unstructured data might as well be a spreadsheet full of random numbers for how useful it is.
A final overriding factor, which dips into the realm of subjectivity, is one's ability to ask pertinent questions of the data. Good data analysis and getting good results from the data really is more art than science and if one can look at their data and ask really creative questions of it sometimes very valuable conclusions come tumbling out. The AEC industry has long been waiting for the application of big data to construction and Vernox Lab's seems to be worth watching for further details.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The First Steps in Evaluating Your Digital Marketing Position

I quite liked this write up by Calgary-based digital marketing firm Canada.id. Though lacking suggestions for how to develop a digital marketing strategy, it serves as a strong introduction to some of the fundamental  indicators and questions of the field. It's unfortunate there exists professional service firms who still seem to be unaware one's digital presence acts just like a physical storefront in a consumer's mind. The visitor may react with distaste, confusion or engagement mere seconds after stepping into a store or loading a firm's webpage. Those looking in from the outside make instantaneous judgments about what the look of a firm says about its character.
The following four points from the article break down what one can begin to look at when starting to evaluate their digital position. For the most part they are very number-centric and technical in nature (Steps 1, 3 and 4) or carry with it a high degree of risk and uncertainty (step 2; to whom do you trust with the keys to your online kingdom?).  Though with step two, I hold the view that where ever there is risk, there is also opportunity. I think the best part of risk is that often it can be managed or mitigated; all the better to ensure the opportunity is successful.
Step 1: Know your Search Engine Ranking    
Step 2: Social Media Presence 
Step 3: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Step 4: Website Metrics
Small businesses wishing to develop their digital marketing position may be better suited to a smaller digital marketing firm so their account doesn't get lost in the shuffle. Missing from the above list, however, is "big data", or rather the job of interpreting the data which has been passively captured, and this is something bigger shops may be more apt at executing. All sorts of interesting questions and insights arise from the processed data which is proven to lead to new markets or clients. Competency in analytics is absolutely a capability I would look for and here I think the big players in Canada such as Deloitte Digital and Accenture Go Digital have an edge.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

How 3D Printing Robots are set to Transform the Construction Industry

OPP.today, the news website for Overseas Property Professionals, had a random article about robotic 3D printing.

Understanding the architectural 3D printing field means understanding the different methods available for architectural 3D printing. Here the article outlines a technology offered by MX3D which utilizes a robotic arm with a printer head on it. The problem I see with the size of the arm is that it might not easily scale to the size of a building. However, I believe the strength of this product lays in its utilization of different materials and in the execution of fine details in architectural features.

How I’d really like robots to integrate with 3D printing is with Virtual Construction, sometimes called 4D CAD, which is an extension of BIM (building information modeling). Here the building model facilitates advanced construction planning and this will be especially true if future robots can use the model info to coordinate their movements during the assembly of the structure. An early example of what this might look like can already been seen with some steel erection on jobs for big international developers with humans taking the role of the robots but still having their duties coordinated by virtual construction planning. Remember you heard it here first: Blending two technologies, using drones to assemble the 3D printed segments is the next step in construction innovation.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Increased used of Isometric drawings in Architecture

A July 13th post on The Revit Kid renewed my interest in encouraging more use of isometric and axiomatic drawings within the AEC industry. We are lucky to live in a time when BIM can offer tools which streamline the generation of displaced isometric drawings no matter what design phase.
Design drawings, especially on presentation boards, have already established the value of 3D displaced views to communicate the design. Isometric or axiomatic drawings when displaced do an excellent job of orientating the viewer and relating the horizontal design elements to the overall 3D volume. To laboriously generate such architectural views from perspective grids is time consuming and introduces inconsistences. REVIT’s ability to quickly generate excellent quality line work (to then pull into one’s program of choice for post-processing if needed) is a welcomed addition to the building design industry.
More controversial is the use of 3D displaced views in production drawings. REVIT’s power to generate displaced views is put in direct opposition to architectural tradition. A contradiction to point out is that it seems well established 3D displaced views are an ideal way to communicate complex spatial information graphically (see the work of Edward Tuttle) and furthermore architecture and design school, including academic literature, stress the importance of drawing clarity. This is what REVIT offers but many shriek at the idea of including displaced views in working drawings. Perhaps there is something standard and organized about regularly spaced 2D sections which has benefited the industry but I would encourage the reader to be openminded about the possibility of using displaced isometric views to render building details. I ‘ve found with my work with displaced views in REVIT it is possible to impress upon them a certain standard consistency. That trait in addition to the quick generation of quality line work makes 3D displaced views and isometric views ideal for spatially complex building details.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Reinforcing Concrete in BIM for Structural Engineering


The excellent BIM and Beam REVIT Structure blog put me onto the a great "Autodesk Customer Success story" PDF. Though promotional in nature readers will be interested in the following trends identified in the story:
Firstly, the article highlights the different levels of granularly now available in comparable REVIT add-ons. Compare, for instance, the native automated rebar placement tool and German Software company SOFiSTiK's concrete reinforcement tool. Each does the job but SOFiSTiK's rebar placement tool does it with a higher degree of flexibility and functionality. This difference might only become apparent, and in fact becomes an advantage, depending on how much one details concrete reinforcement in REVIT. An example from the article is given by BIM specialist Sandra Hombergen of ABT Netherlands. Reinforcing concrete is her wheelhouse. So to have a tool which is both powerful in automatically detailing concrete reinforcement to EU code specifications and is flexible enough to overcome all the unique conditions found in complex projects is no doubt a relief to her and those in her position. Myself, on the other hand, who need only periodically detail reinforcement can get away with applying the native add-on and then post-processing to get the same final effect. Where a shop lay on this continuum will depend on the firm's disposition toward using software to glean operational efficiencies in proportion to the scale of their practice.
Secondly, ABT's altitude toward the collaborative nature of their work is worthy of note. The article is testament to the growing demand within the industry for one centralized model which can be distributively accessed. To quote Sandra Hombergen from the article, "It’s clear to me that 3D rebar will be a standardized deliverable in five years’ time." With the demand and functionally of such features clearly articulated, left to business is the problem of execution. Glossed over in the article is how clunky this can be in real life and any honest review of the software must admit the collaborative elements of the program can be unpredictable. And unpredictableness in a business setting can be both wasteful and stressful.

Monday, June 29, 2015

SUMMER 2015 Architectural 3D Printing Update


We begin this inaugural post with an example of architectural 3D printing from a current leader in the field: UC Berkeley. Assuming the reader is somewhat familiar with 3D printing (if not, please see the links below for the sculpture’s history and specifications) we move directly to its analysis.

To address its aesthetic qualities first: the overall form is a 4-way radially symmetrical complex curve which is then inverted and rotated 45 degrees on its lower half. A vegetative motif is fused into the structure itself underlining the amount of customization possible with 3D printing while still retaining structural integrity. The take away is that such topographically complex curves are not realizable in traditionally formed concrete.

The structure is made from a cement-based iron-oxide free polymer. A class of printable material I have long advocated for. However the method of production leaves much to be desired; it being composed of 840 bricks, collected into 11 panels, and then assembled on site. From a purely architectural stand point it would have been more efficient to use a print-in-place technique, resulting in reduced labour costs, but I suspect in this case its segmented nature is an advantage because of the sculpture’s need to travel to different exhibitions around the world.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Big Announcement Coming

Please watch this space in the coming weeks for a big announcement regarding restarting this blog!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Under Construction

Space is still active @perfectarchcom