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 recent 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. 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

BIM The Mechanical Pencil

I’ve been following the excellent What Revit Wants blog for a couple of years now and appreciate its approached to BIM. So often when faced with answering hostile questions about why REVIT does things in such-and-such a way I simply can’t answer frustration with a shrug. I agree with blogger Luke Johnson’s suggestion from the article: ”You really need to commit to using Revit. Yes, it can be a difficult learning curve. The initial excitement quickly wears off, as you are faced with numerous choices you don't really understand, and this long list of "I don't know how to do this" tasks. But you will learn. You have to. Revit is not going away.”

If anything the article focused too much on introducing beginners to Revit and not enough on exploring the power user’s mindset. And for myself, it’s this quality which advances BIM design the most. Though I’m in a bit of a privileged position in being able to both love drafting and adopt an iconoclastic position with no deep ties to AutoCAD. Every once in a while I come across someone in industry who prefaces my whole view of BIM as the software owning me. I’m not sure how I ever gave that impression being hyper-focused as I am on the constructability of buildings regardless of drawing medium but I’m in agreement when the writer states: “Revit can seem daunting at times, but in the end, it is a tool for accomplishing work. You are in control of it, not vice versa.”

REVIT is nothing more than a fancy mechanical pencil and it is there to do what I want. I would not want to be in the line of fire should someone suggest I have nothing left to learn about BIM because it’s a worthless advance in building technology. If I thought even for a second I could build more with CAD over BIM I'd be using it. But as desirous as I am to build a lot; What Revit wants is an excellent rallying cry to the cause. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Sharp Point of Proactive Design

Lots of good research comes from the real estate sector because they tend to be very sophisticated users of design services. This week's article on proactive design caught my attention because I’ve long held the value of a building is primarily established in the design phase. Being proactive about the structural system is central to this. 
In the end, however, I think the article missed key opportunities to provide evidence of why it's important for clients to engage the services of a structural engineer as early in a project as possible. Take for instance the authors' statement: 
“If the correct structural system is selected early on when concepts are still fluid, it forms the right bones for all that follows and inherently reduces costs due to its appropriateness and efficiency.” 
What makes it "inherent"? If I'm a critical thinker, I should ask myself if there aren't empirical ways to investigate this question. And what the authors gloss over as inherent I think actually represents a testable process which is predictable enough to save clients money. My hypothesis is that numbers exist which point to very specific reasons why the building design process is optimized when structure is addressed early. I actually just found the numbers in books at the University of Calgary library and on the internet. Had I written the article - the main thrust of which I agree with - I wouldn't have used the word "inherent" but rather more words instead. Ha!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gamification of 3D Architectural Renderings

At first blush I probably don’t seem a likely candidate to support of the gamification of computer generated architectural renderings: I don’t own a TV nor play video games. I dislike the majority of computer generated architectural renderings I see, tending instead to prefer super high-quality photo-realistic renderings, a process I admire but have never found the motivation to learn. 

The Unreal Engine is probably best known as a first person shooter video game against science fiction monsters. I suppose one could populate their architectural model with monsters and aliens and invite the well-armed player to visit the structure but it might not give one’s architectural proposal the light-hearted energy normally associated with professional presentations. Minecraft architecture is more my speed but so few of my ideas translate smoothly into 1m x 1m x 1m blocks. Archdaily had an interesting article last year highlighting the steep learning curve involved in Unreal Engine renderings accompanied by some quality examples of the technology (as per the linked video).

The open source Unreal Engine 4 appears to be the industry leader in open-world architectural models and the website shows how mature the segment has become. The workflow appears to be somewhat straightforward for those already holding a passion for the field. There are many excellent examples floating around the internet and I find them all very compelling. The only thing I would find more compelling is letting the client themselves wonder around the model. Then this becomes an exciting and engrossing presentation of the proposed space which communicates many of the structure’s key qualities. The open-world nature of these models lends the process a sense of transparency and fun because stakeholders can wonder around and see whatever they like.

Lastly we turn to Engineering News Record’s article about how video games became design and construction tools who insisted on calling augmented reality “Mixed reality” throughout the article. The author even goes on to say ““Mixed reality”—another term for augmented reality (AR)—allows users to map images onto objects in their field of vision while wearing [specialized goggles or glasses].” This technology becomes helpful in construction because it offers a method by which to overlay the architectural model on the construction site. Especially for the mechanical contractors of a project - who often need to follow what must seem like random paths through a building with very specific pipes or wires - such a straightforward way of connecting the building system design to the real-world site becomes valuable.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

How Geometry Can Establish Architectural Form

Today’s post includes a small piece rejected from a larger research project which represents - much like how the best science is driven by curiosity - that even unexpected results can be valuable. The small exercise in Dynamo was initially supposed to 1) show the connection between geometry and algebra, with geometry, of course, being central to architecture, and 2) highlight how in the real world geometry and algebra often diverge from each other.
The starting point was to replicate the Three Square Puzzle  - as featured on Numberphile’s YouTube channel and the Trigonography blog - in REVIT using Dynamo. The puzzle asks what the sum of angles A,B,& C are (Figure 1). Intuitively, if one looks at the puzzle, it can be deduced the sum of the three angles should be 90 degrees. And indeed this is the case with over 80 such solutions cataloged in the literature (one of which is illustrated in Figure 2). However, a very curious thing happens when trying to measure the angles and sum them in the real world. Because trigonometry often includes irrational numbers, it becomes impossible to ever achieve a perfect right angle when measuring. That’s what makes it a puzzle; the solutions only exists in an idealized mathematical world.
Fig. 2
After establishing the geometry and scaling it up to apply steel framing in REVIT, I measured the angles assuming Dynamo would miss generating a perfect right angle by an arbitrarily small amount. To my great surprise, Dynamo nailed the geometry to four decimal places, the maximum precision allowed in Dynamo at this time. It’s possible that with more precision the expected results could be generated and we’d see the sum of the angles drift away from the theoretically perfect right angle. Another alternative is that Dynamo overcomes imprecision by discretizing/quantizing the output leading to nice integer solutions, kind of like Minecraft’s logical 1m x 1m x 1m block universe.
At the end of the day, these are the sorts of curious behaviours one can expect to find when experimenting with computational architecture.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

BIM Technology For Foundation Design

In an effort build constructively I’ve collected below two articles which illustrate some of the advantages structural modelling provides even if our shop isn’t currently utilizing each to its full extent.

Detailing rebar lines in concrete is one of the first steps in keeping a building upright and an activity I do daily. Detailing becomes a challenge when 1) the complexity of the structure and 2) demand for a comprehensive design increases. The linked article follows VK Architects and Engineers through their advanced structural modelling workflow and as one can see the results are impressive. Of most use to the structural engineering community are the 2D views which track and specify the position and type of reinforcement to be used and can be critical for certain types of building permits and construction documents (depending on jurisdiction). The automatic creation of reinforcement schedules is also welcomed. The other views provided by BIM software, while perhaps not making it onto the final sheets, are of no less value. The ability to visually distinguish reinforcement categories in 3D, plan or section allows the designer to quickly orient themselves in regard to the scope of work. The 3D views especially capture the intricate layering of the rebar.

Designing foundation piles, while not strictly part of my job, does hinge on the engineers’ ability to establish the geometry and static forces of the pile. But thereafter this information goes to the pile manufacture to actually design the pile dimensions necessary to resist said forces. The reason the industry is structured like this, to the best of my understanding, is because pile design, like other engineering disciplines, requires very specific knowledge (and perhaps software) to complete. That interface between engineering disciplines becomes crucial to avoiding extensive pre/post-processing and rework. In the linked article’s example, the ability to do calculations in Excel – where engineers are most likely most comfortable - and then smoothly bring those changes back into the model can save a lot of time and increase accuracy. Not a lot of deals in life can achieve both so please raise a glass and toast BIM technology!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Non-Linear Structural Forms

With my background in architectural history I was intrigued by AEC Magazine’s article about non-linear structural forms which aim to span a maximum distance with minimal materials because it highlighted several unique architectural examples. If I understand the article correctly, non-linear structural forms are characterized by always being strictly in tension or compression. This includes the use of stretched membranes, flying buttresses, etc. This is in contrast to traditional structural forms like walls, columns and beams which can have a variety of forces acting upon them in combination but whose structural calculations result in linear equations.

Readers lucky enough to make it to the end of the article will have a new word for the day (at least I did): Tensegrity. It’s defined as the structural condition where elements are either in pure tension or compression with no two compression elements (theoretically) in contact. The article uses the wonderful example of Brisbane’s Kurilpa Bridge (pictured) to illustrate this point where it’s easy to see these forces in balance to create the span. Buckminster Fuller developed the theory while the above project was completed by Arup - and though I often give them a rough time on social media in jest - here again their engineering is totally on point. As an interesting side note, Arup used custom written software to integrate their calculations into Oasys’ GSA engineering software which from what I can gather specializes in non-linear statics resulting in a bridge that is truly a unique structure.   

Monday, February 08, 2016

Indoor Desktop 3D Printing Warning

Previously I had joked about 3D printing Star Wars figurines at one’s desk and though I still find that image funny recent news highlights an important safety issue to consider before starting your 3D printing project: The process of 3D printing polymers produces volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ultra-fine particles (UFPs) as a by-product. And while I’m not aware of any acute health risks of printing indoors – no one is dropping to the floor in distress – I’m also not willing to take the risk and sit beside one of these things indoors for months on end – I’d put it in the garage – and so therefore it seemed only fair to pass along on such information to our readers to make up their own minds.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Supported Extrusion 3D Printing

It’s been a busy week for architectural 3D printing news with several good options to discuss but one breakthrough stands above the others. I was quite happy to see the efforts of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UK, reported by in regards to their cementitious 3D printing achievements using a supported extrusion technique. This method begins with the placement of a cementitious material by a robotic head unit similar to that which is used by other firms but differentiates itself by simultaneously laying down a granular support material. After manufacturing once removed the process leaves a distinctive pattern the designers call “Fossilized” and I call “circuit board”. The process represents progress toward refining cementitious 3D printing technology by allowing for smaller detail tolerances. Unoforunately factors such as the process’s structural strength and long-term performance are still underreported and therefore a certain amount of skepticism is still warranted before calling this technology useful architectural 3D printing. I also question the qualifications of a group of designers to tackle what is essentially a mechanical engineering problem. Absolutely their design aesthetic is beyond reproach but where are they getting expertise in process, control, chemical and mechanical engineering? Food for thought at this technology continues to improve.    

Agree? Disagree? Share your comments below.                                                                                   

Friday, January 29, 2016

Parametric Structural Design

I’ve been excited for this post for a couple of days now. I’ve been all over computational architecture for the last year and this Autodesk example extends that theory further. The ability to quickly test engineering design iterations with Dynamo has all sorts of interesting applications in finding novel and efficient engineering solutions. Dynamo, for those not in the loop, is an open source visual programming add-on for REVIT. But architecture is not the only domain parametric design can be utilized. Autodesk React Structures, based loosely on the REVIT BIM platform, is one of Autodesk’s enterprise level structural engineering applications. The program comes with a build in set of comprehensive programming tools for the analysis of complex structures. But adding the visual Dynamo interface lets designers try many complex structural variations to see if anything interesting or inspiring comes out. Normally to redo these engineering calculations strictly for experimentation is cost prohibitive. Much of the linked example might be over the reader's head - as it was mine - but I thought it a worthy example to squirrel away because it tells a story of where the AEC industry is going. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dutch Cementitous 3D Printing Project

I was excited to post this article about 3Dprinting concrete but first the bad news: The technology is still not big enough for what I wanted to use it for. That said, the article is a nice introduction to some of the changes 3D printing is expected to bring to design.

Dutch 3D printer manufacture Opiliones worked with designer Michiel van der Kley to establish Project Next which aims to solve the coveted goal of “a 3D printable bio-concrete and an accompanying 3D printer capable of making complete architectural spaces”. From what I can tell – at least initially – if by “architectural spaces” they mean spaces you’d need to crawl and squeeze into, mission accomplished. So yeah, scalability is still a factor. The project was focused on developing environmentally sustainable concrete and in the process experimented with several mixes including limestone, hemp fibers, flax fibers, etc., but ultimately I see the role of green building materials in architecture as presupposed and not something I need to be convinced of.  

What did catch my eye, however, was designer Van der Kley’s comments about how radically 3D printing will change what forms are possible architecturally. This is an facet of architectural 3D printing I am already engaged in. Sometimes it can be tough to described how architectural 3D printing affects form; therefore it becomes doubly difficult to predict how the technology will change architecture in the future. But that’s where I want to be: already where the crowd is going. And part of how to

get there is to understand theoretically where is going on aesthetically and economically with the technology.

In the piece Van der Kley’s calls for a “new design language”, the main thrust of his argument being that new techniques – such as 3D printing – require a new descriptive language. But here I must disagree with the good designer. When I look at the sculpture I immediately see math. In fact there are a variety of mathematical interpretations of the work: Manifolds defined by differential geometry; hyperbolic surfaces, etc. Nature also has a wealth of examples because anytime a membrane is put under tension it is capable of displaying this type of behavior and probably if I had more time we could narrow down an example from the human body, like the stomach lining or something. I think what Van der Kley really means is explained in the last paragraph, about the acceptance of such forms by the public. But his line of reasoning seems to assume he discovered the end of all possible forms of cementitious 3D printing, neglecting creative ideas from future architects and designers or further advances in the technology. A position which is hard to support.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Now You Finally 3D Print Star Wars Figurines At Your Desk!

Hype for 3D printing was turned up all the way to 11 at this year’s CES in Las Vegas - promising everything including“limitless possibilities”. There appears to be some substance behind the hype with several manufactures showing interest in the field. Strong competition in the sector bodes well for consumers. One of the highlights was ROBO 3D’s new R2 product lineup which introduces a set of mature consumer-friendly 3D printers stylish enough to sit on a desk while being affordable enough to buy for the office. The printer’s small form factor and Wi-Fi connectivity echoes how laser printers shrunk and shed wires during the last 10 years.

So what would if I got one? First off, family and friends would probably receive 3D printed necklaces and broaches on all occasions! But more to the point, one could at least start practicing 3D model making. My first introduction to 3D modeling was a slog. 3D printing has a steep learning curve in regards to 1) understanding the behavior of the printed material (too thin, too thick, etc.) and 2) how to use the complex 3D modelling software. Learning both is an uphill battle and the sooner one starts the sooner one will understand how to model replacement parts for broken things around the house.

Left unsaid in the glowing press coverage is the newly released printer’s failure rate; an important metric in consumer 3D printing. In my experience failure rates are still higher than normal when compared to other consumer goods. It’s a bit random when your continuous printing process fails. Imagine if your toaster burnt your toast 1 out of every 10 mornings; you’d think it’s a piece of junk. But such failures rates are still common in consumer-focused 3D printing, no doubt a facet manufactures are looking to reduce as a selling point. I’d also really like to see a closed looped 3D printer; where the used material can be recycled in the machine again. This – in my opinion - is sort of the holy grail of rapid desktop prototyping.