Monday, September 26, 2016

Play It Loud Fundraiser Wrap Up

On September 24th 2016 the Birdsell Family & Friends Brain Cancer Research Fund held the first of what is hopefully many fundraisers for brain cancer research in Canada. The initiative is part of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Impact Grant program we will see us as a family try to raise $25000 in 5 years. Though we as a family have been able to make a pretty good dent in the sum ourselves, it would be made just a tiny bit easier if there were also some additional fundraising from events as well; hence the "friends". To that end, I dusted off my DJ headphones and put together a playlist whose beats are so funky they’re actually banned in several counties. The occasion marked the resurrection of an old hobby I haven’t practiced since I lived in Japan and it brought back a lot of great memories to play music loudly again. Thanks again to all those who supported the event! 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Architectural 3D Printing’s Effect On the Real Estate Market

One of the most effective ways to analyze architecture is through its economics and I’ve found one of the best measures of this in particular is the real estate market. Forecasting architectural 3D printing’s effect on the real estate market is a complicated issue and I’m not sure the linked article exactly hits its mark. The uncertainty extends from predicting a technology’s effect – this time a new building system – on the real estate market. Not a lot of research has been done on this issue whereas how different regional pressures effect the real estate market is well understood. So what does the article say? Starting with price: “Three-dimensional printers don’t require labourers, produce much less waste (as materials are fed into the machines), and will be able to erect homes in days instead of months—making them substantially cheaper to build.” What the article hasn’t factored is the R&D costs of developing architectural 3D printing to the level we normally associate with modern building codes so these are all potential savings at the moment.

The article goes on to suggest another benefit of architectural 3D printing to the real estate market: buyers will be able to dream up their own innovative designs. And while A3DP does have some interesting cost implications for producing unique designs (which I have described elsewhere) the article does not identify a major hurdle consumers will face when designing their own house: 3D modelling a structure is a not a trivial matter. One will face challenges in meeting site tolerances, applying local building codes and using complex 3D modelling software; all of which seem beyond the commitment of the average homeowner necessary to drive the sector.

Lastly the article turns to questioning architectural 3D printing’s effect on cities by suggesting A3DP allows for building on previously “unbuildable” sites. This seems like a specious argument to me because this effect can only be marginal at best. There’s simply no glut of “unbuildable” sites in any city I know. That’s what makes them cities. Maybe it’s just my background in architectural history that shapes my view, but I look out at cities around the world and would argue there is evidence people have succeeded in applying every possible combination of structure to fit any site or space (Japanese cities in particular being a good example of this). I just don’t see architectural 3D printing’s main driver of growth being “unbuildable” sites compared to the technology’s labour and time savings.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Raising Structural Engineering’s Sustainability Game

Though constantly enthralled with my day job building with large beams – digitally at least – one thing always in the forefront of my mind is how structural engineering relates to one of the biggest drivers in the modern AEC industry: sustainable design. The steel and concrete which normally makes up a building’s superstructure do not lend themselves naturally to sexy sustainability measures. They’re energy intensive components to manufacture and transport and thereafter become inert and forgotten – ideally for the life of the building. Recently the 2016 Canadian Green Building Awards were announced highlighting some of structural engineering’s contribution to sustainable architecture. Basically what our firm does – or at least what I can contribute – is thoughtful material optimization. This is done by being as geometrically rigorous as possible delivering an efficient structure. Then we have beam design and selection etc. which is done by the engineers. This is mostly governed by local building codes but does have material and cost implications that better engineers will shift to the owners’ advantage. The projects in the article don’t stray too far from engineering’s traditional approach to sustainable structural design. Most of the efficiencies gleaned from their sustainability programme appear to come from high performance enclosures as opposed to novel recycled structural components or planting 20 trees for every steel beam. (Though I do like the sound of a solar-powered concrete pour.) Blackwell Structural Engineering had not previously been on my radar and it was nice to see Fast + Epp’s work acknowledged again but I wonder how they would fare against engineering juggernaut Arup.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

LIDAR Data in BIM Projects

LIDAR is the use of light instead of radio waves for radar applications. I’ve always just thought of it as “Laser-Radar” but some claim it stands for Light Detection and Ranging. LIDAR technology is quickly being developed for architectural applications. The big leap for the technology was reducing the difficulties of getting the spacial data into the model. BIM software is complex enough and architectural and engineering firms shouldn’t be fighting to post-process the spacial data when there is so much design and building to be done. They just want it there in the model to work with. REVIT’s point cloud system – while being far from simple – can be used with just a few clicks. The linked article highlights two main benefits of using LIDAR data in BIM design projects in the context of a UK-based renovation in a conservation area:

Firstly, old surveying techniques actually produce quite spare data sets when compared to the resolution of LIDAR scans. This increased resolution drives higher accuracy when responding to site conditions and constraints during the design process. A second benefit recognized in the article is the ability with the LIDAR data to align background images of the site within the model accurately for interior or exterior perspectives . I’m less enthused about this one; but only because digital renderings are not my passion. On the other hand, I’m always welcoming of ideas that can be applied to streamline BIM workflows. And here there is evidence BIM has slowly lowered the bar for digital  renderings: the alignment of site images with renderings, once a highly technical affair, is now automatic.

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!