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. 

Thursday, January 07, 2016

2016 AEC Industry Forecast. Now with Comments!

I’m a sucker for forward looking articles. I’m always on the lookout for predictions of substance on topics I’m passionate about. Reading through Engineering News Record’s 2016 construction trends article I found some useful highlights. But first an apology; I’m really really sorry for the forced Christmas song structure the article takes at points. I’m sure it was just meant as light-hearted attempt to make the article more readable at Christmas but for me, it just makes the article longer without adding quality content. And it’s after Christmas. Below are the article’s main suggestions with my comments:

  • Economic forecast for North America looks vaguely positive. I vaguely agree.
  • Adopt future technology. Chances are if a firm isn’t already planning to do this they have much bigger problems.
  • Try to understand global factors. Always good advice but where does one find the time?
  • Aging Infrastructure. Did the author really just predict infrastructure would get older in the future?
  • Sustainability. I’m so far past this trend. I consider sustainability factors core to all modern building design. 
  • Take care of: experienced staff members, long-standing satisfied customers, solid financials and reputation. I don’t get this one. Isn’t this just common sense in the 21st century marketplace? Nor is this specific to the AEC industry.
  • Expect rare events. The author evidently read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan in 2015.
  • More women in the AEC industry. About time. Let’s keep moving forward on this.
  • Firms should focus on their social responsibility. This is insightful if one accepts the assumption the values of the marketplace are shifting. Other firms will probably still advocate advertising in newspapers.
  • Safety. Yes. Let’s continue to encourage amazingly safe working conditions for all involved in building endeavors.
  • Alternative energy will continue to grow in importance. I will only add solar panels are easier to integrate into a good design than windmills.  
  • The winning 2016 presidential candidate will have an effect on AEC industry. So think carefully. While trivially true I’d also like to point out the current crop of presidential candidates’ building design credentials are underwhelming.
Any comments from our readers? I know you’re out there. Are these predictions insightful? Too trivial? Cheesy?