Architects Better Believe in Disruptions -- They Are In One
Roopinder Tara posted on June 16, 2015 |
You may have survived the BIM revolution, but the next revolution will be caused by data--lots of it...

Phil Bernstein, Autodesk’s chief visionary in all things architecture, never fails to impress. In what may already be a tradition, he holds court at an invitation-only evening event on Day 1 of the AIA annual meeting to enlighten us. Phil is talking about disruption. 

But leave it to Phil, who is somehow paid by Autodesk to not only be their visionary but to also hold down a faculty position (did I mention at Yale?) to point out that: What may be seen as continuing and increasing waves of pressure and distraction have really been several discrete disruptions. According to Phil, we’ve had several disruptions — and we are currently in one right now! 


The disruptions we are about to hear about affect the way we design and make things. And the latest one is starting to radically change our industry. Some of the noticeable trends are: 

  • Smart buildings. 
  • More prefabrication of buildings. Example: “Just-add-water” hotels in China. 

Buildings are being made offsite and assembled in place. Somehow Phil manages to weave in a mention of Tesla Motors. So glorious is the Tesla brand, it has to be mentioned at every conference. It’s a law. But to smoothly insert it into an AEC/BIM spiel is a credit to Phil’s talents; part of his ability to recognize trends wherever they are. 

But I digress. Back to disruptions. 

The first one Phil noticed in the architects’ world was about documentation. Drawings, in other words. How AutoCAD initially got famous? The computer replacing the drafting board. 

 The second disruption was 2D to 3D. 

 Third was BIM. Building information modeling. More that just 3D geometry. Brought to you by Revit. [Ed. note: Or was it Graphisoft and Archicad?]

The fourth disruption — and the one we are in the middle of — is the Data Disruption. “The best designers manipulate data, not forms,” says Phil. “I'm going to say that again for the older people in the room.” 

It's Not Just Forms -- It's Data 

The older architects are still enthralled with shapes. Either the exterior shapes or interior space. But Phil knows that these days, design is being created by data. 

We see a truly awesome example of an architecture firm so advanced it has created a CNC machine to bend rebar in a variety of shapes, tag each one so the construction crews knows exactly where to place it, and then the architects can watch the building being made each day using 3D scans and point clouds against the 3D model of the building design. The building in progress compared to the building that was meant to be. How cool is that? 

The data Phil speaks of is not just from point clouds but also from programs. Little programs that form the heart of “computational design.” If this is a new term to you, you probably are one of those older architects Phil has addressed. All the young ones are learning “computational design.” 

Learn Computational Design, Young Man 

I ask Phil if all the architectural schools are teaching computational design. Could it be like 3D is to 2D, as severe a disruption, I am wondering. Is it in all the undergraduate architecture programs? “It’s in all the best graduate programs,” says Phil. I'm sure Yale is one of them.

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