Dodge Discusses Construction Software for the Next Generation

At A’18, Dodge Director Steve Jones delivers a stark message to architects: get with the program on BIM and generative design, or risk losing customers.

An example of generative design. The steps and processes are on display, as these programs generate the process in addition to an output. (Image courtesy of ArchSmarter.)

An example of generative design. The steps and processes are on display, as these programs generate the process in addition to an output. (Image courtesy of ArchSmarter.)

In all the excitement of an expo, it’s hard to know which trends have sticking power, and which are destined for the waste bin of history. So, in the midst of A’18, sat down with Steve Jones, senior director at Dodge Data and Analytics, to ask which trends in construction software he thought would drive future progress. Jones had both bad and good news for industry professionals: while he sees building information modeling (BIM) and generative designs as incredibly powerful forces for good, he thinks most professionals aren’t moving fast enough on them.

For the last hundred years, Dodge has been collecting information on construction projects across the United States, reporting on where the industry is as well as where they believe it’s going. Jones runs Dodge’s research groups, and his job is separating trends that have actual market value from what he calls “shiny objects.”

Jones bluntly said architects needed to start setting BIM requirements for the engineers they work with, or lose business. “Engineers using BIM is completely under your control,” Jones said. “You can mandate that engineers can use BIM if they want to work with you.” Use of BIM among engineers varies highly among fields, with mechanical and structural engineers leading the field and civil engineers extremely lacking. According to Jones, the number one cited reason that civil engineers aren’t using BIM is “nobody’s making them do it.”

While firms can currently get away with not using BIM, Jones doesn’t believe this situation will last. “By 2021, we’re going to be heading into an economic down cycle. And we’re going to see which firms actually got smart and moved along the digital transformation and can take a job at a low number and actually make money at it,” he said.

He also touted the importance of generated computational design programs, like Autodesk’s Dynamo or Revit’s Grasshopper. For the 37 percent of the industry currently unaware of what generated computational design is, it’s an iterative design process that generates an extremely high number of outputs, according to parameters that the designer sets and can adjust. 

“You can sit with an owner and the computer will, based on the parameters, begin to generate options for you,” Jones explained. For example, if the architect selected low cost and high availability of parking spaces as important parameters, a computational design program might generate thousands of potential designs, and highlight the ones that best fit the parameters.

Jones predicts that as generative design becomes more advanced, the ease of modeling and the scientific legitimacy it gives to design will make it common practice.

“On Monday, when you’re back at the shop, 60 percent of your time should be making sure that you’ve got your engineering firm to be BIM savvy with you, 30 percent of your time should be working on integrated digital workflows and at least 10 percent of your time should be getting yourself ready to understand how generative design works,” he said. “This is your future. After 13 years of study in this field, this is the best advice I can give you right now.”