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    How the digital revolution has transformed the way in which architects work

    Bonnie van Dorp

    The digital revolution has transformed the way in which every architect works. Hand drawn plans on paper are now a thing of the past, while 3D virtual Building Information Modelling (BIM) environments are slowly becoming an industry norm.

    Paul Loh, a lecturer in digital architecture design at the University of Melbourne, told Infolink Magazine that digital design tools are becoming an essential tool for design as they are bringing the profession closer to the manufacturing industry that it already works so closely with.

    One such digital design trend making waves in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector is the adoption of virtual reality and augmented reality technology.

    Trendspotter

    While virtual reality and augmented reality are still in its  infancy, firms around the globe are already beginning to adopt the immersive tech.

    “Virtual reality provides an immersive environment for the user,” Loh says.

    “It allows the user to experience the design as the first person. For architects, it enables the designer to make more informed judgements during the design phase.”

    “We are now seeing the use of augmented reality in construction and fabrication. This allows the designer to overlay their design with the physical environment to make sense of scale and to ensure the accuracy of the build.”

    “When mixed with digital fabrication, it provides a compelling opportunity for both improving design efficiency and avoiding error on site.”

    However just because it’s nice to have, it doesn’t mean you should have it.

    Gensler managing director Tom Owens told Infolink Magazine: “It’s really important in the design process to know when and how to use the right VR and AR tools”.

    “It’s definitely a lot of fun experimenting with what’s out there, and there’s no question you learn a lot by trial and error, but we always try to start by asking ‘why’ when considering incorporating a certain tool into the design process,” he says.

    “Tech is great, but tech can also be gimmicky if it doesn’t actually enhance what a design team is capable without it, doesn’t improve collaboration or add value to a client relationship.”

    Owens added that good tech does not neglect the user experience or feel impersonal.

    “Fortunately, I think the AEC industry is a fertile testing ground for human-centred tech because despite the fact that it may seem like we’re only dealing with the built environment, what that means is that what we’re really focussed on in the AEC industry -- or at least I hope we are -- is designing and creating better human experiences, in making the world a more liveable place.”

    “ I’d like to see that be the driving force behind the trends we see,” he says.

    Cloud Collaboration

    Another digital design trend gripping the AEC sectors, is the integration of various platforms, Owens says.

    “Companies like Autodesk and Dropbox are working on different partnerships that are making various design and collaboration platforms much more integrated and easier to use.”

    “Dropbox has become a tool that we use daily because it makes file sharing and collaboration so incredibly easy. We also use Adobe Creative Cloud across the firm,” he says.

    As digital transformation and innovation continues to grip the architecture, engineering and construction sectors, content and file creation is becoming richer and more complex.

    And with sophisticated design comes the challenge of collaboration and transferring large files between internal and external stakeholders.

    While there are AEC-specific cloud solutions available provided by the likes of Autodesk, Bentley and e-Builder, architects are also looking to generic cloud solutions such as Google Drive and Dropbox to facilitate collaboration.

    However, even ‘generic’ cloud solutions have begun to target AEC industries, with Dropbox paving the way by expanding its partnerships with the likes of Aconex, BulldozAir, Fieldwire and Plangrid to give teams in AEC sectors, more freedom to use the tools and platforms they prefer. 

    Aconex’s chief technology officer Tim Olshansky said the partnership with Dropbox would help teams better coordinate on large projects by leveraging data across platforms.

    “Our goal is to continue driving accountability and insights to teams, with a growing ecosystem of integrations that helps our users build even more amazing things,” he said.

    The two-way sync with documents stored in Dropbox planned this year with BulldozAir will give construction professionals a more streamlined process for project management commented BulldozAIR co-founders Ali El Hariri and Maxence Leringer.

    “The Dropbox integration is a major achievement in the BulldozAIR product roadmap.

    “With the addition of the two-way sync -- with documents stored in Dropbox folders -- planned this year, construction professionals will be empowered with a more streamlined process for project management.”

    For Fieldwire users, the integration with the cloud-based solution will bring real-time updates to the content that construction teams and professionals rely upon.

    “Fieldwire users need to know when changes to projects and plans happen, which is why our two-way sync with Dropbox was developed to seamlessly centralise work, whether in the office, on the road, or at the construction site,” remarked Yves Frinault, founder and CEO of Fieldwire.

    Following Dropbox’s partnership with Autodesk last year, the cloud-based solution reported that teams and users in the AEC sectors created and saved more than 250 million files, which translates to 25 million files per month or 800,000 a year.

    “Technology trends like Building Information Modelling (BIM), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are rapidly growing and representing exciting opportunities for the industry,” says Dropbox’s director of Enterprise, Dean Swan.

    “As these trends become realities, the amount of data and complexity of collaboration within AEC will grow. Dropbox will continue to evolve with the industry and be the connective tissue that powers collaboration between teams across different data sets, applications and devices.”

    Swan said for an industry like architecture, where the size and nature of files are not only large but also confidential, a cloud-based solution like Dropbox has become essential for collaboration.

    A full version of this article can be found in the May / June issue of INFOLINK | BPN.

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