The Coronavirus pandemic has forced many industries in Australia to move their operations online as employees isolate themselves and work from home to help ‘flatten the curve’. With the limited options available within the architecture industry for remote collaboration, architects and designers are finding it difficult to transition to a remote set-up.
However, a new tool developed by a UNSW associate professor along with Cox Architecture is helping architecture industry stakeholders move their work into the online space in a collaborative and responsive environment.
UNSW associate professor and the director of the Computational Design (CoDe) degree, M. Hank Haeusler observes that the current COVID-19 crisis and the push to work from home highlight the future of industries needing to be more online and more digital.
“For some professions, it's easy to continue online collaborations if you need to work remotely for an extended period. In architecture, design and engineering, it's more difficult.”
In a regular architectural practice, architects work on an application that stays on their desktop. In a remote work situation, both parties need the application on their computers to be able to work together and share files. In the absence of infrastructure, people in the industry find it difficult to work remotely, he explained.
Partnering with Cox Architecture, Haeusler co-developed Giraffe Technology that uses the digital medium of a website to remove these barriers – anyone with access to the internet can model and design directly on the web browser on a map of the world.
Similar to a Google Doc, Giraffe allows for multiple people to collaborate and work on a single design at once, from anywhere in the world. The tool uses computational design features to allow architects to automate design processes and model 3D designs.
“Computational design enables architecture to be modelled through programming. So instead of drawing a line, you write a computer programme that defines the line. The challenge is that many architects do not have an interest in learning programming skills and therefore cannot access these tools.”
Giraffe bridges this gap as it is a platform like UBER.
“On one side of the platform, you've got computational designers that can upload their computational design programs that can automate anything, such as solar analysis. On the other side, Giraffe’s graphic user interface enables architects and designers to use the programmes without needing programming skills.”
For a more streamlined remote team collaboration experience, the tool allows users to invite collaborators to their projects by email and use the chat function in Giraffe to design and communicate in the one channel. Giraffe also allows easy access to calculations such as the floor space ratio, or what carbon emissions the design will produce.
According to Haeusler, collaboration – locally or globally – is not a big concern anymore; even infrastructure doesn’t matter so long as users have a laptop with an internet connection. Giraffe, he says, has brought about a democratisation and demonetisation of expert skills.
“Typically, architecture design expertise is expensive and someone in remote Australia wouldn’t have access to the same engineering or architecture services in their proximity as someone in the Sydney CBD. Giraffe breaks that wall down and gives everyone the same access to high expertise tools because the skills inner city firms have can be transferred to the web.”
“The COVID-19 response has highlighted the need for the industry to be more responsive to digital transformation. Giraffe as a tool offers that already by being an online platform and by allowing remote working in a situation like the one we’re experiencing now.”