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Tech-savvy architects have great influence

by Darren
Tech savvy architects

The last decade has seen major advances in technologies, with more to come.

From drawing flat sketches on pieces of paper, to building 3D models and creating virtual designs, technology advancements have brought amazing possibilities for architects, engineers and design teams over the years, fine-tuning building designs and streamlining processes.

In the last decade, 3D modelling and building information modelling (BIM) processes have been embraced by architects reaping the benefit of having more detailed conversations with their customers and pushing the boundaries of design.

3D modelling
While 3D modelling is not a new development, local Autodesk software expert and applications engineer Imraan Lambat points out that in the last few years, the level of detail architects can add to their virtual designs has become increasingly granular. Lambat is the technical services manager at Baker Baynes, an Autodesk reseller and computer-aided design consultancy.

He explains that in the past, a normal 3D model enabled people to understand what a building would look like when built, but today architects can add many more elements to it, which encourages them to start thinking about the details of their design much earlier on. Previously, an energy analysis and environmental impact were only realised once the building was constructed and occupied, which led to additional costs, but today these calculations can also be done ahead of time.

While there is a plethora of software options out there, according to architect Nadine Engelbrecht, some of the most popular tools used by local architects today are Autodesk Revit and AutoCAD. While AutoCAD still plays a big part in 2D drafting, Autodesk Revit enables 3D design, visualisation collaboration and documentation by allowing architects to instantly draw in 3D with all elements carrying valuable building information.

“3D modelling in architecture has become a minimum criterion,” she comments. “With these software programmes, it is easy and time efficient to show clients exactly what is being designed and what the end-product will look like.”

Concerned about cost? Even one-man firms can benefit from the latest technology without breaking the bank. Some 3D modelling tools are available for free or through low-cost models such as software-as-a-service. Autodesk, for example, offers desktop subscriptions, which allow customers to rent the software or solution on and off for different periods of time, such as for the duration of a project.

3D printing
In future, Lambat expects 3D modelling to merge with the 3D printing world, allowing the design team to print out a 3D model. “In the past, architectural practices employed modellers who were tasked with cutting out different designs from balsam wood and cardboard and build up the model, which is both a costly and time-consuming affair,” Lambat explains.

“I believe that we are going to see a shift of architectural companies purchasing 3D printers and going to their customers with a 3D printed model, which is much more informative and cost efficient,” he says.

In fact, a lot of research and development is going into 3D printing technology nowadays. Autodesk, for one, has announced that they will be investing $10 million dollars, collaborating with 3D printing manufacturers to bridge the gap between their design tools and the 3D printing world.

On construction level, a Chinese company, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co, has last year proved that it was possible to put up 10 3D-printed, low-cost houses in a day, Lambat points out. Using waste construction materials, it cost the company less than $5 000 per house to put up. Another example highlighted by Lambat, New York architect Adam Kushner, has set out to construct a 3D-printed estate, complete with a four-bedroom house, pool and outhouse.

Locally, however, there are only a couple of architectural practices owning a 3D printer. The challenge at the moment is high costs and accessibility to good quality printers, as well as the skills to operate them. But as popularity grows and the cost of 3D printers comes down, the buy-in from architectural companies is sure to rise.

Building information modelling
Taking 3D modelling to the next level, building information modelling (BIM) has become a buzzword in the built environment in recent years. In fact, in some countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), BIM adoption is driven by the state. By 2016, the UK government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM for all its projects.

Unathi Ntwana, another local Autodesk software expert from Baker Baynes, explains that BIM is not about software, but rather a way of working that includes people, technology and processes, while some would add organisational policies as a fourth factor. “BIM is a process that involves creating and using an intelligent model, which serves as a shared resource of information for different people in a project team,” he states.

Ntwana explains that architects will draw their architectural model and once they are done, pass it to the structural engineers, who will do the structural analysis and design of the structural elements of the building. The same model will also be shared with the mechanical engineers to design the cooling and Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC), the electrical engineers, plumbers and more.

“Everybody on the design team has access to the same information, so that if the architect, for example, changes something on the model, all other parties involved will be alerted and will be able to adapt their designs accordingly, instead of finding clashes on site,” he highlights.

“Even when the different parties are using different software, there are tools available such as Navisworks Manage, to bring them together to create one model, highlighting where there are clashes,” he adds.

Another major benefit of using a collaborative, intelligent model incorporating both physical and structural characteristics is that the documentation and cost estimation greatly becomes by-products of the model, whereas traditionally, separate individuals would be tasked to do the design, the drafting and the costing respectively. It also makes it easier to create proper specifications since architects can add increasingly more detail to their models.

“BIM assists in achieving the most energy-efficient way of building, it minimises a lot of waste and enables architects to model energy over the lifecycle of the building, throughout its operation and even its demolition,” Ntwana states.

Real-time analysis
One of the most exciting developments with regards to BIM has been the launch of Sefaira real-time analytic technology, according to Warren from Solid Green Consulting. Gray is a mechanical engineer with extensive experience in building performance modelling with the purpose of greening buildings.

He points out that one of the biggest challenges with building energy modelling in the industry is that green consultants only get involved in projects once most of the decisions have already been made and the budgets have been set, which means that their options and ability to make an impact, cost-effectively, is completely limited.

The capacity to impact cost and function is highest right at the start of a project, with the cost of design changes increasing dramatically as the project progresses. “For example, looking to improve the daylight in the building right at the end of the project can become incredibly expensive. One can imagine having to pay for expensive glass, whereas if this was addressed at the concept stage, it would have been easy to change the distribution of the glazing of the floor plates,” Gray explains.

According to Gray, this is unfortunately how it works, not only in South Africa, but also around the rest of the world. And as much as architects would like to make these changes at the concept design stage, they aren’t equipped to do it since the process to get green consultants to test their design and supply feedback is quite slow.

“This is why Sefaira is so exciting. It plugs into existing design packages such as Revit and SketchUp and as architects design or make changes to a building, it simulates building performance immediately, giving quantified feedback. So as you draw windows, you can instantly see the effect on daylight. The same applies on energy usage, cooling and glazing.”

Technologies are supposed to make architects’ jobs easier and enable them to design better performing buildings, but it is up to the architects to adopt these tools and embrace the many benefits.

Full thanks and acknowledgement go to Baker Baynes, Autodesk, Solid Green Consulting, Sefaira and Nadine Engelbrecht Architects for the information given to write this article.

Top 10 architectural design software
With so many options of architectural design software out there, it is sometimes difficult to select which ones to use. Here is a list of some of the most popular tools used in the industry today:
•    Autodesk Revit Architecture
•    ArchiCAD
•    Chief Architect
•    Punch Software
•    AutoCAD Architecture
•    Vectorworks Architecture
•    Softplan
•    SketchUp
•    Microstation

List courtesy of Autodesk

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