Autodesk Goes Conceptual
This software provides an interface styled to resemble an architect's traditional desk and includes tools to support 2D sketching, mechanisms to merge sketches into 3D models, and a collaboration environment for working on projects with others at remote locations.
Architectural Studio tools are kept deliberately simple. They include pencils, markers, erasers, and tracing paper. The screen, like a conventional desk, can be filled with imagery from many sources: scanned photographs and hand-drawn sketches, drawings imported from other projects, stacks of alternative concept sketches, renderings, and GIF animations. With the tracing-paper tool, architects can overlay translucent "trace" and develop new variations of a design while preserving old ones. Sketches made within this environment look much like sketches that have been hand-drawn, scanned, and imported.
What makes this different from conventional "paint" software is that the on-screen sketch strokes are mathematically-based objects, subject to resolution-independent scaling and computation, and they can be used as a base in Architectural Studio's 3D modeling mode. Thus, users can extrude massing models from a base sketch without knowing much about the technicalities of 3D computer modeling.
Similarly, and as in the conceptual modeling software DesignWorkshop, traditional, pencil-drawn sketches can be scanned and brought into Architectural Studio, and used as a template for modeling. Once a 3D model is built in Architectural Studio, it can still be subjected to sketch development, using 3D as well as 2D tracing paper (whereas only 2D sketching is supported in current versions of DesignWorkshop). This allows the architect to continue working with simple paint-like sketching tools, but with easy access to the visual feedback afforded by a scaled 3D model. And, without having to start from scratch, the user can export the models resulting from such schematic design processes to more technically complex software for further development and rendering.
The software further supports traditional practice concepts by facilitating team collaboration. Autodesk maintains a centralized data center where users publish their work to a private Web site. Two or more people in different locations can work together as if they were sitting and drawing simultaneously at the same drawing board. With the addition of a simple videoconferencing setup a camera and microphone on both ends groups can also see and hear each other and conduct a design review as if they were in the same room.
Architectural Studio Goes to School
Early testers of Architectural Studio were students at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, under the tutelage of architecture professors Donald Greenberg and Moreno Piccolotto, of Cornell's Program of Computer Graphics. In the Fall 2001 semester, a third-year studio embarked on a project to design a residential highrise in Manhattan using the new tools.
Greenberg has a long tradition of bringing innovative tools into the design studio. His approach is to expose students to a wide variety of design tools both manual and digital and let them choose when to apply which ones.
So he and Piccolotto, within the context of the studio project, taught design with traditional tools and Autodesk's Architectural Studio, and they taught the fundamentals of digital modeling and rendering with Autodesk Viz. Their aim was not to teach students to be experts in the software but to become "proficient learners" so they could advance on their own.
Left to choose what would work best for them, about half the students embraced Architectural Studio. They would draw both on screen and in their sketchbooks, moving images back and forth between the two environments. Although there were some difficulties in moving Architectural Studio models to Viz, these were temporary problems, Piccolotto says, and they are expected to be smoothed out in future versions.
A few students worked strictly in traditional media. One student who already had considerable experience in 3D modeling, concluded that Architectural Studio would not be helpful and did all of his development work with Viz. Interestingly, the same student did not use any hand sketches or drawings for his conceptual design.
All of the students had their own Wacom Intuos graphics tablets for digital sketching. However these tablets can be awkward to draw with because of the disconnect between hand and eye.
The students also shared a few Wacom Cintiq tablets which provided a more satisfying drawing experience. Because the display monitor and tablet are the same device, it feels like you're drawing directly on the sketch, as you would with paper and pencil. The Cintiq tablets are more expensive than the Intuos, although their price is coming down.
Piccolotto, who is also a consultant for the Autodesk design team developing the Architectural Studio application, reports that a majority of the students were happy with the software. Those who had no modeling experience were delighted to see how easily they could turn ideas into 3D models. It was a smooth continuum, he says, from paper sketch to scanned image, to digital sketch, to model. They could do all this using little more than the same skills they'd learned in traditional design studios.
A Collaborative Experiment
Greenberg and Piccolotto deliberately chose a more complex project than is normally given to third-year students so they could test the ability of the software to support collaboration with outside experts. They invited several teams of New York City professionals to participate in design reviews throughout the term. These architects came from the firms of Kohn Pedersen Fox, SOM, and Richard Meier & Partners.
Each professional team was given a Polycom ViaVideo camera, a downloadable version of Architectural Studio, and access to the student work at Autodesk's data center. An individual or small group on each end could see and hear the other while viewing the same interactive drawing environment. The simplicity of the tool palette meant that the reviewers did not need any particular computer expertise.
Architectural Studio does not impose limitations on how many people can draw at the same time, but Piccolotto reports that the same social protocol that governs ordinary design reviews worked perfectly well. When one person was talking and sketching, others would listen and watch.
When larger groups of students would gather to observe the review, they used a wall-size panoramic projector. However, for small groups, more conventional hardware configurations would work just as well. Through these software-assisted long-distance conversations, the students benefited from the expertise of the New York professionals throughout the semester.
With a combination of quick fluency with the new software and unusual outside expert advice, these students were able to develop their projects farther than is typical of third-year undergraduates. Piccolotto concludes that this software lowers the barrier to working in a digital environment. You no longer need to learn complex modeling skills to derive the advantages of accurate visualizations. You can build a model by simply sketching.
B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.
Please Note: DesignWorkshop® is a product of Artifice, Inc., publisher of ArchitectureWeek.
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