Page T1.2 . 18 February 2009                     
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Autodesk University #16


Architect Neil Katz of Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) said that algorithmic design makes possible things that were once impossible, helping balance performance analysis with aesthetic goals. Algorithmic design allows you to come up with even more options than parametric design, he said, citing the example of the design of a hypersonic vehicle for Boeing. The final vehicle design was counterintuitive, yet worked better than any other design. "No way they would've come up with that without algorithmic design," observed Katz.

CTO Jeff Kowalski and "What Else"

Since last year's introduction of Autodesk's Digital Cities initiative, several cities — such as Salzburg, Austria; Incheon, Korea; and Shanghai, China — have become pilot cities. As a result of that initiative, Autodesk has launched its infrastructure modeling offering, LandXplorer™, deriving from the acquisition of 3D Geo GmbH of Potsdam, Germany, the privately held maker of intelligent 3D urban modeling software.

An out-of-the-box product, LandXplorer enables a city to create a 3D city or infrastructure model in about 30 minutes. LandXplorer brings in Autodesk® 3ds Max® for buildings and texture mapping, and supports AutoCAD® products. With this product Autodesk hopes to bring about greater data sharing and integration.

"Shanghai has spent millions creating physical models, which become out-of-date the moment they are changed," CTO Jeff Kowalski pointed out. "Now that cost is being put into building digital cities. These are much more useful. These partnerships Autodesk has created with cities empowers their making valuable decisions."

Kowalski firmly believes that technology should do more for people, should free us up to be more creative. He said that, ideally, modeling software allows users to shape buildings more freely, instead of merely focusing on process.

Computers should help the user discover what works best, he asserted. In a short demonstration, Kowalski showed how a user with the requirement to optimize a building for solar efficiency, and analyze how efficient the result might be, could experiment with different building shapes. "As we do this, the integrated analysis agent will assess the shape, solar energy usage, and allow us to try out different shapes for experimentation."

Ecotect™, the conceptual building performance analysis software that Autodesk recently acquired, takes into account a variety of environmental characteristics, weighing each value with a spatial value. According to Kowalski, the product "provides a valid framework to explore alternatives, removes some risk, and makes a faster and easier design," and offers a building envelope that gives a design the right performance characteristics.

Among the other technologies discussed was cloud computing. Users requiring huge processing power for their tasks can do so without needing to own the processors. With cloud computing, you can borrow 2,000 cores for a day. Autodesk Labs offers a cloud computing service for users who want to do multiple simulations or renderings quickly.

Some aspects of Autodesk's media and entertainment tools may appear in upcoming versions of popular architectural software. Kowalski contends that an all-virtual experience is limiting: "Why can't I bring virtual data out into the real world? Why do I have to model if it already exists?" The gaming industry does just that — it uses capture programs to capture body movements as they are in reality. Users can take photos of buildings from different angles, stitching them together to create a 3D model using this information.

"Augmented reality" (AR) was perhaps the most startling concept showcased at the main stage event. AR combines real and virtual 3D data and permits real-time interactivity. Kowalski described it as technology that allows users to "bring digital models into the real world and overlay them into real scenes." He said the technology is not as expensive or unusual as it may seem. With only a $90 webcam, a workstation, and the latest Autodesk software, you can make a digital model seem as if it is outside the computer screen, in your hand; you can even move it around.

"We can now break the glass between screen and reality. Computers are becoming less passive and more proactive," Kowalski affirmed. When computers get better at taking us from "what if" to "what else," technologies will be there to support design, he added.

Reports from Autodesk and Avatech

During a press conference, Carl Bass told the audience that Autodesk will continue to make small- and medium-sized acquisitions. He talked about the company's financial health and its plans to bundle some of their 150 products in the future. The economic downturn has influenced a drop in the company's revenue across all businesses. The company has $1 billion in assets with no debt, but, according to Bass, may scale back in some areas.

In an interview, Beau Turner, director of business development for Avatech Solutions, said their consulting firm has experienced a considerable increase in emerging market standards that are "driving more services." Now 85 percent of their revenue is derived from business services and developing more services to address these standards, which include Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™, the National BIM Standard™ promoted by the buildingSMART Alliance™, and ISO 15926.

BIM Update

A critical look at building information modeling (BIM) revealed that Revit® software and the BIM portfolio had over 350,000 "seats" as of the third quarter of 2008. (Each seat represents one individual with licensed access to the software.) Although the 26-year-old AutoCAD has a head start with an installed base "in the millions," BIM is growing rapidly. Avatech reports that the 64-bit version of Revit is used a lot now, and during the Autodesk architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) keynote, about 60 percent of attendees raised hands to indicate they were Revit users.

This growth has resulted in many customers finding the ability to build larger, more complex models with Revit. With BIM, users can add more data from many different sources, being able to leverage the data for visualization and analysis, cost estimation and procurement, and even facility management. While the model grows, teams and projects also grow and the data grows in complexity and richness.

Users have embraced BIM and consequently have begun running up against its limitations. Before they knew it, they were running out of room on a 32-bit operating system. In late September 2008, 64-bit Revit made its debut. Until AU, many customers were not aware of it. The 64-bit Revit comes to the rescue with computing power that provides performance, stability and large model size. What customers need is a 64-bit CPU, a 64-bit operating system, and 64-bit Revit downloadable from the subscription site.

With a larger operating system, there are more opportunities to see what Revit can do. In one case study, an architectural firm was able to integrate several models into a single model linking all of them, then cut a single section of different views in less than an hour. With the 32-bit version, this procedure would have taken them at least a full day.

Autodesk has acquired all of the assets of BIMWorld, a privately owned business specializing in the production and distribution of branded BIM content for building product manufacturers. Autodesk plans to combine BIMWorld with Autodesk Seek, its online source for building product design information.

Green Building

In June 2008, Autodesk announced its acquisition of Green Building Studio® (GBS), a web-based energy analysis service (exhibited at AU 2007). At the same time, Autodesk announced its acquisition of Ecotect software tools from Square One Research, Ltd. and Dr. Andrew Marsh.

For users with a BIM model, GBS can evaluate the energy profiles and carbon footprints of their building designs very quickly. Because GBS is a web service, users can easily share data across projects. This tool is designed to enable analysis in the early design stages, rather than in later stages, when making changes is more difficult or even impossible. Weather data, cost estimation tools, and analysis for LEED® daylighting credits are among the features that make GBS a valuable service for sustainable design.

Product manager Pat Bailey said that the primary way people use GBS is to bring their design from Revit into GBS and then start making changes. "Net-zero buildings [buildings with net-zero carbon emissions] are down the road, and we must think differently about how we build them," he said. Because it is easy to do with this product, users once unaccustomed to thinking in kilowatt hours or therms will now be able to do so.

In terms of integration, Bailey said that Autodesk's efforts have been primarily focused on integrating GBS into Revit Architecture and Revit MEP. Previously, in order to run GBS, users had to export to a file, then start up a little developer application. Now this can be done from within Revit. Other integration efforts include work with Ecotect, GBS, Revit Architecture, and Revit MEP to make them all work more efficiently together. All the packages support gbXML, allowing them to share data seamlessly.

The Ecotect tools, conceived of by Dr. Andrew Marsh of the Isle of Man, are used to analyze environmental effects — such as solar, thermal, shading, lighting, ventilation, and air flow — on building performance in the conceptual and detailed phases of design. This ability to forecast building performance, coupled with the GBS web-based analysis tools, gives architects and engineers tools that help in the design and building of more sustainable buildings.

Exhibit Floor Highlights: Building Performance Tools

From Avatech Solutions comes BIMreview™ for Autodesk Revit, which finds inconsistencies in a model and automates the manual process of correction for BIM. The company also offers free Revit Utilities for automation of design tools.

The suite of building performance analysis tools from Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) is directly integrated with Revit Architecture and Revit MEP via their plug-in toolbar. Perhaps more importantly, the company's strategy is to provide software for different levels.

IES's free VE-Ware is aimed at small companies doing sustainable design who aren't going to buy Revit. Using free Google SketchUp® and free VE-Ware together can save companies five percent on their designs, according to founder and CEO Dr. Don McLean; plus, they can learn to create more sustainable designs for the built environment.

The company has also recently announced Architectural Suites, which are for architects only and aim to bring architects "up a notch" in their quest for sustainable design. Products such as VisualAnalysis, ShapeBuilder, and AnalysisGroup are available individually or as part of the Architectural Suites.

5D Technology

Vico Software offers Virtual Construction Suite, a 5D technology to improve the workflow of the design, construction, and management processes. Released in early November 2008, the product gives contractors a 3D perspective of the model while extending a 3D BIM model to 4D for scheduling and to 5D for costing. At AU, Vico announced its partnership with Autodesk, allowing the integration of Vico's 5D Virtual Construction solutions and services with Autodesk technology.

3D Printing for Architects

Physical architectural presentation models enjoy new life with the advent of 3D printing technology. Architects, engineers, and contractors can now make use of 3D printers "from conceptual design through construction," according to Z Corporation's literature. These models are highly accurate and detailed, and take far less time than hand-hewn designs of the past.

The company announced their ZPrinter® 650 this year, which can create massing models printed directly from CAD and BIM data, and do iterations of detail components for a design study. Z Corp printers have the distinction of currently being the only ones that print in color. At AU, Z Corp announced a new service called ZPrints that allows architects and engineers to order physical models directly from AutoCAD 2009. The service leverages new 3D printing functionality in AutoCAD 2009.

AU Design Slam

The debut of AU Design Slam — a live-on-stage design competition presented by Cut&Paste, an organization dedicated to the promotion of design — drew a full house. Using Autodesk software, each entrant created a design on the fly in front of a live audience, using BIM or digital prototyping to achieve their goals.

For the architecture category of "Less is More," winner Craig Barbieri designed a building to complement Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion. David Fano designed a modern, social dwelling for New York's East River to win first place in the architecture category "Less AND More." Henry Goeke's design of a modern watch for 16-through-25-year-olds nabbed him the prize in the industrial design "Watch This" category.

The 16th annual Autodesk University was held December 2 to 5, 2008, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

Susan Smith is the editor of AECCafe, an online news portal for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, as well as GISCafe and GISWeekly, an online portal and weekly magazine for the geographic information systems industry. She has been writing about architecture and technology for over 15 years and resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.   More by Susan Smith



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Autodesk Labs displayed technology for augmented reality.
Photo: Shaan Hurley Extra Large Image

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Stratasys displayed several printed 3D models, including a life-size version of a motorcycle design.
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A presentation of AutoCAD® Civil 2007 shows off the 2D and 3D capabilities of AutoCAD.
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With its recent acquisition of a German urban modeling software company, Autodesk has released LandXplorer™, which supports its Digital Cities initiative.

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Salzburg, Austria, was an early participant in Digital Cities, Autodesk's program to integrate BIM models with geospatial, simulation, and visualization data.
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AU 2008 showcased simulation at a variety of scales.
Photo: Shaan Hurley Extra Large Image

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The Inventor user group presented Autodesk with a list of ten feature requests.
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Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski demonstrated Autodesk® Mudbox™, a 3D sculpting and texture painting suite.
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