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AIA: Notes from Miami

Some notes from the AIA Miami Convention.

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After arriving late Wednesday to a welcoming host from my college days I quickly reminded by body that the world’s climate range extended far beyond the limits of my southern California and New England exposure. Yes, it is hot in Miami. But more than that it is moist!

After a wonderful evening dinner with old friends (and some new ones!) along the beautiful shore of Biscanye Bay I settled into the AIA Convention’s activities with several BIM sessions on the agenda for Thursday and Friday. The first of these was a session titled BIM for Building Skins: The Future of Facade Design, Engineering, Fabrication, and Construction. This was an event sponsored by Thornton Tomasetti and presented by Mark E. Dannettel, LEED AP, and Joseph Burns, PE, SE, FAIA.

Mr. Burns reminded the audience that structural engineering firms have been some of the leading users of BIM (Building Information Modeling) software and that this evolution for them began as far back as the 1980′s when architects like Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry began a movement in architecture that moved away from orthogonal architecture. With that move engineers and steel fabricators were forced to turn to computer systems to help them design and manufacturer the structural components of these complex buildings.

The purpose of this excellent session (and this was indeed an excellent session) was to review the process of how complex building skins are actually designed, from the architect’s initial ideas to the eventual fabrication of custom extrusions, gaskets and unusual-shaped glass panels. The one poignant message delivered in this session was that today’s BIM tools don’t actually help this process much. In fact they can make things worse. There is no need to cite names mentioned in this session because they all suffer in this regard roughly the same.

01 - Image of slide from presentation. Thornton Tomasetti has been a worldwide leader in the implementation of BIM in structural engineering.

It turns out that what matters most and what engineering firms like Thornton Tomasetti really need from architects and their BIM tools is very accurate geometry of the outside surface of the glass skin. That’s it! Just about anything else passed on is practically useless for a whole host of reasons which I’ll come back to in a later report.

Over the next several days starting today I’ll be publishing a series of event reports and highlights from the 2010 AIA Conference in Miami, including many items from those companies which are exhibiting here on the show floor. Some highlights there include the fact that the modo folks, Luxology, are here. As is Bunkspeed! And this year there is an entire Rhino developer area with many interesting third-party developers showing off specific tools for building design.