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Perspectives on the 2013 AIA BEST OF SHOW awards

In this special 2013 AIA Denver feature report we talk about perspectives on industry change in the information technology (IT) space and how it is offering transformational opportunities in architectural practice. Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP has also contributed to this article.


Anthony began our discussions about the BEST OF SHOW awards this year by saying he wanted to evaluate applications within a larger framework that went beyond the technical virtuosity of software innovations. While unique, never-been-seen-before solutions are always fetching and draw people’s attention, software in the architecture industry faces unique challenges at this particular point in time. And those apps which are not just innovative technically but are also responding to these new challenges should be singled out. This is what is new in this year’s BEST OF SHOW honors at AIA Denver.

Layering the Criteria: Widening the Inputs

Over the years we have been involved in multiple levels of engagement with architectural industry software. My involvement reflects 9 years of AIA TAP BIM AWARDS which show the evolution and maturation of BIM in the industry. In addition, with the 10th annual awards in 2014, the Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community Advisory Group is actively looking to emerging technologies, changes and trends that might point towards the next 10 years.

Over the past 14 years Anthony has developed some unique editorial perspectives within the industry. He speaks on a frequent basis with executives and product managers from some of the world’s leading CAD and 3D innovators. Those conversations then, in turn, develop into feature editorial which thousands of readers enjoy for the depth of engagement and detailed analysis common to the writing on Architosh. So we asked: is it not possible to construct a cross-sectional view of this large, diverse body of discourse that is singularly focused at identifying emerging trends?

Learning from TAP BIM AWARDS

With continued focus on IPD and Integrated Practice reflecting formal process shifts, there are larger changes and additional relationships that the practice of architecture is shaping and being shaped by especially with the tools themselves. The Architosh 2013 AIA National BEST OF SHOW awards exemplify not only innovative tools and solutions, but clear recognition for platform openness from desktop to mobile–enabling a diverse ecosystem for building environments in the 21st century. This openness supports collaborations not possible before in this technology immersed profession and opens doors even beyond the social and cultural implications of architecture to even reposition the profession moving forward.

This also acknowledges that iOS, OS X, and Apple have provided an accessible ecosystem which has a strong history in design, innovation, collaboration and interoperability. And we recognize that Apple is playing a significant part of this professional transformation with its broad-stroke innovations shaping the mobile device marketplace and the ways in which people discover and acquire digital content and software.

To that end we acknowledge three lessons exposed in our cross-sectional perspective that speak of transformations beyond the industry minutia.

Lesson One: Social and Democratization of IT

In the evolution of architectural tools, a democratization similar to the graphic design industry from 25 years ago is now occurring. Trends such as BYOC (bring your own computer) and the office is everywhere reflect this profound shift, which is itself technologically integrated by new social attitudes.

Over the next 10 years, those companies who find themselves stunned by failure, will often be those companies that ten years earlier dismissed the true importance of Social. The phenomenon of the social revolution begins for the individual with the establishment of a single connection. It may be one’s first Like–someone has liked you or liked your post. It may be your first social network friend. In either case, the act of making the “connection” in the first place is the most important element to understand.

There are now movements afoot worldwide to democratize data that feel similar to past (and current) movements to democratize free-speech or the right to self-govern. This social trend towards liberty of self-computing manifest in new pressures on governments, corporations, institutions and organizations to update their policies and processes to acknowledge what now appears as an individual right.

Within the architectural industry, design and production technology (BIM) has matured the process to a point where heterogeneous workflows now occur between offices, between consultants, between ideas and values of design. Tools are now being designed to not only improve production, but leverage new technological capabilities fundamentally changing processes and alleviating mundane and wasteful behaviors.

Lesson Two: Computational Power and the Cloud

These days it is easy to see millions of people around the globe using cell phones. To witness school class rooms filled with students using iPads. The ubiquity of mobile devices is a very visible indicator of this transformation. Yet, another equally powerful transformation is taking place and is much harder to see. The cost of computational power in microprocessors has fallen several orders of magnitude over the past twenty years. We know this both roughly through experience and precisely through Moore’s Law.

Today it even makes sense to “rent” computational power. Not to just own it.

Because of ever-increasing bandwidth with our Internet connections, which by the way applies to our wireless devices too, the emergence of the Cloud has taken shape. And it is roughly this combination of mobility and massive computational power (and file storage) up in the Cloud that is changing everything.

01 - Gehry Technologies' GTeam is a fully platform agnostic web-browser based collaborative BIM solution that works swiftly utilizing open standards like WebGL and other open standards.

01 – Gehry Technologies’ GTeam is a fully platform agnostic web-browser based collaborative BIM solution that works swiftly utilizing open standards like WebGL and other open standards.

This lesson builds on Lesson One in the form of “your data, your devices, connected to supercomputer strength power in the cloud.” What is possible now, and emerging to be possible in the future, is the harnessing of massive, scaleable compute power brought down to the masses onto their devices, their platforms, anywhere in the world.

The benefits of this combination of power and the ubiquity of the cloud is many-fold. In our industry we expect to see new “compute intensive” processes from other industries bear impact on our design process and design values. Things that specialist used to do will appear as new tools in the hands of the architect. Processes that used to happen at different stages in the ‘design-build-operate building life-cycle’ will re-position themselves in a game of musical chairs. Awareness, flexibility, adaptability will all be key in this transformative architectural process.

Lesson Three: Creativity and the Contemplative Pace

We have recognized the importance of temporal aspects of design. Pace and speed have a qualitative impact that requires us to parse out and understand the design process as it has been for decades as we re-imagine it for the 21st century. In many instances, faster is not better. As educated and trained architects we both know that design requires imagination. And imagination requires time.

As the renowned creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson has described, imagination is “where everything comes from–the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present in our senses to step outside of the immediate sensory environment and to form images in consciousness of other places, other possibilities.” (1)

Sir Robinson says that a good deal of the creative process is about “exercising critical judgement, about testing it.” Architects know from their studio and crit-based education that this work involves a dialog, between oneself and between collaborators and those who appraise our ideas. A dialog–especially among ourselves–gains much power with patience, temperance and a willingness to listen to what feels right. All of that takes time.

Anthony’s view is that the computational power of the cloud should be partly focused on speeding up or even eliminating the mundane in architectural practice to afford us more time for the sacred in practice–that work that is closest to our heart and our passions.

There are tools that exist digitally that recall, in spirit, our past as painters and sculptors. These tools echo a time long gone where the values expressed above about patience and internal dialog were more self-evident. How do we as architects, technology users and technology writers learn to identify which tools benefit us from a more contemplative pace?

next page: Talking About the Winners

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