This year’s AIA National Convention in Philadelphia contained a large array of software and computer hardware companies, making a range of announcements and showcasing solutions for every aspect of architectural practice.
In Part 1 of this report series we will review what was shown and announced by the largest companies. In Part 2 and Part 3 we will discuss the large array of mid-sized and smaller vendors and what they were showing architects; and in Part 4 we will look at some hardware companies.
Autodesk, Trimble, Bentley and Nemetschek Group Companies
Like in recent years, Autodesk this year stood apart from the rest of the other software companies, choosing a spot along the prominent central aisle in the large expo hall. In years past the largest AEC software company in the world often had jumbo spaces or two spaces side by side, one often being a theater or training area. But recently the company has scaled down its physical footprint at the show.
This doesn’t stop it from having a very packed booth. Presentations this year were conducted from within its booth space, sans seating, and often brought in passerby’s along the main expo aisle. Autodesk touted its very latest versions of software in its Building Design Suite Premium package along with discreet programs in Autodesk FormIt and Dynamo.
Autodesk had one key press release for the show, announcing it had partnered with the AIA to automate passing sustainability data to the AIA’s 2030 Commitment reporting system. The new DDx (Design Data Exchange) tool is also open sourced and the AIA will encourage other energy modeling solutions to also plug in.
Autodesk also hosted a special event at the Apple Store in downtown Philly where it featured local architects who use Apple platforms using Autodesk’s key solutions, particularly Autodesk AutoCAD for Mac and Autodesk FormIt platform solutions (web and iOS).
In another event for special guests and customers, Architosh got a sneak peak at Project Fractal and participated in a Q&A session. Fractal represents some cutting edge thinking about just how far computers can go and where human architects leave off. These last two items are things we will come back to in separate reports.
Trimble is still working on inserting its brand name into the minds of architects in the US and abroad. At the AIA the company is simply listed as SketchUp in the official exhibitor listings and apps. If you want to find something about Trimble Connect, search for SketchUp first.
The latest version of SketchUp Pro is 2016 and the company was showcasing this prominent application in AEC. One session at the show booth was titled “Down to the Details: Model Everything in SketchUp.”
Also showing up in the what should really be called the Trimble booth but still feels like the SketchUp booth was Sefaira. Sefaira is a 2014 AIA BEST of SHOW winner in the BIM category and the Innovation Category and it addresses the need for architects to have up-front (left side of the MacLeamy curve) analytics in energy analysis.
The coolest thing we saw in the Trimble booth however was the demo of the alpha-level application work using the Microsoft Hololens with SketchUp. This technology demonstration was astounding and promising. We will have a dedicated report on that as well.
Bentley has 3000 employees and nearly $600 million in annual revenues. People know Bentley in architecture for its MicroStation software solution but in today’s BIM world their core tool is AECOsim Building Designer, which itself is built on MicroStation.
MicroStation, unlike AutoCAD, has had an ability to handle tremendously large data in a CAD file, due to the nature in which the system handles and saves that data. It is not surprising then that Bentley’s customers are some of the largest companies in the world doing some of the largest works in the world. Bentley is the world leader in infrastructure projects, of which “buildings” are a part. Some key customers include Foster & Partners and AECOM, for example, tremendously large firms or firms doing tremendously large projects.
Foster & Partners is doing Apple’s extraordinary new campus (“space ship”) building in Silicon Valley. This project is being done on Bentley’s BIM platform. This was the technology on show at the AIA this year. However, the company was also showcasing its new ContextCapture and Bentley LumenRT (formerly a tool we wrote about here).
ContextCapture produces massive 3D models entirely from simple digital photographs. It comes in two versions, ContextCapture and ContextCapture Center, the latter for projects that require more than 100 gigapixels of photographic imagery.
ArchiCAD, Bluebeam and Vectorworks (Nemetschek Group)
Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD 20 has just been announced just prior to AIA National and is thematically focused on the letter “I” in BIM. The company has added an impressive and flexible system for adding any kind of meta-data to BIM elements of any typology. Then the company added the ability to take this meta data both out and back in via Excel, which is really the linga franca of table-based data exchange. (so long FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access).
While these are quite useful and powerful new features, what is really striking are the new “graphical over rides” which can illuminate and illustrate this meta data and the geometry data as well inside BIM models, and for a variety of purposes.
Bluebeam Software was situated next to the Graphisoft booth and is now a full member of the Nemetschek Group. The biggest news coming on the heals of the latest version of Bluebeam Revu—now at version 2016—is the new native Mac OS X version. Bluebeam is incredibly popular within the largest construction companies in the United States and Canada. As part of the Nemetschek Group the company is setting its sights on Asia and Europe for expansion. In an upcoming interview with the firm we will learn about their amazing conversion rate once they have a chance to get inside a construction company and show their stuff.
The Vectorworks folks were showing their current Vectorworks Architect 2016, a candidate for the largest most impactful update we have seen in any CAD or BIM package in the 17 years we have been writing about AEC software. On the market since last fall, Vectorworks 2016 features Marionette, the company’s answer to the Rhino+Grasshopper movement in design and AEC circles.
While sister company Graphisoft partnered with McNeel’s popular Rhino and Grasshopper, Vectorworks chose to embed algorithmic visual scripting directly inside its BIM and CAD tools. Marionette, while new and quite young on the market, has some immediate and unique qualities. There is an adjacency to the code behind a node that we have heard veteran GH (Grasshopper) users praise.
Perhaps the biggest news behind all three of these companies isn’t about any of their products at the moment but rather the decision from Germany to establish a US-based office that will focus nearly entirely on strategic directions, global public relations and mergers and acquisitions. All three of those items, when grounded here in the US—the biggest single country market in the world (the EU is reportedly a larger AEC software market) for AEC software—has the potential for the Nemetschek Group to synergistically gain market share.
This is our big company overview. We will have smaller detailed reports on some of them coming up.
[Editor’s note: We fixed the correct name of AECsim Building Designer, adding “Designer” after it. MicroStation was also fixed to capitalize the “S” in its name. – 6:21 pm EDT 26 May 2016 ]