For the fifth year in a row Architosh’s BEST of SHOW honors for software and technologies, seen and exhibited at the AIA National Convention, seek to highlight for our readers excellence, innovation, and emergent paths for technologies in architectural practice.
The BEST of SHOW honors at AIA are significant annual publishing moment. What is sometimes a sea of confusing technology choices and options—available to architects and exhibited at AIA National—we seek to frame, from year to year, a consistent yet evolving technologies in practice perspective. Our award honors go to companies and products we feel are making, or destined to make, an impact on architectural practice here in the United States and abroad.
A companion “perspectives” article—as in previous years—will provide a more elaborated discussion of the trend line in software and technologies in architectural practice, within an overview narrative that addresses “thematic” change and locates specific tech relative to the Hype Curve. Architosh, as been honored recently, to have hosted prominent international expert voices on the subject of the future of architectural practice and these discussions and published articles contribute to our views. (see: Architosh, “Phil Bernstein on the Changing Role of the 21 Century Architect—The Interview (Part 2),” 17 April 2016)
Winners of these small honors receive digital BEST of SHOW placards for display in marketing and promotions, and placement onto Architosh’s BEST of SHOW winners roster page.
This year we have five categories of award honors. All five categories and the choices below reflect on our long-range thesis behind BEST of SHOW honors (read more here) yet specifically address key criteria behind each honor.
- Emergent Technology Award — acknowledges industry potential for bleeding edge technology implementations that will offer “thematic” change for practice.
- Innovation Category Award — acknowledges the most “promising” companies and products that are heralding innovative new directions in AEC software or hardware technologies, as measured by: (a) implementation quality, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, and (c) quality of attack on addressing “pain points” in practice.
- BIM Category Award — acknowledges both new or mature companies and products serving the BIM workflow industry transformation, touching down at any segment of the MacLeamy Curve where value gets added, as measured by: (a) implementation quality, (b) quality of attack on addressing “pain points” in BIM workflows, (c) adoption, extension and commitment to Open BIM philosophies so that data and tool chains are social and democratized to their fullest extent.
- Desktop Category Award — acknowledges both new or mature desktop software solutions exhibited or seen (can be shown at private event) at the AIA convention, as measured by: (a) implementation quality, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, and (c) quality of attack on addressing “pain points” in practice. Award may look at expanded “beyond BIM” view of technologies reframing the future of architectural practice and the activities of architects in society.
- Mobile Category Award — acknowledges both new or mature mobile software or hardware solutions exhibited or seen at the AIA convention, as measured by: (a) implementation quality, (b) acceleration of quality of solution, (c) quality of attack on addressing “pain points” in practice (specifically field-based), and (d) the solution runs on the Apple iOS platform.
Below is our announcement of the 2016 BEST of SHOW honorees.
Architosh AIA 2016 BEST of SHOW
BEST of SHOW — Emergent Technology
This year we invented this category to address technology that is more bleeding edge and “thematic” in the sense that the technology can foster a theme change for how architectural practice works.
Trimble’s SketchUp division showcased an early alpha level preview of their work with the Microsoft Hololens, an augmented reality (AR) type device that showcases a holographic technology. “The potential degree of stakeholder interaction that this technology promises is quite breathtaking,” says Pete Evans, AIA, senior associate editor. “This is an immense pivot-point for the AECOO community, a futuristic platform to leverage, that is already showing very impressive potentials today.”
Runner-Up: Autodesk’s Project Fractal
“Autodesk’s Project Fractal is taking algorithmic design to another level, transforming the architect and designer into a curator and editor of multitudes of computation-based results driven on parametric constraints and conditions,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, editor-in-chief. “The fact that it works through the web is also deeply promising and democratizing for users and access.” While maybe not as sexy as the Hololens work at Trimble, Fractal has serious future teeth. (we will be reporting much more deeply on it soon).
BEST of SHOW — Innovation Category
Similar to the award above, Innovation category winners are both innovative and promising, with shipping or imminently available kit. This is technology—even if beta—that can often be put to use today. This honor looks at quality of attack at identified or known pain points in practice in addition to other criteria, such as quality of implementation.
“This was a collaborative effort with clear benefit between four companies who’s innovative technologies all complement each other, resulting in a better whole,” says Pete Evans, AIA, senior associate editor. “Paraphrasing what Denise Scott Brown said at the convention, ‘sometimes one plus one is more than two.’ In this case, the four together was much bigger than four individual companies.”
ArchVision showed AVAIL, a new approach for a “contextual” content management system (CMS) blending a firm’s LAN and cloud solutions. “AVAIL is an elegant concept, and take, on a CMS made for the architectural industry,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “the deep integration with Revit and its patent-pending Panoply technology all stood out at the show and attendees took notice.”
Chaos Group—the makers of the ever popular V-Ray renderer—showed big UI improvements in its physically-based rendering engine, even advancing that notion for that “easy” button architects yearn for in project visualization. “This came down to implementation quality and its elegant approach to bringing the power of V-Ray into popular programs like Revit and SketchUp,” says Frausto-Robledo. The company also has an updated SDK making it easy for other CAD and BIMs to tap the power of V-Ray.
“CL3VER presented a solution leveraging their web technology for AEC, industrial design, manufacturing and marketing—almost redefining the potentials of the web,” says Pete Evans, AIA, senior associate editor. “We feel CL3VER, a winner last year, possesses edge of market technology that much of the AEC industry is one day going to grow into.” “The CL3VER and V-Ray partnership showcased at the exhibit booth was a convincing vision of how AEC manufacturing companies can transform the way architects and their clients can discover, learn about, imagine and visualize products in rendered pre-built environments,” adds Frausto-Robledo.
VR is one of those thematic changes confronting the AEC market that truly embodies the term edge of market. At last year’s AIA virtual reality was the biggest tech theme on the show floor. Our decision to award IrisVR an Innovation honor last year, among a crowded field, was based on the quality of their attack on the market.
“There are a lot of VR software companies out there,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “but IrisVR shines above the rest in their focus on serving AEC and for the quality of execution in their technology.” IrisVR presented workflows to mobile VR solutions and to both the major VR headset companies (Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) coming online right now wowing everyone in the crowd.
“In the same way we envision collaboration in BIM,” says Pete Evans, AIA, “allowing mutual benefit, this combined group (ArchVision, Chaos Group, CL3VER, and IrisVR) presented their ideas together about how to solve multiple issues surrounding practice today. Booth 2711 was full of many “big” and innovative ideas.”
Runner-Up: No Runner Up
BEST of SHOW — BIM Category
This category acknowledges tools serving the BIM workflow transformation. Some tools that impact the BIM workflow may be awarded in other categories. Winners here emphasize the quality of attack on pain-points in BIM workflows and/or to commitments to Open BIM philosophies. We seek BIM authoring tools that reach the widest set of users, across various toolchains and an emphasis on data fluidity across competing vendor ecosystems.
Winner: Autodesk and AIA DDx (Design Data Exchange) System 2030 Commitment
“Autodesk and the AIA deserve recognition for this new tool solution in DDx,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP. “The new Design Data Exchange (DDx) system attacks a crucial pain point in BIM workflows that is committed to climate change initiatives. The system is also open source and can be utilized by other energy modeling software providers.” The new DDx system enables firms to report their project and performance data to AIA 2030 Commitment to data reporting system directly from Autodesk Insight 360 and FormIt 360 Pro, which should be acknowledged in this award.
The folks behind Sweets have completely reengineered their thinking about the famous—but no longer truly ubiquitous—AEC industry manufacturing products catalog system. “What the new Sweets app integrations do is quite interesting,” says Pete Evans, AIA, senior associate editor, “they are bringing product information knowledge down to the point where young BIM users in architecture practices are making early decisions about elements in buildings but not yet fully understanding how, for instance, a wall is made up. There is a knowledge gap that gets bridged here in this product that is quite impactful, in addition to an elegant data integration between their backend systems of data and specific applications like Revit and AutoCAD.”
The new Dodge Sweets App technology, which is spearheaded by leadership out of the UK, also offers to tap into other vendor BIM and CAD tools though its open SDK structure. Importantly, bringing Sweets data into BIM tools not only provides invaluable information to practitioners, but reasserts the Sweets brand into the digital workflows of architects.
Runner-Up: ArchiCAD 20
This year ArchiCAD 20 was released with a superbly executed dovetail of two feature systems, combining a new meta-data oriented database system directly in the BIM tool with a new graphical overrides system that taps into the meta data along with geometry data. “The information flow improvements in ArchiCAD 20, going between its new meta data system and say Excel and then back again is excellent,” says Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “but the graphical override system laid on top of this is going to yield innovative uses by their customers.”
BEST of SHOW — Desktop Category
Building on a vision of the future of designing, fabricating, making and constructing our future world, Neri Oxman’s view begins to re-imagine the place and role architects can serve in society. Neri herself is the prime example. From the “beyond BIM” perspective, we have reframed the desktop category award honor.
Neri Oxman’s work lies at the intersection of four transformational fields: computation design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology. From this perspective, BIM is transcended; architects will sit side-by-side with computer programmers in the near future; architects will occupy centers of activity in the fields of materials engineering and additive manufacturing; and architects will engage directly in interdisciplinary teams (they already do but in ones they know well…) that involve experts in cutting edge fields new to them.
When we look at technology in practice from this view, the Desktop category award suddenly becomes more significant, wider, promising, and more cognizant of these key trends above.
For the present, what is significant in the context of toolchains at AIA Philly, centers on computational design and its relationship to computer programming as a “thematic” change—not just the field of architecture—but in all its allied fields as well.
Winner: Vectorworks Architect 2016
On the merit of implementation quality, Vectorworks Architect 2016 with its new Marionette algorithmic computational design tools excels. “If Grasshopper is considered by some a type of gateway drug to computer programming,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “then Marionette should be rewarded for the elegance it has brought to its node system with their intimate conveyance of the python code behind each node.” Vectorworks 2016 also earns recognition for its tremendous acceleration—an absolutely massive upgrade—with things like Energos, its onboard energy analysis tools. The company was also showing upcoming technologies to be released in the fall, including VR support technologies.
Augment is an enterprise augmented reality (AR) technology company, headquartered in Paris, France. The Augment App is your pathway to visualizing 3D models in real time environments. It’s desktop solution however is where you prepare your 3D AR ready models.
“Augment is working tangentially to many of the same technologies as at CL3VER,” says Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, “Augment for Desktop helps bridge the gap between 3D model solutions and what you want stakeholders and customers to see but it also provides an animation triggers system plus assignment of multiple colors and textures to models.” The Augment Desktop app works on both Mac and Windows and has feature parity.
BEST of SHOW — Mobile Category
This category centers on both new and mature products and technologies that solve both broad and narrow pain points in practice. Mobile plus “cloud” has been, and continues to be, a large field for innovation, but we are less impressed with the carry-over of VR to mobile devices given the tremendous impact of VR headsets. What is more impactful, is the AR (augmented reality) space, particularly in how it can address capacity for decision support in the pre-sales phase.
We are also intently interested in mobile in respect to the BIM workflow and collaboration challenges—changes that continue to hold up acceleration of decisions making and consensus. When it comes to the collaboration platforms, we see the mobile device as more important than desktop because these device architectures are broader (eg: smartphone, tablet, super tablet, mixed-form factor, large touch-based slates, etc) and represent the “cars” not the “trucks” in the now famous Steve Jobs metaphor about the future evolution of computing.
Winner: Autodesk A360
Autodesk A360 is collaboration platform that works on both Mac and Windows platforms along with Apple iOS and Google Android for mobile devices. While it is a cloud-based technology with both desktop and mobile access points, we are awarding A360 in the mobile category because such mobile plus cloud solutions offer the coveted anywhere, any device access end users seek.
“Cloud based collaboration platforms like A360 aim to solve arguably one of the biggest challenges in the building industry—finding the single source of truth,” says Pete Evans, AIA. “As practicing architects, we know the frustration personally because it is most demanded of in the field.”
“This solution offers the industry a truly democratized approach to toolchains and data formats,” says Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP. “A360 supports everything from SketchUp files to Rhino to IFC to OBJ to DWG and the list goes on. It supports wikis for notes, specs and lists and supports an elegant commenting and collaboration space.”
A360 presently offers users a fuller capacity of tools on the desktop but these features are democratized working equally on browsers on both Mac and Windows platforms and include features like sectioning of models and annotation. Interestingly, A360 is a collaboration offering that spans multiple fields, including AEC, product design and manufacturing. As these fields begin to collide and overlap further—again looking ahead at Oxman’s visions of the built world—this plurality of coverage may drive unique synergies to end users in particular fields.
“Augment has taken mobile AR into an impressive mature workflow. With the multitudes of mobile devices in the field today, Augment makes this robust AR technology available to the AECOO market,” says Pete Evans, AIA, senior associate editor. “This creates new opportunities to create advanced visualization, interactive print with custom markers and importantly improve communications with today’s AR technology for all AECOO stakeholders—anytime anywhere.”