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Early Access: (emTech) section for INSIDER Expresso—#06

Early Access coverage of the Emergent Technologies (emTech) section for the upcoming INSIDER Xpresso #06. Non-subscribers can gain access to this information by signing up for our monthly Xpresso newsletter for free. Inside this issue, we cover new Parametric tools in Architecture, Robots in Architecture and Construction and new Neuroscience insights to help you balance your career path.

You are reading the “early access” edition of INSIDER Xpresso newsletter’s (emTech) section.

On Sunday 4 August 2019, we will release the complete INSIDER Xpresso newsletter #06 to all subscribers. The newsletter from Architosh is free. Our Early Access editions of the popular Emerging Technologies section are for INSIDER members-only and include deeper commentary and more visuals than the newsletter itself. Our deeper analysis commentary will always be written in Architosh blue text.

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Xpresso #06 — A Word About the Next Issue (and the last)

Firstly, a word about Xpresso #05. In the Early Access version of the Xpresso #04, we said we would veer off-topic and deliver a report on the new Mac Pro (2019). We decided to switch topics and deliver a feature on The Game-ification of Architecture.

In this #06 issue, we are delivering the second part of The Game-ification of Architecture. In the first part, we delivered a feature on Epic’s role with Unreal Engine and its future moves. In this August’s Xpresso (#06) we tackle the same but with a focus on Unity. Both features were based on in-depth interviews with both companies. “Game-ification” relates to the transfer of both game industry technologies (in soft and hardware) as well as the relationship between the user and the 3D environment or object. And by the “environment,” we mean to include the dynamics of virtualized physical environments.

This month’s Xpress (emTech) section dives deep into a series of articles on computational and generative design, in particular. However, we begin this section with an interesting read from The Wall Street Journal that has applicability to the question that may come up to seasoned professionals in AEC fields. That question is: should I pivot my career towards emergent technology domains to best prepare for the future of my career?

Parametric, generative design tool companies are popping up everywhere in AEC because the technology is finally proving its value to enterprise AEC workflows. A lot of the new tools are in the pre-design stage. This image is from Finch3D, which we discuss below.

After this neuroscience article and the deep dive in generative design, we finish with more curated news on Robots in Construction, and AR/VR news.

Neuroscience Informs Our Next Career

Rich Karlgaard has written a very thoughtful piece in The Wall Street Journal titled, “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Brilliant Career.” His article focuses on two lines of thought at once—criticizing the current era’s somewhat insane focus on early achievement while also highlighting possibilities for older people to achieve greatness far later in life. He uses neuroscience to make his case.

Karlgaard’s article recites the latest neuroscience that argues that human beings’ brains have multiple cognitive peaks throughout their lives, and hence we are capable of great changes at any age and finding our personal geniuses even later in life. This is reassuring news. Many younger Boomers and GenXers may find they are confronted, in the next decade, by the Era of AI directly in their mid to late-career. And many will also feel that it is not within them to re-educate and pivot for a career path in the very technologies that are making their older positions less valuable or obsolete. So what should they do?


Younger people are just smarter. 

Mark Zuckerberg


Does it make sense for a 50-year-old structural engineer or architect to become a data scientist, computational designer, or software programmer to strengthen their placement within their AEC industry? With looming high-tech infused transformative firms sprouting up all around the industries that make our environment and the things in our environment, it is tempting to see a firm like Spacemaker (AI, big data AEC firm), Katerra (automation, AI AEC firm) or Digital Blue Foam (AI, big data, AEC firm) as indicators of this looming transformation. The question for established professionals becomes: how to best prepare for it?

A Neurological Basis – The Role of Executive Function

Neuroscientists Laura Germine and Joshua Hartshorne measured the abilities of nearly 50,000 adults across all ages on a battery of cognitive tests. Their conclusion was that at any given age you are getting better at some things, getting worse at some things, and plateauing at some things. So what are some common results, by age?

Spacemaker is just one of the new AI, big data and generative design infused companies that portend to large disruption in AEC domains. Both existing professionals in AEC and even the institutions of higher learning serving these domains may be caught wrong-footed in the coming years.

Speed of information processing appears to peak early, around 18-19. Short-term memory continually improves to about age 25 and then levels off for another decade. Evaluating complex patterns, including other people’s emotional states, peak much later in life—in people’s ’40s and ’50s. In turns out that adults need most of their early if not late 20’s to fully develop their prefrontal cortex, the area of our brain in charge of executive functioning. As Karlgaard writes, “…the prefrontal cortex develops the ability to better communicate with other parts of the brain, especially those associated with emotions and impulses so that all areas of the brain can be included in complex processing such as planning and problem-solving.”


Fluid intelligence peaks when we are young adults, while crystalline intelligence continues to peak during our mid-careers (lives) and beyond.


Karlgaard writes that the latest findings confirm cognitive research that says we have two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. The former is our base capacity to reason and solve novel problems, “independent of knowledge from the past,” while the latter is our ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. Fluid intelligence peaks when we are young adults, while crystalline intelligence continues to peak during our mid-careers (lives) and beyond.

As I wrote in Xpresso #02, when writing about computational designers and programmers and their career advancement challenges, Mark Zuckerberg famously said in 2007 that “younger people are just smarter.” What Zuckerberg should have said is that 20-somethings have peak fluid intelligence and therefore software coding and skills like that favors the young, while managing projects and businesses shift the balance in favor of the older seasoned professional.

Further Commentary:  I noted in Xpresso #02 that Randy Deutsch’s book Superusers note the importance of computational designers in AEC firms but that their career paths are troublesome at the moment because the industry hasn’t yet fully embraced such roles and the technology behind them. I wrote that the AEC industry might learn by watching how the software industry (Mark Zuckerberg’s industry) deals with older computer programmers. Nothing Karlgaard’s article says changes that assessment.

Citing Georgia Tech psychology professor Phillip Ackerman, Karlgaard says that older adults can compensate for declines in “fluid” intelligence by selecting jobs and goals that are set up for their strengths in “crystallized” knowledge and skills. Experience, in this case, should not be discounted in AEC in particular. But just how older AEC professionals leverage that experience and combine it with new areas of knowledge and skills in the era of AI is a particularly fascinating problem.

Karlgaard’s article goes on to recite numerous examples of mid-career people who discovered their optimal cognitive peaks and combined it with their passions to excel into the roles and fields for which they were born. Karlgaard, himself, was one of them. Some of the examples are illuminating.

Computational and Algorithmic Design in AEC

A Forbes article by Julian Vigo entitled Parametric Architecture’s Embrace of New Technology touches on Patrik Schumacher’s talk at Grohe’s “The Wave of the Future” talks in Frankfurt, Germany. Vigo notes that while Schumacher and MX3D research head, Filippo Gilardi (also a Grohe event speaker) profess optimism for the virtues of parametricism—what Schumacher calls the “great new style after modernism”—such new technologies are not yet dominating the construction scene in places like China, which has suffered the death of 33 construction workers alone in just one recent month.

Author’s Commentary.

Vigo doesn’t really develop his argument fully in this short Forbes piece on Parametricism in architecture. He is trying to contrast the ramp-up in generative design in the field of architecture with the pressures of the fast-paced building in places like China, where safety standards are lacking Western countries. If anything, the increased pressures of the construction industry make it harder, not easier, for firms to pivot and reposition themselves around computational design and generative design. From a project management point of view, both require new inputs, tools and techniques and new outputs (or the ITTO in the parlance of the Project Management Institute. is the source for a new set of tools for computational design. Finch is for architects and is a parametric tool that is currently under development and will be launched as a plugin to Rhino-Grasshopper during 2020. The developer is hailing it as the beginning of the “adaptive plan.” This means as you parametrically change the overall sizes (X and Y dimensions) the internal aspects of the plan intelligently and automatically resolve according to some rules. It is being developed by architect Jesper Wallgren. You can learn more here.

Can Algorithms Design Buildings? Daniel Davis pens an article on the “near future” in Architect Magazine. He writes that after decades of unsuccessful attempts to generate building layouts automatically, a spate of companies has suddenly proven it possible. One of those companies is called The Living, a New York-based research group founded by David Benjamin and acquired by Autodesk all the way back in 2014.

The Living used machine learning to train an algorithm to make sustainable use of wood boards with knots—the kind of boards that would often be discarded. This image, from a video on the process, is for an open-source laboratory for innovation in construction. (see notes below)

Meanwhile, The Living—which is self-described as a first-of-its-kind Autodesk Studio—combines research and practice and is focused on the intersection of biology, computation, and sustainability. Bio-computing, bio-sensing, and bio-manufacturing are three frameworks the studio harnesses. Some of its latest work (actually the latest is from a year ago) projects include a new project commissioned by Princeton University to develop an “open-source building” to host research for the future of construction with computation. An interesting aspect of this project was the use of wood boards with knots that would commonly be not utilized in buildings. The team trained custom algorithms to detect knots in wood and then invented a CNC sandblasting machine to expose the micro contours around the knots. A solar analysis of the facade was then conducted and used to arrange the boards to match the solar analysis. This created targeted thermal insulation based on micro contours. The results were really impressive (see image above and below).

Another project by The Living involved the Autodesk MaRS office in Toronto, Canada. This new 300-person Autodesk office and research space pushed the limits of generative design for architecture using qualitative metrics brought into the quantitative task of space planning. This video explainer for the process is definitely worth a watch and you can see it here on their website (or below).

Higharc is another generative, VC-based design firm specializing in the generation of 3D home plans and serving end homeowners and builders directly. Its VC supporters include the CPO of Adobe and the designer of the Nest Thermostat. Another generative design platform company is ArchiStar, which is aimed at property development class investors and their professionals. The system is developed in Australia and helps find, assess, and generate property designs using smart data and cutting edge technology.

Finally, another app listed in the article mentioned above, is TestFit, by Building Forge, LLC. Launched in 2017, TestFit claims to have the world’s most powerful building configurator. Called Residential Engine, the tool focuses on multi-family. TestFit is a full application that enables parametric whole-building layout design, including 3D considerations, functional use zoning, “make-up” of housing unit types, retail and amenity mix, et cetera. Through rapid iterations, its users can more quickly evaluate scenarios around various development lots.

 Author’s Commentary. 

From the generative designs being produced by Autodesk’s The Living to Higharc, ArchiStar to TestFit, what all of these examples demonstrate is that design professionals will soon no longer begin early-stage design work through trace paper and intuition around basic constraints. Instead, advanced-level constraints, at multiple weights of significance, can be input into generative design tools for pre-design and early-stage design. This work is then backed up with data and chosen solutions can move forward with more quantifiable backup. 

Computational Design: The Future of How We Make Things is Tech-Driven. This articles is actually from 2018 and less an article and more an infographic on computational design, put together by industrial giant Schnieder Electric. It does an excellent job of describing what is called “Classic Design” versus “Design Thinking.” The former may create a chair and say, “a beautiful and comfortable chair,” while the latter will say, “do we even need a chair?”

Robotics in AEC

Undersea robots could one day print oyster-based bio-cement to create undersea reefs to protect coastal cities. This is an interesting story in The Architect’s Newspaper, which suggests that the future of construction could be flying 3D printers. GXN is the research-focused spinoff of the Danish architecture firm 3XN and they are investigating ways for high-tech robotics to “break the grid” and offer new exciting methods in additive manufacturing. The firm is working with Dansk AM Hub, a foundation that supports experimentation in additive manufacturing. This is a great article that talks about 3D printers that can print fungus into micro-cracks to maintain infrastructure and prevent further damage. (Highly Recommended)

Robots 3D-print nine different concrete columns without any formwork. You can see the video here at this article on designboom, or below.

Using Grasshopper and KUKA robots for architectural design. We have written about KUKA|prc before but it is worth another post.

Will robots enable an architectural renaissance? This ZDnet article talks about a Danish startup using industrial robots to tackle difficult-to-produce freeform architecture. The article talks about construction robotics company Odico, which has raised $5 million after listing on Nasdaq. The company makes an industrialized freeform mold-cutting robotics unit for creating complex forms for concrete pours and more. Mixing a robotics arm with a hot wire cutter and rotating block, the robotics setup can create molds for creating double-curved geometries. Apparently the company has attracted the interest of Bjarke Ingel Group (BIG).

Tidbits for the Salon

Robots with human-like skin. Singapore scientists have unveiled a membrane that will let robots react to external stimuli in milliseconds—just like humans do. In essence, they have created “electronic skin.” [Robots]

Is AI the next big climate change threat? We haven’t a clue. Martin Giles reports from MIT Technology Review on the dire warnings coming out of the computer and AI industry how just how much energy AI’s needs may be. By 2025, some are predicting AI will consume one-tenth of the world’s electricity needs. Today it is estimated it predicts just 0.1 percent. [Sustainability] [Energy]

A (Very) Close Look at Carbon Capture and Storage, is the title of a report published at IEEE Spectrum regarding a new material called ZIF-8 which can swell up with carbon dioxide molecules are trapped inside. The discovery and research point to the possibility of using such materials as carbon capture layers in new greenhouse-gas-emitting power stations. [Sustainability]

HyperFoods: Machine Intelligence mapping of cancer-beating molecules in foods, is the title of a new research report for a study that uses AI (machine learning algorithms) help construction a ‘food map’ with anti-cancer potentials of each ingredient defined by the number of cancer beating molecules found therein. The goal is to usher in the design of next-generation cancer preventative and therapeutic nutrition strategies. [Machine Learning]

Roman amphitheaters act like seismic invisibility cloaks…possibly, says new research coming out of France. A report in Technology Review discusses the discovery that these ancient structures may have a secret weapon against the destructive seismic forces of earthquakes. The path these researchers took to this discovery took them through the center of Mexico, making this article all the more delightful to read. [Architecture] [Smart Cities]

Closing Notes

If you are an INSIDER Member on Architosh you are reading this exclusively, as only subscribers to INSIDER membership have early access to the (emTech) section of the upcoming Xpresso newsletter. This online version also has deeper commentary—the long intro on the Neuroscience piece is exclusive just to subscribers like you, as well as the additional graphics.

Just a note. If you are wondering where the Early Access version for Xpresso #05 is, we apologize but we were unable to produce that last month due to trade show attendance. Such occurrences shall be very rare, but we wanted to be open about what happened.

If you are an INSIDER Member reading this article and have not yet signed up for the INSIDER Xpresso newsletter, you can sign-up here for free. The monthly focuses on emerging technologies (emTech) and their impact on CAD and BIM-based industries and society as a whole.

INSIDER Members with annual subscriptions gain early access to Xpresso features—such as the (emTech) section you just read.

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INSIDER Xpresso keeps CAD industry professionals up-to-date on next-gen emerging technologies (emTech) that will revolutionize the worlds of AEC and manufacturing and design. As an Xpresso reader, you will hear from some of the most important voices inventing and using the very latest tech in areas such as AI, machine learning, algorithm-aided design (AAD), AR, VR, MR, 3D printing, 3D computer vision, robotics, and SmartCities technologies.

Each issue arrives in your inbox on the first Sunday of the month. Issue #1 arrived on March 3, 2019. Full archives and easy navigation for your pleasure. Enjoy! 

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