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Member Access — (emTech) Section Plus for Xpresso #17

Member Access—(emTech) Section Plus is our new exclusive that builds off of what we shared in Xpresso #17. We offer deeper content on computational design, robotics, AI, and more.

(emTech) Section Plus

We are shifting gears as readers tell us they would prefer more of our emerging technologies (emTech) content, not “earlier access.”

From now on our previously titled “Early Access (emTech) Section for INSIDER Xpresso” reports will be called “Member Access—(emTech) Section Plus.” Each issue will arrive on or around the same day as that month’s Xpresso newsletter. Xpresso 17 came out yesterday, for example.

(emTech) Section Plus is about providing “more” content on emerging technologies—the primary topic of the Xpresso newsletter. This deeper version of (emTech) is provided exclusively for annual subscribers of INSIDER Membership.

Special Feature

We published a special feature in Xpresso 17 yesterday that is titled, Stamhuis Good Design Requires Speed—Generative Design in Revit Powers Company Growth. 

Achieving high volumes and lots of repeat customer work, Stamhuis—a leading retail builder in Europe—has evolved into a juggernaut of automated efficiency. They have built this process on Autodesk BIM and project management tools mixed with powerful customized Dynamo programming. 

THERE IS OFTEN THIS MISCONCEPTION that speed and design are at fundamental odds with each other—that the latter will always compromise the former. But why is that?

The meaning of Speed

One key reason is that good design requires the ingredient of time itself. For Stamhuis, they are learning how to gain back more time so their designers can take on more strategic work, by tapping the power of generative design through Dynamo. What the Netherlands-based company saves on time, they also give back to the project client. 

Stamhuis’s specialty is the design and build-out of liquor stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets. In this market, time is of the essence for their clients; when stores go through remodels, customers will temporarily shop elsewhere. It is critical that store renovations are back up and running before customers adopt substitutes permanently. So timefar from being the enemy of good designin this case, is a vital ingredient in client success. 

The master Dynamo script establishes a sophisticated semi-automated design workflow within Autodesk Revit offering Stamhuis a massive speed-up in laying out retail stores for its many clients. The system utilizes the company’s very large Revit family of objects. (Image: Stamhuis)

Speed, in the case of Stamhuis’s accomplishments, is virtuous on two fronts. Faster project delivery helps clients with success, faster processes due to Dynamo utilization help Stamhuis designers take on more strategic work, ultimately benefitting the company and its clients. 

So how did they get there?

To read the rest of this story, click here to Xpresso 17. You can subscribe to Xpresso here.


The Top Ten Must-Reads

I’ve combed the Internet to find the most interesting, compelling, or controversial stories about the AEC and manufacturing industries, and the social and emerging technological forces at play on both:


1 – Surprising study: Urban density doesn’t cause more COVID-19 infections, even promotes lower death rates is the title of a new report published in late June. The research report contends that a potential mass exodus from dense cities may actually be a bad idea for everyone.  (Study Finds)

Why is this upside-down from common sense? The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that higher “infection rates” were not actually linked to higher densely populated places. Even more surprising, more densely populated areas have lower Covid-19 death rates. The full article and research report unpacks these surprising findings for you. One final quote: “These findings suggest that urban planners should continue to practice and advocate for compact places rather than sprawling ones, due to the myriad well-established benefits of the former, including health benefits,” says the lead author, Shima Hamidi, Ph.D.  The study was published in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

2 – Coronavirus Bringing Winter to the Drone Industry –  This interesting (Forbes) piece unwraps the surprising tale of how drones are doing a hero’s work during this pandemic, yet it is precisely the conditions of the pandemic that are now hurting the drone industry from taking off.

What’s the low-down? UPS and CVS are testing drones to carry prescription drugs to a Florida retirement community, and China is using drones to spray disinfectant in over 3 million square meters in Shenzhen. Yet, the pandemic has caused a cascade of bad financial and regulatory news for the nascent industry; test sites critical to the FAA’s crafting of rules for airspace have been closed, and venture capital issues are placing new pressures on the industry. 

3 – Six Epidemics from American History Show How Urban Design Affects Our Health This story published on Northeaster University’s website focuses on assistant professor of architecture, Sara Jensen Carr, and her upcoming book, The Topography of Wellness.  (Northeastern University)

Why this story matters today? Jensen Carr is definitely on topic. Her upcoming book chronicles six health crises throughout U.S. history and how those epidemics informed the design of cities. She writes that the gridded American cite became more important after the cholera outbreak when infected water pooled in crooked, unpaved streets. City officials wanted to get fresh water in and bad waste out of the city efficiently. “The net effect,” she writes, “is that we have straighter streets to accommodate long pipes underneath to move water and waste more safely.” 

Jensen Carr notes that the city was really thought of as an incubator of disease for much of American history. “That was especially true in the early 19th century when people believed in a theory called miasma, the idea that diseases floated aimlessly through the air and water.” 

4 –  AIA: Reopening America: Strategies for safer buildings  – I wanted to share this feature on the AIA’s website because it includes a set of dedicated articles focused on strategies for reopening up specific building types that are challenged by the current COVID-19 pandemic.  (AIA)

The AIA has published a series of reports with guidance on specific building types for strategically reopening America. (Image: AIA)

What’s essential here? Included are a series of highly illustrative and impactful strategic articles with plans and 3D illustrations (see above) for opening up (1) Offices, (2) Schools, (3) Retail Stores, (4) Senior Living Facilities, and finally (5) safer buildings in general. The AIA has also put together useful links on COVID-19 here.

5 – Analytics: Social Distancing in the workplace  – This story on Buro Happold’s website discusses how analytics and insight will help organizations implement social distancing in the workplace. (Buro Happold)

Buro Happold’s analytics group is using IoT sensors and monitoring real people in buildings to understand the hotspots for where social distancing breaks down or is difficult to achieve. This research tells us that the modern workplace is poorly configured for long-term social distancing futures and how to better design workspaces in the future. (Image: Buro Happold).

The emTech at Buro Happold: The highly regarded global engineering firm has tapped its analytics group using real data from IoT senses to feed 3D models powered by algorithms to understand where the modern workplace tends to struggle for social distancing. Red circles indicate a failure while green circles are a pass at maintaining consistent social distancing. The study illustrates that most current workspaces are not structured for long-term social distancing requirements, and also at what types of areas inside these space types tend to be the troubled spots.

Leading engineering and architecture firms with advanced computational design groups, like Buro Happold are conducting internal research to gain a lead on insights useful for current and future practice.

Five More Stories (just for INSIDER Members)

Xpresso readers saw the first five stories above, but annual subscribers to INSIDER Membership gain five more curated stories, plus a deeper (emTech) section (below) we are now calling “(emTech) Section Plus.”


6 – Sidewalk Labs plans to spin out more smart city companies – Last month Sidewalk Labs killed its Toronto smart city project, a project we have mentioned in the past in Xpresso. Privacy advocates railed against the Google subsidiary’s surveillance-capable smart city technologies.

What types of companies?  The skinny on this is that Sidewalk Labs has developed much expertise during its forays in Toronto that it is now able to bundle that expertise in discreet companies. For example, they are in the process of creating a mass timber construction company. Another possible company is focused on affordable electrification. (VentureBeat)

7 – COVID-19: Emerging technologies are now critical infrastructure — what that means for governance.  Emerging technologies (emTech) is what this post and the Xpresso newsletter is primarily focused on, insofar as their impacts on AEC and manufacturing industries. But instead of seeing emTech as being about technologies far off in the future in wide-spread application and usage, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed is that some emTech is vital for just such emergencies today! (WEForum)

What is essential to know? Things like chatbots are emerging technologies that during the massive loads of a pandemic, are coming to the rescue to relieve human workers. IoT and connectivity are showing societies how valuable these technologies are in a time of crisis. 

Countries like Estonia, which is technologically highly developed at both the implementation and policy level, are best prepared for the consequences of a pandemic. A quote: “The country already treats technology like critical infrastructure and could serve as an example for others to follow.” 

8 – The Biggest Robot Companies And Their Most Scary Inventions – This (Forbes) piece reviews some of the biggest robot companies in existence, but the reason I added this story here has to do with its references, in particular to Toyota’s THR-3 robot.

The THR-3 robot by Toyota can be remote-controlled by a human in a motion-capture suit. It is built for multiple roles, including construction, but a larger heavier stronger version could be much more useable in construction settings.

From scary robots to the incredibly useful: The THR-3 is one of the larger humanoid robots I’ve seen. What makes it unique is that it can be controlled by a human wearing a motion-detection (motion capture) suit. We’ve seen motion capture suits drive CGI characters in films, but this is the first time seeing it applied to a robot. One imagines remote workers in larger rooms using motion capture suits to drive the limbs of future THR-3s who are lifting incredibly heavy items on construction sites. Xpresso has already pointed out robots lifting heavy items on construction sites, but the agility and mobility of such equipment (some stay on tracks) is a hindrance to flexible operations. 

9 – Computation as Design: Ron Resch and the New Media of Geometry  –  Andrew Witt (former Director of Research at Gehry Technologies and co-founder of Certain Measures (Boston-Berlin), along with Eliza Pertigkiozoglou, currently Digital Design Consultant at Gehry Technologies, have both co-written an excellent paper on Ron Resch, a pioneer in computational geometry at the University of Utah back in the 1970s. (Harvard)

Who is this for? This is an offer for a deep read of one of the early pioneers of computational design, or what Witt has called one of the first “hackers” in AEC technologies. Resch was an artist, a polymath who did remarkable work foundational to many of today’s technologies. There is a link to the ePub book/paper on Resch, here.

10 – The Intricate Models Behind the RPBW (Renzo Piano Building Workshop) Method  – This story is more a find worthy of reading almost as a counterpoint to the focus of digital technology. It tells the story of model making at Renzo Piano Building Workshop. At RPBW model-making is seen as an essential part of the architectural method. (RPBW)

Interesting facts: model-making from the very start was important at Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Today the company has six full-time professional model-makers at workshops in Paris and Genoa. The article shows detailed photos of these workshops for model-making. Quote: “A bad line on a computer drawing might slip by unseen, but you can’t ‘cheat’ with models. It is only when you construct a model that you can truly see the things that don’t work.”

Computational Design Tool News

Rhino3DMedical is a version of Rhino 3D used for the orthopedics field. It was recently used for the first spine surgery in Brazil. The full story is on the Rhino3d blog here but in summary, Rhino3D Medical software enables 3D models from CT scans and can drive 3D printers to create very accurate medical models.

Rhino3DMedical is Rhino 3D technology for the orthopedic industry.

In the case of the Brazil spinal surgery, the patient had a surgical treatment called, microdiscectomy with transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion. Here’s a brief snippet from the story on Rhino3D blog:

“Soon after the completion of the MRI, we proceeded with the segmentation and 3D rendering of the spine (L3–S1), using Rhino3DMedical. The software is very intuitive to use and allows us to post-process 3D models in a fast and accurate way,” explains Dr. Sampaio.

Robots in Construction

Robot roundup: 5 recent innovations in construction tech – this ConstructionDive report runs through five robot products for the construction industry, including Husky A200, a new rover type of robot. GE Research is also developing a small tunneling robot. (ConstructionDive)

Contech – Prefabrication and Digital Design

Cover is a new Katerra-like construction company focused on home-building. Its founders are under 30 and featured in this Forbes article. Its innovative team members have built such things as automotive production lines, reusable rockets, race cars, and Gmail. Oh, and also $100 plus in modern mansions.

The company’s website says: “We started Cover to make thoughtfully designed and well-built homes for everyone. Homes that are uncompromising in their design and performance, and tailored to each person and property.”

An Instagram image of a Cover home. (Image: screengrab / Architosh.)

Cover is backed by some of the investors who have backed Tesla, SpaceX, Facebook, and Airbnb. Yet, while there is serious firepower behind Cover, just as there is behind Katerra, changing an industry that hasn’t moved much in a century or more isn’t easy. Despite this, the Los Angeles area company has raised $1.6 million in venture funding and can deliver a 400-sq foot pre-fab structure for $120,000 – $160,000, preferably in many cases to backyards where due to a housing shortage, new state regulations are easing the construction of residential units in the backyards of homes.

Architosh Analysis & Commentary: It was well over 12 years ago when I suggested Apple should eventually focus on the home market, bringing its aesthetics and ability to manufacture high-quality products to the market consistently. With software integrations added to the home, Apple could literally crush this market space. The Cover home innovative but its roofline is problematic from this architect’s perspective. Nothing that couldn’t be solved with a modular roof edge detail.

Other Design Market News

Global Interior Design Software Markets 2020 – 2025 expected to grow significantly. The global interior design software was valued at USD 3,829 million in 2019 and expected to reach USD 6,433 million by 2025. Driving growth in this market is improved productivity due to reducing dependency on paperwork and documentation and due to virtual walkthroughs and high-end renderings leading to client conversion and buy-in. (Full report here)

reSITE is a platform for discourse on the urbanized world. Talks, podcasts, stories.

Final Thoughts

5 ways lock down will impact how we design the built environment – a thought piece based on some experimental sprints held at Buro Happold. (Buro Happold)

The skinny: This thoughtful exercise at a globally leading engineering firm produced some great takeaways. Firstly, the “commute” we have all been missing isn’t just a liability but equally an asset. What happens when we commute to work through various ways is we gain serendipity. And serendipity is what we have been missing in our lives. The folks at Buro Happold ask, should the commute be rethought as a type of “play space”? This is just one of the five interesting ideas that came about from this Buro Happold experiment. 

Issue Index

I have mentioned the following companies and solutions in this issue (see above):

AIA – guides on the smart reopening of buildings by building type

Buro Happold

Certain Measures



Sidewalk Labs

THR-3 Robot

RPBW – Renzo Piano Building Workshop


Closing Notes

Next month we plan to introduce version 1.0 of our Xpresso Reader Glossary and Index

Reader Comments

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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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