“EVERYONE INVOLVED IN ARCHITECTURE, including tool providers, needs to reimagine themselves for the profession to survive,” says Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost at the tail end of our conversation last week. He referred to the profession and my last question in our hour-long interview.
That question brought up the latest unionization efforts by architects in some large firms and the apparent underlying economic and productivity issues architects face today. But there is hope on the horizon. And Anagnost is confident that, at least in the long term, Autodesk can play a significant role in bringing about substantial game-changing productivity improvements. And not just to architects—though they may need it most—to engineers, contractors, building owners, and their operators.
A New Future
This week at Autodesk University 2022, the California-headquartered design software giant has introduced a substantial new forward vision for the AEC industry, particularly architects.
The centerpiece of that vision is a new product called Autodesk Forma. This new AEC industry cloud aims to unify building information modeling (BIM) workflows for teams who design, build, and operate the built environment. Forma is one of three new industry clouds. Autodesk Flow is a new industry cloud for the Media & Entertainment (M&E) industry. Autodesk Fusion is the industry cloud for Design & Manufacturing (D&M).
Today in this article, we are focused on the AEC industry story. And we especially want to focus on the future digital workflows for architects. Other reports on Architosh will cover the other new clouds.
Forma is the beginning of the “next-generation” toolset for the AEC industry at Autodesk. As Anagnost says, “Think of Forma as a file-free environment,” one oriented at speeding up the architect’s workflows at total factor levels (2x, 3x, 10x, et cetera). “It’s more machine-generated and less top-down user-generated,” he adds. “It’s a different paradigm of doing things, and it’s going to take us a few years to get there,” meaning how long it will take to replace Revit fully as the preferred way of working.
Forma will slowly absorb capabilities that Revit does now, but the first thing it will do is work tightly with Revit between conceptual design and detail design.
But it is not an alternative to Revit. Nor any of Revit’s current BIM competitors. It’s a new paradigm shift—a new way of working for architects that can use the intelligence of machine learning to automate away all the drudgery of modern-day BIM and CAD workflows.
So what does Autodesk Forma do today? Anagnost explained it does everything that Spacemaker did, plus more. Spacemaker is a cloud-based, AI-infused outcome-based design tool created by a startup in Norway that was acquired in 2020 by Autodesk. What Spacemaker did (and still does) and what Autodesk Forma does today is use the power of machine learning (AI) to empower the pre-design and early design stage of the building design, build, and operate cycle.
Forma will allow architects to input design criteria for new building projects on real sites. The software will automatically generate a multitude of design iterations and then rank them based on the weight of variables in that criteria. It also analyzes building design options based on energy use so architects can design more sustainable structures.
“Forma will slowly absorb capabilities that Revit does now,” adds Anagnost, “but the first thing it will do is work tightly with Revit between conceptual design and detail design.” Architects will start generating designs in Forma and then move their designs and process to Revit for detail design and documentation. “Over time, more detail design will end up in Forma,” says Anagnost, “but reimagined in terms of an outcome-based, machine-generated paradigm.”
Autodesk’s Development Philosophy
Anagnost outlined Autodesk’s future, more or less, two years ago in our Open Letter features. “Philosophically—and this is the same philosophy we applied to Autodesk Fusion on the manufacturing side—we don’t look at this [Forma] like moving Revit to the browser,” adds Anagnost, “we are building native, file-free workflows that will be multi-platform and multi-device.”
Anagnost is a big fan of the sheer power of mobile devices—like the iPad Pro with its M-chip—but says “browsers will be one paradigm” that users access Forma and other future Autodesk apps with, but so will thin and medium thick clients [apps] running on a range of devices. “We are focused on building multiplatform with the app model, across a range of devices with the browser being one access paradigm,” he concludes.
So now the industry is hearing about Revit’s future in clear absolute terms, including for those architects who are a part of the Open Letters to Autodesk. Revit will not be rewritten from the ground up for the Mac or the cloud. It will continue to be advanced, and some significant new features are arriving at AU22 (discussed below).
One such advance is a new Autodesk and Epic Games strategic collaboration. Epic Games’ Twinmotion for Autodesk Revit will accelerate immersive, real-time (RT) experiences and collaboration across AEC workflows for Autodesk customers. All Revit subscribers will become members of the Epic ecosystem and have Twinmotion added to their Revit subscription. Architects on Revit will be able to get their hands on Twinmotion for Revit in the near future.
We are focused on building multiplatform with the app model, across a range of devices with the browser being one access paradigm.
Another new collaboration is an Autodesk-driven Rhino to Revit integration, not to be confused with Rhino.Inside technology from McNeel and Associates. Anagnost says the new Rhino to Revit integration is “file-less” and operates with granular data being communicated back and forth between the two applications.
“These kinds of things, while they may look small on the surface, are the tips of the iceberg of things we are working on in terms of integrations and the way data moves across applications and ecosystems,” he adds. With the new Rhino to Revit integration, a customer can move a facade design from Rhino into the detail phase in Revit. If the facade design gets modified and improved in Rhino, the same model component in Revit is automatically updated.
These two new advancements with Revit address important workflow issues with customers and will indeed please those using the Revit platform as their BIM platform. New IFC certifications take Revit up to IFC 4.3, a broad industry standard that offers smarter ways for data exchange and effective data handovers.
Other important Revit updates are announced this week at AU22, but these noted above are the big ones for the world of architects.
The Future and Architects
“As I’ve said before,” injects Anagnost, “when it comes to improving Revit, we have to do it over time because the future doesn’t arrive instantaneously; it moves slowly, slowly, and then suddenly it’s here. That’s how it will arrive; that’s the pattern with Fusion.”
While Autodesk Forma may initially excite architects, especially those who felt they could not afford to tap into the power of Spacemaker (Forma will be much more accessible), Anagnost isn’t naive about the impact of the delivery of new paradigms to AEC professionals. When I asked him how he thinks architects will view the paradigm shift and addition, he said, “They will view Forma with hope, suspicion, and a bit of an I want more response.”
And if you want a faster horse, you might not want to work with us because we will not make a faster horse. But we can be that partner and tool provider that supports professionals into the new era of architecture.
For architects firmly in the Autodesk camp, a good portion of the “I want more” wish list will be to get detailing design into the new cloud solution faster. Anagnost says it will come. “The features that need to go into Forma over its life will be built by the folks who built those features in Revit,” he says.
For sure, some of Autodesk’s Revit customers on the architects’ side will question why Revit itself can’t be modified to accommodate next-generation features. Some may bemoan the idea of change itself—especially those who only recently transitioned from 2D CAD to BIM workflows.
On the technology side, Autodesk is hardly alone in telling customers that significant shifts must take place to deliver the future they want. Anagnost highlighted several things that are doable for making Revit much better and some that are just not reasonable to address inside Revit.
“We have millions of customers,” says Anagnost, “and we have an open roadmap where we consistently hear fix this or add that. But the message we want to deliver today is that not everything in Revit can be fixed. And if you want a faster horse, you might not want to work with us because we will not make a faster horse. But we can be that partner and tool provider that supports professionals into the new era of architecture.”
This brings us back to architects and their survival. When I ask AEC industry software CEOs—including Anagnost—to comment on the unionization movements springing up, they all say the same thing—for architecture firms to dramatically transform their economics, the field needs a paradigm shift. (see: Xpresso #40 – Disruption — A Youth Revolution in Architecture)
So what is that?
The famous economic and technology historian Carlota Perez brilliantly synthesizes the relationships between financial and technical aspects of such paradigm shifts in her book “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages.” The two move in tandem—the financial and the technological.
What Autodesk is delivering—in Forma and its other cloud platforms—is the technology side of the paradigm shift. But people must implement the process change side made possible by the new technology—the “new common sense” way of working, to use Perez’s terms. Only then can economic transformation take place. That takes time, and it takes bravery. Based on history, too many architects disabuse the former and lack the latter. Those who move quickest in the right direction benefit the most. Let’s see how the AEC industry reacts to Autodesk’s bold new directions in Forma. “If we are wrong, the market will punish us,” says Anagnost, “if we are right, the customers will ultimately be delighted.”