Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Design, analysis and the Cloud

Blog entry by: Dominik Holzer
In collaborative design practice, computational tools are becoming ever more utilised to help bridge the gaps between designers, consultants and contractors who search for streamlined exchange of information. Despite early promises of BIM software developers to provide us with tools that assist collaborative design practice, most BIM authoring tools facilitate tasks of individual professions such as architects, structural consultants, MEP consultants or quantity surveyors.

The interdisciplinary collaboration aspect of BIM is mainly relegated to the coordination of multiple 3D models through interference checks and clash detection/reporting. These tools barely foster collaboration proactively but they allow for better integration of already defined design components.

Paradoxically, one of BIM’s main goals - namely the early integration of architectural design, engineering analysis, and fabrication constraints is rarely (if at all) achieved with the tools available to the professions involved. A lack of adequate tools and technology is not the sole reason for this shortcoming. Contractual frameworks such as design, bid build make it nearly impossible to tie together design to construction to operational concerns early on, even if the participating parties have a high level of technology know-how and BIM expertise.

Designers may feel threatened if having to commit to early integration of information with other consultants as this is likely to limit their ability to explore options freely and creatively. The following question emerges: What are the activities that center on the core collaborative process that allow designers, the consultants and the contractors to integrate and evaluate their projects early on?  With substantial attention given to management of data and error-checking, there are currently only few computational tools that consider integrating design performance feedback in a holistic way and explore design options across disciplines

 If one considers contemporary design practice, both, exploratory design, as well as the delivery focussed design for integral elements to progress projects. They do not necessarily occur in sequential order, but at times designers and entire teams go back and forth between the two in order to reach the most satisfying outcomes. One witnesses a recursive interplay between open-ended solution finding and goal focussed problem solving. Traditionally it was the predominantly the architect who came up with new ideas, overthrowing previous concepts and changing direction while engineers (and others) had to follow suit. This often meant time-consuming remodelling of their previous efforts and re-run of simulation and analysis. The added effort for engineers in doing so, by far exceeded the architects’ effort in changing things around in the first place. It is therefore understandable that those depending on the architect’s input are resistant to rework their part within a project again and again.

Current developments in computational tools for design analysis, as well as BIM based document authorship point towards greater convergence between the two. This development gets assisted by the increasing  connectivity between collaborating parties, as well as the increase in speed for simulation and analysis through the cloud. Technological and connectivity boundaries between design, simulation and analysis continuously get eroded and this leads to greater potential for architects and other consultants to interact in close to real time.

The question remains: Are we going to learn to change the way we collaborate to take advantage of the developments that are currently transforming our design processes? With increased connectivity, increased automation of sharing interoperable data, and unprecedented speed for conducting computationally intensive processes comes an increased requirement of processing information by design teams. The lines between exploratory design and delivery focussed design are continuing to blur.

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