A BIM image from Autodesk
BIM is helping design processes and buildings become more efficient. Image courtesy of Autodesk.

During the span of one person’s career, architectural design has moved through at least three phases, and the transformation is not yet finished. In the ‘70s, manual drafting was the accepted method of transferring architectural drawings into building plans. Moving into the ‘80s, Autodesk released AutoCAD and Graphisoft released ArchiCAD, two computer-aided design programs. Throughout the ‘90s, forward-thinking educational institutions, such as UCLA Architecture and Urban Design (A.UD) and MIT School of Architecture and Planning, focused on integrating rapidly emerging digital technologies with design. The architecture profession was revolutionized by computer-aided design, as drafting tables were replaced by computer tables, and smaller firms with new computing power had the opportunity to compete on larger projects. Most recently, building information modeling (BIM) and LiDAR scanning have become accepted practices to provide highly detailed data for design activities.

“The evolution of BIM in architectural design is an example of a significant disruptive change,” said Erin Rae Hoffer, senior industry program manager for Autodesk. “Since BIM incorporates information to support decision-makers, architects are free to focus on making the building the best it can be in areas such as energy efficiency, cost, usability, aesthetic appeal, and other factors. BIM is now considered mainstream, and it is a gateway to other technology opportunities, such as simulation and analysis. Users can create alternatives and run actual quantitative tests to evaluate all of the options. This is particularly important for green buildings, both for complying with regulations and for meeting client expectations.”

The advantages of computer-aided design flow through to the construction phase of the process, and contractors are embracing the technology because of the improved design accuracy and tracking ability for parts. Even more progress can be made in this area by incorporating building codes and manufacturer specifications to make the entire process more seamless. For example, Autodesk offers a product called “Seek,” an online BIM catalog accessible from the design software where manufacturers can provide their product specifications and performance information. “The benefits of BIM include improved insight by having real data and real models, so decisions are better,” said Hoffer. “All stages of design are impacted by the ability to identify conflicts, and by doing so early in the process, we save time and money during the construction phase. Now we even have the ability to visualize a building in the context of the surrounding area before construction starts. Reality capture-enabled BIM and augmented reality technology allows designers to integrate 3D design with the real world while looking at the screen of a smartphone or tablet and moving it around the landscape.”

Infinite computing is another concept that is having an impact on architectural design. It refers to cloud-based tools that provide access to information everywhere the user might be, whether in an office or in a remote area, and takes advantage of the increased computing power available via the internet to speed processing and/or rendering capabilities. “The entire industry is moving toward sharing information on the cloud to increase efficiency and quality,” said Hoffer. “Current economic pressures, as well as increased scrutiny on environmental and safety issues, are driving change, and the technology provides the means to make it happen.”

BIM, infinite computing, augmented reality, and other developing technologies are changing the way we think about, practice and evaluate the impacts of design. “Technological advancement in the area of design shows no sign of slowing down,” said Hoffer. “Our buildings will continue to become more efficient due to concepts like the ‘internet of things,’ which can incorporate all the interconnections between everything in our buildings, such as heating, air conditioning, air flow, appliances, and machinery, and collect and transmit data regarding the status of each. By using this technology, our buildings will collect their own information so that people can concentrate on responding quickly and effectively when dealing with issues.”