Technology is Amazing

If you are an architect, technology is a way of life … but despite knowing this information, I am frequently amazed by just how amazing technology actually is and the role it plays daily in my office.

We literally spend thousands of dollars a year on software and hardware each year – which might not seem like much but we are only an office of (as of this week) 10 people. Since I am aware of the role technology plays, I wasn’t planning on writing a post about it when I pulled out my computer last night. However, there were a few things that all happened at the end of last week that made me think things are evolving so rapidly that I take certain technological advancements for granted.

Moving a large table - Using Revit

It all started when the client for the cabin project (see winter photos here) we completed last year asked if we could figure out if a table she wanted to buy could actually be moved through the house to get to its final destination. This table, for what’s worth, is 96″ long by 60″ wide … it’s not a normal sized table … it’s HUGE. SO I turned to Landon in my office and asked him to verify the wood widths and the ceiling heights so I could let the client’s know if this could work.

Yeah … it can.

But the amazing things didn’t stop there, it just kept on coming.

If you follow my Instagram feed, maybe you recall this computer-generated image I shared a few months back:

Instagram Photo

A lot has changed since I shared this image – the client’s wanted a different sort of feel to the cladding that we wrapped around the new vertical circulation. The dialog was about treating this new stairwell as a graphic monument to help identify and enhance the visual memory of the entry experience … which is archispeak for “we want people to talk about what’s happening out front of the building.”

OG Exterior - design development study

So we simplified the geometry and added a translucent panel wall that will be lit with special lights along the top that will allow the wall to take on various personalities due to the ever-changing color scheme. BEcause of the drafting software we use we are able to generate as a by-product these exterior views that allow us to help convey the narrative of the architecture we are proposing. But it doesn’t stop there …

OG Common Room design study

This is just one of a myriad of interior renderings we produced during the design development phase of the project. Since we are a small firm, we don’t spend much time with post-production work on our renderings. It is important to us that we can take what is created “out of the box” and evaluate whether or not we are on the right path.

In this space, we are currently evaluating the use of electro-chromatic glass – basically, this is glass that will transform from clear to shaded by running an electric current through it. Since this is fairly expensive technology, we wanted to see just how much sunlight enters this space at it’s most extreme conditions …

OG Summer Solstice Common Room 3PM

This is the same space at 3 pm on the summer solstice …

OG Common Room Winter Solstice 3PM

and this is the same space at 7 pm on with winter solstice.

What we learned is that there is a need for solar protection in this space – but that need is not extreme. I can still remember from my time in school how to check sun angles … but I don’t need to do that anymore. We can now geo-locate our projects and run solar studies on them to make sure that they perform in the manner for which we intend … and all with the push of a few buttons.

OG Exterior at Sumer Solstice 3PM

We went through a similar study for the exterior of the building. The thing that I think is important to stress here is that these are NOT presentation drawings. In fact, I don’t think anyone, particularly the client, saw any of these renderings because the point wasn’t to convey our design or help elaborate upon the intent, but rather to make sure that the buildings and space we create perform in the manner for which they are designed. Our use of the technology that exists allows these studies to happen as a result of our daily work process. Our client’s don’t pay extra for these steps and studies – a concept that just a handful of years ago would have been preposterous.

Using Bluebeam to redline architectural drawings

During the same 24-hour span, we also sent off redlines to the MEP engineers on this project. In this case, it was Danielle Anderson (famous for her role in the wildly popular post I wrote on portfolio’s and just how good her portfolio was – see it here) who created the redlines in Bluebeam – a pdf creating/editing software that we use almost every day. The thing that makes the use of this sort of editing software so amazing is that it provides with absolute clarity what our concepts are and how we would like to see those concepts articulated in our consultant’s drawings. This is a crucial step in the process because this is where small clarifications are made on paper, rather than a handful of people standing around on a job site, pointing at the ceiling, and asking “What do you want to do about this?” This is probably the 2nd or 3rd round of redlines for this project and we are down to marking up where we want access panels located. All of the consultants on this project are using the same 3-dimensional building information modeling software (or “BIM”) and it allows us to do things like making sure that air-conditioning ducts fit around and through the building’s structure.

The final piece of technology that we are trying to employ in the office is the use of virtual reality.

Michael Malone experimenting with the HTC Vive headgear

A lot of our clients are particularly savvy when it comes to the use of technology. One, in particular, has really been instrumental in pushing us to advance our thinking in a way that would include the use of virtual technology. In fact, we had several meetings with this client at their offices so that we could use the virtual reality setup that they had in place … and I was hooked!

The use of virtual reality headsets has been around for awhile and I don’t think that I’ve been to a conference in the last few years where there was at least one vendor booth setup that was using virtual reality headsets … but none have looked as good as what is currently available. In the picture above, this is Michale Malone (founding Principal at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects and the first guy to hire me out of school in 1992) trying out the HTC Vive goggles.

Landon Williams, of MMB Architects, using VR headgear

This is Landon … and I don’t know what he’s doing, but it certainly looks like he is enjoying himself. I took these pictures back at the beginning of the year and I put a pitch together to argue that this was technology that we needed to get in the office. It is an incredible design tool and with almost no knowledge or experience, I can put these goggles on a client and allow them to look around and move through their project. After a little bit of research, it became clear that a new version of these goggles was going to be coming out (the Vive PRO) and I decided to wait for this new version to become available … which it now is!

The reason I wanted to write about technology is not that I myself am a technological savant … just the opposite (I know, you’re stunned to learn this), but because it is hard not to be amazed at how differently the practice of architecture is from just a few years ago. During the span of my career – and I am pretty young in “architect years” – I have seen things go from hand drafting using pencils on paper, to sharing a 3-dimensional model, that’s saved in the cloud, with all the consultants on a project, all while using virtual reality goggles so that I can have one of my diminutive clients confirm that she can reach the top shelf of the kitchen cabinetry.

Amazing. Technology is amazing.


Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect