AEC Tech News #145

1 Jun, 2005 By: Michael Dakan

Cadalyst AEC Tech News

Event Report: AIA 2005, Part 1

Las Vegas had much to offer the architecture community

It's been more than 30 years since the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown published their famous early postmodern book, Learning from Las Vegas, dealing with popular culture and tastes. It's been almost that long since I've spent any significant time in Las Vegas, other than an occasional drive-through or overnight stay on the way to somewhere else. That all changed when I attended the American Institute of Architects 2005 National Convention at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in mid-May.

Thirty years ago Las Vegas was considered pretty seedy. Hotels were practically giving away rooms to get you to stay and spend some money at the gaming tables or slot machines. They offered free or almost-free buffets for hotel guests and even free drinks as long as you were gambling. With the exception of the occasional free drink, those days are gone.

Las Vegas today has turned into an all-encompassing resort town with mega-resort complexes that combine casinos, thousands of hotel rooms, convention facilities, entertainment, luxury shopping and world-class dining. Architectural tours of Las Vegas held in conjunction with the AIA convention sold out early, an indication that Las Vegas has a lot to offer in terms of architecture as well. The convention itself was no exception to this, offering an extensive line-up of seminars, sessions and exhibits for the 24,500 attendees. I'll share some general impressions of the event in this issue and will discuss a few relevant seminars in greater detail next time.

Several hundred educational seminars and classes presented at AIA 2005 covererd a complete range of issues and influences on contemporary architectural practice. Many of the seminars were about technology, which has become such a fundamental aspect of architectural practice. Much attention was focused on sustainability in architecture, the growing importance of LEEDS standards and practices and environmentally sensitive architectural design. Attendees also found the usual array of seminars on codes and regulations, legal issues, careers, practice management and specialty design types.

AIA Expo2005
AIA offered a huge exposition that covered the gamut of products and materials for buildings, consulting firms and specialty contractors. In the High Tech Pavilion, visitors found most of the major architectural software developers. In this area, I didn't see a lot that was brand new, but a few vendors were announcing and/or previewing new software releases or demonstrating recently announced products, including Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2006 and AutoCAD 2006. SketchUp 5 was perhaps the product that generated the most buzz this year, and Adobe's PhotoShop and Acrobat 7.0 products drew crowds of architects who came to see how those products can benefit AEC.

I was pleased to sense a general cooling of the near-hysteria of the past couple of years over BIM (building information modeling). Most vendors this year were low-key and more realistic about this technology, which has become an industry norm — more taken for granted among architects. One vendor, Graphisoft, even told us it doesn't pursue BIM sales with firms it deems unprepared for the transition. Nonetheless, the general consensus at AIA 2005 was that BIM is the way of the future, and eventually most architects will be using BIM software of some sort.

A Personal Highlight
I happened to be in the AIA 2005 press room one morning when Santiago Calatrava, FAIA, this year's AIA Gold Medal Award winner, stopped by to conduct a short press conference for a few people who obviously were expecting him. Seeing Calatrava in person and hearing him talk about his work turned out to be a personal highlight for me, as I wasn't able to stay for his address at the closing plenary session on Saturday. I have long been a fan of Calatrava's physically and spiritually soaring bridges and buildings, and feel the AIA could scarcely have selected a more worthy recipient for the Gold Medal. I was very pleased to have this opportunity to hear him speak, however briefly.

In the next edition of AEC Tech News, I'll discuss a couple of AIA 2005 sessions, including the seminar "Fifteen Trends that are Transforming the Architecture Profession," most all of which are generated or impacted by technology, and a session on collaboration tools in AEC. Also keep an eye out for a more extensive roundup of AIA 2005, to appear soon on Cadalyst'sAEC Web site as well as in the July print edition.

Several readers pointed out that I misstated some capabilities of the DWF file format in the May 19 edition of AEC Tech News. As I discussed MicroStation and its ability to embed 3D drawings in PDF files, I expressed a preference for PDF over DWF, saying DWF is usable only for publishing drawing files. The truth is that you can also process other common file types into DWF, such as Microsoft Word and Excel files. I regret the error and apologize to anyone who may have been misled.