Event Report: AIA 2009 Convention and Design Exposition

20 May, 2009 By: Kenneth Wong

Drag-and-drop modeling objects and energy simulation tools fuel AEC technology pavilion.

At the American Institute of Architects’ 2009 National Convention and Design Exposition in San Francisco recently, Ray Kogan, president of the design and construction firm Kogan & Company, invoked the Theory of Evolution. While discussing “The Firm of the Future: Big Picture Trends Shaping the Future of Design Firms,” he cited Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Harbingers of change were on full display in the AIA exposition hall, among the five or six rows directly beneath the banner, “Software and High-Tech.” The proliferation of building energy analysis tools added color to the show floor, quite literally. Screens and walls were dominated by thermal and daylight analysis results, displayed in gradients of red, yellow, blue, and green.

Next to them, content providers beckoned attendees to subscribe to their web portals. Their proposition is straightforward: find the objects you need on our web site – windows, doors, and more, in CAD or building information modeling (BIM) format -- then download and drop them into your building models. In most cases, the sites are supported by manufacturers and suppliers, so users don’t have to pay for access.

The growing interest in energy simulation and the availability of drag-and-drop AEC objects bode well for the proponents of integrated project delivery (IPD), a practice to “[leverage] early contributions of knowledge and expertise … [to allow] all team members to better realize their highest potentials” (Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide, by AIA).

Analysis in Full Color

A few yards away from Autodesk’s oversized booth, a research and development firm called Virtualwind set up shop to showcase its advanced 3D wind-flow modeling and visualization software. The company is a division of RWDI, which provides consulting services for wind engineering.

“The core of Virtualwind’s offerings is the robust Virtualwind Solver, which has enabled architectural and environmental wind engineering studies on the most advanced structures in the world,” the company reports. It released Virtualwind 2.0 beta in mid-March.

“Because the Virtualwind front-end is provided as a plug-in to Google SketchUp, IDP teams can easily create site models very early in the process, and jointly review informative visualizations and data analyses of important micro-climate information,” the company explains.

Just for kicks, you could, for instance, download the SketchUp model of a football stadium or a skyscraper in your region from Google 3D Warehouse, then run wind analysis on it using the Virtualwind trial version.

A few steps away from Bentley Systems, DesignBuilder Software showcased its product lineup. Among others, it includes EFEN, for energy analysis of fenestration options using the Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus simulation engine; FENSTRUCT, for analyzing structural performance of fenestration products; and DesignBuilder, for creating and assessing building designs.

“DesignBuilder has been specifically developed around EnergyPlus, allowing most of the EnergyPlus fabric and glazing data to be input,” the company points out. “Databases of building materials, constructions, window panes, window gas, glazing units, and blinds are provided. HVAC is modeled using the Compact HVAC descriptions now offered by EnergyPlus. These allow a number of predefined HVAC system types to be defined parametrically without the need for complex system layouts.”

DesignBuilder, one of the energy performance software packages debuting at the AIA 2009 Convention, is built on DOE’s EnergyPlus engine.

New Energy from Old Names

Both of these newcomers, Virtualwind and Designbuilder, hope to capture some of the market share that currently belongs to established packages such as Autodesk Ecotect Analysis 2010 (previously available as two separate products, Ecotect and Green Building Studio), Integrated Environmental Solutions’ Virtual Environment (IES VE), and Bentley’s Hevacomp and TAS.

Joining the mix, Graphisoft is adding an energy analysis feature to ArchiCAD, its flagship architectural design solution. Made available via a button integrated in the ArchiCAD interface, Graphisoft EcoDesigner is literally a single-click solution. (You will, however, need to go through a series of configuration dialog boxes once you get to the module). Intended for nonspecialist use during the early stages of design, EcoDesigner lets architects perform building analysis based on minimal parameter inputs.

Known for its comprehensive analysis suite IES VE, IES over the years has done significant work to make energy simulation less intimidating to architects. To that end, the company offers VE-Ware, a free SketchUp plug-in you can use to study energy performance, and has simplified VE-Toolkits’ input dialog boxes to be less technical.

IES’s upcoming product VE-Gaia (scheduled to debut in June) is part of the company’s continuing efforts on this front. The new module is described as “a step up from VE-Toolkits.” According to IES, “VE-Gaia offers ‘step-by-step’ smart navigation that defines different sustainable design analysis processes by weaving a workflow through IES VE software. It allows users to undertake complex environmental performance analysis without the need for expert knowledge.” Its key features are listed as “climate, building and material metrics, availability of natural resources, water usage, renewable/low carbon technologies, [and] a range of LEED credit options.”

As an Autodesk product, Ecotect Analysis is now tightly integrated with Autodesk’s BIM solution, Revit. This move may be offset by Autodesk rival Graphisoft’s partnership with IES, which makes it possible for ArchiCAD users to run energy analysis in IES via gbXML file format.

Graphisoft is set to introduce a one-button energy analysis feature, called EcoDesigner.

Drag-and-Drop BIM

If you’d rather develop your BIM models with CAD objects that accurately represent building parts available from suppliers, CADdetails’ searchable library might be your next stop. From the site’s search function, you can locate windows, doors, fences, ladders, and stairs to download as 2D/3D CAD files -- formats available include AutoCAD, Revit, and SketchUp -- along with specs and ordering information. According to the company, the site houses more than 45,000 manufactured products.

CADdetails offers a searchable content library populated with more than 45,000 manufactured products.

Similarly, you may also sign on to ARCAT’s site to locate and download building components. Along with CAD files and specs, the site offers green information (renewable energy credit, environmental quality credit, and the product’s local availability, among other details). The company boasts a database housing content from more than 10,500 manufacturers.

ARCAT offers downloadable CAD objects for BIM projects, along with green specs.

Real-World IPD Case Study

During AIA 2009, Autodesk hosted a customer appreciation gathering at the Autodesk Gallery across the street from the San Francisco Ferry Building and waterfront, which houses 20 exhibits that showcase projects designed using Autodesk products. The event was also a chance for Autodesk to show off the venue itself, designed in Revit and delivered as an integrated project by Anderson Anderson Architecture, McCall Design Group, DPR Construction, and HOK Architects.

Explaining the design process, HOK’s Marc Flax said, ““You could do IPD without BIM, but no one I know would try it.”