I am Anthony Frausto-Robledo, editor-in-chief at Architosh.com. I assemble the monthly INSIDER Xpresso—heir apparent to our ToshLetter—to help us understand emerging technologies (emTech) and social forces impacting CAD industries like AEC and manufacturing.
This month. We introduce a second feature in lieu of extensive emTech curation. The pandemic continues; Must-Reads discusses urban density and disease—surprising studies are highlighted; our Special Feature focuses on Dutch Autodesk user Stamhuis and Revit generative design using Dynamo. Interview: Vectorworks lays out its licensing strategy in the Era of Remote Work...along with the Biggest CAD Industry News Last Month in the last section.
The Top Five Must-Reads
I've combed the Internet to find the most interesting, compelling, or controversial stories about the AEC and manufacturing industries, and the social and emerging technological forces at play on both:
1 - Surprising study: Urban density doesn't cause more COVID-19 infections, even promotes lower death rates is the title of a new report published in late June. The research report contends that a potential mass exodus from dense cities may actually be a bad idea for everyone. (Study Finds)
Why is this upside-down from common sense? The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that higher "infection rates" were not actually linked to higher densely populated places. Even more surprising, more densely populated areas have lower Covid-19 death rates. The full article and research report unpacks these surprising findings for you. One final quote: "These findings suggest that urban planners should continue to practice and advocate for compact places rather than sprawling ones, due to the myriad well-established benefits of the former, including health benefits," says the lead author, Shima Hamidi, Ph.D. The study was published in the Journal of the American Planning Association.
2 - Coronavirus Bringing Winter to the Drone Industry. This interesting (Forbes) piece unwraps the surprising tale of how drones are doing a hero's work during this pandemic, yet it is precisely the conditions of the pandemic that are now hurting the drone industry from taking off.
What’s the low-down? UPS and CVS are testing drones to carry prescription drugs to a Florida retirement community, and China is using drones to spray disinfectant in over 3 million square meters in Shenzhen. Yet, the pandemic has caused a cascade of bad financial and regulatory news for the nascent industry; test sites critical to the FAA's crafting of rules for airspace have been closed, and venture capital issues are placing new pressures on the industry.
3 - Six Epidemics from American History Show How Urban Design Affects Our Health This story published on Northeaster University's website focuses on assistant professor of architecture, Sara Jensen Carr, and her upcoming book, The Topography of Wellness. (Northeastern University)
Why this story matters today? Jensen Carr is definitely on topic. Her upcoming book chronicles six health crises throughout U.S. history and how those epidemics informed the design of cities. She writes that the gridded American cite became more important after the cholera outbreak when infected water pooled in crooked, unpaved streets. City officials wanted to get fresh water in and bad waste out of the city efficiently. "The net effect," she writes, "is that we have straighter streets to accommodate long pipes underneath to move water and waste more safely."
Jensen Carr notes that the city was really thought of as an incubator of disease for much of American history. "That was especially true in the early 19th century when people believed in a theory called miasma, the idea that diseases floated aimlessly through the air and water."
4 - AIA: Reopening America: Strategies for safer buildings. I wanted to share this feature on the AIA's website because it includes a set of dedicated articles focused on strategies for reopening up specific building types that are challenged by the current COVID-19 pandemic. (AIA)
The AIA has published a series of reports with guidance on specific building types for strategically reopening America. (Image: AIA)
What's essential here? Included are a series of highly illustrative and impactful strategic articles with plans and 3D illustrations (see above) for opening up (1) Offices, (2) Schools, (3) Retail Stores, (4) Senior Living Facilities, and finally (5) safer buildings in general. The AIA has also put together useful links on COVID-19 here.
5 - Analytics: Social Distancing in the workplace This story on Buro Happold's website discusses how analytics and insight will help organizations implement social distancing in the workplace. (Buro Happold)
Buro Happold's analytics group is using IoT sensors and monitoring real people in buildings to understand the hotspots for where social distancing breaks down or is difficult to achieve. This research tells us that the modern workplace is poorly configured for a long-term social distancing future and how to better design workspaces in the future. (Image: Buro Happold)
The emTech at Buro Happold: The highly regarded global engineering firm has tapped its analytics group using real data from IoT senses to feed 3D models powered by algorithms to understand where the modern workplace tends to struggle for social distancing. Red circles indicate a failure while green circles are a pass at maintaining consistent social distancing. The study illustrates that most current workspaces are not structured for long-term social distancing requirements, and also at what types of areas inside these space types tend to be the troubled spots.
Leading engineering and architecture firms with advanced computational design groups, like Buro Happold are conducting internal research to gain a lead on insights useful for current and future practice.
Five More Stories
6 - Sidewalk Labs plans to spin out more smart city companies
7 - COVID-19: Emerging technologies are now critical infrastructure — what that means for governance.
8 - The Biggest Robot Companies And Their Most Scary Inventions
9 - Computation as Design: Ron Resch and the New Media of Geometry
10 - The Intricate Models Behind the RPBW (Renzo Piano Building Workshop) Method
These additional stories and our analysis, commentary, and images are all available to yearly INSIDER Membership subscribers, inside our upcoming "Member Access—(emTech) Section Plus" feature. Lands 13 July 2020 – see Architosh home page.
More (emTech) Below Our Special Feature
Stamhuis Good Design Requires Speed—Generative Design in Revit Powers Company Growth
Achieving high volumes and lots of repeat customer work, Stamhuis—a leading retail builder in Europe—has evolved into a juggernaut of automated efficiency. They have built this success on Autodesk BIM and project management tools mixed with powerful customized Dynamo programming.
THERE IS OFTEN A MISCONCEPTION that speed and design are at fundamental odds with each other—that the latter will always compromise the former. But why is that?
The Meaning of Speed
One key reason is that good design requires the ingredient of time itself. For Stamhuis, they are learning how to gain back more time so their designers can take on more strategic work, by tapping the power of generative design through Dynamo. What the Netherlands-based company saves on time, they also give back to the project client.
Stamhuis's specialty is the design and build-out of liquor stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets. In this market, time is of the essence for their clients; when stores go through remodels, customers will temporarily shop elsewhere. It is critical that store renovations are back up and running before customers adopt substitutes permanently. So time—far from being the enemy of good design—in this case, is a vital ingredient in client success.
The master Dynamo script establishes a sophisticated semi-automated design workflow within Autodesk Revit offering Stamhuis a massive speed-up in laying out retail stores for its many clients. The system utilizes the company's very large Revit family objects. (Image: Stamhuis)
Speed, in the case of Stamhuis's accomplishments, is virtuous on two fronts. Faster project delivery helps clients with success, faster processes due to Dynamo utilization help Stamhuis designers take on more strategic work, ultimately benefitting the company and its clients.
So how did they get there?
Applied Modularity and Interchangeability
Ron Rijkers, Team Manager for BIM and Innovation at Stamhuis, began telling me his company's story by explaining how they went from CAD to BIM with Revit and from Revit to new emerging technologies like VR and Autodesk generative design tools.
"In retail construction, we start with a 3D laser scan, and we model from that scan," says Rijkers, who explains his company's complete delivery process from design to fabrication. Stamhuis will then take the 3D scan of an emptied location and begin the design process. "Everything within these walls will be prefabricated," he adds. "We have a very large Revit family of elements for our work."
"We just pulled all the decision-making processes and tasks the designer had to do in CAD and put them into the right order, like a schedule, and we started programming" --- Ron Rijkers, Team Manager for BIM and Innovation at Stamhuis
Stamhuis both designs and provides components for their client stores. Therefore, they have invested in a high degree of modularity and interchangeability of elements, like store shelving systems, counters, check-out lanes, signage, storage, et cetera. "Our buyers are prefabrication specialists, inventory specialists, so we invest a lot of time making all the elements smart and plug-and-play," says Rijkers.
Working rapidly with interchangeable modular components certainly saves time in Revit during store planning. However, Rijkers and his team began thinking about how to automate the store planning process. The next step was to look at Dynamo.
Automating Design with Dynamo
Stamhuis decided to invest in programming in Dynamo, all the processes, and decisions a designer had to make in BIM. "We just said we should lock ourselves inside a meeting room for a few days," he adds. "And what Dieter and others from Autodesk saw is that we have standardized libraries, elements, and design inputs—all of which works very well for generative design."
An overlay image showing a typical design product of Stamhuis' custom Dynamo scripted automation process with Autodesk BIM solutions. (Image: Stamhuis)
Making a shift like this takes commitment. Rijkers and his team—which included a liquor store designer and their Dynamo specialist—met with their local Autodesk reseller and their Dynamo expert. "We just pulled all the decision-making processes and tasks the designer had to do in CAD and put them into the right order, like a schedule, and we started programming," says Rijkers. "In three days, we had a working demo for one project, just by scripting all the tasks the designers do," he adds.
Stamhuis had already utilized Dynamo in a limited way with Revit, building a functional tool to handle quoting of materials by combining Excel with Dynamo. But this new computational design model with Dynamo and utilizing Autodesk's Project Refinery (beta) meant Rijker's team could reduce hour-long tasks down to minutes.
"My new focus is to reduce our modeling time by fifty percent," says Rijkers. He notes that 70 percent of their engineering work consists of modeling, while 30 percent consists of communication, test control, and information management. While Dynamo could eventually create almost all 3D information, he believes that 20 percent of modeling will still be done manually by their designers.
Streamlining and the Future
Ron Rijkers and his team have been evaluating past store designs by analyzing them with Project Refinery and comparing outcomes across various measures. Refinery enables AEC designers of all levels to engage with and optimize their Dynamo designs. It provides a user-interface for the non-scripter/non-programmer.
Stamhuis has now taken their process to include Autodesk's Project Refinery, enabling non-scripting professionals to explore design options and analyze designs across specific criteria. (Image: Stamhuis)
Additional optimizations for Stamhuis's workflows go beyond generative design. The company fabricates components in their shops and uses Autodesk Inventor with their CNC machines. Their concept designers utilize SketchUp so elements inside their stores may start with SketchUp models but eventually need to be Inventor models, while also becoming Revit family objects. A more streamlined process between these three tools is something Rijkers imagines can exist.
On the management side, while Revit and Dynamo form the center of the BIM processes for design and documentation, the company uses the Autodesk Construction Cloud (BIM 360) for project-based information. SharePoint and Office 360 cover all things that they don't create in BIM 360 but place in BIM 360, while Microsoft Business Central handles company enterprise resource planning (ERP).
Another image of Autodesk's Project Refinery, enabling non-scripting professionals to explore design options and analyze designs across specific criteria. This image is similar to images Architosh published several years ago about Autodesk's secretive Project Fractal. Refinery is based on that earlier technology. (Image: Stamhuis)
With such a well-honed collection of digital technologies, Stamhuis is well poised to deliver excellence in designing and building projects for its clients. By maximizing the integrations of different disciplines—something they did as part of their Open Next Week concept—they can continue to reduce costs and time for their clients.
We don't need to convince them, because every year we try to build better, faster, and cheaper," says Rijkers. "And when we innovate our supply chain, we can lower our prices...sharing the benefits of innovation while increasing profits for ourselves."
Curated content: Emerging Technologies and their potential impact on CAD-based industries.
COVID-19 Response: This month we have a second feature that we want to share with readers of Xpresso and this article, in full, is an Xpresso exclusive, leading off our emTech section.
Xpresso Exclusive: Vectorworks' Pandemic Response and Flexible Licensing
Flexible software licensing for BIM and CAD technology is pivotal during this global pandemic, and this interview sheds light on the advantages Vectorworks offers the AEC market.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS turned the world on its head. Enterprises everywhere have had to adapt to keep operations going during this unprecedented crisis—the first of its kind in the digital era. The AEC industry has not been immune, and a big part of how architects, engineers, and construction professionals are learning to adjust is how to work remotely, keeping design, management, and field operations moving forward.
Vectorworks, Inc., one of the world's leading BIM and CAD software companies came forward to discuss with Architosh how they are offering the AEC market and their users' flexible access to BIM and CAD technology via smart licensing options. We sat down with CEO Dr. Biplab Sarkar and Vice President of Sales, Nicole Davison.
Architosh: First off, let's acquaint the reader with the full spectrum of CAD technologies you offer the market.
Davison: Vectorworks Fundamentals is our basic CAD software package, while Vectorworks Architect, Landmark, and Spotlight support the AEC, landscape, and entertainment industries, respectively. Vectorworks Designer encompasses our entire suite of technology in one interface with Architect, Landmark, and Spotlight. Finally, we offer Vision, a pre-viz software; Braceworks, an add-on rigging analysis module; and ConnectCAD, a signal flow add-on as part of our entertainment offerings.
Architosh: So clearly in the present context working from home is what AEC professionals have been forced to do. How do your flexible licensing options benefit the user in this current context?
Sarkar: We have offered our customers, prior to the pandemic, various licensing options, including perpetual and perpetual with maintenance options (Service Select) in most countries and subscription options in a few countries. Our licensing technology enables activation over the Internet for specific license options. A typical E-series license can be installed two times so a worker can install a seat at home and activate it over the Internet.
Architosh: Can they use their license from their machine at the office and permanently install it at home? And is there a licensing key or file or any complex technology?
Sarkar: That's right. You need an active Internet connection to activate the license, and the second seat instance at home is good to go. It's straightforward. There is no need for a key if you have an E-series license.
Architosh: So what types of licenses do you offer?
Davison: Our software offerings boil down to three main license options:
- Our E-Series license is an individual license that is activated over the Internet.
- Our B-Series license is an individual license that gets activated through a hardware key that the customer owns.
- Our Network license is maintained on a server and allows multiple users to share seats. The server can be activated through the Internet or a hardware key. Our Network option will enable customers with 10+ seats on their license the flexibility to float our different product offerings.
Our E-Series can be activated globally, and there’s never a risk of losing a hardware key like with our B-Series. This factor is why we are seeing many customers migrating to our internet-authenticated solutions.
Architosh: So, some CAD companies are moving entirely to subscription licensing. Is that your plan as well?
Sarkar: No. We believe in choice and offer both subscriptions and perpetual. We began subscriptions to better serve our community of users who weren't necessarily best served by a perpetual license. This could be someone just starting a business or freelancers who only need their design software for a few months at a time. Subscription is a much better option for these individuals. You can learn more about our subscription monthly and yearly pricing and more on our website.
Davison: In April 2018, subscriptions first rolled out in Australia, followed shortly by New Zealand in August of the same year. We introduced the option in the US and Canada a year later and have rolled out subscription as an option in 2019 in places like India, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In March 2020, we rolled it out in the UK, in May we added Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and this summer we will roll out subscription throughout the rest of Europe. After that, plans for South America and additionally Asian countries will follow.
Architosh: If you start with a Vectorworks subscription license, can you convert it to perpetual at some point? I am assuming that ultimately will save a user money.
Davison: Yes, you can easily convert your license over. We often offer promotions and discounts that subscribers can use to convert their licenses.
Sarkar: For customers considering whether to convert, it’s worth pointing out that our perpetual license is not only a better offer compared to subscriptions, but a better option when compared to our competitors, too. Look at the chart directly below to clearly see how over time Vectorworks is the most cost-effective choice.
Pricing comparisons are made using Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) in US dollars against annual purchasing options compared to Vectorworks purchasing options. Prices shown are estimated and may not represent the average or prevailing market price at any particular time. Vectorworks pricing reflects the current 2020 Promotion price of 30% off of an initial purchase, valid in select markets until 31 July 2020. This comparison information is for guidance only, subject to change without notice, and does not constitute contractual representation or obligation of Vectorworks, Inc. (Image: Vectorworks, Inc.)
Architosh: That's interesting. So the subscription option really is just an option, not a roadmap to move everyone off perpetual, gradually. You wouldn't incentivize perpetual with discounts if that was the case.
Sarkar: Exactly. Our perpetual license offers two options. One is a simple perpetual license where you can upgrade to the latest version of Vectorworks at a discount for three years. And then a premium program called Vectorworks Services Select, which adds a maintenance program where you are always eligible for the next upgrade for free, and you gain exclusive training opportunities and more.
Architosh: Service Select sounds like a perpetual license with some of the benefits of subscription-like access to the latest version.
Sarkar: Vectorworks Service Select is the best way to get the most value out of Vectorworks software for the most cost-effective price over time. Our members receive an immediate upgrade of new product releases, including Service Pack updates, priority technical support, early release of all content through our Resource Manager, and our constantly growing library of on-demand learning tutorials. Further, Vectorworks Service Select members receive special member-only features in Vectorworks Cloud Services such as Photos to 3D Model, cloud rendering, and more.
Architosh: So you actually have three different licensing options with options within each, including subscription monthly or annually. Is that correct?
Sarkar: Yes. Flexibility isn't just crucial for our customers worldwide, but in these pandemic times, it helps alleviate the challenges of remote work and access to data. With the economic impact surrounding the current context, firms will especially appreciate the flexibility of subscription licenses for short bursts of time, allowing them to ramp up or down based on how projects are being paused, started, or canceled due to economics of the pandemic.
We seek not just to be the go-to-software of choice for designing anything; we aspire to provide the most flexible licensing options and most robust remote work solutions in this time of both opportunity and uncertainty.
Architosh Analysis & Commentary: While this editor has long been aware of Vectorworks's Select branded licensing options, I was surprised to learn about how extensive their roll-out of monthly and annual subscription license options were. Perhaps the most impressive takeaway from this interview—other than price, which in this case, the company's sole provided graphic takes direct aim only at Autodesk—is that subscription revenue is not an end in itself but rather a competitive advantage tool.
Since Autodesk, in particular, has followed in Adobe's steps with a subscription-only licensing model, it has become imperative that competitors wishing to steal away market share provide a low-cost adoption model that enables companies to evaluate software options for extended lengths of time (project length) without wholesale swap-outs of new technology. Subscription is that low-cost option. This much has already been said by Sean Flaherty, former chief strategy officer of Nemetschek in previous interviews on Architosh.
Prefabrication and Digital Design of Homes
Cover is a new Katerra-like construction company focused on home-building. Its founders are under 30 and featured in this Forbes article. Its innovative team members have built such things as automotive production lines, reusable rockets, race cars, and Gmail. Oh, and also $100 plus in modern mansions.
The company's website says: "We started Cover to make thoughtfully designed and well-built homes for everyone. Homes that are uncompromising in their design and performance, and tailored to each person and property."
An Instagram image of a Cover home. (Image: Screengrab / Architosh)
Cover is backed by some of the investors who have backed Tesla, SpaceX, Facebook, and Airbnb. Yet, while there is serious firepower behind Cover, just as there is behind Katerra, changing an industry that hasn't moved much in a century or more isn't easy. Despite this, the Los Angeles area company has raised $1.6 million in venture funding and can deliver a 400-sq foot pre-fab structure for $120,000 - $160,000, preferably in many cases to backyards where due to a housing shortage, new state regulations are easing the construction of residential units in the backyards of homes.
Architosh Analysis & Commentary: It was well over 12 years ago when I suggested Apple should eventually focus on the home market, bringing its aesthetics and ability to manufacture high-quality products to the market consistently. With software integrations added to the home, Apple could literally crush this market space. The Cover home innovative but its roofline is problematic from this architect's perspective. Nothing that couldn't be solved with a modular roof edge detail.
What's Cooking: Future Xpresso Features
We have several options for upcoming Xpresso features. One possibility is an interview we just had with Viktor Varkonyi, Chief Division Officer of Design at Nemetschek Group, who spoke to me about their recent announcements on Integrated Design (see this news item here.).
Another exciting option we may bring exclusively to Xpresso is an upcoming interview with the fastest growing CAD company few people still know about. We are jammed up with some exciting features coming up and please note that Xpresso readers get to read these stories often weeks or months before they show up on Architosh.
Biggest CAD Industry News Last Month
(the biggest news and features in June!)
Feature: Bentley's ProjectWise 365 Has Gone SaaS—Brings Broad Market and Platform Appeal to AECO Industry. This Product-In-Depth covers Bentley's CDE (Common Data Environment) that is rather new in terms of its Web-based formulation. Aimed at smaller AEC companies, ProjectWise 365 offers a full suite of CDE features, including centralization of data, collaboration, markup, 3D review, multi-session, multi-party review, drawing overlay compare, and digital twin services. [8 -10 min. read] (Architosh). Highly recommended for AEC professionals not yet using or thinking of a CDE tool.
Feature: Product Review: Twinmotion 2020
Architosh takes a comprehensive test-drive of the latest Twinmotion 2020 from Epic Games. Co-written and reviewed by no less than three professionals/editors, our review walks the user through the program's newest features, as well as PC and Mac notes, performance—and in this particular review, ArchiCAD integration. [10-15 min. read] (Architosh). Highly recommended for architects and AEC visualization professionals.
BIM News: Unity Reflect adds Navisworks integration, BIM coordination
Autodesk and Unity's partnership and collaboration continue, with Unity Reflect now adding integration with Navisworks for better BIM coordination. Unity Reflect added SketchUp and Rhino support back in March as well—becoming a multi-app, real-time visualization and collaboration tool across AEC. [5 -min read] (Architosh). Highly Importantly: Our analysis section discusses Unity Reflect's Roadmap—on deck BIM 360 integration, Mac support, Unit Reflect for Archicad, and more.
News: ARM Macs and CAD & 3D Apps—Apple Chip Readiness?
This article discusses Apple's recent decision to leave Intel x86 processors for its own ARM-based processors (Apple Silicon). What will the impacts be for CAD and 3D apps? We have already begun discussions with CAD and 3D players about this but this early article touches on the key highpoints and issues. [5 min. read] (Architosh). Must-Read for CAD/3D users on Macs!
News: Chaos Group Launches V-Ray Collection
Freedom and flexibility are behind Chaos Group's lastest licensing option for users, allowing for one price access and use of a variety of V-Ray apps and technologies. [5-min read] (Architosh). With Unity and Epic coming after the pro visualization market, this leading Viz player must respond. This is a fantastic offering!
News: ODA releases IFC Viewer for Mac and Windows
The Open Design Alliance continues to make the news. OpenIfcViewer is free and available on Mac and PC. ODA continues to advance its agenda to bring high-quality and uniformity across IFC and other buildingSMART standards. [5-min read] (Architosh) The ODA's development team is extremely impressive and has become one of the CAD industry's biggest software development houses in the world.
News: Rosetta 2.0 for Apple's Intel-ARM Mac Transition?
Architosh accurately predicted the day before Apple WWDC that the company would introduce Rosetta technology again, Rosetta 2, for the Intel-ARM chip transition for Macs. [5-min read] (Architosh). This article notes some of the differences with Rosetta 2.0 vs Rosetta 1.0 back in the PowerPC to Intel transition.
More Architosh News: Visit our News page here.
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Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
This is a free newsletter and companion publication to Architosh.com.
Companies mentioned in this newsletter where I have a financial interest will be listed in this section. This is consistent with Architosh's Disclosure statement on our Ethics page here.