AEC-APPS is the first Web-based library of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) applications built by and for digital tool users and toolmakers, who share a common interest in the evolution of innovative technologies. Conceived, designed, and maintained by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and CASE to lead the industry toward a model of collaborative knowledge and technology exchange, AEC-APPS connects tools, from snippets of code to established software platforms, and people, from educators and students to practitioners and hobbyists. Part WikipediaTM, part GitHubTM, AEC-APPS is a not-for-profit online community that fosters knowledge sharing and problem solving across disciplines, software platforms, geographic locations, and experience levels.
“Innovation in digital tools is changing the nature of practice, and it’s being driven by many players in different parts of the AEC industry, but they are not often aware of one another’s efforts,” notes SOM’s Technical Director Nicholas Holt. “We saw an opportunity to bridge the awareness gap by creating a new kind of social-media hub for the building industry, where tool users and toolmakers could share ideas on equal footing, from students scripting in universities, to entrepreneurial incubators in the basements of Brooklyn, to the developers at Dassault, Bentley, Autodesk, McNeel, and other major contributors.”
“Developers are constantly creating new tools and applications to improve building design, construction and management. The pace at which these tools are released is rapidly increasing and frankly, overwhelming even for the most savvy of tool users,” CASE Partner David Fano observes. “With this wealth of knowledge scattered all over the Internet, AEC-APPS will exist as the primary resource for the AEC industry to not only stay up-to-date with the latest technology but to evolve their own practices as well.”
In the constantly expanding universe of digital tools dominated by established developers, opportunities for sharing practitioner-driven innovation are limited. Populated by a diverse, ‘maker-driven’ user group, AEC-APPS’s crowdsourcing initiative democratizes tool creation and selection, allowing designers to control their own tools and independent toolmakers to compete on a level playing field. Membership is free and open to the public.
AEC-APPS has three primary components: User Community, App Kits, and Apps. AEC-APPS’s registered users are architects, engineers, contractors, allied design professionals, students, academics, researchers, computer scientists, artists, software developers, and enthusiasts. They post, rate, review, describe, and discuss apps to leverage existing tools and collaborate on the creation and sharing of new ones. The community is largely self-regulating so that no one entity, group, or tool is artificially elevated.
Each user has an App Kit that can be browsed by other users and followers in the community, in which they collect and share applications. Apps, which are presented in a democratically crowd-sourced hierarchy, range from commercially marketed programs to user-created scripts, assets, and utilities. This toolbox approach encourages exploration of existing technologies and provides a shared space for development, customization, and creation of new tools.
Following a four-month beta period, AEC-APPS currently hosts more than five hundred users who have posted some eight hundred apps for use in the design, construction, and operation of buildings, from enterprise software to plugins and other tools.