Integrated digital practice?


I am trying to get a handle on who's leading the industry with the most integrated digital practice. I am talking about firms that recognize the potential for technology to reshape and reinform what architecture is and how it can benefit the practice of architecture. Thoughts? Perspectives? Who has designated in house computational design teams? Who has back end teams writing custom apps for quantifying post occupancy evaluations? Who is using Revit and applying thoughtful workflows to the design, modeling, rendering process so there is little to no duplication in the work? There has to be a handful of firms who see the future of cloud computing and understand how it will flatten the design process...right?






I know you are out there. Give me the inside scoop.

Sep 24, 15 4:27 pm
null pointer

There are few companies that have pods that specialize in developing digital tools. Woods Bagot, NBBJ, and KPF come to mind. I'd classically include shop, but I don't know if that's true or not, anymore.

Curiously enough, it doesn't mean shit when it comes to detailing a wall that works. I've worked with a few of the firms mentioned in both of our posts, and the digital tools pods don't do much when it comes to making buildings work better. The pods just cut the hours for the design teams, but the consultants are still the ones doing the heavy lifting.

Sep 24, 15 4:36 pm

Revit isn't the only software that is capable of whatever is deemed as an "integrated digital practice."  

SHoP is way ahead of the other firms listed.  They are interested in workflows that cover a huge array of software--leveraging each one to reduce the number of drawings they need to produce and the time necessary to produce work.  

Sep 25, 15 12:57 am
null pointer

Maybe prior to them having dissolved shop construction.


Sep 25, 15 11:47 am

I think the OP should offer a definition of what an "integrated digital practice" is. Without that, this thread is quickly going to devolve into a listing of firms using digital tools beyond Revit. 

I think I like where null pointer is taking the discussion. Using computational tools to design or even create CDs doesn't help much unless it is an informed process that enhances value to the client, or within the practice. If the building doesn't work any better than what another firm could do without the digital tools, so what. 

Is an "integrated digital practice" concerned with just design and documentation as part of their services, or does it also affect the construction process? Is an "integrated digital practice" leveraging their integrated practice to get higher fees or additional services from the client, or is it only concerned with workflow within the firm for design? Is an "integrated digital practice" sharing data, models, information with the GC so they can save time and money, and is there any benefit to the architect in doing so (ie. does the architect get paid for making things easier for the GC)? Is an "integrated digital practice" sharing data, models, information with the client so they can save time and money in maintaining and operating their building? 

Sep 25, 15 12:06 pm

@ everydayintern,

an integrated digital practice can go back to SHoP's big picture idea of master builder.  

architect taking back more of the means and methods.

improving communication about design intent. 

novel form making opportunities through computational processes.

potential cost savings for client by means of efficiencies in drawing production and construction.

built in energy modeling and structural optimization tools with BIM software

in office rapid prototyping tools - 3d printing

Sep 25, 15 1:10 pm

@Everyday Intern My intent in leaving the question a little open ended was to allow people room to define integrated digital practice so I could expand my understanding about the extent of what is out there in terms of firms that are creatively and effectively utilizing technology in their design workflows. This question stems from working for the past two years at a giant corporate firm where I am finding it difficult to comprehend how slow they are at adopting technology that could have an enormous effect on our efficiency as well as the staffs sanity.

So far from what I have researched it appears as if NBBJ and Shop both seem to have a holistic grasp of how technology might invigorate exploration as well as produce a different method of architectural practice. HOK also seems to have their ducks in a row when it comes to investing in time spent to get BIM organized within the firm. Also LMN tech studio out of Seattle seems to be developing a similar model of R+D practice demonstrated by NBBJ that evolves out of a combination of research with digital tools applied to energy analysis, material yields etc.

So maybe the question I am really asking is what firms are utilizing a R+D methodology in their design process that integrates a high level of digital technologies. There we go that's the question. Thanks @Everyday Intern for pushing the clarity.

Sep 25, 15 1:22 pm

SOM(SF) back in 07' when I was there had a digital pod so to speak - Revit, Digital Project, Grasshopper, Rhino and we wrote our own addins to Revit (NY)

Sep 25, 15 2:26 pm

strange how the suggested firms to look at are all corporate.

I think the people really pushing the use of digital tools are starchtiects...morphosis, gehry, hadid, at least in terms of form generation..

I get the sense there are so many amateur "coders" in architecture now, but not very many of them know what the hell they are doing, visual node manipulation is not programming.

What is the benefit of cloud computing?  if you are nuclear physicist running a huge simulation, yea, I see it, architecture, not so much. What we do is dumb, any pentium from office depot can compute far beyond our needs. Most offices just need some dude sitting around creating revit families and that is sufficient, no programming necessary.  Which brings up the question of when is there even a payback to go down that path?  What is the return on having a bunch of amateur coders fucking around on grasshopper all day to develop some tool that might be used one time before it gets value engineered out.  

In terms of duplicating work...I don't know any way around that, we are a creative field and therefor there is never a 1:1 execution of a project, add in consultants, forget about it. 

This whole post made me think of this quote:  Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it..

big data = architectural scripting

Sep 25, 15 3:28 pm



Your'e right

The payback? continuing employment - provided you keep up with the technology.

Sep 25, 15 4:34 pm

@chigurh nice quote lol

Sep 25, 15 6:26 pm

Patrick Schumaker at Zaha - 

Sep 25, 15 8:14 pm

xenakis, I know you are in a constant state of layoff fear and I always expect that perspective from you, however I am talking about the payback for an employer not an employee, when heads go rollin, you think they want to keep around the kid that knows nothing but a bunch of useless grasshopper scripting or some dude that that can bust out a clean set of cds...

Sep 25, 15 10:06 pm

Which brings up the question of when is there even a payback to go down that path?  What is the return on having a bunch of amateur coders fucking around on grasshopper all day to develop some tool that might be used one time before it gets value engineered out.

I would hope the integrated digital practice is not paying amateur coders to simply make one-off tools. How about the coders start coming up with ways to make the tool do the value engineering? What does a coder start coding when their fancy computational designs come in over budget? Coming up with a good response in that situation is likely to keep a coder around when the heads start to roll.

Of course, if it was the design that caused it to be over budget to begin, maybe it's better to just let them go. Solving the problems you've created yourself probably isn't the best way to create staying power in a firm.

Sep 26, 15 11:59 am
null pointer

I worked once in a shop where no BIM was used. We did some fairly niche work which could have really been improved by having a bit of automation.

I left that firm.

Went off on my own.

Spent a few days coding some tools to get the job done.

I charge half their fee for the same work, and spend 1/3rd of the time getting it done; at the same time I'm working on upping my fees.

It pays off exponentially if you know what you're after. The problem really is knowing what you're after. It took me a couple of years to really see the problems within the existing non-BIM systems for this kind of work, and if it wasn't for the fact that I knew how to code (from a prior life as data analysis guy in a university research lab), I wouldn't have been able to draw connections.

Architecture is full of long drawn out repetitive tasks. If you can automate and embed a bit of intelligence into any of them, you've got yourself a tool that will save you time and therefore add to your bottom line.

Sep 26, 15 12:12 pm

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