Architectural Drawings Are Dead: A Look At The Future-Ready Development Process
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In Martín Amengual’s office in Los Angeles, he held up a tiny, 64GB digital memory card.
“Imagine every thick roll of architectural drawings for a 1.5M SF mixed-use project, all being replaced by this — a data-rich 3D file in the cloud,” he said.
When Amengual was a young man working in construction and development in Argentina, he saw the inefficiencies in the design process: Builders reviewed architects’ drawings and models, then built their own models before construction. At the time, he thought of it as a flaw. Today, he sees it as his biggest opportunity.
Bisnow sat down with Amengual — CEO of technology-driven project management and delivery firm CorbisStudio in Los Angeles — to talk about the archaic nature of architectural drawings, the future of augmented reality on the job site, and how a team of technologists could soon turn construction project management on its head.
Bisnow: What’s the biggest problem you see with CRE development today?
Amengual: We got old. Compared to every other industry, our mentality is stranded in the last century. The tech and tools required to evolve do exist — all we need is a different way of thinking.
First, there’s a big disconnect between the designers and contractors. Everyone with an architectural or engineering background tends to believe we all know how things are built, but when we talk to the real construction people, we begin to realize: We actually don’t know.
Here’s the perfect evidence of that: Once a set of drawings hits the construction phase, we’re always hearing questions like: “How do you intend to support this structure? How are these going to work together if they’re going to be in the same place?” There are caveats with constructability analysis, holes in the design, there’s a piece here or there with no instructions for how to build it. This is all due to the poor sequencing of the traditional design and construction workflow.
Secondly, we’re not using technology as we should be. To truly, effectively and efficiently bridge a great design with a buildable building, we need to update our process and bring the most important information at the right times, and we need to rely on modern technology when we communicate design.
Bisnow: What’s the main thing we need to change to future-proof the development process?
Amengual: It is insane that in this era of futuristic tech, we are still creating giant skyscrapers based on archaic, signed, stamped, rolled-up pieces of paper. Architectural drawings have to be brought into the future.
We’ve been using the same 2D drawings since the beginning of the 20th century or earlier. All these systems that engineers and architects were trying to develop to turn a three-dimensional idea into a 2D form of communication. It was a great step at the time, but today it’s extremely limiting.
We don’t think a modernized solution is so far off, which is why we have a 15-person team of in-house technologists, UI and UX professionals focused on what comes next and how to add value to these drawings in the meantime.
Bisnow: What does the future of this process look like?
Amengual: Currently, on a 1.5M SF mixed-use project, we are applying our Construction Digital Prototype methodology to run the project management.
Essentially, we are helping the developer unify all consultants and keeping them on a strict timeline, so their expert input can be incorporated into a more comprehensive, more effective version of a design phase. Because this saves time in design, as well as time and expense making revisions in the construction phase, it saves cost — a firm we worked with told me that via this process, they saw a reduction of about 2% in their construction budget with this consolidated workflow. If you think about that savings versus profit, that is a significant financial impact.
After we lock in formative input from consultants and draw up a clash report, we then create what we call a BIM room, where we put all consultants together and show them on screen all the conflicts we’ve identified between the original design drawings and the construction in execution. When we’re sharing this report, it’s not for consultants to go off and read by themselves — we make everyone aware of the program and the gaps at the same time, and together, we work out solutions.
Basically, we’re reproducing the "oh, shit" moment from the job site much earlier, when all teams can see these issues on a screen and address them together while it’s still easy — before they are major strains on budget and timeline.
Bisnow: What’s the “oh, shit" moment?
Amengual: It’s that moment on the job site when the team is standing there looking up at something that is completely not connecting, and everyone stops in their tracks and says, “Oh, shit.”
Bisnow: Looking to the future, what do you think will take the place of architectural drawings?
Amengual: To begin with, some detailed 3D images that can guide the construction crew. I hope we’re not far from a time where we can use augmented reality that allows your cellphone or tablet to enlarge sections from drawings and visualize them with more data in more dimensions.
Microsoft HoloLens AR is already making appearances on the job site. Some construction crews are using AR helmets that display digital info over the real structure so they can actually see MEP structure, and flip through the layers of wiring and cables, and understand what needs to happen — and whether something is no longer complying with the original plan.
That’s what we see ahead, and that’s where we are now investing.
This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with CorbisStudio. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.