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Part Three: BiLT Europe 2018 Final Thoughts

It's really not easy summing up a conference for those who haven't attended. So, save me a bit of trouble next time and go <wink>. You will thank me later. It's one of the most rewarding experiences a professional in the building industry can have outside the office.


On the second morning main stage plenary session, Sasha Crotty of Autodesk described how play can make us better at our jobs by doing something innovative. A good case for innovation, she describes, occurs when play is incorporated within the workplace. Play can come in many forms. Setting aside formal time to test out new hardware and software, finding unstructured time to experiment and also demonstrated how using video gaming strategy helped an American Football player score a touchdown in an unexpected way by practicing virtual scenarios in Madden NFL. Also borrowing an example from the sports industry, Sasha shared an interesting case study highlighting how UnderArmour developed a 3D printed shoe that supports both weight lifting and cross training, by combining simulation and data analysis of actual use. 


Dieter Vermeulen of Autodesk followed up, showing where we are today, versus the past. Connection was termed the next logical step from earlier work paradigms focussed on documentation where we have drawings, and models as a direct expression of design ideas. He posits that "optimisation of designs and connection of teams must happen for us to be effective", and I agree with that statement wholly. One possible approach, as Dieter describes, is with Connected BIM, the shorthand describing the BIM 360 platform and associated tools as marking the next era in our industry. One case study presented was Gatwick Airport going fully BIM for deliverables, and using the cloud solution from Autodesk with an estimated savings of 20,000 hours of labour.


Data driven BIM and how Insights are helping save lives. Using Dynamo to parse point clouds to create an existing conditions model, and suggest ways to make the buildings more disaster resistant in only three hours verses two weeks. Also shown was the much talked about Project Refinery, now in Alpha, a further development of using generative design and a genetic algorithm approach to achieving design optimisation in the cloud. 

During the question and answer segment, someone asked about what happened to Project Quantum. Vermeulen's answer was that the "underlying technology may be present in something soon", followed by the usual safe harbour statement. 


The Weight of Data

No digital construction conference would be complete without a discussion the topic of blockchain and other future technology enablers. London based Mat Colmer did just that as the day two keynote speaker. Colmer, Specialist in Digital Transformation in the Built Environment for Digital Catapult, focussed on the problems in the industry, and dispelled some blockchain myths. Data has to live somewhere and downloading it from a single centralised source versus a distributed network is the basic premise for why it may be important to you and your company. 



Distributed ledger technology, the way crypto currency works and fundamental to what blockcahain is, are purportedly secure, immutable and transparent. Mat tells us “the first two, are not necessarily true”. Human determination, also known as curious teenage hackers, could potentially disrupt things given enough time and energy drinks. What helps make the system stronger than the sum of its parts, is: consensus. Consensus is key. Trust is not necessary with all parties in the blockchain. 

There was visible discomfort around the room when Mat described how privacy is a thing of the past in the public realm. His example of how Heathrow tracks you and your luggage based on computer vision has been welcomed with open arms simply because we all want to move through to our destination with low friction. We have a history of trusting the unknown. Yet somehow, crypto-currency and the platform it's built upon has not gained wide adoption in our industry.

The Devil is in the Detail

Marzia Bolpagni a BIM Advisor at Mace gave an insightful presentation showcasing the Politecnico di Milano PhD candidate's thesis on ways of managing and controlling public works through innovative digital approaches. Bolpagni spoke about the practicalities of using a progressive approach to Level of Development (LOD). She is part of an open-source project creating an international BIM Dictionary, whose aim is to make clear the various BIM terms and how they are communicated across over more than seventeen languages. Planning and verifying LOD today is tedious work, and the software vendors could do more to support this common workflow so critical to successfully implementing a BIM Execution Plan. How can elements be checked against a spreadsheet? How do you know what you’re getting? 


Marzia described a different approach that aligns with something I've been thinking about for the better part of the 20 months I've been working in the UK. We need a way to tie scope of work documents like Design Responsibility Matrix (DRM) to the MPDT (Master production Delivery Table) or as called in the USA, the Model Progression Specification (MPS). The whole point is to bridge the gap between design and production. It's critical to ensure modelled elements are fit for purpose. Knowing the downstream Use Cases will help to be more specific in identifying what is needed at design stages for handoff to another party or process. The history of LOD and influences around the globe was quite a mind bending exercise.


I can't describe all the classes attended, and wish I'd had the ability to sometimes be in two or more sessions at once. I must say as it happens, some were more compelling than others. On a conceptual level the sessions on Machine Learning, and preparing models for Facility Management were fine. I just didn't come away with actionable data. Perhaps because these areas are relatively early days for AECO firms, we'll see more develop in this space over time. Generative design was a big winner at the event, with some compelling imagery and video showing it in action.


Making the Dynamo API Exciting

Mark Thorley, of DesignTech.io, formerly of Grimshaw taught a great class about the API, and for those still unsure of coding, explained the concept of what an API is in the simplest terms I've seen. Think about how you interact with information, in the terms most everyone in attendance would get. An API is the difference between booking a flight from an airline’s website directly, versus using SkyScanner or Expedia which takes your information and interacts directly with several airlines by using their open-APIs to help you find the best options for your trip.

Mark blew my mind by importing the DynamoNode.dll into VisualStudio, where quite a number of possibilities open up. Mark showed the attendees how reading through a library of Dynamo scripts across a network drive could be searched, and a number of properties can be extracted. A good use case is to do some library management, view which graphs have errors in them when used, which nodes are used, and whether the graphs are meeting company standards - such as adding notes and descriptions to groups of nodes within the graphs. Collecting and adding meta-data allows for more intelligent searching, and usage tracking. Dynamo now has Extensions, with some sample documentation that provides some new functionality related to collecting data and creating some UI hacks.

What about Buildings?

Architecture sessions were less prevalent, but I caught a great one. Some built works case studies were shown in the session by Jack Stewart, an architect who leads the Digital Studio at Hawkins\Brown. The HereEast complex, a repurposing of the media buildings created for the London Olympics into maker spaces and places for creative professionals to showcase their studio work, was the firm's first foray into computational design tools. There, they created a frit pattern on the facade which required iteratively arranging 8 million dots, quickly deciding the computer was better to accomplish the tedious work rather than have a "Part 1 graduate model it manually while simultaneously trying to keep up with the lead designer changing their mind".


As the project evolved into a design to fabrication exercise, the presenters describe their approach to construction as a technique of assembling a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. CNC fabricated parts helped build the first pod. They then asked themselves, "How do you get variety from a modular system". After some further explorations, they found using the WikiHouse system, adapted to run in Rhino / Grasshopper to help achieve their concept of evoking a kind of large-scale cabinet of curiosities. They approached the digital problem with the most simple of BIM tools, Excel. Two models with one brain, where a spreadsheet sits in the middle with the data, read by Grasshopper into Rhino for cutting, and Dynamo into Revit for documentation.

The fun doesn't stop here

The evening social events were fantastic, with a carnival one night and a gala dinner to finish off the event. At the carnival, there were fire juggling mimes, midway fair-style food, and live music in the large hall of the convention centre. The gala, as is often the case for BiLT and RTC previously, is held in a fancier venue. We all went back to our hotels to change, and a number of people came out in fancy dress to the ballroom of the Union hotel downtown for food, opera singers serenading us, and later more live rock and pop music and dancing.

Wesley Benn, founder of it all, starting with a user group pin Australia with eventually became known as RTC, the grandmaster of ceremonies, was mighty sharp in a white tuxedo. All in all, there were some fantastic conversations and great people. The conclusion of the gala, it was noted by Sylvia Taurer, one of the organising committee members, that this year over 17 percent of the attendees were women and they had the highest number of women speakers of any past events. The industry is getting more diverse, if a bit slowly.

Of course, I took a bit more time to explore the city after the event and found some fantastic architecture, food and just chilled out for a while. I can't wait to visit again. Final tally of beverages, according to organisers: Over 1200 espressos, litres and litres of coffee and tea were served. As for water and beverages in the 'other' category, we'll just say what happens in Ljubljana, stays in Ljubljana. Looking forward to the next BiLT Europe event in 2019, as we head North beyond the wall, to the beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland! Until then, Lang may yer lum reek!

This is the final article in my series on the BiLT Europe 2018 event. You can read more at: Part One: About BiLT Europe 2018 and Part Two: BiLT Europe 2018 First Look.

For more information about this conference and others by the RTC Events organisation around the world, visit: rtcevents.com.  If you are on social media, look for the hashtag #BILTeur or follow @BiLTEvent on Twitter.

About Sean David Burke

A member of AUGI since 1997, Sean has been at the forefront of BIM for most of his career. His focus on advancing the adoption of digital tools as a Senior Associate at NBBJ and previously with Autodesk has always been to inspire and instruct others around the world in order to make building better.


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