Deconstructing the Box

I’ve been spending some time researching the construction of a typical shipping container for my project: Unboxed House. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the deconstruction possibilities of this box. My sketch book is about to have a serious workout.

While in Revit, I wanted to explore a handful of concepts. One, through the use of the Displacement option in Revit 2014, it is very simple to dedicate a view to see the walls, doors and roof removed form what ultimately is a very light-weight minimalist frame. For more information on how to use Displacement Sets, check out the Revit Jedi or watch this video by Ideate. The exploded axonometric is really just a way for me to consider this imposing, metal box as something that shouldn’t be feared as static and immoveable. It can be pulled apart, remixed and re-assembled, right in Revit.

Exploded Axon


One possibility, although not terribly original of me (see the Port-A-Bach prototype by Bonnifait + Giesen in New Zealand), is the idea of folding out parts of the walls as a way to create something completely new from the original configuration – a deck in this case. By using the corrugated metal wall as a frame for wood decking, the boundary between interior and exterior space can begin to become a little more loose – through glass walls, and/or exploring the potential to create slide out volumes of space that ride on tracks in the ”deck”.

Parametric Folding Wall

This model is being created with Revit walls, floor, roof and structural framing members. I decided to assemble it in the project environment, to make the “existing conditions” easier to document, and to manipulate or even selectively demolish. So, if you know anything about Revit having a preference to keep walls vertical, you may ask – “How did you manage to rotate the wall?”


Parametric Folding Wall 0Parametric Folding Wall 1

It’s very simple actually. The walls are modeled “in-place”, meaning that I used a profile sketch for the corrugated steel, and created an extrusion. I then created an instance parameter as shown below, that allows controlling the wall Fold Down Angle – zero is closed, 90 is open.

Parametric Wall PropertiesAs with any Revit family, if you wish to control the angle, you need to use Reference Lines. The most common example is opening a door, or pair of doors. Yes, the doors are operational on this model as well.

I used two reference lines in this case. One which is locked to the front column, and the other hosted on a plane of the first reference line. The angle between them is managed by a parameter, which is then easily controllable from within the project environment using the properties palette (shown) when the wall is selected.

I added a second parameter (Angle Open) to make it easier to understand the relationship between the two lines. This way they are never coincident (unless you for some reason wish to fold the wall in and onto the floor). Angle Open (what’s actually doing the heavy lifting) is controlled by the formula “Fold Down Angle + 90″.

reference lines

Bear in mind this is a work in progress, and more parametric goodness will follow in future posts. I’ll get the model ready for sharing. Soon, you will be able to deconstruct my work.

Prepare to be #UnBoxed

For those of you who may be following this site and are not yet on or connected to me on Twitter or LinkedIn, I have an announcement: I have started a new project to design, build and live in a shipping container home on wheels. (gasp) Please, I encourage you to visit and subscribe to The UnBoxed House, where I will share the journey. The new site will be about design, precedent studies and the process of building my new, tiny home.

Unboxing, as I call this process, is about evoking the joy of opening something new, discovering personal freedom and shedding unneeded ‘stuff’. Little Boxes, an early Malvina Reynolds song as covered by the late, great Pete Seeger says it all. I desire to live a life that’s mine, not one that our culture says is the ‘right’ life. The right life is different for everyone, and we should all have the ability to express our individuality and choice. I respect those who choose a life that is different. There, that’s the last you’ll ever here anything remotely political on this blog. On Twitter, I will use the hashtag #UnBoxed to identify things not related to Revit, and specifically focused on my new project.

This site – Paradigm shift will continue to focus on BIM and Digital Design tools. Occasionally, I may cross-post items like how I built the model above, and describing some of the techniques for making better presentation drawings in Revit and exporting model parts to fabrication. There will be opportunities to dive deeper into the ‘Maker’ movement, with CNC for certain, and 3D printing for prototyping. I see some Dynamo scripting coming into play, perhaps as Matt Jezyk suggested “an acetylene torch in Dynamo” to help slice up the model.

My feedback, your feedback

Moving is hard. Moving a website with an established community to a different platform is even harder. Remember when AUGI tried to change their forum software and it resulted in RFO, as well as a user-revolt that cancelled the migration and restored balance back to the universe? Have you experienced difficultly getting old links to function now that Autodesk Revit help has moved, again? Sure, it’s faster, however the wiki nature is gone, and with it the richness of user-contributed content, filling a gap in documentation that has now returned. Well, some lessons are quickly forgotten.

Yes, moving is hard. Put some pictures on the walls and make it feel lived in. That’s sort of what I’d like to see with the new home for Autodesk Labs. Granted, I understand a little bit more about the situation after having an IM session with someone in the office of the CTO, I still feel I need to explain my tweckle.

You see, I am a huge, no an enormous, fan of Autodesk Labs and their super-adventurous cousin, Autodesk Research. Perhaps the frustration of losing something valuable like ease of access and a graphically-rich experience of the former Labs site got the better of me. You can go check out the link, although a better idea of what I’m talking about would be cached in the internet wayback machine, here.

When I heard the Labs site was shutting down (yes, the same site that nurtured the highly successful Projects’ Vasari, Inventor Fusion and Pinocchio) and moving to the same platform that runs the beta site, I was saddened. Labs started shortly after I began blogging, in mid 2006, so this all felt like I was losing an old friend.

To clarify: I enjoy the beta site, also known as ‘My Feedback’, for what it is and am usually only participating in two projects at a time. Who has time for more? So, with all the tech previews, as they’re called in Labs, how could you find what you’re looking for or understand what’s new or changed when all you see is a non-graphical list? The ability to filter items by industry or platform was very useful, and is sadly not available at the moment — I do hope that capability comes back, even if in a splash page that let’s you sign up for a project.

What’s going to be most challenging in maintaining engaged participation, for me, is that each discussion forum is completely distinct and separated. I’m not going to walk away by choice. The future still has some fun technology developments to come.

Why silo tiny projects in this way? Sure, metrics are important, however if the measurement gets in the way of the primary activity of testing new tools and connecting with the development team, is it really worth that loss? In an age of growing complexity and number of tools and communication platforms that we need to deal with regularly, this doesn’t need to be so.

If you agree, I hope you’ll let the Labs team know by visiting Scott Sheppard’s blog, and give them some constructive ‘You Feedback’, here:

(P.S. Some changes have already occurred since my initial rant, as I suspected the moving van was not yet empty. On the Labs walls now hang some very lovely artwork. Is it compelling enough yet? You decide. )

Shall we play a game?

How can we learn to be better at using resources? Can we all be a little more consistent at turning out the lights when leaving a room, (our family was obsessive about this) — or barring the presence of an all seeing eye of the Google Nest Thermostat in your home — remember to turn down the heat before bedtime? Use less gas, without driving less?


I’ll admit to having a little bit of a lead foot and I’m working on it. Games can help solve complex problems. In 2011, a group of gamers solved some difficult AIDS protein problems. Can gamified experiences in life go too far? Sure. Everything in moderation.

The gamification of learning is becoming popular to help shape behavior through positive reinforcement. This is probably much faster (and less frustrating) than having someone telling you how to drive properly. A good instructor, like my Great Uncle Emile, will go that extra mile and use story-telling and metaphor to help you ‘get it’ quickly with little frustration. Image a room temperature raw egg between your foot and each pedal. I’ll never forget that lesson. Most people do not have the knack for teaching that he has.

Since I started taking an occasional Car2Go for some trips to the office, I noticed I could actually enjoy seeing how well I could do on what they call their Eco Score. The little reward is seeing the images develop (only looking at the screen when the car is stopped in Seattle’s famously snarly traffic).

When you get a perfect 100 in all three Car2Go Eco Score categories, there’s a little reward. For the holidays it was Santa riding in his sleigh. Now, it’s a very unseasonably warm looking scene with a rainbow. Although, if memory serves, flowers should start popping out of the ground here in about three weeks.

Anyway… Here’s my high score for the new year. I hope to keep this up, and use the learned behavior in my own car. I can always fall back on the memory of the potential for scrambled egg shoes, in a pinch. Hopefully this tip will help put a little money back in your pockets. Gas prices are rising again. Oh, and don’t forget to check and maintain proper tire pressure… That helps save gas too.

See you in traffic.



Words to bid farewell

We’re all guilty of it: using jargon to wave our hands over complex ideas. I won’t even discuss the way architects make up their own words. Others have already done a fine job of pointing that out with clever wit. Yes, architects, engineers, general contractors and especially software executives, please pay careful attention.

We use jargon in everyday speech and presentations at the office. Often these verbal crutches mask their true meaning to soften the blow, and have long ago lost their impact (I’m looking at you “Value Engineering”). Other examples can be so obscure, that sometimes it’s required to step off the soap box to explain.

Heck, even my blog’s name ‘Paradigm shift‘ may be considered out-dated. Bear in mind I did start writing this blog in early 2006; so it’s grandfathered in.

Here’s a list of phrases, words and general business jargon we could do without ever hearing ever again:

  • Multitasking (thanks
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Table Stakes
  • Thinking Outside the Box
  • Value Engineering
  • Blue Sky Opportunity
  • Boil the Ocean
  • Take Offline
  • Utilize, utilization, usage and other variants… Just say ‘use’
  • Empower
  • CAD, drafting, or (my personal favorite) CAD it Up!
  • Peel the Onion
  • Working in Silos
  • BIM Model – thanks James for that important public service announcement
  • “We’ve sent your request to the development team for consideration in future versions of the product” – ’cause we all know that generally means: “don’t count on it”

For the residential architects and designers out there:

  • Bonus Room
  • Great Room
  • Foyer, unless it’s the classic ‘All Foyer House
  • Man Cave — drink, Betsy

Last but not least: one of the most offensive, and winner of Forbes 2012 viewer bracket “Drinking the Kool-Aid”. Because nothing motivates a team to be loyal and work hard more than reminding them of an over 900 person mass suicide / massacre in 1978. Go ahead, and read for yourself before you ever utter that phrase again at the office. If you do, be accurate at least and call it Flavor Aid.

I’m looking forward to a more thoughtful and thought-provoking 2014. Did I miss anything? Please add your thoughts to the comments or reply on Twitter using the hashtag: #JargonBeGone

Happy Holidays from Paradigm Shift!

12-23-2013 4-02-48 PM


Have a Happy Holidays and a fun and safe New Year. Looking forward to great things in 2014. Here’s my 30 minute exploration at virtual ornament hanging. Using a little formula magic, based on the pattern of a pine cone, we have an efficient packing of ornaments, leaving little room for much else. Because this is the best part of the tree, next to lights. Since no one in the office can agree which is best: white or colored lights, we’ll just use our imagination for the finished trimmings.

How I made this:

12-23-2013 4-52-33 PM

Go and get the latest version of Dynamo, download Vasari Beta 3.

Download my Dynamo definition and Revit model from a zipped file here: XmasTree.

Open the XmasTree.rvt. On the Add-Ins ribbon, launch Dynamo. If the custom nodes for colors are RED, double-click to download the “Standard Colours” package by the brilliant andydandy (Andreas Dieckmann of CAAD RWTH Aachen University). Although not necessary, it’s very useful to have this collection. I’m far too lazy to look up how to make colors with RGB values every time I need them.

And there you have it: A Revit Christmas Tree. Technically, there’s no tree at all, it’s just a collections of ball ornaments. The size of the ornaments changes as it moves up the tree, and the colors are random in the range of green to red.

Go ahead, experiment. Send me your mash-ups. Cheers!

Autodesk University Recap and Top 7 Digital Practice Trends

Autodesk University, a ReCap


As a year-end wrap-up, I’d like to share some thoughts from the events I attended at this year’s Autodesk University. During the opening keynote (go ahead and watch, then come back), Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski described going “Outside” as important for the success of design firms. We need to alter our mindsets to embrace change. This may mean working with new team members from external firms, working with new disciplines in other industries and also by embracing technology and tools that were not necessarily designed specifically for our work. We need to re-imagine our work, our business structures and our lives. I really like the quote that he used to make his point:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

At NBBJ, we call this Change Design. This deeply embedded philosophy in our practice enables us to create and innovate in ways not possible by only working with what you know.  Working collaboratively with non-traditional consultants creates that ah-ha moment more consistently for our projects. As design practices regain strength after the last five challenging years, this idea of “outside” could not come at a more perfect time to go mainstream.

Along a similar thread, I decided to go outside my comfort zone when planning my conference. This was a very different AU for me, as it was the first time I didn’t stack up my class schedule with only those offered for my primary tool of choice. In 2002, that was Architectural Desktop, and in 2006 it switched completely to Revit. Seven years later, I am much more interested in Computational Design, and design technology leadership. Key to these interests, which thankfully align with my firm’s vision, were round-table discussions on leadership, fabrication classes, further exploring computational design tools like Dynamo and conceptual design tools such as Fusion 360, and the mighty Design Computation Symposium.

Design Computation Symposium

This is the fourth instance of this conference within a conference. The format this year was a half-day event emceed by Matt Jezyk of Autodesk. There were too many presentations to focus on in this article. I’d like to summarize more of what I saw in future writings.

Day one of AU, it became clear that Autodesk is committed to a computational workflow. Actually, on Day 0, the day before, there was a special day-long Dynamo workshop (which I missed) that looked at the node to code possibilities of embedding DesignScript within Dynamo. At the kickoff of the conference, the gravity of the situation hit when Carl Bass talked about Dynamo in a big way as a punctuation mark to the AU keynote for all 9,200 conference attendees, and 37,000 virtual attendees. He even kicked off the symposium personally for the gathering of approximately 150 attendees. The Design Computation Symposium presentations ranged from case studies from engineers, architects and fabricators to an inspiring closing keynote by Enric Ruiz-Geli of Cloud9 on the subject of “particles”.

Media-TIC – by Cloud9

A key takeaway from Enric’s talk being that sustainable design should be embedded in the project, finding innovative ways to reduce costs of structure, and assembly of the project to cove the first costs for solutions such as the Media-TIC building located in Barcelona. The active envelope filled with nitrogen clouds blocks glare and UV light, significantly reducing cooling costs and making it a more comfortable and dynamic space to be in.

Top 7 Digital Practice Trends

What direction is the industry moving that you need to pay more attention to? What will drastically change the way you design and deliver projects in the coming decade? While at Autodesk University, I attended the usual Keynotes, classes and ad-hoc sessions. I began spotting patterns in the innovative way people are working today, and based on glimpses that Autodesk and the vendors in the exhibit hall allowed peeks into our future, I’d like to share some observations.

Not all of these concepts are available or fully implementable today, and others are definitely ready for immediate use. I’d like to explore each of these in detail in future posts. Here’s what I’m keeping an eye on for the future of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.

Computational BIM

Adaptive Stadium in Dynamo (Credit: Case and Autodesk)

BIM and Computational Design will rapidly converge together to become a single process. The fact that these separate silos exist is really only because of the tools of choice typically used by project teams. Design Computation is becoming necessary to realize/rationalize complexity in our designs, regardless of the project team’s formal aspirations. You don’t need doubly-curved surfaces to utilize computational design concepts. Since data and parametric behaviors are shared concepts in both approaches, it only makes sense that the dead end hand-off between the silos and tools dissolve.

BIM and Computational Design have traditionally been different tools, and required different mindsets. By these two mortal enemies coming together, everybody wins. The transition from design to documentation begins to blur and allow decisions to be delayed, enabling deeper design exploration, increased accuracy, & reduced costs.

Grasshopper, while inspiring the paradigm of visual programming employed by Dynamo, is at a disadvantage. Revit is a parametric design tool that understands what building components are, and Rhino certainly does not. While some find this troubling, even stifling creativity, I think Revit with Dynamo is the horse to bet on in the long run, and it’s the only tool in the BIM ecosystem that will span concept design, analysis, visualization, documentation and fabrication. Rich ecosystems and faster regeneration performance will come, and then the holdouts will come over to the dark side.

Open Source


Github, one of the free code repositories for many open source AEC projects like Dynamo.

With projects like Dynamo and IFC translator trending toward Open-Source with direct support from a company like Autodesk, this will be an interesting space to watch. Since anyone who wishes to (and possesses the skills) can contribute code, you can mold the future to meet your own needs. Dynamo especially is receiving a great deal of attention in the industry as a way of extending the functionality of parametric design tools like Revit and (more recently) Inventor.

Reality BIM

The evolution of reality capture, from the early black and white low-density point clouds, to something that looks more like a photograph and contains data.

Scan to BIM, Photogrammetry, LiDAR, augmented reality… These are terms you should begin to hear a lot more about in the future. This technology is now so refined that you may not ever have to create record models showing an ‘As-Built’ or ‘As Constructed’ condition again. Instead, you can show ‘As Exists’ at this very moment using reality capture and incorporating with BIM tools. By democratizing reality capture, using a tool as simple as an iPhone or collecting data from multiple sources in Autodesk ReCap Photo, you will have the ability to see this information right in the context of Revit. The digital world can consume reality in ways that a tape measure and sketch pad never could. To find out more, watch the New Reality presentation by Tatjana Dzambazova.

Access to Resources

Otoy ORBX technology running Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 in the cloud, accessible through a web browser.

Otoy ORBX technology running Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 in the cloud, accessible through a web browser.

Increased access to robust digital design tools and infinite computing resources will continue to grow, and be at a lower overall cost. The impact of lowered barriers to accessing technology will be beneficial to both large and small firms. I wrote an earlier piece on the Death of the PC, which received a great deal of discussion on LinkedIn and Twitter. There exist strong feelings both for and against this coming change, which I feel is inevitable and a positive thing for designers and collaboration. Fear of change can certainly hinder adoption, whether legal, cultural or embedded workflows push back against it. The technology preview launched in November has had great adoption, and has implications beyond the use of Autodesk design tools. It could also affect the future of gaming.

Design to Fabrication

Autodesk CAM 360, the FIRST professional CAM solution available on the Cloud.

With more access to CAM tools, designers are becoming fabricators. Rapid Prototyping is becoming commoditized through technologies like desktop CNC machines and 3D printers. While simultaneously, physical mock-ups, often expensive to produce are now easier to create digitally, easier to experience and understand with virtual reality gear like Oculus Rift, or prototype with the many Autodesk cloud hosted tools like 123D Make and the newly announced for Beta testing: CAM 360.

Reality Computing

Technology preview of Showcase 360, soon to be on Autodesk Labs

Technology preview of Showcase 360, soon to be on Autodesk Labs

Real-time collaboration and communication will replace asynchronous, inefficient processes. Concurrent Design, Analysis and Visualization will be a reality in the not too distant future. This is especially true if the soon to be released technology preview of Autodesk Showcase 360 looks as good as it does in this teaser video. Could you imagine being freed from the constraints of design and rendering being two silos of activity, often two specialized applications and two sets of hands?

Showcase, the desktop application, is currently an interactive presentation tool, and it’s doubtful the cloud version will be much different at first. Could you imagine how much more productive you would be if the design tools became as fast and interactive at showing physically accurate lighting, textures and reflections? Pixel-based shaders that use the massive power trapped in a GPU already exist inside Revit as part of the ‘Ray Trace’ visual style. It’s just a matter of time before live rendering is possible in working views, constantly updating as you design. Expect simulation and analysis to follow soon after, perhaps as quickly as the next 2-3 years. This will be a holy grail of advanced computing resources and truly allow enhanced communication with our clients as we share our design ideas.

Embedded Workflow

The Revit 2014 Daylighting Analysis (RDA) plug-in, provides feedback in 1/60 the time it used to take in Ecotect.

This last one is a favorite, and came from a discussion with Enric from Cloud9 after his presentation. Design Computation and Sustainable Design as terms will fade as they become deeply embedded in our work. Analysis as a feedback loop to inform design and real-time dashboards will be expected on all projects.

One example of sustainable design feedback in the design environment is the Revit Daylighting Analysis plug-in technology preview available now. This will help you document and visually check for LEED IEQc8.1 2009 compliance.

Another excellent candidate for embedded workflow, proper Interoperability will enable teams to collaborate more effectively and glide between tools effortlessly to enable posing specific hypotheses to test against the project. Moving geometry between tools is trivial. Moving data between tools is key. With the latest IFC (version 4) pending, this looks to be closer to reality than previously thought possible.

When these three key concepts (Design Computation, Sustainable Design and Interoperability) become commoditized, the terms lose their power. Then, maybe we won’t need specialized symposiums or conferences on these topics, they will just be the table stakes of our core design practice. Then, I can retire happy.

A Knight travails under the idea that he/she is striving for a world where they are no longer needed.

Thanks to Shawn Foster of Black and Veatch for that closing thought during my final session of the conference – Design Technologists and Their Impact On The Organization. I hope this article was impactful on your work. Let me know what you think in the comments.