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.

I wish to complain about this PC

The PC is officially dead. There can be no further debate.

Autodesk, Otoy, Mozilla and Amazon come together to work on something that will not only transform the design industry, it will level the playing field. It seems an unlikely alliance, however these companies are all at the top of their game, and each one is all about the experience of using their products and services. The way we work and play will be significantly impacted for some time to come. The lowered cost of entry in using professional tools will also make many industries much more competitive. Small firms and large will each have access to the same high-performance infrastructure — no IT required. It will enable collaboration in ways that will shortly bring real-time, geographically-dispersed teamwork to the AEC industry. Press releases here and here.

Can you hear that? It’s the sound of an industry dying. Like the silence of a cloud floating overhead, the calm before the storm, a illusion of tranquility — the storm is a lot closer than it looks. This day seemed as though it were a decade or more away, despite all the industry executives predicting it was upon us. It was inevitable, and it is now here.

You had a good run, PC. With 30 years of mainstream success, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You did great things. Look back on those achievements with pride. You will have space in our memory (though you have none in yours), and in our hearts and our museums. Actually, little PC, don’t be blue. You don’t even need to be retired. That’s the most awesome part of this announcement. You just need to run a browser. That’s all, nothing more. You might even be refreshed with a new OS, one that has very little function but connecting to the internet.

HTML5 brings device independence to all

It’s out there. Waiting. Patiently for what ever you can throw at it. Gone are the days of spinning beach balls, the eternal hourglasses, and blue rings of death. You are free, free to be anywhere. Do anything. The next big thing? Well, it isn’t the tool we hold in our hand (because we can hold mobile devices in one hand now, after all). It is the services that allow us to connect to the work we get done. Oh, the possibilities.

A new name is needed to describe this thing out there in the tubes. In spirit, it’s very similar to that thing we call the PC. Personal Computer? That word doesn’t fit. After all, it is not necessarily personal anymore, and not necessarily a single computer. Sure, you can call this “the cloud”. That is meaningless jargon. Perhaps Community Computing, or maybe even as Autodesk likes to call it: Infinite Computing. Why not? After hearing that one for a couple of years, it may be growing on me.

Waiting to install software, or updates is a waste of your time. You’ve got better things to do, like invent, make, improve and distribute. The impact of this and successive technologies to large AEC firms will soon encompass all the things we traditionally do on a PC workstation. If the personal workstation goes away, and the act of starting something new involves add to cart and pressing launch, what would you do with all that extra time? Where would you do it, and with what device? Whenever, wherever. It’s a great time to be a technologist. Terrible time to be a parrot, err I mean PC.


Nature by Numbers

9-20-2013 9-38-40 AM I decided to get into the Dynamo Package Manager, recently added in v0.6, released just last week. I uploaded my first custom node! It’s probably the simplest custom node ever, however it makes short work of making many things possible. I was inspired by the idea of creating a sunflower pattern on a dome, which is currently a work in progress…

Note: The image is of the latest  daily development builds, found here. There’s a subtle yet useful addition to the zoom in/out icons.

9-20-2013 1-40-50 PMCalled out in this enlarged image: you’ll see a new rectangular icon. It will allow you to toggle between zoom fit and zoom 100%. If you have one or more nodes selected, it will fit them in the canvas window. Happy scripting.

Want to be inspired to create something with math? Watch below (the video that inspired the title of this post), or hop on over and watch the whole Vihart Doodling in Math Class series on YouTube. You will be inspired. Nature by Numbers.

Be like Bob

KHouse Modern Progress - Revit | Life of an Architect

Everybody likes Bob. Trust me. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, he’s a bit of a celebrity in the blogosphere, and an all around gentleman (so I’m told), Bob Borson. Bob is an architect who focusses on residential projects and runs the popular blog: Life of an Architect. When he’s not sketching, these days he’s taking time to learn Revit. Revit you say? For residential projects? Yes, and yes. Oh, and full disclosure: Bob’s firm does design other types of projects, however that’s a different topic.

The other 30%

You see, there’s a little secret I want to let you in on. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has recently voted unanimously to “support the concept of Building Information Modeling (BIM) utilizing the open industry standards for interoperability and collaboration as defined in the National Building Information Modeling Standard – US (NBIMS-US)”.

This is a key strategy to increase efficiency and allow large home builders to offer more flexibility in providing options to their customers. Architects take note. That development is creating a halo effect in areas where just a year ago, many small architecture firms and especially residential-focused firms were vehemently against the idea of change from 2D CAD. Revit and to a larger extent BIM are becoming not only a primary gravitational force in the architecture profession, they are becoming an increasingly desirable set of tools and processes and dare I say a requirement for the future of the profession.

What Bob shows that is possible after only 16 days of use in the firm where he works is astonishing. I’ll let him tell the story, as he does so very well. Check it out: KHouse Modern Progress – Revit | Life of an Architect

For more about the NAHB efforts on BIM, see: BIM Can Only ‘Raise the Bar’ for the Built Environment