Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

054 - My 5 Favorite Booths at the AIA 2017 Expo

054 - My 5 Favorite Booths at the AIA 2017 Expo

At every conference that I’ve ever attended, I’ve always made time to stop by the expo area where manufacturers put their best foot forward and showcase their products. At the AIA 2017 conference on architecture, I walked through the entire expo and spent a lot of my time at the technology area as well as one manufacturer’s booth. Here are my 5 favorite technology and manufacturer booths at the AIA 2017 conference expo hall.

1. Vectorworks

About a week and a half before my trip down to Orlando for the AIA 2017 conference on architecture, I was contacted by most of the companies who would be showcasing their products at the expo. Due to my schedule being filled with the keynotes, seminars, and parties, I was only able to schedule a meeting with two companies that interested me. So the first scheduled stop was Vectorworks to meet with their team and learn about their Building Information Modeling (BIM) software.

As a long time user of Autodesk Revit, I was reluctant at first to visit their booth at the expo because I didn’t see any reason to learn new software. When I arrived at the booth, there were multiple computers and screens showcasing features and projects developed in Vectorworks Designer. Graphically, the visuals of buildings designed in Vectorworks looked like a mix between SketchUp and Revit where it had a somewhat colorful and cartoon-like aesthetic with the straight lines and accuracy of Revit’s 3D view.

Once I sat down with the representatives, Lauren and Luc, we briefly went over the capabilities of Vectorworks and I got a fast keynote on what the program offers architects. After this short introduction, I went through my list of questions, which circulated around the differences and similarities between Autodesk Revit and Vectorworks Designer.

As we discussed these differences, I noticed several key similarities and differences between the software. I’ll start with the way that I now interpret Revit and Vectorworks, which is that Revit’s interface and features are similar to Apple products and Vectorworks is similar to Android products. What does this mean?

Revit’s interface is very intuitive where users can use the ribbon above to select the element(s) that they want to create, select a view, and start creating that element. If you want to create something out of the ordinary or change the graphic style of your drawing, you’ll have to combine several tools found in either the ribbon or in other options. All in all, Revit is very straightforward in terms of its tools, where everything is located, and how each element should be used.

On the other hand, Vectorworks is a program that gives the user freedom and flexibility to create their designs. Every tool and option is available to the user to manipulate their designs and graphic styles. Another observation that I had on Vectorworks is that it offered modeling capabilities similar to Rhinoceros, which is NURBS software that I used back in school for free form modeling. In my opinion, the program offers endless possibilities in how its tools can be used, but I felt overwhelmed at all of the options that were available to me.

Aside from these basic differences between Revit and Vectorworks, there were three key items that made Vectorworks very appealing. First, the developers of the software are forward thinking in that they are incorporating features such as augmented reality and virtual reality into their software. This opens the door to infinite possibilities for client and design meetings. Imagine sitting down with your client or team with a floor plan on the table and an augmented reality 3D view of the model pop up from the floor plan on your phone or tablet. This amazing feature allows you to view your 3D model, move around to see different areas, and enter the model by moving your phone or tablet closer.

Secondly, Vectoworks customer service is intelligible about their product and they work with you at your own pace. Their team was ready to showcase the product and sit with me until I felt comfortable using the program on my own. They listened to all of my questions and made sure that they provided me with an answer to the issues at hand.

Finally, Vectorwork’s interface is similar to all of the other major BIM and designer software such as SketchUp and Rhinoceros. Although I was overwhelmed at first, I began to feel at ease when Luc showed me several tools and explained how they worked. It was in these moments where I was able to see a relationship between Vectorwork’s interface and others that I often use.

Moving forward, I’m excited to tryout Vectorworks on one of my 30x30 projects and tell you about my experiences along the way!

2. Iris Virtual Reality

Another meeting that I scheduled prior to the AIA 2017 conference was with the Iris virtual reality platform. When I arrived, I met with Shane who gave me a brief overview of Iris and showcased one of its new multi-user features.

Before going to the IrisVR booth, I already heard lots about the platform through online media and platforms and I’ve always wanted to experience its virtual reality capabilities in relation to architecture. Shane did a fantastic job at walking me through the process of taking a Revit model, exporting it in a particular format for IrisVR’s software, importing it, and setting up the virtual reality view of the model.

Once I put on the headset and opened my eyes, I saw the sample model at full scale and I looked around the spaces. As I turned my head and walked around, the model adjusted to my perspective and orientation within the space. As I approached a wall in real life, IrisVR’s software put up a cyan colored grid to show me that I was approaching a solid wall. To avoid this issue of my physical room in real life being too small, you can simple point your left trigger somewhere in the model and click to teleport there.

Using IrisVR was very addicting and the possibilities of the platform are endless. This is especially true for architects who want to show their clients what their spatial configuration, daylight, and proportions will look like in the early stages of a project. While using IrisVR, you can use the triggers in your hands to perform various tasks like changing the date and time in relation to the position of the sun.

The only minor issue that I had with the IrisVR platform was the fact that it had to be hardwired into a high end desktop or laptop. This hardwire is long enough for anyone to walk around a small space, but the headset puts you in a totally visual immersive environment, which makes it difficult to see if you’re about to trip over the wire.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience with the IrisVR headset and I can see lots of opportunities for architects to add this to their design process.

3. Sketchup

While walking around the expo, I noticed the Sketchup booth at the technology section of the expo and saw that they had their augmented reality headsets out. There were several architects learning about the headset and trying them on. At some point, each of the architects, including me, held our hands out in front of us and pinched the air.

If you haven’t heard of SketchUp viewer, this headset and software allows you to take your SketchUp model and with the SketchUp viewer headset on, place the and augmented reality model on a surface in real life, pin it to that surface, and view it from multiple perspectives. The viewer is made up of a comfortable ring that goes around your forehead and tightens like a hardhat does and glasses that covers your eyes. The glasses have built in cameras that can read your hand gestures and perform actions within the augmented reality model.

Once the explanation of the software was done, I put on the SketchUp Viewer and saw the sample model resting on the circular white pedestal in front of us. As I walked around the pedestal, I was also walking around the augmented reality model on the pedestal. When I approached the model and stuck my head into it, I was able to cut a section and see the interior spaces of the model.

Then, we went over some of the simple gesture commands, which mainly consisted of pinching, and I was able to select different tools to view the model. The first tool that was simple to use was orbit where I simply pinch my fingers together and move my hand left or right to turn the model. Next was scale, which allowed me to change the size of the model. At 1:1, the augmented reality model was life size and too big to fit in the expo hall.

My experience with SketchUp viewer was amazing and I could’ve sat there all day learning how to become an expert augmented reality viewer. The intuitive platform, simplicity of using hand gestures to control the model, and not being tethered to anything (wireless), allowed me to fully enjoy the experience.

4. Bluebeam

One of the programs that we use at the office is Bluebeam, which is software that allows architects to digitally annotate their drawings and collaborate with the team. Typically, we use the software to annotate our drawings and send it to our consultants or the contractor. The seamless workflow from tablet to computer and the fact that Bluebeam’s software is fast and responsive makes it preferred software over other products.

At Bluebeam’s booth, they were showcasing their software on a variety of machines ranging from tablets to computers and all in one touch screen systems like Microsoft’s Surface Studio. I was most intrigued by using Bluebeam on the Surface Studio because it’s a newer type of all in one computer that I could see entering architecture firms all over the world.

Using the Surface Studio’s wheel and pen, you could control the color and type of annotation tool you’re using and begin marking up a drawing. As you start to get more precise, you could also use the wheel to zoom in and out of the drawing by simply selecting the dual screen option and placing the wheel on an area of the drawing. This zooms into the drawing on the other half of the screen where you could begin marking up the drawing. If you move the wheel, the area on the annotation side of the screen follows.

I was impressed by the software and its seamless integration between all devices from apple to windows and tablets to laptops and desktops. The staffs were all very personable and knowledgeable in all of the new features of the product. They were able to troubleshoot any issues that came up while I was using the Surface Studio.

5. Oldcastle Building Envelope

In my opinion, the best manufacturer booth at the AIA 2017 conference expo was the Oldcastle Building Envelope booth that focused on hospitality. Every other booth in the conference was covered in their company’s logos, products, and brochures. After a long day of keynotes and seminars that start at 7:00am, it’s difficult to summon the willpower to look at a brochure or to hear about a product.

Now, that isn’t to say that manufacturer’s shouldn’t have their company’s information and products on display for everyone to see. It’s important to let people know who you are and share information about your company. However, the reason why the Oldcastle Building envelope pavilion was the best at the expo is because they had all of their staff ready to talk to the architects and they provided a place for us to lounge and a bar with drinks, cappuccinos, and food.

Upon walking into the pavilion, you’re welcomed by staff from Oldcastle Building Envelope, which greeted each person and kindly asked if they could scan our tags. Once you make it past the three different large entryways, you’re within a circular space with amphitheater-like seating, a more private nook with couches, a bar with refreshments, and staff walking around with trays of food and snacks.

If you’ve been in seminars and keynotes all day, you’re ready to relax for a second and regain your strength for the latter part of your day at the AIA 2017 conference. So the light refreshments, food, and relaxed atmosphere made the Oldcastle Building Envelope pavilion an attractive place to spend our time.

This pavilion worked so well as an attraction for architects, but it also worked as a marketing tool for the company because architects were having conversations with their staff about their products. More importantly, the staffs weren’t approaching any of the architects with an elevator pitch. Instead, they waited for the architects to ask them about the pavilion, which led to talking about their products. Brilliant!

Bonus: Malaysian Timber Council

During my walk through the expo hall, I saw a wood pavilion from afar and had to check it out. So, I made my way to the pavilion, which was the Malaysian Timber Council designed by architect Eleena Jamil. This pavilion was beautifully constructed and carefully detailed. When I stepped into the pavilion, there was a wood stand with information and brochures about the timber industry in Malaysia. This pavilion stood out among the others and was visited by many architects! 

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