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3 Not-to-Miss AEC Trends for the Next Decade

By Nicolas Mangon, VP, AEC Strategy & Marketing

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Spotting the Trends

Less than 20 years ago, Building Information Modeling (BIM) barely registered with many in the AEC industry. The usual reaction: BIM? What’s that? Why would I want to use it? Of course, BIM is no longer a mystery or an up-and-coming trend—it’s the cornerstone of success for design, engineering, and construction 

Now that we’re entering a new decade, there is a lot happening within the industry as it undergoes even more dramatic transformationsHere are the key AEC trends that need to be on your radar. 

Trend #1: Generative Design

Right now, generative design for AEC is a close parallel to the early days of BIM. People are just beginning to discover it. The first question is, well, what is it exactly?  

With generative design, you can easily optimize your designs for multiple criteria, such as cost and performance. Just as we do with BIM, we let the computer to do what it does best. But now it’s not just modeling an idea—it’s computing permutations of a design to help you quickly narrow down options for informed decision-making. You can read how Stamhuis designs entire stores in minutes instead of hours. 

Stamhuis designs entire stores in minutes with generative design. Script in Dynamo with the building contour and store design visually in the background. The automated design is based on the standard set variable.

During this discovery phase, there are a lot of question marks about the impact generative design will make. How will it change designer’s role as it frees up their time for more strategic work? What is the process for building the scripts and optimizing many different choices? 

Many generative design tools still require advanced skills with coding and terminology. That is quickly changing because accessibility for all designers is key—not just those who know how to code. Project Refinery is Autodesk’s answer to that; it’s a generative design beta to quickly explore and optimize Dynamo designs. Its integration with BIM will make the process a game changer. If you haven’t looked at generative design or Project Refinery already, I’d encourage you to do so. Generative design is going to change the way you work this next decade. 

Trend #2: Robots

Over the past few years, robotics has made huge inroads, especially with digital construction. The benefits run the gamut, from safety to cost-savings and accessibility. The innovation taking place with robots for on-site work and even in a design firm’s office is pretty incredible. If these next few examples are any indication, it will be fascinating to see the advancements happening within the decade.

Take Boston Dynamics’ SPOT the robot dog. SPOT was designed to go where people or drones can’t; it uses sensors and collects data to map an environment and create 3D models via integration with BIM. With enough on-board processing power or connectivity to a cloud service, it could even potentially do clash detection and trigger RFIs as it navigates its environment in the future.  

Boston Dynamics' SPOT® on stage at Autodesk University Las Vegas 2019

There’s also Shimizu Corporation’s Shimz Smart Site, an impressive building construction system that links robots with AI to BIM. They are currently developing three different robots to aid with the transportation of materials, welding, and a “buddy” that can help with many different skills such as inserting hanger bolts or installing ceiling boards and panels.  

And, yes, I did mention that there is a future that includes robots in the architect’s office. Perkins + Will have been developing its Mobile Robotic Assistant for Architectural Design (MRAAD) at Autodesk Technology Center in Boston. Affectionately pronounced “Em-Rad,” it’s designed for anyone to use—no robotics experience required. The robot can quickly and easily execute tasks with 10 different tools by picking up one tool for a procedure, replacing it in its holster, and then moving on to the next. MRAAD—quite literally—gives architects an extra arm for easier model making, hot wire cutting, CNC milling for subtractive manufacturing, and much more.  

Trend #3: Digital Twin with AI, IOT, and BIM

OK, there may seem like an alphabet soup of acronyms here. But artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and BIM will be converging more and more in the next 10 years. Data is vital, and it’s central component to all three of these technologies. When brought together, BIM+AI+IoT is known as the digital twin and it will help better manage and understand the performance of the built environment.

For example, start-up Hacka Labs—incubated at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston—developed a smart door equipped with IoT and sensors that monitor smoke, temperature, humidity, and more. It also has its own onboard processer, making local AI possible. The operating system communicates natively with Autodesk software so all monitoring and controlling happens in a BIM model. 

The digital twin will be especially helpful in the operations phase since owners and operators experience 70% of the cost of ownership for a building during that time. Optimizing building performance is critical, especially with energy management. Buildings produce 40% of the world’s carbon footprintUnderstanding their energy performance is a necessary step in optimizing systems to emissions—and the digital twin can make that happen. 

With more than 30 billion (and growing!) IoT devices already installed in buildings, the ability of AI to examine huge amounts of data, and the insights and visibility provided by BIM, buildings will be more efficient, produce less carbon, and be more resilient for the future. That’s a trend we want to see in the next decade and beyond. 

Looking Forward

Of course, these are just three of the trends happening now. Right now, there is so much innovation happening in the AEC industry to meet new demands. Population is surging, meaning we need more buildings, more homes, and more infrastructure. And climate change poses new threats with every passing day.  

The challenge we are all solving is how to do more with less—and make it better. These trends showcase how the industry is rising to the occasion and the impact that can be made locally and globally now and in the very near future.