Do You See What I See?

Local architects share how their favorite technological advances are allowing them to work more accurately and efficiently and share their vision more effectively with clients.
Local professionals share how technological advances are changing the fields of construction and architecture.

It’s hard to imagine, but only 20 years ago, many architectural designs and construction documents were still drawn by hand. Now a majority of the work is done using 3D models and augmented reality.

“One of the critical issues today is fair housing,” says Doug Matthews, owner of residential and commercial construction firm Matthews Construction & Renovation LLC in New Orleans. “And one way technology is making housing more affordable is by building modular homes in a factory setting using robots to do the framing.”

Graham Hill, senior project manager for New Orleans-based Concordia Architects, says technological advances are also allowing architects to work more quickly, accurately and efficiently, all while increasing the capacity to collaborate.

“Things are always changing fast within the field of design technology, but in some ways the construction industry lags behind because traditional construction means and methods are tied to large industries and supply chains of materials and manufacturers,” says Hill. “This lag creates a huge opportunity for innovation by moving from traditional design-bid-build delivery methods to IPD (integrated project delivery), where contractors are engaged early as a critical part of the design team.”

At Concordia, building information modeling (BIM) has become the office standard at Concordia Architects for producing drawings like construction documents, photo-realistic renderings and even 360-degree walk-throughs that can be navigated in virtual reality.

“BIM works so much better than traditional 2D drafting because by modeling in 3D, you can better understand how building systems interact and how they can be more effectively integrated,” Hill says.

Michael Lachin, AIA, owner of New Orleans-based Lachin Architects, lists computer-aided drafting and digital technologies like virtual reality that allow people to experience designs and architecture even before they are built as the biggest game changers for the industry.

“We are able to create virtual tours to show people what the building looks like from any angle imaginable,” he says. “They can also virtually walk around and through the buildings to get a sense for spatial relationships, the sizes of spaces and even the colors and textures of the materials being used.”


The Rise of 3D

John F. Dalton Jr., AIA LEED AP, principal for Marrero-based Dalton Architects, says 3D virtual-modeling tools have improved over a short period of time and are becoming more user-friendly.

“It’s fantastic, and the construction industry is embracing it just as much as the design industry has,” he says. “It’s truly a great time to be an architect.”

As someone who considers himself “old-school,” Dalton admits that it took him a while to become comfortable with some of the new technology, but says he’s now able to create quick models and concepts to present to clients to work through the design process a little faster.

“Many people have difficulty imagining space in three dimensions,” he says, “but when we can quickly model something, we can provide them with a representation that will help drive their decision-making process.”

For example, Dalton Architects used a laser scan of a project on Canal Street — where it was converting three 100-plus-year-old buildings into a new apartment complex — to help determine the plumbness of eight-story masonry walls and how level the floors were. The scan also showed the location of existing beams and joists, which helped the architects locate the bathrooms and plumbing stacks and confirm the sites’ measurements.

Concordia is currently working on a renovation and addition to a large historic masonry building in New Orleans’ Warehouse District.

“For this project, we are using 3D laser scanning to document the existing building and build a digital point cloud that shows every surface, crack and crevasse of the original structure,” Hill says. “This allows us to more accurately design around all the irregularities and unique aspects of the existing building, thereby improving our ability to preserve the old while integrating the new.”

In another architectural realm, Jonathan Swanson, senior landscape architect with Mullin Landscape Associated in St. Rose, says he often uses Land FX, a CAD plug-in, which helps him stay current with what’s trending in landscape architecture.

“Land FX simplifies and expedites the technical drawing process because each module of a system is already saved into the program,” he says. “It takes the legwork out of having to build each component and [the company] constantly offers online training.”

Staying on Top of Things

Reading, researching and paying attention to the development of new technologies allows architects to stay on top of the newest trends and see what’s upcoming.

“In today’s 24-hour news world, it’s not difficult to find information or see new research coming out,” Dalton says. “It pretty much comes to you through social media, email newsletters and other marketing.”

Swanson says he keeps up to date on advances through training webinars and community forums that enable him to have discussions with other designers and YouTube.

“I also like to subscribe to podcasts and email lists,” he says. “These offer random bits of insight when least expected.”

Mighty Machines

When it comes to envisioning future tech, Dalton says he’s ready for the kind of technology currently only seen in movies. In the “Ironman” films, scientist Tony Stark frequently uses his hands to manipulate a hologram projected into space. Dalton can see how something similar could be used in an augmented reality scenario where clients and contractors could walk through a building or space without wearing special glasses or equipment.

Could this be a reality for future architects? It may be only a matter of time.

“Tech is constantly pushing architecture towards the future,” says Swanson. “The industry is continuously advancing by the minute, every single day.”