Over the last decade or so we have heard the buzz of parametric design and experimented with the physical possibilities that come with digital fabrication. There is no question that our primary push forward lies in research labs and institutes synthesizing new materials and scripting new algorithms for generative or morphogenetic design. We have dipped our feet into the sea of what digital architecture can be, but we are still in the experimental phase. Currently, monumental architecture is left to the big named-architects, leaving the rest of the world’s architecture firms in shy efforts to making such bold moves. However, like most other cases in history, technological innovation plays a part in leveling the playing field. Some have understood the key ingredient to making the wildest schematic designs a constructed reality: innovative technological thinking.
Frank Gehry amazed the world with his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. When there was no software that could translate his gestural drawings to a 3D model, he figured out a way. The solution came as a 3D modeling software called Digital Project, which contributed to the birth of Gehry Technologies, a company with bestselling project delivery service. In only 10 years since their establishment, Gehry Technologies has already assisted some of the world’s most complex architecture projects through various consulting and modeling services as well as licensing Digital Project to other teams. An alternative to ArchiCad, Microstation, and Revit, Digital Project (based on CATIA from Dassault Systemes) is widely favored for its design-to-fabrication feature and complex parametric modeling tools. Digital Project has been instrumental in assisting engineering and production management of some recently popular projects like the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City, Beijing National Stadium, and Louvre Abu Dhabi. With the mission to “provide the most cutting edge technology, improve the spirit of collaboration, and support the realization of inspirational work for the build environment” Gehry Technologies has gained a reputation for embarking on monumental projects all over the world. Now with a decade of experience leading and assisting large-scale construction projects, Gehry Technologies addresses an issue that has for a long time been a project of its own to handle in the construction process: project collaboration.
Enter GTeam, a modern day solution to bringing BIM 3D modeling to the construction site. Dubbed the ‘Google Docs’ for 3D modeling and AEC professionals, GTeam has been subscribed to by thousands of users during its beta launch in early 2012, guaranteeing a new and efficient way to deal with project collaboration via the internet.
GTeam serves as a powerful cloud-based platform that brings architects, engineers, contractors, fabricators and clients together and provides on demand access to 3D models, BIM data, and other files. Using Software as a Service has become a trending function inspired by the success of online social network sites, allowing users to share data that is stores on the “cloud” with others and collaborate via comments or shared documents and schedules with a mere internet browser. Unlike other cloud-based sharing platforms, such as Dropbox and Buzzsaw, project teams using GTeam are able to not only store files on the cloud but are able to compute, or work directly on the platform. All files, regardless of their original file type are converted to one universal format, allowing anyone to view and annotate them without owning the native software. Additionally, this file type is compatible with the standard internet browser, smart tablet or phone.
Because communication is the main load that often delays the construction timeline, GTeam’s platform is reminiscent of a familiar social network. Users of the service receive a live feed of the latest file modifications and recent uploads, even close inspection of members’ individual activity. Enabled Skype features allow for easy communication, on-the-go presentations with clients are possible. Files cumulate an extensive audit history so teams can annotate and analyze the project’s development and not have to worry about overwriting due to clash detection. Though GTeam is not a 3D modeling program, the service allots a set of tools like 3D sectioning and partial model viewing to work with and use BIM at its full speed. Using this new platform will help projects leaders save time and cut administration and production costs, allowing important technical data to be available for fast decision making.
Managed by Gehry Technologies, Fondation Louis Vuitton won the AIA 2012 Technology in Architectural Practice award for outstanding use of BIM throughout every phase of the project. GTeam proved instrumental to a mass collaboration of over 400 project members, nearly 100 gigabytes of BIM data, and over 100,000 iterations of BIM models. The power due to Digital Project and GTeam has thus shown to deliver results that were not possible ten years ago.
In late 2011, Gehry invited some of the world’s most important architects, like Zaha Hadid, Moshe Safdie and Ben van Berkel of UNstudio, Greg Lynn, David Rockwell, to name a few, to serve on his advisory board and form a strategic super alliance that would embrace and focus on ways to integrate technology in design and transform the practice to an innovative movement of the 21st century. Gehry believes that “by applying and innovating new technology solutions to old problems such as waste, delay, and miscommunication, this new alliance will lead the process change that the AEC industry needs to confront future challenges.” After a private offering, members of his advisory board as well as other large firms such as Coop Himmelb(l)au and HOK have begun to advocate the use of GTeam in the design practice, establishing GTeam as a trustworthy service used by the world’s leading architects.
The platform is intended to not only serve large project teams, but also a range of students, two-person firms, fabricators overseas and construction professionals. The Pike Company, a mid-sized family construction company has successfully been using GTeam in over 15 projects. GTeam values its product in the specialized market and seeks to offer it at an affordable price, an aspect that sets it apart from other competing services. Already holding a large student user base, Gehry Technologies also hopes to be a useful cross platform for students and professors. In a time when international collaboration is necessary for competitions or assignments, the platform can ease long distance communication. Free lance architects, designers, even film and animation companies could take advantage of the service and use it for similar tasks.
With about $15 million dollars in funds from Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, and other private investors, GTeam is bound to be a premiere service used for production management. Recently hired on the new board of executives for Gehry Technologies are Deep Bhattacharya (EVP Business Development & Strategy), Matt Reid (SVP of Marketing), and Alex Kunz (Global Services), who will play an integral role in bringing GTeam’s services to a universal level. On July 24, 2012 Gehry Technologies acquired Bimshare, a privately owned Dutch company that offers a user-friendly BIM sharing solution, which GTeam has incorporated into its platform. Also cloud-based, Bimshare allows BIM models and data to be streamed with minimum resolution of detail and allows simple data transfers. Though according to Bhattacharya, “there are no compelling solutions available today that allow open, easy access to BIM data for design, construction, and facilitates management professionals,” the cloud-based BIM market boasts other competing software such as Autodesk BIM 360 Glue, Bentley ProjectWise, Veo, Autodesk Buzzsaw, and Dropbox. These competing software have been out on the market for the last couple of years, but lack the convenience of the universal management system GTeam brings to the table—sharing content with others and file viewing is a lot more simple when centrally located on one platform. While Autodesk is GTeam’s main competitor it is also one of its main investors; collaboration between the two companies will seek to assist the AEC industry with more synced BIM and 3D modeling software in the upcoming years.
Gehry Technologies and GTeam have recently helped construct a façade for AEDAS’s Abu Dhabi Investment Council Headquarters, reducing the energy load of the building by almost 20%. Director of Research at Gehry Technologies Andrew Witt comments that “more and more, building owners and designers are aiming for major increases in sustainability, efficiency and economy in new projects, and they are turning to technology to achieve those goals.” The ICHQ features a solar-responsive dynamic shading screen that decreases solar gain, which Gehry Technologies assisted with from the schematic design through its construction, simulating its movement, response, and constructability in an integrated BIM model. Gehry Technologies’ team of digital specialists not only provided the technology for such design, but assisted in making better and faster choices throughout the process.
During a Harvard Business Review interview, Gehry argued that what made his Bilbao so great wasn’t just having a great client, but collaborating with the decision maker. It’s important to hold the client as a top priority but to get out of designing something our of your client’s ‘normal’ bias you’ve got to “glean all the information you can. And then throw it all away and begin to play.” Now more than ever can we play with software, producing a menu of iterations for clients to choose from. GTeam harnesses the relationship and communication between client and project team, keeping the client informed of the progress of a project without even having to formally give a presentation.
Gehry’s 3D centric approach to design is a trend in the BIM industry that has shifted from a brand typology to one that is quickly showing variation and style. Passing down the hands of today’s leading architects, Zaha Hadid’s Guanzhou Opera House and HOK’s Kaust Solar Tower showcase how data driven design is only becoming more daring, sustainable, and efficient. When we are able to design and construct to the detail of 7 decimal points, a world of possibilities lie in the future of design. As younger generations have already adopted digital tools as the hands for virtual interaction, a tool like GTeam can only open more options for diversity in design and international collaboration. We have only just begun the journey of digital architecture, but GTeam can help us there faster.