Architecture Engineering & ConstructionNovember 25, 2019

Pioneer New Paths In Architectural Design

Delivering solutions that meet the life safety and mission-critical needs of today,…
Avatar Matthew HALL

Delivering solutions that meet the life safety and mission-critical needs of today, while planning for the unexpected functions of tomorrow, is no easy feat.

Balancing Programmatic and Aesthetic Expectations

Hospitals and laboratories, for example, demand extraordinarily high levels of coordination between architectural design and MEP engineering teams to balance a multitude of air, water, and technology systems. Given that some of the critical technology and equipment that ultimately will go into the building has often not yet been developed, therefore these buildings must be designed to accommodate change—new functions, workflows, and other unforeseen conditions. These institutional projects must also appeal aesthetically to users and the surrounding communities. CO Architects views programmatic and engineering requirements as drivers for artful design solutions. The firm strives to design buildings that enrich the lives of the people who use them, gracefully fulfill functional and technical expectations, and appeal to the senses as well as to the intellect.

CO Architects has committed to pioneering new paths in architectural design using the latest digital technologies. The firm first committed to 100% digital documentation in the mid-1980s and led the industry in adopting BIM-enabled integrated project delivery in the early 2000s. Leadership saw that early adoption of technology enhances the design and delivery process. Solutions such as those from Dassault Systèmes have exponentially improved this process, bringing designer and builder together around shared technologies and creating more efficient, transparent, and collaborative processes. This ultimately results in higher quality, more rapidly delivered, and less costly buildings for clients.

Three Challenges Hold Back Next-Level Innovation

New digital solutions are expanding the limits of what is possible in architecture. But achieving these possibilities is often hampered by traditional approaches. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the industry today is the fact that the many players involved in bringing a building from concept to operation remain largely siloed. Delivery models have evolved. Digital tools have become the norm. Yet hurdles remain in the flow of information from design to engineering to fabrication to operation and continue to be a challenge on almost every project.

Consider the Following Universal Design and Construction Industry Challenges:

Shifting project responsibilities contribute to lack of project ownership.

New project delivery methods seek to gather greater levels of knowledge earlier and throughout the project lifecycle, but dated contractual roles hamper these efforts. Subcontractors are becoming involved early as design partners in design-assist teams, while designers are providing more insight during fabrication and even construction. But these blurring lines are challenging to define. Risk-averse team members too often focus on benefits to their entity over benefits to the project. This lack of project ownership can impact a building’s overall quality and final cost.

Disjointed tools add to inefficiency and waste.

Waste has long been a problem for the design and construction industry. Even as new software tools are introduced to make each trade more efficient, the lack of interoperability among these tools leads to a high level of rework and a loss of knowledge in the translation among tools and drawings. At every level there is a translation into the right tool to do the job better: designers use tools to boost early iteration; fabricators use tools to create greater level of detail; owners and permit agencies still expect 2D documents. The architect must recheck documents throughout the process to make sure the design intent is maintained, and correct any mistakes made in translation. The result is extraordinary levels of waste in time and money, as well as loss in data during handoff.

Communication must adapt to meet a range of end-user needs.

Architects are tasked with communicating a vision clearly to every project stakeholder. The first step is conveying a design intent that meets the client’s goals. CO Architects’ clients, for example, are often multi-layered, representing multiple segments of their organization from top administrators to facility directors to project managers. Many of these individuals are not accustomed to looking at architectural drawings. Utilizing 3D digital tools and physical representations offers another opportunity to clearly communicate the design intent to this wide range of project stakeholders. Design solutions must also be communicated to builders and contractors in a way that clearly explains the design intent appropriately through documentation. The architect often relies on the contractor’s reproduction of the design as shop drawings to convey back to the designer their understanding of it — a time-consuming exercise.

New Digital Solutions Lead to New Challenges

Today’s computational design solutions have allowed for a new level of complexity in design. Firms like CO Architects use computational design for:

  • Conceptual massing and master planning
  • Complex geometry development
  • Fast design iteration
  • Simulation for solar radiation, people movement, heat gain, daylighting, and more
  • Fabrication-level detail development
  • Rapid prototyping, model making and digital fabrication
  • Project documentation • Cost profiling

With New Tools Come New Risks:


Some computational design tools help young architects to iterate more rapidly in the early design process. However, the information that is produced tends to be fragmented. Should the designer move on to a new project, the knowledge of what led to certain decisions (or even which version is the appropriate to use) is lost, because that knowledge is not embedded within the model.

Lack of Interoperability

The architect’s contractual responsibility is often to produce a set of drawings, rather than a model or set of geometries. As a result, architects begin working with one tool to create rapid iterations. Then they transfer the information into another tool better suited to produce and manage drawings. From there, information is sent to the fabricator, who will transfer the data into another tool that allows for a high level of detail to machine directly. Moving data between multiple platforms limits the level of information that can be shared. There are ways to transfer information from program to program, but developing those solutions is not easy and takes time. Working with a multitude of models may cause staff to spend an exorbitant amount of time organizing, sharing, and troubleshooting information. In addition, few conceptual design software options are able to deliver a model that can be easily adapted for fabrication processes due to accuracy challenges, compatibility, and geometry limitations.

Too much data?

Architects, engineers, contractors and owners all look at project information through different lenses. Some only want information on geometry or quantity or maintenance needs. Providing all project information to each of these parties leads to information-overload. In addition, high levels of detail will affect model performance and, therefore, are often avoided to the detriment of information completeness and efficiency. For example, once design process iteration is purged from the models to improve speed, there is no going back to a previous version, drastically limiting design flexibility.


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