KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Nov 18 2010

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Designers spend so much time generating drawings, why can’t they be used after the buildings are complete?

I was talking with a senior person from Autodesk, the makers of the ubiquitous AutoCAD program, about the future of the design profession. Most of today’s buildings, structures, bridges and products are drawn with their software, so imagine the potential influence their interface could have on us in our design decisions. Our conversation began by talking about using mobile devices, but quickly moving into what happens to the CAD files after the building is built.

In reality, nothing happens. The files are archived and saved for legal and liability reasons.

Hundreds of man hours are spent to create a model of the buildings for the construction, mapping out the circulatory, respiration and skeletal systems of the finished structure. With a little foresight, these drawings could be used for the time after construction is complete, known as Post-Occupany.

The real impact of a building occurs in this post-occupancy period. Operating the lights, heating, computers, outlets and faucets hold the true environmental impact. Over 85% of the environmental impact of a building occurs post occupancy. The more information and measurements we have, the better we can operate our buildings.

For decades, architects and developers have used surveys, called “Post-Occupancy” evaluations, to determine how the finished building is used and enjoyed. With Green Buildings, such evaluations have helped determine the success of sustainability features, such as daylighting, energy management and thermal comfort.

Post-occupancy evaluations are vital to developing a high-performance building and may soon be required as part of certain building codes. Just read through California’s new CalGreen code to get a glimpse of the energy-efficient future of every building. Despite these advances, our detailed CAD drawings sit unused in a drawer.


A suggestion of how our mobile devices could augment our vision.

Imagine the possibilities of taking all of that data and making it available to the public. Ubiquitous and powerful mobile devices—all armed with cameras, GPS and internet connectivity—could overlay our CAD data onto the real world. Your iPhone could “see” through walls and show you where the studs are, where the plumbing is running and more. Repairs and additions could be simplified and opportunities to improve efficiency would emerge. In addition, a smart app could fetch the local planning code information and show you the virtual boundaries of a future addition.

Part of the step towards this future can be seen in Autodesk’s new AutoCAD WS software for the iPad, which allows you to open, markup and make minor edits to your CAD drawings onsite. I expect it won’t take long for a clever Facilities Manager to carry around a copy of the CAD drawings on his iPad or iPhone while inspecting the finished building.

Lastly, I am particularly thrilled that Autodesk has finally (re)released AutoCAD for the Mac.

You can download a free trial here.


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 18th, 2010 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Business, Green. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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