AECbytes "Building the Future"
Article (July 29, 2010)
Trelligence Affinity: Extending BIM to Space Programming and Planning
The design process for a building project begins long before even a single line is drawn, on paper or on the computer. It starts with the client’s brief, which may be very detailed or extremely sketchy, or somewhere in between. From this brief, a detailed building program (also known as “space program”) is typically developed, listing all the spaces, groups, or functions that are required in the building, approximate areas, desired adjacencies, inter-relationships, and any other specific requirements. For a small project, the building program is usually developed by the architect, but as the size of the project increases, so does the complexity of the building program, and experts are often brought in to assist specifically with this “pre-design” phase.
In a typical design workflow, the programming phase is followed by the conceptual design phase, where the architect develops the form of the building using 3D massing models in conjunction with developing a “space plan” that satisfies the programmatic requirements of the building. Space planning here refers to the specific ability to create and manipulate spaces needed at the conceptual stage—walls, doors, and windows don’t come into play yet, neither does the ability to create and manipulate objects in 3D. All that is needed is the ability to create various kinds of 2D enclosed shapes, label them, configure them quickly, manipulate them efficiently, and keep track of what their areas are. In short, this phase focuses only on spaces at a very abstracted level.
While a large number of competing solutions are available for conceptual 3D modeling as well as later phases included detailed design, engineering, documentation, project management, construction, and facilities management, the area of space programming and planning in the AEC technology industry is dominated mainly by one solution: Affinity from Trelligence. Not only does it have architectural programming, space planning, and schematic design capabilities, it also integrates bi-directionally with BIM applications like Revit and ArchiCAD, allowing BIM to be extended to the pre-design phase of building projects. This is important since one of our key requirements from BIM is to have a meaningful connection between each of the different phases of a building’s lifecycle, starting from its initial planning all the way through to its occupancy, management, and if necessary, eventual demolition. In some earlier “Building the Future” articles, we have explored extending BIM to construction through the use of model-based estimating as well as extending BIM to facilities management. In this article, we will look at how BIM can be extended to the space programming and planning phase of building design through the use of Trelligence Affinity.
Let’s start off by briefing exploring if any of the BIM applications have any space programming and planning capabilities of their own that can allow BIM to be extended to this phase more easily by their users.
Space Planning and Programming Capabilities in BIM Applications
Of all the BIM applications, Vectorworks Architect is the only one that has a dedicated module for space programming. Data about the building program can be entered in a preformatted space planning worksheet with area and adjacency information. Once this worksheet is completed, it can be used to generate a bubble diagram, a stacking diagram, and an adjacency matrix. The bubble diagram (initially) shows each space as a square, sized according to its specified area. The connections between spaces are shown by lines of varying thickness, depending upon the strength of the relationship. This bubble diagram can also be used for some basic space planning—it allows the spaces to be moved as well as reshaped or resized, and indicates the corresponding efficiency of the resultant layout by a score, facilitating the creation of an optimal layout (see Figure 1). The area of the spaces can be displayed alongside and different colors and patterns can be applied to them. The stacking diagram shows each floor of the building, the total area allocated to it (which has to be specified separately), and the area taken up by the individual spaces on it. The area exceeded or left over can also be graphically seen, which is helpful. The spaces created using the bubble diagramming tools in Vectorworks Architect can subsequently be automatically converted to walls, if required, to jumpstart the design process.
Figure 1. The space programming tools in Vectorworks Architect.
Two other BIM applications that have some rudimentary space programming and planning capabilities are Bentley Architecture and Allplan Architecture. With Bentley Architecture, you can import a list of space requirements contained in a spreadsheet and use the associated area information to automatically create spaces of the correct size that can then be arranged to explore different spatial layout options. The spaces can be resized, if required, and color-coded based on specified criteria. This was illustrated in my last review of Bentley Architecture V8i. Similarly, Allplan Architecture also allows a room list to be entered in a table or imported from Excel, based on which spaces can be automatically created and used to explore different spatial layout options. Both applications allow the spaces to be converted to walls to jump-start the detailed design process from the space plan. However, they do not have any capabilities for bubble diagrams, adjacency matrix, and space links with scores, similar to what Vectorworks provides.
In contrast to the other BIM applications, Revit Architecture and ArchiCAD do not provide any built-in tools for space programming at all. However, they do allow some level of space planning by using the Room and Zone tools (in Revit and ArchiCAD respectively) prior to creating walls, and can generate schedules showing the room areas that can then be manually checked against the building program. It is interesting to note that these are the only two BIM applications that integrate bidirectionally with Trelligence Affinity, indicating that they have may have chosen to rely on a third-party plug-in to provide comprehensive space programming and planning capabilities rather than developing them in-house.
Let’s move on to look at Trelligence Affinity and how it works.
Overview of Trelligence Affinity
Trelligence is a Houston-based software company founded in early 2002 that is focused on enhancing the design process through tools for architectural programming, space planning and early conceptual and schematic design. Its Affinity product, officially launched at the AIA 2006 convention, was the first commercial software for architectural programming and still remains the only one. Its growing adoption in the AEC industry can be gauged from an impressive client list that includes Burt Hill, Cogdell Spencer ERDMAN, FKP Architects, HDR Architecture, HOK, Kurt Salmon Associates, Lavallee Brensinger Architects, Linbeck Construction, SOM , and Visions in Architecture. Its success is also indicated by a growing number of resellers worldwide, listed at http://www.trelligence.com/find_reseller.php. In addition, Trelligence has partnered with Graphisoft and Autodesk and is working with many of their resellers as well. Thus, the application is slowly but surely gaining momentum.
Affinity is available as a stand-alone application or with plug-ins to the latest versions of Revit Architecture, ArchiCAD, and SketchUp. The main application includes customizable questionnaires that can be used to capture project and client requirements in depth to develop a space program (see Figure 2), which can then be used to drive the creation of schematic designs using integrated space planning tools. Additionally, requirements that specify spatial relationships, finish details, and size/cost constraints can be added to a project. A data analysis engine keeps track of all the requirements as the design is developed, and allows them to be reviewed to ensure validity in the design. Once the schematic design has been finalized, it can be exported in DXF and SVG formats to any CAD or BIM application for further development. Relevant project information can also be exported to cost estimation and project management tools if required.
Figure 2. A detailed space program of a sample project defined in Trelligence Affinity.
In the case of Revit Architecture, ArchiCAD, and SketchUp, the Affinity plug-ins enable bidirectional integration, which allows the design development in these applications to continue to be tracked against the client's requirements captured in Affinity (see Figure 3). The Affinity model is directly loaded into these applications, providing the designer with real-time access to the Affinity space program and detailed project requirements throughout the design phase. As the design progresses, Affinity provides ongoing analysis of the design's compliance to the program requirements, alerting the designer to program violations, thereby helping the design team to make more informed decisions and deliver designs that meet the client's requirements.
Figure 3. Bidirectional integration between Trelligence Affinity and Revit Architecture for the same sample project shown in Figure 2.
Let us explore how the application works in more detail.
How Affinity Works
The first step in using Affinity is to develop the space program of the project. This can be done directly in Affinity or by importing a spreadsheet in CSV format and using that as the starting point for further development. Even complex Excel spreadsheets can be imported into Affinity with some level of customization. Within Affinity itself, program requirements, including spaces and their desired properties, can be captured through the use of customizable questionnaires that can be shared with both internal and external team members, allowing all the relevant parties to participate easily in the requirements gathering process. Data can be also be directly entered into forms in the application. Like the questionnaires, these forms can be customized by a firm to capture the information in a particular order and at a desired level of detail. The space program is developed by selecting the space type and the required quantities or areas for each space. Spaces can be organized in meaningful groups based on departments or categories of spaces, with multiple nesting levels, as shown in Figure 4. The spaces and groups in the pick lists are customized based on the project template that was selected when the project was created. Trelligence provides some templates for demonstration purposes, but it is expected that firms will create their own templates for different project types to make it easier to develop the space program for a specific project.
Figure 4. Creating a space program by creating various groups and spaces of specific types and properties within the groups.
Once the space program is defined, schematic designs can be created using the program items as building blocks. Affinity includes some basic site planning capabilities, which allows a site to be defined with dimensions and setbacks as well as site objects such as trees, roads, and so on. More detailed planning can also be done by using the actual survey data of the site. After the site, each story of the building can be laid out graphically by dragging and dropping program items, spaces, and objects from the space program. The spaces can take on varied shapes, allowing Affinity to be used for developing actual floor plans (see Figure 5). Each story can be represented on a separate tab, making it easy to switch between them; recent enhancements allow the same story to be seen in multiple tabs and change the presentation of it (e.g., color-coding with different properties, or changing the wall style or shape such as rounded rectangle versus regular rectangle) to view it from different perspectives. Also, the spaces in Affinity are three-dimensional, information-rich objects for which any amount of data can be recorded for use in design development or analysis. A lot of this data can be captured in detail in the templates used to create new projects, so that it does not have to be re-entered each time a similar space is created.
Figure 5. Developing a space plan for different stories of the building, using the information defined earlier in the space program.
The schematic design in Affinity can be developed up to a surprisingly highly level of detail, with each space including details about its cost and area data, finish, use, and so on, all visible in the Property tab (see Figure 6). Calculated information is highlighted in gray and required information is flagged with a lock. It is even possible to place some furniture items, as shown in Figure 6. If the schematic design does not satisfy a program requirement, for example, a desired adjacency, it is highlighted in red in the Requirements tab.
Figure 6. Adding detailed information to a space in the schematic design.
It is also possible to work in a project outline view, which is another tab in the Schematic Design area of Affinity (see Figure 7). This provides all the detail of the plan in a hierarchical mode. You can drag spaces, openings, objects, and so on from their respective libraries on the left navigation pane in Affinity or add items defined in the space program just as you can do on the story views. Data can be edited in this tabular view, making it easy to create an initial plan before even thinking about the graphical layout.
Figure 7. Using the Project Outline mode to view and develop project information in a hierarchical mode.
Affinity also includes vertical stacking capabilities, recently introduced in its new 6.0 release that was launched at the AIA 2010 convention. It allows departments to be arranged vertically between floors using an interactive, color-coded drag and drop interface (see Figure 8). You can also view the design in 3D with pan and rotate capabilities to better visualize the design (see Figure 9).
Figure 8. The new vertical stacking capabilities in Affinity allow vertical planning of the building in addition to individual floor plans.
Figure 9. Using the 3D visualization capabilities of Affinity.
The most useful aspect of using Affinity is its project analysis and validation capability. It can analyze the schematic design, compare it with the specified requirements, and highlight issues in the design that are not complying with the program. Issues are highlighted in red, both interactively in the schematic design interface as well as in reports such as the one shown in Figure 10. The application includes the capability to generate a large number of reports, with the use of style sheets for customized label displays and report styles that allow users to tailor the look and feel to match their firm’s brand style. One of the reporting capabilities, for example, is for early stage cost estimation, as shown in Figure 11. Cost is defined at the project level in a hierarchical structure so you can add specific cost to any space or item in the plan or allow the defaults to provide a thumb-nail sketch of cost based on the size and quantity of spaces. The application can handle both fixed and variable cost for any item in the plan.
Figure 10. A Space Program report in Affinity highlighting in red the spaces that are not compliant with program requirements.
Figure 11. An early stage cost summary of a project based on its schematic design in Affinity.
In addition to the main functionality and workflow of the application just described, recent releases of the application have included several useful enhancements such as the ability to experiment with multiple design scenarios, faster space layout with snapping and alignment indicators, user-definable program views, a bubble diagramming interface that allows relationship and adjacency requirements between spaces to be visually defined, and support for the IFC and gbXML file formats. The new release of the application, version 6.0, includes a major interface overhaul with a new look and feel, new icons and color scheme, and improved organization of menus, views, item details, tools, and settings. In addition to the vertical stacking capability mentioned earlier, a dramatic new feature in Affinity 6.0 is the ability to create color-coded layouts that can be used to develop conceptual designs, create process diagrams, or prepare groups of spaces such as departments, hospital wings, or patient pods. Layout views are independent of the program and design menus; they can be added to the space program, or placed in any schematic design view. An example of the new Layout capability in Affinity was illustrated in the recent article on the AIA 2010 convention.
And finally, a critical new capability in version 6.0 is the ability to share an Affinity project for a distributed project team to work on collaboratively, both in online as well as offline modes (see Figure 12). The project file is stored in a central repository for shared access by the project team, which can be configured for one or multiple MSSQL database(s) as well, making the project information available for firms interested in data-mining. In the online mode, users can collaborate dynamically in real time with on-site or multi-site project teams, while in the offline mode, users have access to lock and commit functions, which enable editing of all or part of a project while avoiding overwriting of other team members’ work.
Figure 12. The new collaborative worksharing capability of Trelligence Affinity, showing how the offline and onine modes work.
Trelligence Affinity continues to be the only dedicated tool in the AEC industry that provides architects and designers with sophisticated spatial analysis capability to assist in the early planning and design phases of complex building projects. We saw that most of the current BIM solutions have limited space programming and planning capabilities, and thus have no way to analyze or evaluate a design against the customer's project requirements. Affinity has the potential to bridge this gap. This potential has been further enhanced by its ability to integrate and have a two-way communication with BIM applications like Revit and ArchiCAD, so that the design can be checked for validity even when it is being further developed and finalized in them. Affinity can thus be seen as a complementary solution to BIM applications, filling in the knowledge about the intended use of a building that these applications don't capture.
While a good building program will not, in and of itself, guarantee a good building, a poorly thought-out program will almost always lead to a badly-designed building. While not every architect may feel the need to use an application for building programming and space planning, for those that do, especially those working on large and complex projects, it is great that a dedicated application for this purpose does exist, and that it has the added bonus of integrating bidirectionally with two of the leading BIM applications used by architects today.
About the Author
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of
AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture
from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent
building modeling, and consults
and writes on AEC technology. She can be
reached at email@example.com.