People Profile: Guillermo Aranda-MenaAECbytes Profile (April 8, 2015)

Guillermo Aranda-Mena, Associate Professor at RMIT University, Melbourne, shares his perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
"I think being able to recycle old building structures and transform them into exciting new architecture is the next big thing."
What is your educational and professional background?

I am an Architect and Associate Professor at RMIT University, Melbourne. I divide my time between Australia, Singapore and Italy, conducting research, design, teaching and supervising Ph.D. students in the areas of architectural design, construction innovation and procurement. I carried out my undergraduate studies in Architecture in Mexico and Spain (1992 -1997) and my postgraduate research in the United Kingdom, including my Masters in Engineering at Loughborough University and Ph.D. in Construction Management at The University of Reading.

In 2003, after completing my Doctoral thesis, I moved to Australia to manage a number of projects under a government program know as the "Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation." I was first based in Newcastle, New South Wales and then at RMIT University in Melbourne. My research involved working in collaboration with industry sponsors such as Woods Bagot Architects, ARUP consulting engineers, John Holland GC and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (SCIRO).

I was the manager for preparing the National Guidelines for Digital Modelling (2008-10) and led a team to document high-end projects adopting BIM in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. Other projects and research I have undertaken include Business Drivers for BIM adoption in AEC and Smart Workplace Architecture.

What is your current role? What are the main projects you are involved with?

I currently hold a UNESCO Chair for Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, so I divide my year among four continents, travelling between Melbourne, Milano, Singapore and Mexico. This year I will also begin to travel regularly to Hong Kong to teach a "Construction Planning and Design" course which looks at large scale infrastructure development. I have been running this course successfully in Melbourne for a number of years.

Over the years, I have investigated areas of innovation in design, construction technologies and building procurement methods to enable collaboration across architecture, engineering and construction. My lectures and studios are generally run on an inter-disciplinary basis with students from architecture, planning, construction management, quantity surveying, and project and facilities management. I always strive to break the AEC silos (which are often formed as undergraduate students enroll in to their university degrees) and aim for greater collaboration between the professional disciplines. For projects, I encourage the students to make the best use of available AEC information technologies.

My latest postgraduate studio was conducted at Politecnico di Milano, where we worked on a design proposal for a controversial beachside redevelopment site in Melbourne known as the "St Kilda Triangle." It was very interesting to carry out a site analysis 17,000 kilometers away from the actual site but we used various visualization modes to visit the site, and I arranged for several professionals from Melbourne to connect online with us through live communication media to provide their insights into the site and the project. In reality, this is a controversial project as the redevelopment of the land is highly contended by different interest groups, so students in the Milan course got to experience the tensions across various stakeholders such as private and public interests.

Two of the design proposals for the "St Kilda Triangle" project from my studio.

I am also a founding member of MelBIM (www. melbim.com.au), which is the largest Building Information (BIM) industry forum in Australia and geared 60 AECbytes Magazine Q1 2015 for professionals, academics, postgraduate, and research students. The forum is open and welcomes students from different disciplines and universities and presents an excellent opportunity for networking. MelBIM is also looking to incorporate practical hands-on studios in its activities, where students from various Australian and international universities can join us in Melbourne and "virtually," on a bi-monthly basis.

And finally, I continue to pursue my background in architecture, advising clients on architectural intent as well as design outcomes.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

My interest started when I was studying architecture back in the mid-90's. As a student, I worked with a British General Contractor named Trafalgar House on projects across the Americas. The company headquarters for Latin-America were in my home city, Guadalajara, Mexico. It was a company with an interesting group of designers, engineers and builders working with the latest tools and techniques available at the time. Back then, we had a digital drawing-board and produced architectural and construction detailing in ArchiCAD. Our cost engineers used a French software application called Armaor to produce bills of quantities. I was personally involved in the design of marinas and tourist resorts for development sites along the west coast of Mexico and Baja California.

How much of what you do today is related to AEC technology in some form?

Pretty much everything, my practice, my research and my teaching is technology-based. Everything - but without losing sight of my 'stand alone' individual abilities, of course!

From your vantage point, what do you see as some of the main technological challenges facing the AEC industry today?

AEC is often a shortsighted and risk adverse industry … arguably this extends to society at large. Eventually things fall into place, they always do. Technology advances continue to surprise us - wearable computing is now a reality. Imagine all the possibilities AEC industries will be able to tap into i.e., vertically and horizontally integrated projects, practices, organizations, etc.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

In very unexpected ways, especially with virtual visualization and communication.

If you had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

Simple - tele-transportation!

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology that you would like to share?

Future activities for me include a project I am setting up with the He.Su.Tech Photogrammetry Laboratory at Politecnico di Milano. I want to apply fully informed BIM models to test my design ideas for architectural interventions in heritage sites. Technology can help us to test our ideas and manage this type of project so well; it can also help us to predict, control and deal with risks from design intent into project documentation and execution. I think being able to recycle old building structures and transform them into exciting new architecture is the next big thing.

I see a vision of a blurry future – there is much uncertainty and information technology advances so rapidly, but it is one where the divisions between AEC disciplines are not so clearly drawn, especially when it comes down to delivering quality buildings in the true architectural sense!

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