Firm Profile: BuroHappold Engineering AECbytes Profile (April 12, 2018)

BuroHappold Engineering, an international, integrated engineering consultancy operating in 23 locations worldwide, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

BuroHappold Engineering is an independent, international engineering practice. Over the last 40 years, the practice has become synonymous with the delivery of creative, value-led building and city solutions, seek to address the major problems facing societies today.

The practice started in a townhouse in Bath with Sir Ted Happold, and now works on every continent. Its clients include over 90% of the world’s leading architectural practices. BuroHappold regularly collaborates with global organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank and UNESCO.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

BuroHappold Engineering has always focused on solving difficult problems and bringing to life challenging projects. For example, the Louvre Abu Dhabi project that opened in 2017 is a great example of how the blend of engineering expertise and mobilizing technology has delivered a superior outcome for the client, operators, and visitors alike.  The same can be said of Macau’s City of Dreams project, designed by Zaha Hadid, with its incredibly intricate exoskeleton. This project is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. One of BuroHappold’s recent projects with challenging geometry—Macau’s City of Dreams Morpheus (Courtesy: Zaha Hadid Architects).

The firm is now focusing on harnessing increasingly powerful computational techniques to optimize value for clients and to stimulate creativity in engineering problem solving, allowing complex architectural visions to be realized. For example, for the Museum of the Future project in the UAE—a complex design including calligraphy through a curved external structure making for a potentially high-risk project—BuroHappold created a digital twin and was able to explore every possible option resulting in a significantly de-risked build. Other similar projects include the Museum of the 20th Century in Berlin; the West Kowloon Terminus footbridges in Kowloon, Hong Kong; the World Towers in Mumbai, India; the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles; and many more (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Some other key BuroHappold projects. Top: West Kowloon Terminus footbridges in Kowloon, Hong Kong (Courtesy: Aedas). Bottom: Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles (Courtesy: Renzo Piano Building Workshop).

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

Technology and its use are in the DNA of BuroHappold; using technology to supercharge design is a fundamental belief that underlines every area of its practice. Mobilizing technology allows BuroHappold to push what is possible for clients and collaborators.  The practice’s investment in technology has led to the creation of proprietary software. Specifically designed to capture designs and model potential outcomes, BuroHappold works with clients to optioneer designs beyond what has been previously imagined, into what is now possible.    

An example is BuroHappold’s Smart Space team, which combines the power of data analytics and modeling integrated with BIM, GIS and cloud technologies within the design and decision making process to unlock and maximize the value of buildings and urban spaces. It has developed software that allows museum operators to test the best entry and exit points in order to increase donations by 500%; for hospitals to achieve £3mn cost savings through improved use of space, increasing clinic time and improving patient satisfaction; and for offices to fine tune their layouts, meeting spaces, and environmental settings to improve interactions, productivity and space utilization. An example is the masterplan development shown in Figure 3 where the team worked on a range of optioneering with the architects to maximize the area of the development, comfort conditions in the park, and ultimately enhancing the quality of the residential scheme.

Figure 3. An example of a masterplan development using optioneering by the Smart Space team. (Courtesy BuroHappold Engineering).

Another example is a corporate HQ building where the team developed realtime web-based dashboard connecting to IoT sensors and cloud platform to access live and historical data from sensors capturing people activities, environmental conditions (temperature, noise, CO2, etc.), and space utilization (Figure 4). This demonstrated opportunities for significant improvements in space utilization (through better meeting room designs), productivity (through improved CO2 level for all of people time), and employee interactions (through optimized layouts, and informal collaboration spaces).

Figure 4. An example of realtime analytics for a corporate HQ building by the Smart Space team. (Courtesy BuroHappold Engineering).

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

The emphasis is on the use of technology to solve real-world problems for BuroHappold’s clients and collaborators.  The philosophy is that in the same way as there is now a computer on every desk, BuroHappold should have BIM on every desk for every project, and every engineer should be able to mobilize the power of code and data. 

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

BuroHappold has a successful track record of implementing technology across the practice. A lot of work goes into providing the environment and frameworks to embrace both new approaches and new technologies. Technology underpins the approach to problem solving within the practice.

Working with some of most innovative architects and clients across the globe, these relationships have helped BuroHappold find projects that allow it to try and test new ideas.  The practice has over 2,500 projects in progress at any one point in time. As such, maintaining the culture of innovation and continuously improving takes focus and dedication. The leadership recognizes that the energy that is required to keep re-inventing is significant. However, the rewards are substantial, especially when its interventions in projects deliver exceptional buildings that provide economic benefits with remarkable environment performance. One example is The Tower, PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh (Figure 5), which not only meets but actually exceeds LEED Platinum criteria—92% naturally lit during the day and 71% reduction in embodied carbon.

Figure 5. The Tower at PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a BuroHappold project that exceeds LEED Platinum criteria. One of the sustainable design strategies was that implemented was a solar chimney, also shown, making it one of the first high-rises to incorporate this feature (Courtesy: Connie Zhou).

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

The digital transformation of the AEC industry has only just started.  The level of adoption and transformation in AEC is at the level of adoption of the Internet in the 1990’s; the impact is not yet broadly visible—no YouTube, no Amazon, and pre-Facebook. However, we are rapidly evolving the technology, work patterns and project partnerships to be data-centric and cloud-enabled.  

BuroHappold is focusing its technology on the creation of a live collaborative design ecosystem. The goal is to re-shape the project space and re-define the conversation between the users, the owners, the design teams, and the constructions teams, to align delivery of shared outcomes.  Specifically, BuroHappold predicts that all design information will be captured as code, that information exchange will be driven in the cloud, and machine learning will be mobilized to augment the processes.  AI is coming to our industry, which for BuroHappold means “Augmented Intelligence” rather than “Artificial Intelligence.” It believes that the key benefit of the computational approach in our field is to augment humans, allowing us to regain time to be designers, spend time with clients and other team members to consult better, to be more creative, and to understand constraints. Machine learning should allow us to mobilize data in design by helping us find new insights.

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

BuroHappold’s wish list would include being able to find more architects and clients that believe in the transformative power of technology—clients that wish to embrace technology to re-define what is possible in the built environment, not only as part of the construction process, but across the whole lifecycle of the asset including day to day operations, refit and eventually decommission.

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology implementation that the firm would like to share?

We live in exciting times: technology has never been as powerful as today.  Unlocking the value of data at scale is the next breakthrough.  This requires practices to work individually and collectively to:

  • Adopt a data mindset to deliver outcomes, rather than to deliver an asset.

  • Build the technology for a connected ecosystem for design, construction and operations.

BuroHappold Engineering is actively engaged in both – internally and externally.

Internally, the firm has a practice-wide “Hackademy” program to bring a data and code mindset in its design thinking.  Every client outcome, every project outcome, will be super-charged by data and code.  The mindset is that “Dynamo” is the new “Excel”—models are used in every project, and visual programming is used to instantiate and manipulate BIMs at scale and at speed.

Externally, BuroHappold promotes open-source principles to create a new AECO ecosystem.  We see every practice, every large organization, creating (or re-creating) data models, increasingly based on code and generative components. We see every project, every organization creating (or duplicating) cloud based repositories to replace silo-ed CDEs, in search of scalability and connectivity. We believe these efforts are most effective when undertaken collectively. 

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