Firm Profile: luis vidal + architects AECbytes Profile (October 22, 2018)

luis vidal + architects, an international architectural practice that has offices across Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Dominican Republic, the United States, and Chile, and an international workforce of over 150 architects, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

The practice was founded in 2004 by architect Luis Vidal, with the mission of establishing an international architectural practice where talented architects could join the team. Currently, luis vidal + architects is an international workforce of over 150 architects with a strong background and a solid experience in a wide range of disciplines. The practice has opened offices across Spain, United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Chile and United States, building up a consistent career path expressed in more than 200 projects at different scales (urban planning, building and industrial design), providing high quality and innovative design to challenging projects, delivering the best architecture. The U.S. headquarters is located in Houston, Texas. The practice’s transport architecture portfolio includes over 30 international airport projects, highlighting the 27 times international award-winning London Heathrow Terminal 2, awarded World’s Best Terminal Airport at the Skytrax Awards in 2018.

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

Our practice’s current commitments in the U.S. comprise Boston Logan International Airport’s Terminal E modernization (in collaboration with AECOM); the complete overhaul of Denver Airport’s Jeppesen Terminal´s Great Hall; and the redefinition of the interior design brief of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Among other important projects are the Terminal Modernization Program at Pittsburgh International Airport (in association with Gensler and HDR); the design of the new International Terminal Building in Santiago, Chile (in association with ADPI); and the full renovation at Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo. We are also working on several masterplans, healthcare projects and business parks in America and Europe (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. Some of the airport (top row) and cultural (bottom row) projects that luis vidal + architects is working on.

Figure 2. Los Robles Master Plan by luis vidal + architects in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic.

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

It is part of luis vidal + architects’ DNA to add value in every single work avoiding conventional standards. We knew that to make revolutionary projects, it was necessary to invest in the newest technology and having a design team with wide professional expertise. That is how we became leaders in the sector. We had to be the first and adapt our mindset and skills to a new era, the era of connectivity. We decided to implement digital strategies when designing. That is how we started using BIM (Building Information Modeling), being one of the first architectural practices using this technology. The implementation of this system allowed us to distinguish two types of work: an intellectual one, where architects, engineers and designers have a key role in project decisions; and a physical production, where virtual reality, 3D printing and cloud computing are our main tools to develop large scale projects. As we are an international team which works 24 hours a day with offices all over the world, we need this collaborative environment of common data in real time (Figures 3 and 4). The deep utility of this revolutionary system is proven daily. And the results in London Heathrow Terminal 2, the AMB International Airport in Santiago, or Castellana 77 in Madrid speak for themselves.

Figure 3. The real-time collaboration process across international offices at luis vidal + architects.

Figure 4. Use of Autodesk BIM 360 for collaboration.

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

Our BIM philosophy is based on three specific concepts:

Transformation and improvements: BIM implementation represents a real transformation of our procedures applied to Project Management, Planning and Design development. Furthermore, these changes have implied an investment in hardware, software and a skilled team.

Continuous training program: All team members have the possibility of sharing certain aspects about design tools and learning new methods. These weekly meetings result in improvements that allow us to work on several options and solutions to ensure our client´s satisfaction.

Information workflow: Our BIM understanding is based on a common data environment in which we analyze and simulate decisions during all phases of a project, having big data access and sharing information with internal and external collaborators (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Use of Revit, Navisworks, and Dynamo at luis vidal + architects.

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

The main challenge our firm faces is unlocking the full potential of the digital tools available today. We are surrounded by wonderful software, able to generate a great deal of valuable information. But all this software is developed by different companies, with different standards and diverse outputs. They work perfectly independently, but the reality is that the model “travels” from one software to another. This makes it harder for design teams to seamlessly use the information between programs. The model is the same, but the format needed to import and export is not always optimum.

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

The future we see of AEC is based on the technology available today, that is, collaborative design. BIM has brought together under one model, designer, engineers and construction managers. But there is still a long road ahead on this merger between design and construction process.  At luis vidal + architects, we foresee that construction sites and design offices will come closer together, maybe even become a united in an offsite construction office. Autonomous drone site control, remote controlled construction machinery, virtual site visits, augmented reality coordination meetings, and so on, are all technologies that will close the gap between construction and design.

The relation between designers and clients will also evolve. We make huge efforts to communicate to the client their vision for the project. Still images, videos, floorplans, models—they all try to connect the client to the designer’s mind. But while the designer can experience what he or she is designing, sharing it with the client is a huge uphill process. At luis vidal + architects, we use real time rendering, 3d modeling, virtual headsets and augmented reality glasses to introduce our client in the design process in a new way. We believe that virtual reality can immerse the client in the designed proposal. In doing this the language gap between the architect and the client disappears, integrating and empowering the client in the design process.

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

We would love to see a factory-like construction sites. The construction industry has seen a slow evolution throughout the years. Construction sites do not differ much from the ones we could see ten, twenty years ago. An intense upgrade in the technology used onsite is key to unlocking the potential of remote construction.

We would also love to have VR headsets that don’t cover nearly half of your head. They make the experience less human since you are fully disconnected from the rest of the world. A see-through headset that makes your face recognizable to others in the room will grant a more natural experience while still being projected to the virtual space.

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