Body Lawson Associates: Firm Profile

What is the history and background of the firm?

Body Lawson Associates (BLA) is a firm with architecture, interior design, planning, urban design and historic preservation capabilities. Over the past 25 years, BLA, with a practice largely in the New York City greater metropolitan area, has delivered professional services that create sustainable buildings that blend into their context while elevating the sense of place. Helmed by architect Victor Body-Lawson, AIA, the firm has successfully completed projects for a wide range of clients including corporate, private, institutional, public, and not-for-profit sectors. The project types range from small interior and residential commissions to multi-family housing, public and private academic buildings, facilities for health and recreation, commercial projects, the rehabilitation of historically significant structures, and urban design and planning projects. The firm is especially known for excellence in corporate space planning and interior design.

BLA is a 100% minority-owned firm with a reputation for achieving success on difficult inner-city projects. It has collaborated with numerous firms such as Davis Brody Bond, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Hugo Subotovsky Architects, and most recently WXY Studio.

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

BLA is currently focused on the following services: planning and urban design, master planning, land use studies, architectural design, interior design, historic preservation, condition surveys, code compliance studies, regulatory and agency approvals, and construction management. Some key projects that BLA has worked and is working on include Crotona Park Apartments on Southern Boulevard and Senda mix-use apartments, in Bronx, NY; LaGree Baptist Church and Holy Trinity Church in Harlem, NY; Baltimore Redevelopment project in Baltomire, MD; and an urban planning project in Lagos, Nigeria (Figure 1). Some of the firm’s newest projects are The Peninsula, a 740-unit affordable mixed-use campus, and Marcus Garvey Village, a 19-story housing development with 169 units of affordable housing, both in New York.

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

BLA has always incorporated AEC technology in its practice. Since its inception in 1993, BLA has used CADD to produce high-level architecture drawings that have been turned into award winning buildings. Currently, BLA approaches project development with the latest AEC tools such as Revit, Morpholio Trace, SketchUp, and Rhino along with Photoshop. The use of BIM allows BLA to have all of the information required through all phases of planning, design, construction, and operation of the building in versatile and effective ways.

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

The firm's approach has been to incorporate AEC technologies in all facets of its work, from the initial schematic design to construction drawings and project management. More details about how it uses different tools are provided below.

Revit

BLA uses Revit and Revit Architecture primarily (Figure 2), and our projects are multidisciplinary, so the engineers and other consultants work off of the same model. We also use AutoCAD, which is preferred by some of the consultants. We have created libraries for Revit and other standards that include details and specifications for windows, doors, wall sections, and more, that help us to work more efficiently. These objects and assemblies in the libraries are adapted by different project teams according to needs of each situation and project.

Morpholio Trace

Morpholio Trace is an app developed for architects and graphic designers, and it is my [Victor’s] personal go-to app, which I mostly use on my iPad Pro to review drawings, including those made in Revit and AutoCAD (Figure 3). I can use the app to make corrections, suggestions, and other notations. I also use it to mark up early versions of renderings or drawings generated from AutoCAD, as well as for pre-schematic design work that is later made into Revit and AutoCAD files.

Morpholio Trace is really good for architects, and I highly recommend it. The program has scales — unlike many other graphic programs -- but it is more intuitive and not as technical as Sketchup, which I use as well, mainly for massing studies. Morpholio Trace has various pen types and colors, and we use it frequently as a tool to prepare graphic presentations.  It also has an augmented reality (AR) feature that we use on site visits, where we take photos of the existing building or site, add a new building, and use the application to create a new rendering. The application is convenient to set up with vanishing points and perspective lines, all generated by using the AR feature.

Rhino and SketchUp

BLA’s project teams like to use Rhino to develop 3D drawings and do some preliminary renderings (Figure 4). We then migrate that work into Photoshop to develop additional 3D renderings.

Another benefit of using Rhino is that Rhino and Revit are integrated, allowing all our work in Rhino to be moved across platforms and into other design and construction workflows.

We also use Sketchup for these same approaches, which can provide a fast and user-friendly alternative for 3D drawings and rendering starting points (Figure 5).

Traditional Media

For the initial schematic design phases, we are using Morpholio Trace as well as Sketchup and Rhino. But my pre-schematic process includes the use of varied traditional media, including acrylic on canvas. I also use a lot of collages and 3D collages with found objects. About half of my project-related paintings involve some kind of construction material—I have used recycled doors, or wooden rulers and spatulas to apply the paint. These early project works always incorporate some kinds of materials from the built environment.

For our Home Street Residence, and affordable housing development in the Bronx, New York, we created a number of paintings in the design process and then more for installation in the finished building’s hallways, lobby, and community center. The paintings are all on recycled doors as a substrate.

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

One of our main challenges is that there are a large variety of new technologies always coming up that are difficult to choose from, making us constantly work on reviewing and adopting appropriate technologies before integrating them into our workflow.

Another challenge for our firm has been the advancement and integration of software and hardware, where we find a constant evolution of both systems that complicates choices of the other. We have been working hard to synchronize both elements, hardware and software, year after year. In the last few months when our teams were working remotely, the adaptation of our AEC technologies to the remote working scenario has been slowing things down. The software has to work seamlessly, for example, and it has to be on broadband, so that every team member can communicate effectively. You can now discuss a project in real time without having to email — the broadband has to be robust enough to match the advances of the hardware and software.

Security is also a big challenge — it is always in the back of my mind! Are we going to be hacked? Is our system strong and robust enough to provide for business continuity? If something crashes, for example, do we have the most up-to-date saves of the work done?

And since we are now working remotely, we have this new and central issue of how we secure the work we are doing. It could be hacked simply because there are outside groups who already know we are working on these projects. About six months ago, for example, our system went down, and we had months of work we had to rebuild. And I know colleagues who were hacked and some hijacked by malware; they ended up having to pay ransomware.

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

On the whole, we see AEC technology as becoming more versatile, faster, and easier to implement. However, we hope it can also better address the twin challenges of security and robust remote work.  Additionally, most of the manufacturing world is adopting robotics, and we have not embraced these technologies much in the AEC world. I see the AEC industry in the future starting to better integrate AI and robotics into our work. Our use of 3D printers is basically an adoption of robotics, but is it possible to look more closely at augmented reality?

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

Our wish list comprises Fusion 360 for 3D Printing and FDM Technology workflow, AI programs integrated for architecture, the integration of Sustainability & Energy workflow templates for Autodesk BIM tools, ArcGIS location analysis, and Drone Photography. These are all elaborated on below:

3D Printing and FDM Technology

3D printing is a useful tool, especially for the initial phases of a project. Although 3D software offers a very realistic view of the project and design, there is something unique about being able to physically feel and see the model. Especially when we have to test out options for form, spatiality, functionality, and materials.

Another benefit of a physical model has to do with how we approach our clients. This makes it easier for us to convey our ideas and makes it easier for our clients to visualize them, providing a visual perspective that blueprints, drawings, and digital 3D models cannot achieve. 3D printing works as a bridge between the use of AEC technologies and reality.

Fusion 360 is an Autodesk software that is compatible with CAD, Rhino, and SketchUp files, as well as Revit files that are exported as SAT files. Our work is based on the use of these last-mentioned tools, so implementing F360 would be a game changer that would help us transform our projects in just a few steps into physical models with even more details than traditional techniques and using just enough materials without wasting anything.

AI for Architecture

Although we know that human creativity cannot be replaced, artificial intelligence can help to potentiate our performance in architecture. Some of the ways in which artificial intelligence is being used by architects and designers is in data management and parametric design.

Parametric design is a technique that allows creatives to change the shape of a model geometry through specialized software like Grasshopper to create more complex and versatile geometric designs. Implementing this type of design in our office can contribute not only to the development of creative and original designs for our buildings externally, but also to the interior design of these projects.

Sustainability, Energy Workflow Templates, and Location Analysis

ArcGIS is a geographic information system that allow us to bring our data and use it for analysis and data exploration. Implementing this tool would be a way to get detailed environmental impact assessment that will change the way we approach sustainability and energy in our projects, generating alternatives when making decisions.

Drone Photography

Another technology that we would like to incorporate is Drone Photography. The possibility of studying the context of a building from a height, and obtaining high-quality aerial images opens up countless possibilities for its development. It also helps us in the construction phase to observe and inspect the progress of the project and document it.

Acknowledgments: The responses to the questions for this profile were provided by Victor Body-Lawson, AIA. The profile itself was facilitated by Chris Sullivan of C.C. Sullivan.

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