People Profile: Kayleigh HoudeAECbytes Profile (January 23, 2020)
Kayleigh Houde, a computational engineer who spearheads the Computational Collective at BuroHappold, shares her experiences and insights on AEC technology in this Profile.
"...there hopefully will come a time (in the not so distant future) where a group of firms or teams develops a suite of code-based toolkits that have the backing of decades of AEC knowledge."
What is your educational and professional background?
I studied Architectural Engineering with a focus in HVAC Design at Drexel University. The program ranged from architectural drawing studios and structural analysis to the future of intelligent building design, as well as having a co-op program working in professional engineering firms for semesters at a time. Working at Ballinger and KlingStubbins (now Jacobs)—which provided me with a really solid background in BIM—I worked closely with an ex-Autodesk employee and was the go-to BIM person at 20 years old.
My professional background has primarily been on the mechanical side—I’ve had a hand in designing two super-tall towers in Manhattan as well as Columbia University’s new Graduate School of Business. I made the switch over to the computational side (with my current title of Computational Community Leader) two years ago. I’ve felt a pull in that direction my entire career and once I ticked the PE box, I figured why not spend some time doing the thing I’m most passionate about.
What is your current role? What are the main projects you are involved with?
My current role is Computational Community Leader at BuroHappold. One of the keystones of code development is the community building aspect—making sure that people know how to jump in and that there’s a well-paved path forward for their specific discipline/background.
One of my primary projects is the Building and Habitats Object Model (BHoM), a coding project initially designed by BuroHappold, but has since been relinquished to the community as an open-source project. My role is both to port across my own knowledge of MEP engineering, but also to usher others into developing code based on their own expertise.
My other primary project is BuroHappold’s Hackademies. This is a global journey each year, where we bring together everyone in each one of our 24 offices to not only bring updates about the available computational tools, but more importantly, to have a flowing dialogue about the impact of computation on our projects and people. This journey around the world to places like Mumbai, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, and Warsaw has shown me the role that culture sometimes plays in our willingness to learn and adapt to changes in technology.
When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?
On my first day at KlingStubbins in September 2009, they were holding Revit training and I remember finding it incredibly intuitive. I then became the go-to family and schedule building guru, which followed me over to the academic setting at Drexel and to Ballinger where I spent 3 years as an intern. I then had a similar come-to-Jesus moment with flow based programming (Dynamo) in 2014 when one of its developers (Zac Kron) gave a two day workshop at BuroHappold. I then dabbled a bit in text based coding, but it didn’t stick until I started using BHoM—where the traditional barriers to entry of C# programming have been replaced by an intuitive code structure that makes sense to someone without a computer science background.
How much of what you do today is related to AEC technology in some form?
Very little, if anything, of what I do is not related to technology in AEC. Technology has helped me to forge a path and a career that I’m passionate about and opened countless doors for me to travel the world and speak about the topics so near and dear to my heart. As I mentioned, there’s an enormous anthropological challenge to introducing new technology. People want to feel that they’ve come to the conclusion to change by their own accord. I hope that by showing each individual how technology can make their lives in the AEC industry easier, I’m slowly developing a path that makes it easier for each person to change.
From your vantage point, what do you see as some of the main technological challenges facing the AEC industry today?
Our industry is unquestionably unique. Architects, engineers and construction professionals all carry decades of building related experience and knowledge; however, harnessing that knowledge has been a challenge for software development firms because it’s a long-term meeting of the minds that’s so desperately required. Spending time with the few computer scientists BuroHappold has employed has been the most beneficial two-way street in terms of knowledge sharing, but it’s only through hours and days of misunderstanding that we’re finally able to speak each other’s language. While understanding that neither of us will ever be fluent, the transfer of niche knowledge like the proper way to compile code or the myriad ways to size a duct has allowed us to push into that magical space of developing code for engineers by engineers.
How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?
We will undoubtedly experience years of toiling with visual programming, just as we’ve experienced the technological change with building information modeling. However, there hopefully will come a time (in the not so distant future) where a group of firms or teams develops a suite of code-based toolkits that have the backing of decades of AEC knowledge. I say groups (plural), because I’m certain that no individual or firm can accomplish this alone; we have to come together as a community with a set of community-based coding standards to make this vision a reality.
If you had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?
I wish that we had more opportunity to come together on the very important topic of open-source coding projects. I recently sat on a panel with Ian Keough (Hypar), Matt Jezyk (Tesla), Zac Kron (Dynamo) and Dennis Shelden (Georgia Tech), where we discussed the kudos that are due to every open-source project in our industry such as Ladybug, Hypar, Speckle, and BHoM (to name a few). We need companies and people that are paving the way for more open development conversations and collaborations, rather than guarding individual IPs.
Acknowledgments: This profile was facilitated by Alex Abarbanel-Grossman of C.C. Sullivan.
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