Aditazz Design Synthesis ApplicationAECbytes Review (May 22, 2018)

Every once in a while, I bemoan the lack of “smart” tools for AEC design. I expressed these sentiments in my 2015 article, Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet?, in which I highlighted the smarts for infrastructure design that I had found in Autodesk InfraWorks which automatically configure many  aspects of an element based on industry-standard rules to ensure its “correctness” and “buildability.” It was a full two years before I was able to see a similar rule-based design capability in an AEC application. This was in ARCHICAD 21, released last year, which dramatically improved and speeded up the modeling of stairs and railings by incorporating in those tools the relevant standards for usability and safety such as tread width, riser height, optimum riser-to-tread ratio, minimum width, landing placement and configuration, railing height, spacing of posts, etc.

While such “smarts” in AEC tools are still few and far between, I recently came across another application that incorporates rule-based design, albeit in a very different way from applications such as InfraWorks and ARCHICAD. This is the Aditazz Design Synthesis application, which is focused on creating libraries of rooms for different project types that are pre-validated for code-compliance, which means that when they are used in a project, they can come with the assurance that they already satisfy the internal requirements of that space. The application is not intended to be a fully featured, general purpose design tool as such; instead, its objective is to make it easier and faster to design projects with highly regulated design requirements such as hospitals, using rooms that are already code-compliant (see Figure 1). The application is still in a very early stage with several interface enhancements required before it can be commercially released, but the underlying concept is intriguing and represents an alternate way of thinking about rule-based design and how it can be applied in AEC.

Figure 1. A hospital project by Aditazz that the Design Synthesis tool was used on. The project team was able to reduce time significantly by using validated design synthesis rooms.

Overview

The simplest definition of “synthesis” is putting things together, and in the design context, it refers to synthesizing individual elements meaningfully into a consolidated whole. Aditazz’s application is applying this concept to synthesize rooms for specific requirements from all the existing rules and standards for that room type. Thus, as a designer, you are not “designing” the room from scratch, but instead are using a room that has been created using the application’s “design synthesis” capability, which ensures that the room already satisfies the key requirements that were used to drive its creation.

The Design Synthesis application is a web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) app that can be used by AEC firms to capture their organizational knowledge and standards for specific building types into code-compliant libraries of rooms that they can then use in multiple projects across their firm. The initial setup and creation of the room libraries takes time and effort, but once completed, their use in multiple projects can more than recoup the initial investment. The application also includes a Revit plug-in so that these libraries are not being created in isolation but actually become part of the BIM workflow for firms that use Revit. This Revit integration is bi-directional, allowing the rooms to be monitored for code-compliance even after they have been “placed” or modified in a Revit project.

Let’s take a closer look to see how it works in more detail.      

How it Works

Being web-based, the Design Synthesis application can be accessed from an Internet browser such as Chrome. When you log in, you can see a dashboard of the projects you have access to and all the rooms within a project. As a user, you would typically not be creating a new project, but will instead have access to all the projects set up by an administrator for which you are on the project team.  As shown in the dashboard in Figure 2, the sample project shown has a total of 33 rooms. For each room, you can see its dimensions and the number of objects that it contains.

Figure 2. The Design Synthesis application dashboard, showing a sample project called “Template” and the rooms within that project.

Clicking on a room opens it in the interface shown in Figure 3, where you can view it in more detail with all the individual objects. To the right of the graphical representation is a panel which provides information about various aspects of the room such as its dimensions, codes, contents, etc., and provides tools for adding and deleting objects and manipulating their visibility. The graphical window allows the room representation to be viewed in 2D or 3D and provides basic navigation capabilities including the ability to zoom in and out, pan, or orbit the view. Since this is not primarily an authoring application—you are not actually modeling the room—the graphical capabilities are sufficient for what it needs to do. Notice that in addition to the objects themselves, the accessibility clearances for an object derived by compliance rules, if any, are also shown in the form of rectangular volumes.

Figure 3. Clicking on a room in the project dashboard opens it up, allowing its contents to be viewed and edited. It can be seen in both 2D and 3D, as shown.

It would be fair to say that the interface shown in Figure 3 is the heart of the Design Synthesis application, since the bulk of the work happens here. Let us start by looking at the contents of the room. You can select any object in the room and choose to delete it or hide it, as shown in Figure 4. The difference between the two operations is that hiding it preserves the rules that determine its placement in the room and allows it to be restored at any time governed by the same rules, whereas deleting it removes the object as well as the rules underlying it.

Figure 4. Selecting an object in the room displays its name and provides the option to Delete or Hide it, both of which are located in the Contents section in the right pane.

To see the rules underlying the placement of the selected object, you would use the Rules Manager option located to the lower right of the graphics window. You can now see the Compliance as well as Custom Rules that apply to all the objects in this room, as shown in the top image of Figure 5. While the interface does not highlight the rules specifically for the selected object, you can browse through the list or use the Search function to find the rules for that object. As shown in the lower image of Figure 5, there are two custom rules that apply to the selected object—a film illuminator—the first specifying that it should be placed along the back wall and the second specifying that it should be placed at a distance of 36 inches from the floor.

Figure 5. Using the Rules Manager to see the rules that apply to all the objects in the room. The rules that apply to the selected object can be isolated, as shown in the lower image, by using the Search capability.

You can delete or edit any of these rules as well as add new ones if required. The rules are the crux of the application and as shown, they can determine how a piece of furniture or equipment is placed in relation to elements such as walls, floors, ceilings, as well as other objects, with the ability to specify clearances, distances, direction, and so on. The number of options to create a rule is so large that it possible to get extremely granular and determine exactly where an object should be located so that it satisfies all the required constraints. 

Any rule, whether it is a new one or the edited version of an existing rule, can be checked for validity using the accompanying “Validate and Save” option. For example, I changed the distance from the floor to 112 inches instead of the original 36 for the second rule shown in Figure 5, and needless to say, the validation process failed (Figure 6). In such cases, the revision is saved in a draft mode until the rules are changed to make it valid again. There is also the option to go directly to the rule that is causing the problem, as shown in Figure 6. All the changes made to a room are saved as revisions and it is possible to go back to a previous revision at any time.

Figure 6. Creating an invalid rule displays a warning and gives you the option of going directly to the rule that is causing the issue.

To demonstrate another example of how the rules work, the dimensions of the same room were modified, as shown in Figure 7. While the object positions initially remain the same when the room dimensions are modified, running the Validate and Save command automatically repositions all the objects based on their rules, saving the designer from having to manually reposition the objects for each dimension change of that room type. 

Figure 7. When the dimensions of a room are modified, its contents are automatically repositioned based on their rules when the room is validated.

It is also possible to automatically create different variants of a room, which would be helpful if that room type was going to be used in multiple projects or multiple times in the same project, with each instance have slightly different dimensions. This is done by specifying the percentage variance increase/decrease and the step size, as shown in Figure 8. You can also opt to have a flipped (mirrored) version of the room generated for you. For this example, these variant specifications resulted in the creation of 87 variants, as shown. While these individual variants cannot be viewed or edited in the web interface, they will be available when the room is being placed in a project in Revit, similar to how a door object, for example, is available in multiple sizes.

Figure 8. Creating multiple variants of a room by specifying the percentage variation and the step size.

Integration with Revit

The usefulness of an application like this would be very limited if it could not become part of the BIM workflow used in AEC firms. In the case of the Design Synthesis application, integration has been done for those using Revit for BIM. The integration happens through a Revit plug-in, as shown in Figure 9, which adds an Aditazz tab to the Revit ribbon. From here, you can open up the Design Synthesis window, sign in with your Aditazz credentials, and get access to all your projects and the rooms in each project. You can choose to load the selected room directly into a project or import it as a Revit family. As shown in Figure 10, the room is imported into Revit with all its contents and their metadata. You can also see the individual placement rules for all the objects, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 9. Loading one of the rooms from the Design Synthesis application in Revit using the Aditazz plug-in.

Figure 10. Selecting one of the components of the imported room. Its description is shown in the Status bar at the base of the window.

Figure 11. The Design Synthesis window also allows the placement rules of the objects in the imported room to be viewed.

The integration with Revit is bi-directional, allowing you to edit the position of an object in Revit, run the “Validate and Save” command using the plug-in to check the validity of the change, and if it is valid, to save the room as a new revision in Aditazz. If you now go back and open the project in the Design Synthesis application, you can see that the change made in Revit is available in a new revision of the room.

If variants of the room were created in the Design Synthesis application (as shown earlier in Figure 8), they are available in Revit as well and can be used to place instances of the room in different sizes to fit different spaces, as shown in Figure 12. It is important to note that what the Design Synthesis application is really capturing is the configuration of objects within a room rather than its walls, floor, and ceiling, which will be coming from the BIM application, Revit in this case. Thus, what you are doing with the Revit plug-in is placing pre-validated configurations of a specific room type—a hospital exam room in this case—in a Revit project. For a large hospital project, if pre-validated room configurations were available as templates for most of the spaces, designing it would be much easier and faster. This is really the premise of the application.

Figure 12. Selecting from the multiple variants of a room for the best fit when it is placed in Revit.

Conclusions

I found the Aditazz Design Synthesis application an interesting and unique take on not just rule-based design but automated code compliance as well, which is another area in which we need to make substantial progress to push the state of the art of technology implementation in AEC. Here too, the Design Synthesis application operates quite different from the main application in the field, Solibri Model Checker.  You don’t really design a layout and check it with codes to make sure it is code compliant, just as you are not interactively designing a room in the Design Synthesis application based on rules. Instead, you are using rules and codes to drive the creation of room layouts with specific requirements, which can then be saved in a room layout library and used across multiple projects with very specific requirements such as hospitals, hotels, schools, etc., to substantially save design time and reduce common repeating errors.

Currently, the Design Synthesis application is still at somewhat of a “design prototype” stage, with substantial interface improvements needed before it can be commercially released for use by a broader audience. For now, Aditazz uses it internally for its own projects (as shown earlier in Figure 1) as well as for creating room libraries for other customers on a consulting basis. In addition to the many interface improvements that are needed to make it ready for prime time starting with the ability to create the rooms themselves, more substantial improvements are also needed to the guts of the application, such as ensuring that a room contains all the required furniture and equipment based on its type, the automatic creation of codes based on different design standards, and the ability to choose which specific code is to be used for compliance checking. This will allow the Design Synthesis application to go from being simply a proof of concept to becoming an application that can push the boundaries and actually be used for automated rule-based, code-compliant design in the AEC industry.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.


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