Got Bacon? AIA Members Seek Tech in Philly

  • Some 20,000 architects visited the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ last week, and Bacon played a big role;
  • Convention and trade show featured more tech-related sessions and exhibitors than ever before;
  • Keynote Rem Koolhaas urged attendees to communicate, collaborate more with other disciplines.

As mind-blowing thought leader Peter Diamandis reminded us last month at BuiltWorlds’ CEO Tech Forum, exponential technologies are now racing towards us at breakneck speed, disrupting every profession under the Sun, whether they like it or not.

That certainly holds true for the world of architecture, which this week will descend on the City of Philadelphia, host of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Annual Convention. Thousands upon thousands of designers, planners, vendors and more, in from all across the globe, are arriving for AIA’s most tech-laden show ever.

Of course, being Philadelphia, history and entertainment also will be part of the mix, sometimes even simultaneously. For instance, it’s not for nothing that two Philly-born musicians, Michael and actor/director Kevin Bacon, aka The Bacon Brothers, are headlining AIA’s big music bash this Friday night at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Born and raised in ‘The City of Brotherly Love’, the pair are sons of renowned architect and urban planner Edmund Bacon who, during his 21-year tenure as executive director of the city planning commission, reshaped and revived Philly in dramatic fashion, earning the title “The Father of Modern Philadelphia.” In fact, (U.Penn) Prof. Bacon’s influential template for urban renewal even drew national coverage, landing him on the cover of Time and Life magazines.

Bacon’s reimagining of urban landscapes makes Philadelphia a fitting backdrop for the convention and its theme: Imagine What Can Happen. Architects attend the convention to explore all manner and form of innovative technology and business solutions that both spark and are sparked by imagination. As in past years, the 2016 event will be jam-packed, with no fewer than 500 educational sessions and work shops, and 800 product manufacturers at an accompanying expo. The tech sector is particularly active.

“The nature of design and technology is being remediated by digital technology”

— Phil Bernstein, FAIA, VP Autodesk

In fact, the sheer number of tech-related sessions have all the makings of a stand-alone event, with sessions ranging from Mobile Technologies for Architectural Professionals to a highly anticipated presentation on the forms, tech, and sustainability behind Philadelphia’s Comcast Innovation and Technology Center. Due to open in 2018, the $1.5-billion, 60-story, 1,121-ft tower has been designed by renowned British architect Lord Norman Foster.

Focused on the collaborative revolution touching virtually all practices, the session EQxD Hackathon: Architecture and the Era of Connections will feature a diverse panel of architects and entrepreneurs to discuss the growing intersection between design and technology. Afterward, participants will break into teams and create plans of action that “positively impact the future of architectural practice.” Teams will present their concepts to a panel of judges, with the winning group presenting their “hack” at a social/networking event. (Check our social media feed to see the winners!)

  • BW advisor Paul Bonington is in Philly this week. Look for his eyewitness account here soon.

As building materials continue to evolve, another session, The Momentum of Tall Wood Buildings, is already sold out, attracting large attention, given that two wood structures of 10 stories or higher are due to break ground this year. One key concern: code hurdles. This session not only will present the most recent research on the performance tall wood structures, but the manner in which architects can leverage the data when consulting with local authorities. Indeed, regulators and the rest of the building team will need education, too. This should help to keep the architects in the role of teacher.

Many of today’s modeling programs are designed — and marketed — for ease of use. However, the session Managing the Risks of Model Sharing: What You Should Know will clarify that while digital models may seem like the most accurate tools to depict design schemes designer’s vision, models may likewise convey information the designer didn’t intend. Session attendees will learn how to can avoid such mistakes and provide clients safe, reliable models.

One such model, BIM, continues to change, as well, as demonstrated by Next Generation Design Tools for an End-to-End BIM Workflow. Session attendees will learn how new BIM-integrated technologies for sketching, computational design, energy analysis, and visualization improve productivity and efficiency while resulting in more informed designs.

Elsewhere, a trio of presentations, Pro Series, delves deeper into the business of design, particularly how collaboration, culture, innovation, and disruption are rapidly reshaping practices of all sizes. Up first on May 19 is The Power of Collaboration, during which architect John Michael Prifti and fellow project team members will discuss collaborative team takeaways and lessons involving a successful local commercial development. The Pro Series concludes on May 21 with Firm Culture and the Impact on the Next Generation, a session that will challenge attendees with questions on the order of, Are you creating a company culture to succeed today and tomorrow? Do you know the best practices for building and sustaining a winning firm culture? Seattle-based LMN Architects will lead the discussion.

Finally, there is the 333-year-old host city, itself. In Turn Philly Into Your Classroom, AIA invites attendees to glimpse the city’s past, present and future. Stops along the tour include historic Temple University’s Baptist Temple, a synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; KidZooU, where geothermal walls, daylighting and vegetated roofs will be on display; and the Community Health and Literacy Center, the result of a unique collaboration between the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the city. No doubt the lesson plan will also reflect on the legacy of Prof. Bacon.

In Philadelphia, it is said that the sports fans are so tough “they would boo a funeral.” This year’s AIA event is so densely packed with primo content, all across the convention hall, that it is hard to imagine busy attendees having enough breath to cheer, much less boo.

  • Rob McManamy also contributed to this story.