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NXTBLD pt1 – John Adams

13 Jun 2018

NXTBLD2018 is a conference of two halves for the BIM Strategy and Niven team, and so is this blog post. I took the first shift at the evening do in a great London pub last night, enjoyed the morning content, and then tagged in my trusted colleague James. There will be an update to come from him later… but whilst you’re here you may as well read my bit and come back later, we’re not going anywhere.

This years event had more than twice as many sign-ups as last year, which doesn’t surprise me because I’ve spoken to plenty of people who followed it online last year and saw that it had a very different focus than the other BIM events. It’s not about standards or schemas and not one person mentioned file naming conventions; it’s about tech being used to visualise, prototype and engage people with how we can improve what we do. It’s true that none of this works in practice without good models, and good models don’t happen without good processes, but sometimes it’s exciting to explore the art of the possible once you’re in a situation where the ability to model and collaborate effectively is taken for granted.

Some of the conversations at last night’s gathering found their way into the details, like which Uniclass table goes into COBie fields and why haven’t the CDEs delivered integration with each other. I’m happy in the weeds, because it creates the opportunity to provide pragmatic advice which solves day to day issues at the coalface. But once this morning’s first session by the highly engaging Hedwig Heinsman from Aectual kicked into gear, the weeds were a distant memory. I felt like I’d walked into an architectural toyshop with the ability to create my own toys with their specially designed 3D robotic arm printer. The sense of relief when the printing material was a combination of linseed oil and recycled plastics was enormous too, no waste, no guilt, just pure design freedom and joy.

At this point I was already coming back next year.  Then Andrew Watts from Newtecnic raised the bar by looking at optimised dashboards for complex construction without losing a grip on what construction really is. Which is a difficult and unique challenge every time we design and build, which has dangers to people and risks to business at the forefront of our thinking. The work his team are involved in is so exciting because it is genuinely removing risks by using tech to do the things people can’t, rather than simply looking to replace human processes with AI and robots.

With some modular construction themes for the emerging build-to-rent market in London for co-living and co-working, Dipa Joshi brought the architects in the room back into their comfort zone with some thought-provoking concepts about digital ways to address the changing needs of city space. She did tick off a bit of digital bingo with IOT, Blockchain and Fortnite, but these were more like side-notes to an enjoyable architectural journey ending in a coffee break.

After the break, I caught Dr Max Mallia-Parfitt’s whistle-stop tour of VR, which was packed full of anarchic advice on which threads of visualisation matter in construction and which are frankly useless. Unfortunately, this was time to duck out of NXTBLD and pass on the baton for the afternoon and evening networking event, but I’ve been keeping up through Twitter on the train; the printed concrete presentation looked almost to cool for words. But I’ll leave that for James in pt2…