Technology

First tool in Google’s ‘BIM-busting app’ is launched

29 October 2014 | By Elaine Knutt

The software company spun out of  “moonshot” incubator Google [x] has launched the first version of an app that could speed up building design by “an order of magnitude” – by encoding all the data needed for architectural, structural and services design.

Flux wants to help the construction industry scale up its output to meet the needs of a growing population, calculating that the global population living in cities will grow by 50% by 2050.

And while the first version of the app looks like it would only speed up the early design stages – perhaps RIBA Stages 1 and 2 – the final goal is to integrate Flux-generated designs with automated fabrication and construction methods.

On 14 October, the San Francisco-based company launched the beta version of Flux Metro for the city of Austin, Texas, an app that incorporates all the national and local planning regulations overlaid on a 3D map of Austin (pictured above).

The app allows the city's developers or design teams to rapidly scope out a building's footprint, height and massing, taking into account issues such as ‘zoning’ requirements, orientation, view corridors, and conservation areas.

An “explorer” version of the tool is freely available for users to trial, while a more sophisticated version for developers and site owners is offered free for 10 land parcels, or at an “introductory price” of $100 for each additional parcel.

Flux’s intention is to roll out different localised versions of Flux Metro for different US cities.

According to Flux’s press release, the 25-strong team also hopes that Flux Metro will make design and development decisions more accessible to the public, helping to create more liveable cities.

It says: “With cities becoming increasingly dense, each new construction and zoning change impacts more people  –  municipalities and developers need better ways to explain what is happening. At the same time data and analytics must be used to reduce the costs needed to construct buildings that are increasingly complex and interwoven with services to meet the demands of a growing population.”

And this second stage of Flux’s vision was outlined in a presentation by co-founder Jen Carlile at the KeenCon analytics convention in San Francisco earlier this month. 

She said: “What if we stopped designing buildings, but designed building seeds that take on different forms? They would be encoded with … all the rules that a building needs to auto-generate – its structural systems, its facade, its HVAC.”

As a demo appeared on a screen beside her, she said: “Here we’re looking at the facade system, the building knows it needs external shades on the outside of the building to block the afternoon sun and reduce the internal heat gain.”

Later, she explained: ”It knows which connections are moment connections, it knows how to design the HVAC. It goes all the way down to the hot and cold water pipes, the air ducts, elevators and stairs.”

Carlile reiterated that the desire to drastically speed up the building design process – “not by 5, or 10 or 20% but by orders of magnitude” - was linked to the need to keep up with population growth. 

Flux cites UN figures that suggest today’s global population of 7.2 billion is likely to grow to 9.6-11 billion by 2050, with the proportion living in cities increasing from 50% today to 70%. 

This means that there will be a need to house an extra 3.3 billion people in urban buildings by 2050, while simultaneously slashing the carbon emissions linked to buildings. 

A member of the audience asked: If Flux can design these buildings, how will they built? Carlile answered: “I think of it like APIs [application program interface]. You can have an API for a structural system. If you can connect your structural API to your fabrication machine, you no longer have to have humans involved.”