Lecture Recap :: Paul Doherty

Courtesy of Paul Doherty
By Rand Lemley, B.Arch Candidate

Technology is in a state of constant change and advancement. This seems obvious to many of us as we are often left to drown in the deluge of new gadgets and software that pour out of the product pipeline every day. How are we to stay afloat and discern which pieces of technology are worth our time and effort to adopt?

In a way, Paul Doherty has been both an aid to and propagator of this problem. As a registered architect, author, and corporate consultant, he has been involved in the design of many new software platforms, such as Revit, Buzzsaw, TRIRIGA, and Google Earth.

Though he is invested in creating fresh tech, Paul also takes care to inform others about how to best take advantage of the opportunities that new tech provides. He credits his architectural education for the ability to quickly switch between macro- and micro-thinking, big picture and direct application. In his visit to the BAC for the Cascieri 21 lecture, Paul shared examples of how he has applied this way of thinking to his work and how he is mining the future for new applications of technology in architecture.

To introduce his work, Paul made the comment that Information Technology (IT) departments are looking to architects to learn about project management. Their product design process is similar to that of an architect’s, yet often run over-budget and overdue. Paul recently completed a project with Target to turn their stores into real-time models that include inventory.

In the past, Target had to send people to each store to make sure that each product was where it was supposed to be on the shelves, which required an enormous amount of resources. Now, they can look at the model to get up-to-the-minute feedback and make decisions faster and more collaboratively, since all the data rests in the cloud. Rather than spending $40 million annually to continue in-person checks, they spent an initial cost of $140,000 for development and now have very little overhead.

Looking to the future, Paul talked about how designers are starting to have the ability to become digital storytellers. Just as hand drafted drawings have a story behind them that are far less stale than computer images, we are rapidly approaching a time when designers can begin to work in an analog way in a digital environment through touch. He made the point that touch is better than the mouse clicks when you are trying to tell a story. Products, such as SpaceTop and Infinite Z, promise a rapidly approaching moment where teams can actively collaborate on holographic models suspended in the air with their hands.

Paul also asserted that architects need to take the lead in helping China, India, and other quickly developing countries plan their cities, a kind of “Architects Without Borders.” China has already failed with their attempt to create satellite cities outside major hubs. Those projects have turned into ghost cities as migrants pass right through on their way to the actual source of jobs.

To address such an enormous problem in equally enormous cities, architects need to imagine smart cities that can be designed using collective building information management (BIM). Collective BIM allows time to be saved in data collection since the city’s BIM models are shared.

In a similar vein, Google’s gigabit fiber in Kansas City is allowing planners to do rapid prototyping of the city. All the information describing the buildings and infrastructure of the city has been gathered, and is now being used to quickly model effects of any interventions made.

For example, how would replacing a post office with a Starbucks affect traffic in a given area? The superfast fiber network allows the information to be transferred at high speeds to allow instant results and collaboration. The network also allows the city to talk back to those responsible for preventative maintenance. Issues are immediately relayed and can be responded to in an instant.

All this new technology will require an investment of time and money for anyone to take advantage of the possibilities. Much of the technology Paul presented has not reached the maturity that many people feel comfortable working with. 
These tools are, for now, left to the pioneers willing to take risks, get dirty, and do some experimenting.

While these pieces of fresh tech are still on the fringes of reality,
it is exciting to think about what the future holds in store. Paul gave an encouraging message that the future will be more meaningful and efficient than the sometimes clumsy and time-consuming technology we have now.