NXTBLD. I knew this was the place for me

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In keeping with our ethos as a tech-focused design studio John Adams and James Anderson attended NXTBLD in London last week in order to check out the emerging technology trends that will soon be the new norm within the construction industry.

It’s fair to say that both were incredibly impressed with what they saw and returned full of ideas for how this tech can be incorporated into what we do.


John Adams - Day 1 

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…


James pretends to be John for the day

James pretends to be John for the day

James Anderson - Day 2 

After a brief exchange with John, I made my way down the stairs into the heart of NXTBLD, fake ID in hand. The first thing to catch my eye was, the Enscape stand, complete with Oculus VR headset… I knew this was the place for me

The first session I attended was hosted by Bruce Bell of Facit Homes on Digitally manufactured big wooden ‘Lego’. What’s not to love? I’m sure every grown man has a guilty pleasure for Lego! What really hooked me here, was how Facit have integrated tech and software into their everyday workflows, greatly benefiting their outputs, efficiency, and accuracy. These processes haven’t broken the bank, using Revit for architecture and manufacturing models coupled with Enscape for quick and easy VR experiences. Google Hangouts have improved team collaboration and a 360° camera has made virtual site visits possible, proving that collaboration and digitalisation is achievable to all.

Next up was Smart Concrete. 3d printing is commonplace in the industry, but to be brutally honest, I wasn’t overly excited at the prospect of this session and wondered how smart concrete was going to wow me. Fast forward 10minutes into Andrei Jipa’s slot and I was frantically snapping photos of the concrete skeleton, boats with precision detailed bones, created via 3d printed casts, at less than 1mm thick!! Equally amazing were the concrete floor slabs ETH Zurich have created. Made up of millions of facets, these slabs dramatically reduce the volume of concrete used in production, whilst simultaneously remaining load bearing and sustainable. Why isn’t everyone using these?!

After a bite to eat, I sat down to the one I had been really waiting for ….Epic Games. If you were following the @BIMStrategy twitter feed, you will know that I am a self-proclaimed Fortnite fan, alas Marc Petit wasn’t handing out free v-bucks. He did, however, showcase the unbelievable possibilities achievable with Unreal Engine, it’s is no wonder that adoption has been so high, with 1 in 5 users already using UE4 for real-time render. This session, coupled with the Soluis stand, really impressed me; interactive, immersive experiences, such as the new Spurs stadium experience, (showcased by both Epic and Soluis) are such important and engaging tools for the client. John and I agreed that whilst in-house, we are capable of providing excellent renders with Lumion, anything on this level we would advise opting for the experts like Soluis.

Just before the beers came out, I managed to squeeze in an extended demo of Enscape with Moritz plugging me into VR tours of the Villa Savoye, the German Pavilion and an enormous red building in China (the name totally escapes me). Being a Revit technician by trade, I was blown away by the speed and ease – native Revit models were only a click away from a VR walkthrough. Intrigued and impressed, I made my way to chat with the Lumion guys and, low and behold, I wasn’t the first person to ask when they would be integrating Xbox controller and full VR capability. I look forward to release 9.

After spending the good part of an hour gushing over Lumion (a software we have implemented at Niven little over a year ago) and picking up a few tips and cheats, I worked the room, chatting to interesting individuals comparing views on the afternoon’s sessions and the exhibitions.

Before I knew it, it was time to make a late, mad dash to Kings Cross to catch my train home, where I had the chance to sit and digest everything I had taken in at NXTBLD. Its safe to say I headed home feeling totally inspired.

Niven & BIM Stategy