Thousands of buildings in Colombia, South America could crumble in the next earthquake and crush thousands of its citizens.
Autodesk's Latin America Marketing Program Manager, Juan M Martinez, Senior Data Scientist, Patty Svenson, and Forge Product Manager, Philippe Videau went to Colombia as part of a pro bono project to support Build Change, an Autodesk Foundation grantee, as they set out to retrofit homes in earthquake prone cities. Juan is originally from Bogota, but Patty and Philippe had never been, so why did they go?
"After the first site visit, I, personally, was incredibly panicked that what we came up with wasn't going to work. I found the tool we proposed to be unwieldy and had no idea of where to even begin drawing."
— Patty Svenson
Read on to find out why.
Sustainability is ingrained in Autodesk's vision of helping everyone imagine, design, and make a better world. Our mission is to automate our customers' design-and-make processes so they can do more, better, with less negative impact on the world.
This particular pro bono project was designed to support Build Change, a nonprofit founded more than a decade ago, by engineer Elizabeth Hausler. Their mission is to design disaster-resistant houses in emerging nations and train local builders, homeowners, engineers, and government officials to use building techniques that can reduce the human and economic losses from natural disasters. To date, Build Change has worked in 15 countries and is active in 7 with more than 304,000 people living in safer homes as a result of their work. With the world's population approaching 10 billion by 2050, there will be a need to build approximately 5,000 buildings per day between now and then to address that growing population.
Build Change had a mission to retrofit buildings in Medellin and Bogota, and they were eager to leverage expertise from Autodesk employees to improve processes and gain efficiencies. The Autodesk Foundation invests in entrepreneurs and innovators tackling the world's most pressing social and environmental issues. The Foundation also invests in employees eager to make a difference in the world. So Juan, Patty, and Philippe volunteered their passion and expertise on the Colombia project.
Based on prior work that Build Change had done in Nepal in 2016, they led local stakeholders in a process that included a mix of manual and digital design work:
First, they manually recorded house measurements on paper.
It was difficult to know what to collect. Often, a measurement would be forgotten to be acquired. When this happened, the surveyors had to travel back to the site, often an arduous and time-consuming journey.
Second, they manually transcribed measurements by creating 2D drawings in AutoCAD.
Working with Build Change, the Autodesk employees helped envision a better process. They started tackling these problems 8 weeks before the trip out to Colombia. They did a lot of research and formulated several potential solutions. When they arrived in Colombia, they started by listening to understand the challenges Build Change faced. They spent the first few days meeting with stakeholders and conducted site visits to several houses that needed to be surveyed and retrofitted to test out their proposed workflows.
Web conferences are great, but without seeing the problem firsthand or talking to the people working in the field, it would have been incredibly difficult to implement a solution dreamed up remotely. After the first site visit, Patty was concerned that what they came up with wasn't going to work but Build Change teammates had experience in architecture and stepped up with best practices. These site visits sent the team back to the office to rework their proposal and come up with better workflows. By the time the second and third visits came around, there was a lot more smiling.
Though Juan, Patty, and Philippe only had two weeks in Colombia, they were able to work with Build Change and Autodesk employees back at the office, local residents, and local officials to create a better process. That process included the following:
Capture measurements using magicplan on a smartphone.
To keep track of what data to connect and ease the transfer of data, they decided to digitize the data collection process. It's a lot easier to move data around if it's already in a digitized form. They decided to use a third party app called magicplan. It was intended for realtors and home improvement projects, but they found it was flexible enough to suit their needs.
Output the captured data as XML.
The magicplan application outputs a structured XML file, breaking a house down into many different, but very predictably organized levels, which was key for the team to be able to use it in automating the modeling process.
Organize the XML using a Python script.
Build Change created Python scripts that organized information on rooms, walls, and objects into a layered dictionary format. The team used four or five scripts, extracting the information at the room, floor, and house levels.
Feed the organized data into Autodesk Revit using Autodesk Dynamo to get an as-built Building Information Model.
The Python scripts integrated with Autodesk Dynamo, creating a custom node to output the data in a predictable manner. Although the team used magicplan, any application that can output data in a predictable and organized format should work. They decided to go with magicplan because they felt the UI was simple, easy to learn, and highly customizable.
Submit documents generated from the Building Information Model to the local government for approval.
So how did it turn out?
At the start of this process, the Autodesk Foundation and Build Change came up with several goals for the project.
- The first was to reduce the time required to collect the field data. By implementing a digital surveying tool, they have reduced this time from 4 houses per day at a rate of 2 hours per house to around 40 minutes a house during our field testing.
- The second was to increase survey precision. Using the old paper-based process, 40%-50% of surveys had missing measurements. Although it's not yet clear how much it will cut down errors, they believe by having defined attributes for users to answer, that will drastically reduce the occurrence of errors and missing data.
- The third was to reduce the time spent generating the model. By integrating magicplan with Dynamo, they have automated this entire process, so instead of taking 2 days to manually draw in AutoCAD, the time spent is 2 hours to modify and double check the generated model in Revit.
In addition to creating a better process, the team also conducted an outreach program. The team partnered with local government, community leaders, and homeowners on seismic risk education and the retrofit program. This was vital because knowledge of seismic risk and interest in retrofitting is low because there has not been a large earthquake in decides, yet the danger is real.
At the end of the two weeks, the key takeaways for Juan, Patty, and Philippe included: "We can democratize access to technology. We have the power to change outcomes in our planet, regardless of the socioeconomic and educational levels of the people that interact with our products. The workflow we tested can be adopted not only by Build Change but by all housing-related government entities that need to scale their efforts.
Thanks to Juan, Patty, and Philippe for sharing their slides. They are thankful for the opportunity of going to Colombia to help, representing a diverse team of expert Autodeskers around the globe:
- Erika Gonzalez – Mexico City, Mexico
- Juan M Martinez – Houston, TX
- Patty Svenson – San Francisco, CA
- Philippe Videau – San Francisco
- Prateek Hejmadi – Manchester, NH
- Shengjun Du – Shanghai, China
- Stephen Bessette – Denver, CO
- Timothy Brinkerhoff – Boston, MA
All Autodesk employees are thankful for Build Change and the work of the Autodesk Foundation. With Autodesk, customers can make anything, and we got to see that for ourselves as part of imaging, designing, and making a better world.
Retrofitting is alive in the lab.