PerformativeDesign.com

Performative Design is a small startup company I founded to create new and innovative design tools for architects and engineers. These tools are both a development and refinement of some of the concepts I started exploring in Ecotect. This basically means building performance analysis as a fundamental part of both concept design and design development, with highly interactive tools addressing real design issues and presenting visually rich and actionable analytics within the context of a 3D building information model.

In the current design environment -- where flexible conceptual geometry tools meet relatively inflexible BIM and documentation needs; where information can be created and viewed on all sorts of devices with different formats and form factors; and where analysis can be done locally or remotely, immediately or contingently -- the infrastructure requirement to bring all this together is significant indeed.

Backend systems are needed to process and store detailed building data. Interfaces for major design tools and BIM databases have to be created. Desktop and mobile apps to interact with and visualise results have to be developed. And all of these need to seamlessly communicate and form part of the fundamental workflows that designers use everyday.

I have been beavering away on this for a while now, but there is still a way to go. Hopefully I can start to release some of the various components or at least demonstrate real progress relatively soon. As a preliminary, I have already polished up some of my very early web-based experiments and proof-of-concepts. These are all WebGL and/or SVG based so should run inside any reasonably modern browser without any external dependancies.

If you are interested, see my Web Experiments post.


Computer Programming

For some reason I really enjoy programming. I started coding back in the late eighties when a local design firm donated 5 Sun workstations to the architecture school I was at, but no-one had a clue what they did or how to use them. All we did have was a shelf full of manuals so it took me a couple of months to even discover SunView. Before that, writing your own C++ programmes using vi was the only way to do anything useful on them.

My first real application was an interactive acoustic ray-tracer that I wrote for my honours thesis. I then honed my C++ skills developing Ecotect and its supporting toolset, which was first commercialised in 1996 and then acquired by Autodesk in 2008. I got acquired too, which was a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to see how programming is really done in big firms.

It was at Autodesk that I first got hooked on Visual Studio and C#. I went cold-turkey for a while there after I left, concentrating mainly on Java using IntelliJ IDEA and Processing, but then Microsoft released their Visual Studio Community Editions so I am hooked again.

Having just said that, I am now working mostly in Javascript as I have a lot of front-end tools to write and hybrid apps seem the best way of doing what I need. I still have to do some Revit plugins in C#, and was hoping to do a lot of my back-end analysis work in C#/Mono, but I'm not really sure that I can scale that as well as Java with JPPF.


Web Development

I have done a lot of web development over the years and have recently been re-invigorated by some of the latest advances in Javascript, HTML5 and especially WebGL and SVG. I used to work with embedded Java applets and Flash, but have now moved entirely to WebGL and SVG - and it's great. For back-end I mainly used PHP and MySQL with Drupal as a CMS, but I have started to use Node.js and MongoDB more. In fact, I have become so sick of the constant maintenance that Drupal requires that I have completely ditched it on a couple of my sites and made them statically generated HTML with Hugo.

Apart from WebGL and SVG, the other aspect of web development that has me pretty excited is some of the excellent frameworks that are now available. I started using Knockout for some single page web apps I was working on, which is a great tool and seems to fit really well with my way of working. But then I discovered Vue.js which is even better and a real revelation in terms of power and flexibility.


Building Performance Analysis

Ever since I can remember I have always had an interest in what constituted comfort and what buildings do to provide it. Doing an architecture degree was in part accidental, but it gave me an opportunity to really explore this interest. However, it also meant many a tutorial and crit dealing with a room full of eyes that were pretty much glazed over. This was a world before CAD and even Microsoft Windows, where DOS screenshots and dot-matrix printouts were all you could really arm yourself with, and they just didn't cut it.

For my honours thesis I wrote a 3D acoustic ray-tracer and then spent my postgrad years extending the model to include sound, heat and light transmission. Obviously my earlier struggles to elicit any enthusiasm for my performance-based approach hurt, so I focussed a lot on how to visually represent results. This ultimately led to the development of Ecotect and my ongoing work in that area.

Most of my early academic career was spent lecturing in architectural science and computing, often combining the two in electives and project work. My research fellowship in Cardiff happened at a great time when the EPBD was just coming into force, resulting in lots of joint research work on building performance in Wales, the UK and Europe. This expertise led to involvement in many European and international building projects as an environmental design consultant.

Since that time I have focussed mainly on the relationship between BIM and building performance analysis, and the development of software to facilitate performative design approaches within standard BIM workflows.


Building Management

I am on the board of a building management company in the Isle of Man and it has been quite an interesting and eye-opening experience. It became very hands-on for the first few years as we brought all management in-house and sought to significantly rationalise operations and costs.

Building management seems to me to be mostly about close relationships and lots of communication - obviously with owners and tenants, but most of all with contractors. Once you have a full set of trusted service providers and suppliers that you can call upon, dealing with pretty much everything becomes so much simpler and straightforward. Also, even seemingly intractable disputes can usually be dealt with quite effectively by active communication, though actually meeting the people involved and being genuinely sympathetic to their concerns helps.

It has also been intriguing to change perspective and experience architecture from the other side. I have spent most of my career as a consultant on the design side. However, this has allowed me to see some of the consequences of design decision-making and to better understand how even slightly different decisions could have led to completely different outcomes.

It has also been an education in construction and the trades. Seeing how things are actually implemented (usually badly and often worse than you could have imagined) and to have to live with and manage their long-term consequences has significantly changed how I think about both building design and building performance.