Autodesk University 2015

I spent the first week of December in Las Vegas at Autodesk University 2015, also known as AU.  Along with showcasing Autodesk’s products, it’s a great venue to glimpse the latest technologies for about every facet of the “making” industry – be it planes, buildings, or manufactured products.

AU is held annually in the U.S. in Las Vegas and has expanded to multiple venues across the world.

This was my first time to attend and thus was referred to as a “freshman”, complete with a green lanyard that identified me as such.  It was a fascinating time with compelling examples of how technology is both a disruptive and progressive force.  AU is also a massive sales effort by Autodesk – but I didn’t mind that at all.  I think they’re on to something and are bringing together people in my industry in ways the AIA or AGC cannot.

A few themes that stood out:


Not a new revelation, but it struck me afresh that the ability to communicate anywhere, at any time, with almost anyone across the world just gets easier.  I did get confused between A360, BIM 360, Autodesk 360 and a few others – but the point made it home that you can share most anything with anyone utilizing a structured process that records everything.

And increasingly you can do it from any device.


I attended several sessions where architects, engineers, and contractors related similar stories of their firms expanding across the country.  All came to the same conclusion that as they grew they needed to better share and leverage knowledge across their firms and to work similarly.  What technology made possible shouldn’t be limited by sociology.


Most things made are designed using a Windows PC.  While some CAD and BIM software can run on the Mac platform, it seemed everything ran on Windows.  Lenovo, Dell, Boxx, and HP all had a significant presence on the Expo floor.  Makes sense as industries involved in the design of things or places are often in search of very high end hardware to get the maximum computational performance.  Makes me think Microsoft could make something of this…

There does appear to be a move in some places to have the programs and content reside in the cloud with access from almost any computing device or platform that supports a web browser.  In that scenario, it seems Microsoft is still doing the heavy lifting.


This was fascinating.  Software that facilitates the engineering optimization of a design by analyzing thousands of iterations.  Many of the resulting solutions had an organic appearance not unlike the cellular structure of bone and were fabricated by 3D printing. 

Autodesk worked with a West Coast racing team, placing sensors on a race car chassis and driving at top speed; the data then used to optimize a new chassis design that was both lighter and stronger.  Similarly, they worked with Airbus to refine the design of bulkheads for the A380 aircraft that were ultimately about 1/2 the weight and significantly stronger.  Both design solutions reminded me of something from one of the Alien movies by the biological nature of their structures.  Very cool stuff.


The one thing I left not yet convinced of was the benefits of a data rich Building Information Model.  I say that fully persuaded that Revit is excellent software to use for a building due to the ability to visualize what you are doing, the intelligent components, and the basic scheduling.  Beyond that several things concern me.  Information has become “cheap” in a manner of speaking and the ability to add it brings the responsibility to manage it.

Architects and engineers continue to be under a lot of fee pressure and it doesn’t make sense to spend extra time adding data that might not be used.  Apart from some government and large institutions, I’m not aware of much demand for the information component.  It is still a significant task to design a building that the client wants, one that is constructible, on budget and on schedule, that meets codes, and doesn’t leak.

When designing a product such as a smartphone that will be manufactured thousands or millions of times, the effort at modeling is amortized across all of those units.  Most buildings are a unique response to a specific set of criteria and architect’s take pride on developing a unique solution and the modeling and information added are for a single product (building). 


I spoke with a BIM specialist at a large institution that had ongoing expansion and renovation occurring annually.  With over 19 million square feet of existing buildings currently around the world, they investigated hiring an outside firm to maintain federated BIM models for all of their facilities.  It would require 15 FTE’s (full time employees) for this ongoing effort – a considerable expense for just keeping the federated models current.  In addition, they were not sure how to solve the logistics of updating the models in Revit over time while concurrently working with multiple AE firms.

-          which version of Revit would be used?

-          When do they upgrade the models to a newer version of the software?  Will data be lost in the process and how would they know it?


It was a thought provoking conference and well worth the time and expense.  If you are interested, much of the content is available to view –

Better yet, plan on attending next year.