West Michigan architecture firm seizes ‘cutting edge’ AI technology

BY Sunday, August 02, 2020 05:15pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Artificial intelligence is growing increasingly common in the construction industry to automate mundane yet critical tasks.

Its use at Grand Rapids-based Ghafari Associates, however, is on the “cutting edge” compared to other engineering and architecture firms in the region, company officials say. 

Ghafari Architecture Manager Andrew Eckert COURTESY PHOTO

While Ghafari Architecture Manager Andrew Eckert doesn’t see AI replacing architects like himself, he said the technology speeds up the design process and has potential to create high-tech “smart buildings” embedded with AI for future building users.

Ghafari is looking to use a new AI program that runs scripts to automate repetitive tasks, which could quickly lay out various project site plans. This could swiftly create different options and rule out the plans that do not align with a project.

“If I’m laying out an apartment building on a specific site and I want to try to come up with four or five schemes that maximize the site looking at different options for stories and scales, then this could do that,” he said.

Ghafari is also using a high-tech scanning technology connected to GPS that can scan buildings and sites of potential projects via drone. 

“Once the building scan is done, we never have to go back to the area again,” Eckert said. “So if we were working on a building in California, we could cut down on how many times we would have to go out and visit the site.”

Last year Eckert recalls his firm forming a master plan for a client on a site with 25 buildings. Instead of having someone go out and survey the site, they scanned the area with a drone and created a full, three-dimensional site plan in a day and a half, he said.

The scanning technology is also used frequently for health care buildings, Eckert said, because of how frequently renovations are done on hospitals with technology continually being updated for health care. Before the drywall goes into a new hospital building, the firm can scan each room to keep a record of where pipes and electrical lines are located. This way, Eckert said, when a hospital gets renovated it knows exactly where everything is located before it tears open walls.

Future of AI in construction

Creating “smart buildings” that use AI will likely become more cost effective in the future, Eckert said. This would involve the Ghafari team getting reports from buildings they have designed detailing how people use the facilities.

“That would be pretty interesting because we could take that data and apply it to new designs and technology based on how users interact with spaces,” he said.

Another possibility for tracking information on future buildings is putting QR codes on different appliances and pieces of a building that can predict when each piece needs maintenance or to be replaced, Eckert said. This would likely involve giving the building user access of some kind to AI modeling Ghafari created to design the space that is linked to each part of the building.

“For me, it’s important being on the cutting edge, and looking forward and not looking backwards,” Eckert said. “We never want to say ‘This is how we’ve always done it,’ because then we’d be doing a disservice to our client.”

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