UIA, part 2—Autodesk in Wonderland
Jerry Laiserin

In a July 22 press release, the company announced "that it will present its technology vision for the global building industry" in a July 24 talk by Phillip G. Bernstein, vice president of the Building Industry Division. Even though I'd missed an entire night's sleep during the 18-hour portal-to-portal trek from New York via Frankfurt, I went directly to Phil's venue upon arrival in Berlin. Now, Phil is a great speaker, and delivered an engaging presentation to a packed auditorium, but the specifics of the "technology vision" may surprise you.

In ancient times, the priestly class (who were the "industry analysts" of their day) divined the course of events by examining the entrails of sacrificial goats. There were no goats in evidence at the UIA (and a good thing, too, as anyone who's seen Edward Albee's recent Broadway opus, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? would cringe at the thought of architects and goats cohabiting the same locus). However, some sort of augury or sign would have come in handy in helping to identify the shifts in Autodesk's "technology vision for the global building industry."

Phil's talk was necessarily slanted towards the European introduction of Autodesk Architectural Studio (AAS, available for some time now in the USA—we'll look at "what's new in AAS2" in an upcoming issue). Entitled "Drawing on Tradition," the talk also had to serve as a lead-in to co-presenter Patrick Schuhmacher, from the London-based practice of Zaha Hadid (Autodesk's entry in this show's "war of the internationally famous architects"). Thus, Phil positioned AAS as a "digital gateway" to the design process that "crosses the generational gap, " but doesn't "lock you in to the kind of environment of ADT [Autodesk Architectural Desktop] or [Autodesk] Revit."

The recently acquired Revit was, somewhat surprisingly, mentioned very little and earned only a middling bar on Phil's updated "architectural products versus project phases" bar-graph slide (six weeks ago, in the USA, Autodesk's building industry vision presentation had substituted a distinct 3X3 matrix, in which designers, builders, and facility managers were each provided with tools to author, publish, and analyze—Revit filled the builder/author box, with its parametric costing). Early June's "author, publish, analyze"—which some folks, myself included, thought a tad too similar to Bentley's "create, publish, manage"—has morphed into late July's "envision, design, realize," with AAS clearly positioned as the "envision" workhorse in that troika.

Those, like me, who leapt to the conclusion that the "technology vision" presented at UIA would tip Autodesk's hand re the relative future fates of ADT and Revit, apparently will just have to wait awhile longer (recall that it took Autodesk several years after acquiring Softdesk to bring most of the underlying functionality of Softdesk8 into the suite of ADT3.3, Autodesk Building Mechanical2 (ABM), and Autodesk Building Electrical2 (ABE)). Reading the entrails of Autodesk University's just-published conference program reveals no portents either; counting the session, "ADT to Revit—Migrating to Advanced Building Modeling," in both the ADT and RVT columns still leaves ADT with a 15:10 edge in session topics at an event scheduled as far off as December.

Down on the expo floor at UIA/PlanCom, Revit was virtually invisible in the Autodesk booth. European trade shows for AEC can be eye-openers to Americans accustomed to seeing Autodesk as the dominant player. In Berlin, Autodesk was in the furthest back corner of the hall, with a stand noticeably smaller than those of German-market rivals Graphisoft and Nemetschek. While Nemetschek's stand opted for understated corporate spaciousness, and Graphisoft's stand was jam-packed with multi-functional activity areas, Autodesk's smaller stand devoted the outermost twenty percent or so on each side to demo stations for about nine local-market resellers (plus stations for Autodesk's own Discreet and Buzzsaw divisions). Most of the Autodesk-proper booth real estate was devoted to AAS running on the Wacom Cintiq touch-screen monitor-board display—an "in your face" counter to Nemetschek's PlanDesign FT running on the "D-Board" that Nemetschek rebrands from Wacom.

Curiously (at least from the perspective of a US-market observer) Autodesk's German-market dealers listed at their stations a wide array of third-party products that mostly complemented—but in a few instances seemed to compete with—Autodesk's own offerings. A quick cruise by the stations turned up: 3-D paint program Piranesi from Informatix; 3-D model viewer NavisWorks from NavisWorks/LightWorks; structural package Pro-Steel 3D from Kiwi Software GmbH; plus the SOFiCAD from Sofistik AG and PalladioX from acadGraph modeling add-ons/pug-ins to AutoCAD (PalladioX, which in its latest version comes complete with wall, door, window, column, stair, slab, roof, dimension, and schedule object-tools, was once promoted in the US market as "Arch14" by Nemetschek's erstwhile USA marketing arm of the mid-1990s). Just like the real thing, CAD politics makes strange bedfellows.

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