‘People see our work as sustainability; we call it social equity’

‘People see our work as sustainability; we call it social equity’

Michael Rendler, e7 director
Michael Rendler

e7 Architecture studio has designed a programme for the Los Angeles Community College District in the us which enabled the local students to develop a model of all the buildings, transportation and utility infrastructure, to support sustainability planning. However, the project goes beyond sustainability, says e7 director Michael Rendler, who feels it is all about strategic decision making, social equity and empowering students to take ownership of the society

You are developing BiM models of all buildings on the nine campuses of the los Angeles Community College District. you have said the primary motive behind developing these energy performance modelling is the lACCD’s goal to become the greenest community college district in the us. Can you elaborate on it?
It is a little bigger than just sustainability, which in itself is a big word. It [what we are doing] is really understanding the total lifecycle of how an education institution works, so that we can make strategic decisions about bringing either grant work into the colleges in partnerships with businesses or creating other education opportunities for the student population.

some people understand that as the next generation of sustainability. We call it social equity. The area where we don’t get any argument is the immediate return on investment on the energy management side. But I think there is a larger vision, given that these colleges are the economic centres in Los Angeles and their role and responsibility is to their student constituents, to provide them opportunities for student success. This is part of our vision of having a comprehensive model. This can be further connected to other geospatial datasets in the city that are interoperable with it.

So the big picture is not just about the sustainability of the buildings on your campus, but about how you can implement what you call social equity?
Right. There is a reciprocal relationship to that. We asked what the future of Los Angeles was and how the colleges were going to contribute to that future. If we need to add new curriculum, new laboratories or new grant opportunities at a college, what are the implications of that? Complete virtualisation of the campuses enables quick assessment of the implications of the above for resource requirements. Then we can build that into the grant proposal. If we are going to undertake a project with the departments of energy, health or emergency management, we will know the exact location of our resources and the facilities available to implement the projects.

LACCD is the largest community college district in the us, so there are a lot of eyes on this concept. People are saying that if we are able to do this in Los Angeles — the epicentre of design, advertising, entertainment, manufacturing, defence and all such sectors — then the concept can be applied to other cities and be a model for how education can really serve that local community.

When did this concept originate?
Marcela Oliva and I started the project in 2004 with funding from a bond programme. she and I worked together for about six to seven years to get the student projects to a sufficient level of professional quality. We showed that to the board of trustees. We brought geospatial technology into the Department of Architecture at the community college level because most of that was not even thought about in the early 1990s when we started on this vision. At that time, we saw that the whole geospatial technology, or at least a part of it, really belongs in the environmental design curriculum. We said that geospatial technology was an automatic fit here.

Was it as a geospatial repository or was there a vision of a virtual city for lA?
We see our model as a comprehensive geospatial model that includes visualisation. And that’s what we took to www.data.gov. A lot of times when you hear geospatial, you hear just topology, point, line, and polygon. It’s diagrammatic. But our vision was that it has to have full fidelity and one model. To do this, we developed cinematic capability based on spatial relationships and that took us into this whole other realm of visualisations and animations. All that data is georeferenced BIM models so that you can migrate and associate that to the more generally understood geospatial topology model.

There has been a cultural divide between engineers and architects and the geospatial professionals. how did you map your BiM models with real-world coordinates onto oracle spatial’s spatial data object structures?
We developed that workflow ourselves. In the beginning, we worked with the Autodesk geospatial group and used AutoCAD Map. This was 1996–97 and we brought them to show what we had done — we had integrated their entertainment, building design and geospatial products into one application. They found it interesting because this involved the full life cycle.

We classified our data [according to SDSFIE] and georeferenced it in AutoCAD Map and then migrated it into Oracle spatial as spatial data objects. It is all IFC-compliant. We have a link back to the spatial design feature — the piping, the electric wires, and then the classification is carried into Oracle spatial. Now, we have a publishing environment where we have a set of point, line, polygon objects linked back to our model by unique IDs.

I didn’t invent any of this. I was carefully tracking what the CADD/GIs Center of the us Department of Defense was doing. [The Center had developed a set of spatial Data standards for Facilities, Infrastructure, and Environment (SDSFIE) for exchanging CAD and GIs data] I was aware of the idea of data-driven environments. I had a contact in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority who had some funding from the Federal Department of Education and they had just launched their geospatial environment. This was probably 1995–96, and I talked to them in 2000–01 about putting this project together for the district. When I started looking into it more carefully, I decided to follow the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standard and specifically use Oracle sDO. Initially we launched just to get the portal up, to get the migration workflow working and to be able to show some simple concepts with SDSFIE. When the LACCD saw this running on Oracle, they were interested because they saw it as scalable.

e7 Architecture Studio has captured the entire LACCD campus, including 3D models of all the buildings, transportation and utility infrastructure in a geospatial repository, which can be used for planning and security purposes

How did you use SDSFIE?
Basically it’s a granularity issue. It is called ‘level of design’ in the BIM world, but in the civil world, they really do not have this concept. When we started this, we needed to decide whether a facility was a point, a line, or a polygon, and what attributes were attached to each type of facility. We quickly realised that we needed to standardise. Again, I was tracking the CADD/GIs Center and they had already done this in SDSFIE, so I downloaded the SDSFIE schema for Oracle. We had the schemas built into our facility and attribute tables inside of Oracle. For me, it was a simple way of setting a uniform standard rather than doing our own custom schemas.

I think the next generation in LA is going to be more regional. What I am referring to is the concept of a microgrid. Even our food supply is going to become more localised. We see the campuses as the beginning of that, the incubator of the cells, which are somewhat hermetic. We have very sophisticated water requirements for storm water e7 Architecture Studio has captured the entire LACCD campus, including 3D models of all the buildings, transportation and utility infrastructure in a geospatial repository, which can be used for planning and security purposes management with sensor controls, renewable energy arrays on all the campuses, central plant, power distribution, heating and cooling and so on. Our model has all these pieces that can scale out to what goes on in the entire city. We wanted to start as granular as we could and that is why we adopted SDSFIE. It enabled us to tie up what we were doing on the campuses to the whole city.

SDEFIE was originally designed for military bases and your campuses are not that different from military bases, except that you don’t have warplanes and runways.
There are things that we are never going to collect. But when you talk about cadastral mapping, soil investigation, information management, sensor arrays, electric power, water, communication, ducts, tunnels and so on, we have all of them and SDSFIE specifies the attributes you need to collect for all these facilities.

Do you have all your infrastructure networks, such as water, waste water and electric power included in the BiM model?
All the underground utility distribution systems across the campuses are part of the portal. The consultants did a lot of field verification. Then, as things were excavated, they realised that some of the things were not exactly the way they looked. I would like to say that it is 100% accurate, but a lot of new pipes have been put in place based on our programme. As these new pipes go in, they are classified and georeferenced. Now these are in a CAD file, properly georeferenced so we can migrate that into our Oracle database.

Companies are now being asked to deliver data, not just the blueprints. They don’t get that yet, but are beginning to realise that in the future they will have to deliver a model that has to be maintained and by employing our students, they will gain the ability to do this practically.

You see this as a microcosm of the whole city of los Angeles. is something being done to extend this project?
I believe that will happen through Homeland security, because I have been involved in meetings with them for the city, the county and the fire department and we have shown what we are building. They may not be able to get this for every single structure, but they can see that they need this for the court rooms, the police stations, strategic metro stations and so on. The fact that what I have shown has been built over a long period of time means it’s additive and not something that has to be put in place in a day. We have talked to the mayor and the county supervisors and they are aware of what we are trying to do.

What do you think are the next developments as far as the model itself goes?
I am working on psychology right now. We are going to spend $6 billion on these campuses over the next couple of years. To really run them correctly, you have to focus on behaviour. How do you get this virtual environment to augment the behaviour of students, the faculty and the campus? For me, that whole behavioural piece in environmental science is the next piece of repurposing all this information to augment behaviour.

So this means behavioural changes towards a sustainable future?
Exactly. We [must] understand [the importance of] turning off the lights, closing the windows, sensor controls, smart buildings and why we want to add regional centres. We have to understand why sustainability is important in terms of our communities and the social equity, and we tie them together. For me, that’s the next generation of this. We are fortunate that we got the funding and we have real leadership in our board of trustees who agree that this is important. At a higher level, they understand that it is the mission of the colleges to get the students to take ownership of our society because that is their future.