Most people are familiar with architectural visualization, which is often focused on making the building look as beautiful and attractive as possible. What I do, you might call “engineering visualization for buildings”. It has a different emphasis, focusing on explaining how complex systems actually make a building work, and helping people make better decisions about those systems.
The sustainable element of our work is central to what I do. Often Integral Group’s design choices are not the “normal way” things have been done in the past. When we have an innovative idea for a more sustainable approach to design, we have to explain what we want to do and how it’s going to work, getting buy-in from the team to move forward with it. A lot of our designs are not immediately intuitive. They are also related to all the other systems in the building in a very complex way that isn’t easy to understand, even if you have a technical background.
The purpose of my work is to communicate our sustainable approach so we can turn it into a reality.
I started my career as a mechanical design engineer, but soon got deep into Revit and BIM work. For years I was doing a blend of engineering and BIM execution on dozens of high-profile, sustainable building projects. I ran into issues where we would have very innovative ideas and approaches to building systems, but we would struggle to communicate our ideas in an effective way. We would come to the table with charts and graphs and then bore everyone to death.
At the time I was experimenting with different 3D programs for fun as a creative way to problem solve my work. US West Engineering Design Leader, Eric Solrain, would look over my shoulder and ask if I could take a screenshot of a 3D model to put in a report to impress our client, and so I started trying to figure out how to make those images look more attractive. Connecting the dots, I realized I might be able to use visual communication techniques to explain our ideas in a way that non-engineers can understand. It was then I started teaching myself 3D modeling, rendering, and animation.
I decided to commit fully to this work, and now I only do visualization and animation work. It’s an interesting blend because, with my background in engineering, I fully understand the systems that I’m trying to tell a story about having designed them earlier in my career. With my time invested in learning digital art and animation skills, I’m connecting our innovative design concepts with wider audiences.
And this is only the beginning. There are so many great ideas that urgently need to be daylighted, deserve better understanding and cultural momentum to make their positive impact in the world. I work with the best and brightest people the green building world, and I’m helping bring their ideas and concepts to life.
If I were 100% an engineer, I wouldn’t be as effective at communicating the story about my designs. Charts and graphs are meaningful, but don’t often inspire people. It’s a common problem among engineers doing important and innovative work: we don’t know how to show people we’ve got great ideas.
If I were 100% an artist, I wouldn’t have the foundational understanding of engineering — thermodynamics, fluids, heat transfer, building systems best practices — that is required to tell a story rooted in the reality the built environment. These concepts are complex — I still struggle to understand them better myself, and I spent half a decade in engineering school!
Now I’m doing three things: helping Integral Group win jobs at the interview stage, explaining an idea to get buy-in from the client or architect, or telling the story about the amazing projects we’ve already completed.
By convincing people we have exceptional design ideas, visualizations can have a big impact on the construction process itself. Sitting in a discussion at Autodesk University about visualization tools in the field, a project manager from a major general contractor said, “If you bought an iPad for every guy out in the field, and they were better able to understand the building and avoided even one mistake, the iPads have paid for themselves.”
It’s one thing to convince the client to buy into a cutting edge sustainable design, but you also have to effectively communicate your idea to the rest of the design team. The synthesis of these concepts across all shareholders impacts the success or failure of the project. If the contractors don’t understand the design intent, it’s very easy for a project to go over budget, not get built correctly, and worst of all, not perform well or achieve its sustainability goals.
If you get through all of this, the end result is a high-performing building that operates wonderfully because of this incredibly innovative idea – and we want to spread this success. We don’t want it to stop with that one building, or even with our company. Integral Group’s mission is to figure out better ways of doing things, and then share those ideas so others can emulate and evolve those ideas.
It is not about what Integral Group can do directly with its share of the built marketplace, it’s about how we can all have a collective impact in the building industry, and the world at large. We need to share what works and what doesn’t, in a way that people will understand, be inspired by, and ultimately, use in their own design process.
Want to see Tyler’s work in action? Click play on the video below to see Tyler’s animation for a speculative timber frame office building.