Calling all hackers, coders and gamers to the AEC space

Calling all hackers, coders
and gamers to the AEC space

by GREG HOWES, cofounder, AEC Hackathon | Aug 2, 2015

Today, hundreds of millions of people have played video games like The SimsMinecraft and now Cities Skylines. So, many have wondered why we are not using these amazing technologies and engaging more with the gamer and coder communities to open and democratize architecture and construction. After all, who will be able to design and build our digital future? And when will we begin to see technologies being used for real buildings like those portrayed in the video below?

Shelter is a basic human need and billions of people need new and better housing while resource constraints require that it be delivered faster, better and cheaper and also be more energy-efficient and high-performance. People in many countries spend more than 90% of their time in buildings and our homes and offices should also be healthier environments and not making us sick

Technology, automation, and social media all enable new and far more efficient ways to collaboratively and efficiently design, build and manage buildings. So why does the construction industry remain so stubbornly inefficient?  It is also one of the only industries that has seen declining productivity.  

Technology, innovation and integrating design with fabrication and building will transform every industry -- even construction. World changer Elon Musk shares his Tony Stark perspective on this, with a real world example, in this video on "The Future of Design"... 

With Tesla Motors, Elon Musk is working to make a great electric car affordable and push the automotive (and solar and space exploration) industry forward. Why can't we (individuals and millions of companies large and small) do the same in construction? Elon's too busy with cars, space and solar.  And if he doesn't have time to build out Hyperloop, we can't wait around for him to transform housing. 

New technologies enable industry professionals, consumers and anyone with a smartphone to interact with digital design and manufacturing data in real-time and with other users. Our data and lives are moving into the cloud and immersive technologies make it possible for anyone enter into the data and experience and customize their increasingly mashed up digital and physical life.

More technologies with even greater potential are under development from companies like Microsoft, which has already disclosed Hololens partnerships with global leaders in design software like AutodeskTrimble and Dassault and the Google-funded (over $500 million) Magic Leap has announced a partnership with Cloud CAD innovator On-Shape, a company already working with new open source design and manufacturing communities like Local Motors

Unfortunately, for the extremely fragmented and diverse building industry, there is no single answer and no magic bullet. After decades in both the construction and technology industries, I have learned that change-resistance is not a technical problem; it is a people problem.  I believe the best and only way to accelerate change and enable the industry to supply the housing a crowded planet requires is to openly hack the industry and collaborate with the crowd (our customers) and technology companies. We can redesign, remodel, renovate and rebuild, using new technologies and unprecedented collaboration across industries.

After decades in both the construction and technology industries, I have learned that change-resistance is not a technical problem — it is a people problem.


To kick-start this collaboration (known as the cold start problem in the tech industry) and innovation a group of like-minded (and impatient geeks) like me co-founded the AEC Hackathons in Silicon Valley on Facebook's campus (Thanks, Facebook team! See you again in November on Hacker Way) back in 2013. 

We had no idea what kind of response we could reasonably expect to receive, nor who would actually show up. So we organized a party and reached out to our networks in both the construction and technology industries and invited those we knew to be geeks and stubbornly-insistent on pushing the industry forward. What happened? "Our people" showed up from all over. Our volunteer group of rebels and pirates connected instantly with curious people flying in from all over -- and even from other countries -- to escape restrictive work environments. We geeked-out over a long weekend and created some amazing hacks.

from that one spark...

And we must have struck a nerve. We were immediately inundated with inquiries. Many wanted to know who was finally making this happen, and who was funding this effort that the industry so badly needed? We didn't have an answer. We were funded only by passion and the desire for change. The people making it happen were just those who chose to show up and to do it.  

How time flies when you are trying to change the world!

We are now on our 10th AEC Hackathon and our network and events have gone global, with our last event taking place in London last month. We have also hacked the industry in New YorkDallasChicagoLos Angeles and will soon be in Holland and Finland.  We have attracted a bit of sponsorship to cover a few of the expenses of our non-profit, and we have generated a lot of attention. But our real asset is our open community which shares the knowledge that hacking this industry is necessary, timely, and that it can have a massive impact.

With that in mind, please join us when we return to Seattle on September 25-27th at the University of Washington's Center for Education and Research in Construction. If you have never been to a hackathon before, don't worry. The techies who there still need your front-line building industry insight. (Read this report from a new participant at our hackathon in London last month for a first hand account.) Expect the teams and hacks to be diverse, fun, but serious-minded. The video below, entitled "Dude, where's my nail gun?", is a winning example from the first AEC Hackathon in Seattle last September.

And here is a very technical example (and the winner) from the AEC Hackathon London, Ghost BIM Squad (short video here).  You will meet hundreds of other innovators from both the technology and building industries to help design, hack and build the future of our industry. You know who you are and now is the time to put your own Steve Jobs-ian "ding in the universe" and our $8.5-trillion industry.  

Are you one of us?  I'll defer to Steve Jobs and his way of asking that question...

Based in Seattle, the author is a co-founder and board member of the AEC Hackathon. He is also the founder and CEO of IDEAbuilder, and founder and chairman of the Digital Fabrication Network. Howes describes himself as "a Builder, Maker, Fabricator, Innovator, Gamer and Entrepreneur."  

He can be reached via email at

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