Transformable apartments maximize limited space

Imagine rearranging your living space so you can throw a dinner party for 20 of your friends in the same room where you normally sleep. Or transforming your cozy home office into an elaborate home theater for family movie night. And doing all of that with just the wave of your hand or the sound of your voice.       

The home or apartment unit you are living in today, with defined rooms, static walls and immovable appliances, may soon become a thing of the past. Innovative urban planning experts and researchers are designing and prototyping new “transformable” units that will maximize limited square-footage and allow people to easily personalize their space layouts for their changing needs. Transformable units could soon become popular in cities that are facing affordable housing crises and “brain drain” because residential square footage is limited and far too expensive for working class families and young prospective talent.

In many cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami the limited inventory of available residential units are either the most expensive and spacious units or the units that are too compact to accommodate the needs of the people who work and live in town. But there are innovative researchers who believe that size isn’t everything and that the square footage of a residential unit shouldn’t determine its usefulness or value. What if the appeal of a residential unit had nothing to do with the actual size of that unit, but rather the flexibility that space could offer?

Apartment transformations “out of the box”

The Changing Cities team at MIT Media Lab is currently working on a project called CityHome that might just meet that urgent need for housing by helping residents make the most out of the space they can actually afford. CityHome is a slick mechanical box that is roughly the size of a closet and sits inside an apartment. The box stores everything from a bed and dining room table to a cooking range, kitchen surface and closet for extra storage. The CityHome contains all the essential components from various rooms in a traditional apartment unit, all in a single cube.

Continue Reading ›

Best of the Build Smart Blog 2015

Since launching our Build Smart Blog in February, we’ve enjoyed sharing the most unbelievable feats of engineering and innovation in the AEC industry. We’ve written about some of the most talented designers, engineers, architects, trade partners and visionary owners in the business and are amazed by how much they accomplished in 2015.

Highlighting everything from carbon-capturing concrete to a 3D-printed bridge in Amsterdam and Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, we have never been more excited about the future of construction. As we get ready to ring in 2016 we are taking stock of this year’s posts.

Before we sign off for the year, we’d like to share five of our favorite posts from 2015 that you might’ve missed:

1. Hardly a day at the beach: Building an underground parking garage on the Atlantic Shore: The first ever post on the Build Smart Blog dives deep below Miami’s shallow water table to tell the story of an underground parking garage that sits right on the ocean. This is unheard of in South Florida.

2. Harnessing solar energy with windows: By far one of our favorite posts this year was the story of companies turning windows into solar panels. Imagine if One World Trade Center in New York was basically a giant solar panel. How cool is that?

3. California water crisis spurs innovation: All the news media coverage of the drought in California this past summer got us thinking about what the construction industry can do to help. Turns out a lot. Our video about the benefits of using a membrane bioreactor to recycle water within a building is a good start.

4. Lean like Duggan: With the 17th Annual Lean Construction Institute Congress being held right in our backyard this year, we decided to highlight one of our trade partners that has fully embraced Lean manufacturing. E.M. Duggan is a lean, mean prefabrication machine. See for yourself.

5. The sky’s the limit for maglev elevators: For our money, the most exciting innovation to take a major leap forward in 2015 was maglev elevators. We posted about the unveiling of a 1:3 scale model of these cable-free elevators last month, but in May our intrepid writer, Dan Antonellis, explored this groundbreaking technology in full.

We look forward to another amazing year of innovations in the construction industry. You can share your innovations with us in the comment section below or email them to Justin Rice at

Happy New Year!

Watch: Boeing creates lightest metal known to man

A new video released by Boeing announces that the airplane manufacturer has developed the strongest and lightest metal known to science. The microlattice material amazingly consists of 99.99 percent air.

The three-dimensional open cellular polymer structure is compared to bones in that it is extremely rigid on the outside but mostly hollow on the inside. The microlattice resembles a steel wool Brillo pad with larger holes that can be squished like a sponge. In doing so, it can absorb massive amounts of force.

Boeing hopes this metal will increase fuel efficiency on their jetliners by using it for structural components such as sidewalls or floor panels that will result in a lighter airplane.

But imagine if this material could one day be used for bridges and buildings?

Structural steel is currently the gold standard for heavy-duty bridges and skyscrapers. Steel is no doubt a high quality durable material that erects speedily and is aesthetically pleasing. But Boeing’s new metal could have an even higher strength-to-weight ratio if engineered properly and therefore would minimize the cost of a bride or building’s foundation systems even more than steel. That’s important for fortifying anything constructed on poor soil. Lighter materials can minimize foundation work and are also easier to handle and transport.

Nick Nigro, Manager of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) at Suffolk Construction, said the new metal could potentially be used for structural systems in buildings such as floor beams or columns typically made from steel.

“The major advantage to a material like this is the reduction of overall deadload in structures that directly correlates the materials needed to support that structure,” Nigro said. “Instead of using a steal I-Beam that is 15 pounds per foot you could use this stuff that has the same strength and is, let’s say, only two pounds per foot.

“That reduced tonnage multiplied over the course of the building could result in significant savings.”

Raising a king-sized roof in Queens

As Serena Williams‘ bid for her historic Grand Slam continues at 7 p.m. tonight at the U.S. Open, the super structure of Arthur Ashe Stadium’s new retractable dome will hang overhead. The lightweight-fabric roof won’t be complete until next year, but we wanted to take a moment to share the backstory of the innovative thinking behind this unique construction project.

The largest tennis stadium in the world is sinking into a mound of coal ash decomposing at a rate of about a half an inch per year. So putting a retractable roof on the 23,771-seat structure that can’t support more weight was a particularly gnawing conundrum that kept countless architects up at night.

In fact, the Detroit-based international architecture firm, ROSSETTI, felt compelled to continue working on the riddle of covering Arthur Ashe Stadium even after initially losing the bid for the $150 million dome in 2009. ROSSETTI couldn’t resist the challenge of solving what other firms and four architectural studies couldn’t — even at the risk of taking a loss on a design that wouldn’t see the light of day.

“This is probably the first and only time we have done something like this,” Jon Disbrow, ROSSETTI’s lead architect for the project told us. Continue Reading ›

The reality of augmented reality

The following is the first part of a series on augmented reality in the AEC industry. 

While most people’s only exposure to augmented reality is that thin yellow line marking how far their favorite football team has to move the ball to complete a first down, the technology that overlays digital images on top of reality is no longer relegated to sports broadcasts. Augmented reality (AR) currently sits on the bleeding edge of several industries and sectors and is especially poised to become a mainstream tool in the architecture, engineering and construction fields.

In fact, Digi-Capital, a well-respected technology consultant and researcher, projected that revenues by businesses using virtual and augmented reality could hit $150 billion by 2020.

“That’s remarkable,” Paul Doherty — the president and CEO of the digit group, which designs and builds “smart cities” — told us. “We’re talking about stuff that only a few years ago was just in science fiction movies but … we’re living in a world where there are a lot of different experiments going on.”

Continue Reading ›

Soon, we will be able to construct an entire high rise building … with a printer.

Those of us who have worked in the construction industry for years have used printers to produce project plans, contracts, proposals and other important documents that are critical to the construction management process. But who would have thought that we would someday be using printers to actually construct the buildings themselves! This might sound like science fiction or fantasy but it’s becoming a reality with the use of 3D Printing technology, a state-of-the-art innovation that could completely transform the building construction industry as we know it and redefine the way we think about design, manufacturing and construction. Continue Reading ›