Toward an Open-Source Database of Accumulated AEC Knowledge

EBDVishal Porwal, in a thoughtful response to a question I posed in my initial post

How do we, as a discipline, capitalize on data and metadata to drive innovation in architecture and construction, just as other disciplines and industries have?


Evidence based design is one of the leading fields of research that will eventually result in data driven design and construction.

In a recent post I discussed the need in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry for an entity – a place or a site you could visit – to access relevant stats, numbers, figures.

In other words, evidence – to support your design, construction and operations decisions.

Not long after this post ran, I came across a prescient passage by Phil Bernstein FAIA.

In an interview with the Autodesk VP and Yale lecturer in the book Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design, Bernstein listed the two primary constraints of access to knowledge in the AEC industry as:

  • Storage capacity
  • Processing speed

Which he acknowledges today are both largely unconstrained.

OK, so if capacity and speed are no longer stopping us, what is?

An open-source database of accumulated knowledge

Bernstein suggests two other impediments:

  • The AEC industry’s need for an open-source database of accumulated knowledge
  • The lack of a research tradition in the AEC industry

Both of these, according to Bernstein, are major barriers to the creation of data necessary to drive current practice.

Is it a lack of knowledge structures?

Interestingly, Bernstein suggests that we need to address this challenge as a design problem:

  • To build an infrastructure for architectural research and practice
  • One that produces and disseminates useful knowledge about outcomes that are open, shared and easily accessible.

One might add, reliable data and knowledge.

Despite saying over and over that architecture is an art and a science, is it that we’re unpracticed at conducting research comparable to the sciences?

Is it a lack of a systemic infrastructure or, as Renee Cheng has so eloquently suggested, intellectual infrastructure?

Which ever it is, Bernstein is assured that what is lacking is the content – the data – to populate our tools, such as Building Information Modeling.

As the authors attest in Design Informed:

BIM will fall short of its full potential to predict performance outcomes until evidential data becomes readily available to inform the models.

The closing words of Design Reform are hopeful and provide us with a roadmap if we will only take up the challenge:

When systems to create, communicate, and apply strong, diverse evidence are in place and embedded within the design process, architecture will be recognized as a valuable, knowledge-based profession – a vision shared by most designers.


Read an excerpt of Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design here

Image via teehan+lax