Automation by Design

Kahler Slater

Behind the historical significance of the regal Wisconsin State Capitol, the warm elegance of Sentara Healthcare’s Martha Jefferson Hospital, and the clean and contemporary lines of the Hooper Corporation offices are countless hours of careful, detailed design work that go into a signature Kahler Slater building or space. Founded in 1908, the Milwaukee-based architectural firm Kahler Slater with offices in Madison, WI, Chicago, IL, and Richmond, VA, has been creating beautiful, functional environments to meet the needs of clients for more than a century.

What drives and fuels the team behind the scenes of these architectural feats? What tools and tricks of the trade help the designers to deliver state-of-the-art, purposeful design solutions for clients?  Every architectural achievement they produce results from smart people, passion, and partnerships combined with powerful tools and technology that seamlessly work together to elevate and innovate at every level of a project.

Synergistic collaboration

For the past two years, Kahler Slater has partnered with Microdesk, a leading global digital delivery and management consulting firm and part of Symetri, Addnode Group, for building information modeling (BIM) technology support, including customized design automation needs using Revit with Dynamo and utilizing Orkestra (sold independently by Mostafa) to deploy the scripts. The use of Dynamo, a visual programming add-in for Autodesk Revit, which provides open-source graphical programming, enables custom computational design and automation processes for the BIM application. (Other technology including Autodesk Construction Cloud Docs for file exchange and tracking, Design Collaboration within the Autodesk Construction Cloud platform for client collaboration, and Camtasia for tool tips videos are also used throughout the process.) Together, the teams at Microdesk and Kahler Slater have worked closely and regularly to brainstorm and create customized scripts and workflows that have led to timesaving, creative solutions, and ultimately, successfully designed products that help drive results for clients.

Enabling possibilities

New technology and digitization have been transforming the work of architects for decades – from BIM to 3D printing to artificial intelligence. Innovation and automation have propelled the industry to operate more efficiently, productively, and sustainably. It also opens up doors to be more creative in architectural design, aiding in the execution of complex tasks, and freeing designers to use their time and talents for larger scale ideas. Computational and generative design tools like Revit and Dynamo, can be used to automate routine tasks, create highly complex designs, and enable creativity while improving efficiency.

Driving efficiencies

At Kahler Slater, the combination of creativity and efficiency is key. Design teams are learning the benefits of design automation with more and more project managers, project architects, and specialists adopting the technology in their everyday work. The passion that team members have for Dynamo’s ability to create efficiencies and make a difference in their work is contagiously spreading to others.

“People are starting to use the technology to create timesaving scripts and they quickly get the mindset of ‘Oh, I don’t have to do this all by hand. This could be a faster process.’  It’s starting to get the wheels turning internally with users,” explained BIM Manager Amanda Abbott-Wiemann at Kahler Slater.

Dynamo and Revit together can be utilized to create individual scripts, combined for workflows, that can automate repetitive processes, minimize human error, and ultimately make the design process more efficient. Automation empowers people to do better work in more efficient ways. Using these innovative, custom tools, the designers can save time previously spent on tedious, repetitive tasks to be more productive, enabling more meaningful work and raising the level of creativity and innovative thinking.

“The time saved permits our team to focus not only on more interesting or innovative aspects of the job, but also allows us to better address specific client goals and needs. We move from “doing the job” to elevating and expanding ideas, all to support our clients,” shared Tracie Parent, Chief Operating and Financial Officer at Kahler Slater.

As an example, for one large Kahler Slater hospital project, the team was tasked with setting up all the views for specific rooms, including floor plans and interior elevations. “We developed a series of scripts to automate the process. And as a result, we laid out an entire set within a day, which would normally take more than a week to do,” said Paul Kitchen, Architect and Automation Leader at Kahler Slater. “Creating powerful tools that automate many, many small time-consuming tasks, executed in one touch of a button, opens up possibilities to do more — more leading-edge ideas and more for our clients.”

Customization is key

The automation that Revit and Dynamo provides works best because it is customized specifically for Kahler Slater’s needs and projects. “Everything is custom. Working with Microdesk allows us to go out of the box and create our own workflows for our own specific challenges and goals,” said Kitchen. “We are able to reach the end goal faster by identifying the steps to solve the specific issue or task in front of us. This allows us to better focus on thinking through and solving problems for our clients.”

Microdesk and Kahler Slater work together to develop the right process to accomplish each goal in the quickest and most efficient way. New scripts are developed by looking at what pain points and challenges exist in a design process. These customized tools connect the dots for each project with an eye toward “how can we do this better.”

Flexibility throughout design

In a design concept phase, architects develop a series of possible building designs using a number of sketches and models. This stage can be time-consuming with multiple iterations and countless steps. Custom developed scripts simulate manual, repetitive tasks like placing walls, doors, and windows, and generating floor plans, elevations, 3D views, and renderings quickly and accurately. The Kahler Slater team uses these tools over and over again, throughout the progression of the design. Scripts and workflows can be adjusted and improved as needed to support the integration of different requirements and iterations. The technology also streamlines documentation work, with instant revisions to plans, elevations, schedules, and sections as projects change. Designs are able grow with a project and be continually enhanced.

Data-driven quality

Improving the quality of design models is another valuable behind-the-scenes benefit Dynamo scripts provide. “The technology helps us evaluate how models are actually functioning, capturing holes and quality issues, flagging small details within our models, and improving the workflow,” explained Jess Gardner, Project Architect at Kahler Slater. “Our model health checker acts as a database, aggregating data about projects across the firm, so we can track improvement over time. We have tangible data to create benchmarks and quality control for models. It’s a big win across the organization.”

It also promotes consistent and reliable data across models used at Kahler Slater, which help teams become more agile, as they move onto different projects, and support each other’s work.

Igniting passion from top to bottom

The technology and drive for automation and efficiency is working its way through all levels of the organization, from the grassroots, designers in the trenches to top leadership. “We are planting the seeds for the passion to grow all through team members, inspiring and retaining employees, and creating value throughout the firm,” said Parent. “This passion and drive to do more and move beyond the ‘weeds’ of exacting design work translates to our clients and fulfilling their needs.”

*Microdesk is doing business as Symetri and has changed their name as of 6/26/23. 

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