In November 2017 I had the honor and pleasure to serve in the jury at the Shanghai Hackathon. Tech enthusiasts with a passion for the design, engineering, construction and maintenance coded to improve the built environment. Ideas ranged from things as small as sprinklers and tubes to things as expansive as municipal trash collection systems. Projects working with building information models, digital maps and digital modeling tools used data from cameras and GPS, scanners, scales and other sensors to combine architectural design and visualization, make on-site assembly more accurate and safe, or localize defects in building systems instantly. No easy feat to rank the projects, teams had been working on ferociously for two days.

Judging criteria for evaluation were the following:


  • Is there a big problem you are solving?
  • Is your solution something that can be implemented on Monday?
    *bonus – What industry standards do you support?


  • How much of this code did you build this weekend?
  • Technical Difficulty


  • Impressiveness
    *bonus – What open standards do you support?
    *bonus – Is your project open source?

Personal favorites

My heart as an architect was beating loudest for a MR (Mixed Reality) application, an answer to the question how architects can show their clients and the public what it will be like to approach enter and look outside from a building that is not yet constructed. Imagine you meet your architect at the project site. She carries a tablet with app that allows her to pull up a 3d model of the design. The client points the camera of the tablet at the site and the perspective of the model is adjusted. The virtual modelling space features the current view of the site and blends in smoothly with the perspective outside the table’s frame. If you stand on the site of the future building, the model on the tablet gives you an interior perspective with accurate vistas to the outside and accurate light conditions in your building. The model can be modified by the architect on site as discussions with the client are going on. Freehand sketching in perspective, drawing floor plans, furniture and sections to scale have been and still are the core skill of architectural designers. 3d perspectives and scaled drawings are the medium of choice to communicate with clients, engineers and builders. Teaching first year design studio at Tongji I know that this way of abstraction is not intuitive to everyone. I am wondering if we will still be drawing in the future or if we will be modelling in digital 3d space in the very near future.

Ease of maintenance in existing buildings is very dear to my heart as it shows if the architects and engineers could deliver a good finished building. The given problem was, what if a pipe starts misbehaving? Unless the leak is major, it will likely go unnoticed until water marks show on the suspended ceiling or on a wall. Finding the cause of the symptom means dismantling false ceilings and searching or leaks that might be more or less close to where the symptom first appears. The team proposed to place sensors with every segment of a pipe or of a wire. That sensor would feed data in to a BIM model and a modelling software would report trouble early and localize the problem with rather high precision. Beyond speedy repair, connecting sensors to Mechanical Building Systems and to modelling software discrepancies to the ideal operation figures can be detected and operation can be adjusted, even if parts are intact.
And the winner is: A VR tour around campus designed by a group of college freshmen to help them and their peers navigate to and on campus. Practical, with a social component and could be implemented the next day.

The takeaway: tech innovation in the AEC is not easy, but it is fun to do it together! Thank you everyone for this inspiring weekend and stick with the motto of this session: “Keep the innovation going!”

The event was an AEC Hackathon was organized by AEC Hackathon and shanghaiBIM  and hosted by TECHCODE Shanghai (Fengtai).

Check here for past and upcoming AEC Hackathons.