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Fosters’ Hermes tool slashes design schedules

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Architect’s cloud-based collaboration tool updates designs in hours rather than days with models that all disciplines can use

Hermes was used to coordinate parametric assemblies between CAD and BIM software for the complex, curved louvres of the Dubai EXPO Mobility Pavilion
Hermes was used to coordinate parametric assemblies between CAD and BIM software for the complex, curved louvres of the Dubai EXPO Mobility Pavilion Credit: Foster & Partners

A real-time cloud collaboration tool has helped Foster + Partners slash weeks off its design schedules, its creators claim.  

Hermes is a web application, developed by Foster’s Applied Research and Development group (ARD) to enable design data sharing across multiple softwares, disciplines, organisations at locations around the world.

Specially created plug-ins for applications such as Grasshopper, Rhino, Dynamo for Revit, and Excel, instantaneously pick up design changes by architects, engineers and other consultants and convert them ready for use.

Partner Adam Davis told RIBAJ: ‘Hermes is able to transfer data, such as wireframes and meshes, in a way that can be immediately picked up and subjected to further downstream modelling processes in a truly automated fashion. Where previously an engineer might have had to spend a couple of days rebuilding a model they received from an architect, now that model can effectively generate itself automatically, so the engineer can focus on analysis and judgment instead of modelling.’

The software earned its stripes during the design of a current large project with a very tight schedule.

A small integrated team at Fosters, made up of architects, structural engineers, environmental engineers, sustainability experts, and BIM and design systems teams, used Hermes to share data both internally and with facade consultants based in Hong Kong, New York, and London.

Hermes can communicate design changes across multiple software platforms, including Grasshopper, Rhino, Dynamo for Revit, Unity games engine and Excel
Hermes can communicate design changes across multiple software platforms, including Grasshopper, Rhino, Dynamo for Revit, Unity games engine and Excel Credit: Foster & Partners

Partner Francis Aish, head of ARD, told RIBAJ: ‘Each discipline would build their own parametric model, but linked through Hermes to all their collaborators. This allowed for very efficient communication between teams. We had this cohesiveness and speed, small changes were propagated automatically and people spent their time designing and thinking rather than just modelling and documenting, which was absolutely critical.’

Also crucial to the time savings was the use of a smaller team with strong computational design skills and agreement between disciplines on how to structure the data, he added.

In one specific scenario, the client decided at short notice to reduce the height of the building. Hermes made it possible to regenerate all the models ‘in a matter of hours, and the drawings two days after that, compared to around two weeks using conventional processes,’ said Aish.

Fosters decided to develop Hermes when it realised there was no off the shelf software that would meet its requirements. The tool integrates with the practice’s active directory and is available to all staff. Users at other companies can be ‘grandfathered in’ with control over who can access data under what circumstances.

On the Lusail project in Qatar, the software was linked to Microsoft Teams to automatically notify key people of design changes instead of having to manually write and send emails.

Although Fosters is still in ‘early adopter phase’ with the tool, it has been used on around 80 projects to date. A current deployment on another major project has seen the level of model complexity handled by the tool significantly increase, said Davis.

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