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February 2015

Renewing Old Apartment Buildings Together

Old apartment buildings waste a lot of resources and Imagine My City aims to fix that with their ALERT (Affordable & Low-income Environmental Renewal in Toronto) project. Ramtin Attar from the Environment and Ergonomics Research group is leading the charge along with support from others at Autodesk and around the city.

ALERT Imagine My City

What is Imagine My City?

Imagine My City is a not-for-profit organization focused on community-based collaboration in issues related to our built environment. The city is a creative laboratory where we all have a crucial role in shaping our collective environment.

The Challenge

The Toronto region has almost 2,000 residential towers that are 30 to 70 years old and house one million citizens. The equivalent of one coal-fired power plant is needed to heat and deliver energy to these buildings. The investments we make will define life in our communities for decades.

What is ALERT?

Project ALERT is a toolkit to support continuous life-cycle environmental improvement in Toronto’s residential high-rises by connecting tenants, landlords, building owners and utilities representatives. This will result in positive impact across a variety of areas including:

  • Economic – A participating building owner pursuing deep retrofits will see his or her energy bills drop by 62% -- an annual savings of almost $300,000. The region’s 1,925 buildings could unlock over half a billion dollars in savings per year. Imagine all the productive uses this money could go towards, simply by being smarter about how we use energy.
  • Environmental – Every building that participates would absorb the carbon of a forest twice the size of Toronto’s Centre Islands. 
  • Social – Tenants would experience better indoor air quality, especially those who suffer from asthma. And regionally, we would be protecting the long-term viability of our affordable housing stock.


 A recent ALERT workshop focused on tenant engagement for two reasons:

  1. Engaging tenants in energy conservation is an important part of the strategy
  2. Expenditures around tenant initiatives need to be justified; what are the benefits associated with the costs?

Participants of the workshop like Ravi Subramanian who manages 19 buildings and Anne Gloger from East Scarborough Storefront discussed challenges that the tenants face including poverty and a lack of coordinated effort (not attending tenant meetings and reporting building problems individually) and how they are currently working to overcome this by building a greater sense of community.

Other possibilities were evaluated to further enhance tenant engagement with the top two from this list getting the highest priority:

  • Share savings with tenant
  • Ensure program sustainability
  • Measure and benchmark
  • Involve kids
  • Provide tenant education
  • Create pilot projects to assess approaches
  • Create partnerships with other local organizations
  • Establish shared resident/management goals
  • Celebrate success and attract media
  • Share methods through a community of practice
  • Develop a business case
  • Create a funding model to support tenant engagement

If you have ideas to share, Imagine My City is happy to have your input. If you want to learn more about the workshop you can read the full notes.


Dreamcatcher for Home Design?

A while back Michael Bergin from the Autodesk Design Research group worked on something called the Housing Agency System (HAS) with the goal of making mass-produced housing more exciting and personal. This builds nicely on our previous Dreamcatcher post called the End of Design as We Know It? as it discusses the possibility of bringing design back to a process that would benefit homeowners and society at large.

Dreamcatcher for home design Autodesk Research

The design of houses has become a highly mechanized process with few houses having direct involvement with an architect or licensed design professional. A few home plans are created and then copied, mirrored and rotated to create standardized communities.

Autodesk Research Dreamcatcher Home Design

The Housing Agency System as outlined would take design criteria such as family needs and climate conditions as goals and create homes from components defined in a parametric Building Information Model (BIM). This would both increase the number of options available and increase the viability of mass customization, it may even help to avoid the standardized blandness that has enveloped our suburbs and exurbs.

With the HAS, the following criteria could be considered in the generation of home plans:

  • Site Model: Topography, obstructions and trees, market value of adjacent homes and location of utility inputs are examples of required information for the site model. 
  • Planning Strategies: Planning for one or more houses simultaneously and account for interaction between the various units, the frequency of pedestrian pathways, parks setbacks and density standards.
  • Construction Systems: Construction systems such as light frame, heavy timber and light gauge steel construction systems.
  • Building Components: Pre-fabricated or manufactured elements like windows, doors, stairs and mechanical equipment.

Once solutions are created, shareholders can review and decide if they are happy with the results. If they are happy, planning documents can be created.

Autodesk Research Dreamcatcher Home Design

In the simulation phase outlined above, there are a number of things that could be evaluated, including:

  • Structural Simulations: Determine if the solutions meet requirements for gravity, wind and seismic loading.
  • Cost and Schedule Simulations: Cost simulations evaluate the first and approximate lifecycle costs of a building. 
  • Flood, Fire and Code Simulations: Analyze the risk of flood and fire in addition to tests for code violations.

Stakeholders - including designers, contractors, and clients - could adjust design criteria to explore the space as shown below.

Autodesk Research Dreamcatcher Home Design

The HAS is not a simple system to create but it can be helped through simplified mobile computing, public interest in design, increased industry collaboration through BIM and elastic cloud computing. Such a system could help to inform the general public of the value that architects add to the design of homes and provides a venue for interaction and advertisement can help architects regain some of their involvement in this market.

Pacific Graphics 2015 Call For Papers

Jos Stam from the Simulation and Graphics group at Autodesk Research will be co-chairing the Pacific Graphics 2015 Program in Beijing from October 7-9, 2015


Pacific Graphics provides a premium forum for researchers, developers, practitioners in the Pacific Rim and around the world to present and discuss new problems, solutions, and technologies in computer graphics and related areas. Pacific Graphics 2015 will be hosted by Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The call is now open for people to submit their original, unpublished papers in all areas of computer graphics and its applications. Suggested topics include (but are not limited to) modeling, rendering, animation, and imaging, as well as visualization, human-computer interaction, and graphics systems and applications. Any interesting new ideas related to computer graphics and applications are welcome.

Important Dates for Authors:

Abstract Submission May 8, 2015 - 23:59 PDT (GMT-7)
Full/Short Paper Submission May 15, 2015 - 23:59 PDT (GMT-7)
Author Notification July 4, 2015 - 23:59 PDT (GMT-7)

The conference proceedings of Pacific Graphics 2015 will be published as an issue of the Eurographics journal, Computer Graphics Forum (CGF), in print and online. 


Draco at the Animation Design Night

Autodesk hosts a public Design Night at the Gallery in San Francisco to celebrate all the cool aspects of design. The most recent night was all about animation with a talk by Patrick Osborne, Director of Feast, at Walt Disney Animation Studios. And we got to show off Draco and the work we've been doing with integrating photos.

There are always cool exhibits to see at the Gallery and we were able to make the giant Lego dinosaur a little more alive.


Design Night has themed making activities and we saw some really cool thaumatropes.


Design Night, as a celebration of design, is more fun with a DJ.


And of course, if you're lucky, you can get your picture taken with a celebrity.