Anthony Frausto-Robledo Advocates for the Tech That Can Transform AEC

With one foot in architecture and one in journalism, the founder of Architosh, Anthony Frausto-Robledo, has built a successful career that straddles both worlds — and gives him a unique perspective on digital transformation.

Anthony Frausto-Robledo, AIA, LEED AP, is a multifaceted fixture of the architecture world, working as both a creative member of its ranks and a keen observer of its evolutions. He is a practising architect and the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Architosh, an independent online magazine providing AEC and design professionals and students with news, analysis, and product information.

Meet Anthony Frausto-Robledo at the online CAD event Graebert neXt

Mr. Frausto-Robledo will also be the guest speaker for a 30-minute technical keynote in the Graebert neXt online event on April 7, 2022. Register now to see “Cloud CAD & Mobile CAD in DWG: What is the Digital Transformation Improving?” plus other keynote sessions addressing “DWG for BIM,” “DWG for Mechanical,” and “What’s Next for 2D/3D CAD in DWG?” (Users in Japan, DACH, and India are invited to attend special localized online events coming in May.) By way of introduction, he shared his thoughts about the past and future of AEC technology with Graebert.

Proof of the Power of Digital Transformation

His multilayered career has given Mr. Frausto-Robledo firsthand experience with the profound power of digital technologies and workflows. “When I started Architosh, I wasn’t a journalist (unless you count my involvement in my college’s publications); I was an architect. And I wasn’t really a technologist either, but I was growing increasingly interested in technology,” he recalled. Expanding his tech expertise, honing his journalism skills, and building Architosh into a sustainable business — all while working as an architect in private practice — added up to an overwhelming amount of work.

“In the beginning, the labor was quite crushing, but those loads have lessened tremendously due to technology,” Mr. Frausto-Robledo reported. Gradually, he implemented a myriad of time-saving and effort-multiplying tools, ranging from WordPress and content management systems to Evernote and Zoom. The resulting efficiencies enabled his parallel businesses to not only survive, but thrive.

“What that has done for me is, it’s shown me the possibilities of digital transformation,” he said. “And because I occupy two different worlds, I’ve already lived through the proof that digital transformation can be quite transformative at the bottom line, and I imagine that’s what’s possible for the AEC world, if we could ever get there.”

“Going from a file-based publishing workflow in the very beginning, 20 years ago, to a database-driven workflow where everything’s operating through your browser — that’s precisely the kind of transformation that could happen for AEC,” he continued. “And we’re just not there yet, we’re still so tied down to files, specific file formats for moving data around — like that’s the only way to get data shared, is through the entrapment of a file format? It’s phenomenal how behind and slow it’s been for AEC, when I look at the publishing world and what they’ve done.”

An End to the ‘Lonely Years’ for Mac-Using Architects

Although the name hasn’t changed since Mr. Frausto-Robledo launched Architosh in 1999, the site has grown beyond its original Macintosh-centric focus to address all computing platforms and devices. “When Architosh got started, Apple was in a very different place, and the Windows world was in a very different place. And so [Architosh] really began from that context, and that context is completely changed now,” Mr. Frausto-Robledo observed. “If we started today, we would not have this Mac preference.”

It may be hard to imagine that there was ever a time when Mac users struggled to find content produced just for them, but a 2002 article in the LaiserinLetter serves as a testament to just how different that earlier era was. In his newsletter, industry analyst Jerry Laiserin assessed Architosh’s importance this way:

Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes, surely must have watched over the Macintosh-based architectural CAD community through many lean and lonely years until Apple Corp’s recently revived interest. Architosh, edited by the doggedly determined Anthony Frausto-Robledo, has long served as a guide for Mac-using architects through the wilderness (Window-ness?).

“I don’t think people need to be praying to Saint Jude anymore for Apple or the Mac, that’s clearly not the case,” Mr. Frausto-Robledo laughed.

Apple’s market penetration and mindshare aren’t the only things that have changed in the past two decades. When it comes to user experience, the gulf between Macs and PCs has narrowed substantially over the years. Nevertheless, there is a large and devoted contingent of Mac users who will never defect, staunchly resisting temptations such as lower prices.

A gulf-bridger by nature, Mr. Frausto-Robledo has used both platforms for three decades, and sees the strengths of each. “I do think it comes down to aesthetics on some level, or personal preference — there is a feel difference on the Mac,” he stated. “I like to work on the Mac when I’m working across multiple applications, because I find it easier to work with the Finder and files, and to move things around between apps and files and so forth.” He appreciates the greater optionality, and the “savvy, cool features” that allow users to move across directories, he noted. “But Windows is my go-to for GPU performance, and just having access to an expansive set of applications.” 

Tech May Change Quickly, but AEC Firms Don’t

Important as they are, Mac and Windows are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tech evolutions that affect the AEC space. From users to product developers to industry analysts, everyone wants to know what the future holds. But forecasting the future of AEC is no easy feat; as an example, Mr. Frausto-Robledo pointed to BIM, which has taken much longer to roll out than industry watchers expected.

Even something that’s “very practical and valuable” and already in use at some AEC firms, like virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) headgear, may not be near the tipping point yet. “I think things move slowly, and I think honestly that it will take Apple to super-popularize VR and AR headsets and AR glasses,” he predicted. “I think that the way practitioners work, it needs to be a device that isn’t tethered to anything, and you can pop it on really quickly, and they’re so cheap that everyone can have one. That’s when it will completely change, and I think that’s still years away — but I think we’re getting there fast.”

How ARM Will Influence Software Development

“When it comes to the evolution of hardware and software in our industries, I think the big change that’s ahead of us is the transition to ARM-based processors,” Mr. Frausto-Robledo said. “They already are disrupting the industry in a big way: They have such a phenomenal advantage in terms of performance per watt, and so much computing is mobile. So whether it’s the M1 chip in iPads now, or the ARM processors that Qualcomm’s building to compete with the M1 that will run Windows, I think we’re going to see a lot of software being rewritten from the ground up.

“Around ARM, it’s the perfect opportunity [for developers] to rethink their code bases. That will democratize a lot of software that will then cross the platform divide, as well as then being able to be set up for the AR glasses, the VR headsets, things like Omniverse with NVIDIA, things that involve game engines, things that involve reaching across to other devices, so there’s more plurality and you can take one code base to multiple points on the device chain.”

The ARM situation, Mr. Frausto-Robledo noted, is likely to give developers pause when they consider creating new desktop solutions. It’s simply easier to build tools for the web: “It’s faster, it’s a lower barrier to entry than trying to build a desktop system that you then have to [adapt to] span platforms. Every platform has a browser, and your data wants to be in the cloud anyway, so just build a web browser–access cloud solution. And I think that’s where we’re going to see a continuation of more and more startups entering the market, the AEC market in particular.”

The Ecological and Economic Bottom Line

Mr. Frausto-Robledo investigates, analyzes, and reports on new technologies because they’re fascinating tools, but also because he knows what’s at stake: The AEC industry is a huge and hungry consumer of resources, and the planet cannot sustain the repercussions much longer. He has high expectations for digital transformation’s ability to mitigate those negative effects — eventually.

“My take is that it’s going very slow, and part of the problem is that half the world — or maybe at least half the U.S. — doesn’t take climate change seriously,” he said. “There’s some great technology out there in the AEC software space that can really help architects design much more efficient buildings, but we need clients to step in and demand that they want these things, and a lot of clients don’t — because they hear the wrong thing about climate science, or they hear that it’s too expensive.”

Reining in energy consumption, reducing waste, and increasing efficiency can not only help the planet, but also benefit the industry itself. “The AEC industry has been plagued with poor productivity growth rates -— phenomenally flat compared to every other industry on Earth, practically,” he observed.

Mr. Frausto-Robledo pointed out that solving these problems requires a cultural shift as well as a technological one. “The value system of architecture is all wrong: We don’t need ‘starchitects,’” he said, referring to those few “rock stars” so famous that their names become brands. “Starchitects are all about the individual’s value, and architecture is a team sport. I think the real heroes in the industry are teams doing amazing things for the planet, and boosting productivity, and even lifting GDP per capita in their industry.”

“And the truth of the matter is that while there is still importance to the artistic side of the profession, the problems that the planet faces and society faces and that architecture plays a role in require technology to fix them.”

Meet Anthony Frausto-Robledo at Graebert neXt

To book your spot for the event, please register today for the Graebert neXt online event on April 7, 2022, for a 30-minute technical keynote.

Meet the inspiring speaker Anthony Frausto-Robledo (Architect, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief at Architosh and other inspirational speakers like Niknaz Aftahi (CEO+Founder of AEC+Tech) and Randall Newton (Conference speaker, journalist, business analyst for engineering tech).

Some topics covered in the keynotes include “DWG for BIM: Smarter CAD drawings for your BIM projects, “Cloud CAD & Mobile CAD in DWG,” “DWG for Mechanical,” and “What’s Next for 2D/3D CAD in DWG?”.

To guarantee your seat at the event, please register as soon as possible!

Please note: users in Japan, Germany, and India are invited to participate in special localised online events in May.