Smart phone applications that relate to architecture are on the rise, but they're not always easy to track down
Architects cannot design an entire building on a smart phone just yet. But increasingly, there are applications, or “apps,” for Blackberries, iPhones, and other mobile devices that might appeal to architects, and in some cases, enable them to do their job while on the go.
“These are very powerful little computers,” says architect Kent Larson, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s House_n research group, which develops apps, though none specific to designers thus far. “It clearly will be the interface to our world in the future.”
In a sea of some 100,000 apps, finding ones that are relevant to architects isn’t always a cinch. Browsing the “architecture” heading in the iTunes Store, the online marketplace from Apple where most apps are found, for example, yields a hefty 138 offerings.
But some apps, which usually run on iPhones and iPod Touches, but also on mobile devices with an Android operating system, are tangentially related to the profession, like, say, Makayama’s Architecture ($3.99), which profiles landmarks in 270 world cities, or Raza Enterprise’s Free Boston ($.99), which lists free tours at Massachusetts addresses like MIT.
The shopping experience is made more challenging by the fact that some apps are categorized under multiple headings, like Home Interior Layout Design, from MOC Interior Design ($2.99). This app, which lets users situate cabinets and sofas on a floor plan, is found under both “architecture” and “productivity.” Crossover offerings under “utilities,” “education,” and “business” are also common.
Plus, there’s no easy way to search within a category unless users knows what they’re looking for. “It’s very hard to get noticed,” admits Dan Cornish, chief executive of Cosential, the Austin, Texas-based company behind the app Project Photo, which sends pictures snapped by iPhones back to a desktop computer, where they are archived and can be linked to architectural plans.
But, Cornish explains, the $2.99 app does require use of a proprietary Web-based application called Cosential, which is sold through the company for $4 to $60 a month, depending on the number of users.
There’s also a bit of a learning curve in convincing architects that iPhones can be used for more than calling people and playing games, says architect Gordon Arnold, AIA, of Fort Worth, Texas, who today is mostly creating apps instead of designing buildings because of the nationwide construction slowdown.
“You can save time and money if you have tools at your fingertips and can do work at job sites,” Arnold explains, “without having to go back to the office.” Those tools may include his uSketchit+, where users can draw with virtual ink on simulated tracing paper over images ($2.99). He’s also produced You Punch It ($2.99), which allows footnote-style numbers to be placed on images, and You Can’t Mean It ($.99), which allows longer notes to be added in comic-book-type bubbles.
Other building-themed apps seem more basic but may be just as useful. Concrete Calc ($.99), by Jeremy Breaux, for example, determines how many cubic yards of concrete are required for a job; users simply plug in measurements of the space. Similarly, Save H20 (free) figures out how much water streams out of a building’s faucets, and what can be done to reduce that amount by utilizing more efficient plumbing products from the Sloan Valve Company.
And a few dozen apps appear tailored to contractors, like Dual Level ($.99), which can figure out if surfaces are horizontal, as well as numerous “flashlight” apps, which turn screens bright white.
More likely is that architects will flock to EcoFlash, a line of test-prep offerings for LEED exams from SHP Leading Design of Cincinnati. Because they don’t weigh anything, EcoFlash’s flash cards are easy to tote to bus stops, says Ben Kogan, a project manager with Chicago-based D’Escoto, who credits the app ($34.99) with helping him pass LEED’s building design and construction exam in December.
Kogan, who augmented his studies with traditional books, recognizes “there’s always inertia, changing from one thing to the next,” he says. “But then that momentum is overcome.”
Know of other good apps for architects? Post your favorites in the comment box below.