Each week, we bring you the latest building technology and materials news from around the Internet. To close out 2015, we’ve culled our previous roundups to spotlight some of the key architectural technology and materials trends of the year.

Drones Fly into the Spotlight
In May, ARCHITECT brought you up to speed on the rules and regulations (then largely unenforceable) around the use of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for commercial purposes in the U.S. Much has happened since then, most significantly last week’s launch of a federal registry for individuals and companies to record their drones weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds. Manned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the drone census comes out of a set of recommendations released in November by an FAA committee to help the administration manage the burgeoning market for aerial devices while leaving room for innovation. As ARCHITECT reported back in May, the AEC sector is taking up drones for everything from site surveying to project photography, but formal regulations are making some firms unsure of the long-term viability of integrating the still-nascent technology into their workflow. The FAA is expected to hand down formal rules for the commercial use of small drones by 2017.

Ruins of the Roman triumphal arch at Palmyra as photographed in 2006.
Courtesy Flickr user Neil and Kathy Carey via Creative Commons Ruins of the Roman triumphal arch at Palmyra as photographed in 2006.

The Science of Saving Heritage Sites
The intentional destruction this year of world heritage sites in Syria—most notably the ancient city of Palmyra—by the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) drew attention to the myriad structures and archaeological sites currently caught in the crossfire of foreign invasions and internal conflict in the Middle East. It has also drawn attention to the work of groups that aim to save the sites and structures, if not in their physical form, then digitally. In March, ARCHITECT spoke with CyArk, an Oakland, Calif.–based nonprofit that uses laser-scanning technology to record and remaster some of the world’s most prominent—and often at-risk—cultural heritage sites, and makes its models available to conservationists for restoration. Work includes the ancient city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq and Carthage in Tunisia. CyArk is not alone. In October, a global group of open-access-Internet advocates launched an online archive and data repository to gather photos and other documentation to help digitally reconstruct Palmyra; the project also seeks to draw attention to the plight of fellow advocate Bassel Khartabil who was arrested by Syria’s Assad regime in 2012. And in November, archaeologist Sarah Parcak, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, received a $1 million grant from the nonprofit TED Foundation for a yet-to-be-announced project that deals with her work in “space archaeology,” or the use of satellite images and scanning technology to monitor activity around cultural heritage sites in order to track the age-old practice of stealing antiquities, particularly in countries such as Egypt and Syria, where political strife makes the sites particularly vulnerable. Parcak’s TED project will be announced in February.

The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will rise more than 3,300 feet into the air.
Courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will rise more than 3,300 feet into the air.

Keeping Up with the Supertalls
Building tall is about more than bravado these days. The continual drive for energy efficiency parallels the push by clients for more floors, forcing project teams to contend with issues such as heating and cooling these veritable vertical cities, which journalist Clay Risen detailed for ARCHITECT in November; for example, the forthcoming Kingdom Tower (shown above) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, is expected to be complete as the world's tallest building in 2019 and is shaped by wings running to the northeast and northwest that reduce solar-heat gain inside. Other challenges include accessing such buildings' upper reaches for cleaning, repairs, or in the event of a fire or other disaster—for the 555-meter-tall (1,821 feet) Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the local government is experimenting with jet-packs—as well as designing elevators for longer runs while maintaining user comfort and reducing the amount of space needed for the related machinery. Closing out 2014, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat recorded 97 buildings at or greater than 200 meters (656 feet) in height completed that year, and calling it the “tallest year ever,” including a record of 11 “supertall” buildings constructed, which measure at or greater than 300 meters (984 feet) tall. In its report, the council estimated that between 105 and 130 buildings of at least 200 meters will be completed in 2015.

Augment is among a new class of mobile apps that let project teams experience building plans in 3D.
Augment Augment is among a new class of mobile apps that let project teams experience building plans in 3D.

Learning Technology Brings New Dimensions to the Jobsite
We’d be remiss if we didn’t address the burgeoning market for augmented (AR) and virtual reality technology that continued to make headlines in 2015. Terri Peters, our architect–reporter on the ground at the annual Autodesk University conference held in Las Vegas in early December, detailed the software developer’s play in what it's calling the “augmented age.” Following the development and use of passive and generative design tools, the company predicts, has come “a turn toward what it calls empathic computing,” Peters writes. “The next generation of digital tools will learn from the user and from user behavior.” And that's not necessarily a bad thing, explains ARCHITECT's materials science columnist Blaine Brownell, AIA, in his recent post on the rise of automation and learning technology in architecture. This follows Autodesk’s announcement in April that 3D models created in programs such as Maya and Fusion 360 will be compatible with Microsoft’s new HoloLens AR technology. Of course, Autodesk isn’t the only company looking to make a break in this new frontier of visualization technology. In August, ARCHITECT reported on three similar technologies, including Augment (shown above), that are putting immersive experiences into the hands of project teams and clients alike via mobile phones, tablets, and headsets.