Reimagine Possible: 5 Highlights From Autodesk University 2020

From November 17–20, more than 100,000 innovators around the world fired up their laptops to participate in Autodesk’s first digital conference experience: Autodesk University 2020.

While the event shifted to a digital platform in response to the challenges posed by COVID-19, the virtual experience let attendees explore new ways of imagining, designing, and making while prioritizing the safety of the Autodesk community. This year’s Autodesk University (AU) offered expanded access to its workshops, training sessions, and presentations by making all content free.

autodesk university 2020 andrew anagnost
Andrew Anagnost presents at the General Session keynote for Autodesk University 2020. Recorded at the Autodesk Technology Center in San Francisco.

1. General Session Keynote: New Ecosystems Bring New Possibilities

Autodesk President and CEO Andrew Anagnost—along with BDP Engineering Principal James Hepburn, Decathlon Advanced Design Project Leader Charles Cambianica, and LAIKA Studios VFX Supervisor Steve Emerson—shared ways industries have adapted and embraced technology throughout 2020 and the role that data, automation, and insight have played in empowering innovators.

“Social distancing has accelerated investment in off-site construction methods, keeping people and projects in more controlled environments,” Anagnost said. “So, though jobsites are safer, in some cases, they’re also slower. But one thing has accelerated: the digitization of construction … Today, it’s a necessity. And soon, after we’re on the other side of this crisis, construction will be permanently digitized. And once this happens, I believe you’ll build with agility and productivity like never before.” 

2. AEC and D&M Keynotes: Tapping Technology to Turn Challenges Into Opportunities

During the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) keynote, Nicolas Magnon, Autodesk VP of AEC Business Strategy & Marketing, outlined the most significant industry changes in 2020 and invited Autodesk leaders to talk about their vision for the convergence of design, manufacturing, and construction; the investments Autodesk is making in design and construction solutions; and ways customers are leveraging these new technologies to turn challenges into opportunities and remain resilient. 

For the Design & Manufacturing (D&M) keynote, Srinath Jonnalagadda, Autodesk VP of go-to-market strategy and marketing for D&M, was joined by Hyundai Vice President and New Horizons Studio Founding Director John Suh and MxD CEO Chandra Brown to discuss the democratization of technologies and share ways convergence, collaboration, and automation will drive digital transformation. 

3. Redshift Presents: The Pandemic Is Accelerating Cloud Adoption and Business-Model Innovation

Not surprisingly, cloud computing has exploded during the pandemic. According to market-intelligence firm CB Insights, investors have spent nearly $3 billion on cloud-computing funding between April and June in 2020. Many companies were already on a path to digitization and digitalization, but COVID-19 sped up the acceleration of cloud technologies as billions of people were forced to work remotely. Months later, after the dust settled from widespread efforts to build resilience in the “new normal,” a silver lining of the pandemic is that it’s opening doors to new and innovative ways of working.

Autodesk Head of Global Brand Content Kylee Swenson led a panel discussion with executives from Autodesk, Nvidia, Advance2000, Ansys, and Symetri to talk about the opportunities and challenges of the acceleration to cloud and platform solutions, as well as discuss why digital transformation will lead to better and longer-lasting prospects in the future. 

4. From Design Principles to Designing for Justice: A Spectrum of Sessions

Designing for social and environmental justice is a critical consideration facing forward-thinking builders. University of Colorado, Boulder graduate research assistant Emily Bedell and Ph.D. candidate Chantal Iribagiza discussed better ways of measuring inequalities, designing for environmental justice, and bringing the industry’s attention to these systemic and historical realities. And MASS Design Group’s James Kitchin and Jean Paul “Nelson” Habintwari explained how to calculate embodied carbon at each design stage and analyze the results, as well as shared their firm’s integrated approach to reducing its environmental footprint.

5. Theater Talks Push the Boundaries of Imagination

Autodesk University 2020 Theater Talks invited attendees to explore big ideas and inspirational projects through provocative talks from industry thought leaders. Presentations ranged from the practical to the futuristic, with topics including hybrid edge cloud computing, the world’s first 3D-printed community, and even new approaches to space transportation.

In “Connecting Technology, Tools, and Human Experience,” Rochester Institute of Technology Graduate Director of Industrial Design Alex Lobos discussed technology’s potential for improving design methods, using a 3D sculpture on a rotating turntable, illuminated by a strobe light to create the illusion of a morphing shape. “If we take automation to the next level, it stops being a tool and becomes a collaborator,” Lobos said. “It provides creativity, inspiration, innovation, and different directions for our designs that we would not have been able to imagine.”

In “Reimagining Sustainable Supply Chains,” sustainable designer, educator, and activist Barent Roth made a case for urgently transitioning from a linear to a circular economy, illustrating his points with statistics about warming temperatures and the increasing plastics destruction of marine life. “Over this year, we were introduced to the concept of ‘flattening the curve,’” Roth said. “We can take this same concept and apply it to the circular economy. We recognize that there will be some unavoidable damage. But as we all diligently work to draw down greenhouse gases, the challenge becomes, can we spread out that impact over time in order to stay within our planet’s ecological capacity to sustain life? Let’s get to work.”