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Evaluating innovation: Q&A with AEC Excellence Award judge Todd Danielson

In the last 10 years, we received more than 1,100 submissions for the Autodesk AEC Excellence Awards. Of the thousands of entries, we handed out just 80 awards. Selecting winners from a wide field of incredible projects is a difficult job. One we couldn’t do alone.

The AEC Excellence Awards judges panel is an international, independent group of renown thought leaders and industry experts. Year after year, the judges meticulously evaluate every submission to determine the finalists and winners. We’re grateful for the time and knowledge each judge commits to the program.

As we celebrate this decade of excellence, we invite back some of our esteemed judges to reflect on their experience in the program.

headshot of Todd Danielson

First up is Todd Danielson from Informed Infrastructure. Todd is a prominent industry journalist who has written about key players and projects in AEC for 20 years. You may have seen Todd around Autodesk University (AU). In the years he served as a judge, I don’t think he missed an AEC Excellence Awards ceremony. Todd has his finger on the pulse of the trends and technologies changing the way we design and build infrastructure.

Read my Q&A with him below and check back soon to hear from more past judges.

What is your day job?
I’m the Editorial Director for Informed Infrastructure and V1 Media, determining and managing the content and editorial direction of all the V1 Media brands, including Informed Infrastructure, Earth Imaging Journal, Sensors & Systems, Asian Surveying & Mapping, and the video news portal GeoSpatial Stream.

Tell us about your experience as a judge for the AEC Excellence Awards?
I served as a judge in 2017, 2018, 2019, and virtually in 2020. Four times. I judged the Infrastructure Design and Innovator of the Year categories.

Why did you choose to be a judge for this awards program?
As the “gatekeeper” for our company and publications, it’s important to stay on top of the industry and all its innovations and trends. One of the best ways to do that is through serving on awards programs and juries, and Autodesk is certainly of major importance. I’ve felt honored to be selected all those years.

What is a trend you’ve seen in the projects you’ve reviewed over the years?
Projects follow many different trends depending on what’s appropriate for what they’re trying to accomplish. Not every new technology is suitable for every project, no matter how good the technology. But one uniting theme among project winners is the courage to try something new and not rely on “what’s worked in the past.” Most projects can be effective and get the job done (and bring in sufficient income) using “tried and true” methods, but they don’t change the industry (nor win award competitions).

It opened my eyes to see how many different challenges there are in the world, how unique they can be, and how our industry and technology can help solve these vastly different problems.

What is a project or person that stands out from past submissions as inspiring or impressive? Why?
Buildings on East Artificial Islands of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (2019) stand out, It opened my eyes to see how many different challenges there are in the world, how unique they can be, and how our industry and technology can help solve these vastly different problems.as the whole project seemed very alien and unusual to me. Their complications and struggles were very unique and not at all like what I see around me, as they were building islands to connect a bridge and tunnel in difficult circumstances half a world away. It opened my eyes to see how many different challenges there are in the world, how unique they can be, and how our industry and technology can help solve these vastly different problems. Plus, the design looked like an alien spaceship …

Buildings on East Artificial Islands of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge

Image courtesy of CCCC-FHDI Engineering Co., Ltd.

If you could add a new category or award, what would it be and why?
I think it would be interesting to have a category awarding forward thinking that wasn’t realized or recognized at the time. Some ideas come too early to be taken as seriously as they should or don’t have a large-enough platform to receive recognition because they were tested on small pilots with little budget. Such an award might spur others to take more chances, knowing they’ll be recognized after the fact if they’re proven correct or inspire important change, even if they were barely noticed at the time of their work.