Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Apollo Spiliotis: I’m a Project Architect at SubenDougherty Partnership in New York City, specializing in Building Information Modeling and 3D visualization. I’m also an avid technology enthusiast and writer, information-sharing addict, and passionate problem solver. I’m also the creator of archiCADmonkey, a blog where I share exciting news, tutorials and interviews of luminaries from the design & tech world.
I’m Greek (you probably got that from the name), born in the US, I grew up in Greece, studied in the UK, and now live in Manhattan. I try to fit archiCADmonkey in my spare time as much as possible, while in parallel enjoying the fruits of the urban jungle. I’m also an eager world traveler, keen foodie, “four-hour work week” dreamer and a pretty good basketball player.
Novedge: Your archiCADmonkey blog is very popular: how did it all start?
Apollo Spiliotis: I’ve tried my best to make the blog recognized over the years, I’m proud that in some circles it is fairly well known. It started out as a small tutorial site and video-podcast to help architecture students, back when I was in my final year at university. Today, the blog is where I share some noteworthy design concepts and viewpoints, as well as interesting technology/design news and interviews. Facebook and Twitter is where I like to share daily links and stories I find notable. I love sharing knowledge, and I guess some people seem to enjoy it.
The idea arose while studying Architecture at the University of Manchester (UK). I hated drawing by hand – I was never really good at it – but was quite comfortable on my computer, so I took a few quick classes on 3D modeling and started with Autocad & 3D Studio Max, as did most, though I was sorely disappointed with the complexity of the lessons and lack of online step-by-step tutorials aimed towards beginners and especially archi-students. After weeks of research, practice and toil, I was able to get the hang of some key programs, right about the time I came across ArchiCAD; I found it more intuitive than what I’d been using, though the problem of tutorials arose again. I was quick to learn it nevertheless. I appeared to be able to assimilate design software’s workflow quite quickly, and even found myself helping my other coursemates to troubleshoot their CAD issues. This led to giving private lessons to other students of architecture and interior design, and eventually teaching as an external tutor for the University.
In parallel, I was also fascinated with web design and dreamt of having a successful website, so when I saw a niche in the market, I jumped on it. Good quality, step-by-step, free video tutorials were not easily accessible online at the time. There were a few video packages aimed at professionals that required a fairly high premium, but students obviously can’t typically afford these kinds of products. I wanted my video tutorials to be free.
So, the blog really began after overhearing the term CADmonkey from a colleague that had just finished a 14-hour marathon CAD session, as nearly all architecture students have experienced, and I realized we were all archi-CADmonkeys. Many still believe the blog is only about ArchiCAD, as the name might suggest, but it’s really about trying to bring together design knowledge and experience from many different programs. Depending on the project, there have been times I had to jump from Sketchup, to Autocad, to Photoshop, while rendering in Artlantis and modeling in 3Ds Max, etc. I found most architecture students quickly become brilliant at cross-software multi-tasking (mostly out of necessity), finding what each program can offer them and then merging the information into stunning presentations.
Novedge: What are the rewards and challenges of running a successful blog?
Apollo Spiliotis: It’s been really great over the years having fun with content creation, receiving praise from inspiring people and being recognized by other companies, and having the chance to interview some great artists and developers in the field. It was also very fun to have the chance to write a few articles for “ArchiMAG” magazine, I hope to write for some other mags in the future. Generally helping people with their problems is another thing I enjoy, as well as receiving appreciative emails from users worldwide, and getting to connect with and occasionally even meet great people from different fields.
The challenges in the beginning were developing the website and trying to generate content consistently, which is especially time consuming for the video production, and even more while studying in parallel. I didn’t want something simple and quick, but was aiming to start a whole genre of video tutorials/shows. I was and still am inspired by some great podcasters, such as Don McAllister from “ScreenCastsOnline” and Leo Laporte from “This Week In Tech (TWIT)”, two tech veterans with amazing shows.
Getting people to notice the site was difficult at first, but quickly gained traction after I put some videos on YouTube. I’ve run everything by myself essentially from the beginning, from designing the blog, creating/editing the video tutorials, writing, publishing and marketing the content. Though I enjoy every part of it to a certain extent, it requires a lot of time and effort. The blog at the moment is temporarily on the back burner, partly due to my day job in NY taking up most of my time, as you’d imagine. I’ve been working over the past few months on redesigning the site from scratch, bringing the blog to the next level. I’m planning of relaunching very soon.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Apollo Spiliotis: I’ve been with SubenDougherty for just over a year, it’s a great place to work and you couldn’t ask for better colleagues. We’re a small firm, and we harness the full power of BIM to handle multiple major projects. I have been fortunate to be involved mainly in healthcare and corporate office projects around the city, and most recently around the World Trace Center area. The views from the upper floors of the building are stunning, as you would imagine, and we’re doing our best to complement the majestic New York skyline.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Apollo Spiliotis: I predominantly use ArchiCAD, along with SketchUp, Artlantis, Maxwell Render and my trusty Photoshop. I like to experiment with other programs, and forever love to learn new tricks, so I’m getting comfortable with some fascinating parametric design programs, like Rhino, Grasshopper and Maya. Personally I prefer the interface and workflow of ArchiCAD over Revit, though I can appreciate some of Revit’s impressive features. There’s quite an extensive discussion (or BIM Battle if you will) over on Linkedin about them, though I find each has its own weaknesses and strengths over the other, but it really depends on which one is most comfortable with. I’m a Mac & iPhone fanatic, use them personally and professionally, though as a general techie I try to be as platform-agnostic as possible, and highly value software that is cross-platform.
Novedge: What matters most to you in design?
Apollo Spiliotis:I am a bit torn in my design beliefs. To speak in geek terms, I love the idealistic elegance of the Star Trek Enterprise, but appreciate the brutal beauty of the Battlestar Galactica. I like natural simplicity in general, though it is mostly quite difficult to achieve. I also like seemingly complicated design that has a simple concept at its core, which is the best of both worlds. I appreciate the qualities of the Parthenon as well as the decoratively complex Gothic churches, along with “Mad Men”-style modernism and contemporary playful organic structures. From innovative websites & apps to the minimalist iPod, design reaches greatness when the user’s child-like curiosity is sparked. I relish designs that surprise me and also appear so effortless they make me stare in admiration.
Novedge: How do you measure success?
Apollo Spiliotis: Success comes in many shapes and forms, it’s difficult to know when you’ve achieved it. I believe I have accomplished some of my goals for my career as well as the blog, though there is always much room for improvement. The success of archiCADmonkey has helped me gain recognition in the field, and even land a job in New York, so I think I count that as great success on my part.
I ultimately consider it to be a state when some type of fulfillment and happiness is realized. Some may perceive this as power, market share, acknowledgment, but I mostly believe it to be beyond business, more about reaching a good work/life balance.