Autodesk released its new Forma cloud platform to customers May 8. 

Forma was announced at last year's Autodesk University trade show as a standalone cloud that would encompass all of the technology giant's architecture, engineering and construction workflows.

What Autodesk released is still very much focused on the planning phase, design tools such as AutoCAD and Revit will be able to ingest the data output of Forma without changing their existing workflows.

"This is not a replacement of Revit, it's a different way of working," says Nicolas Mangon, vice president of AEC strategy at Autodesk. "Some will still use AutoCAD, others will use Revit, some will use performance-based [design] with Forma. Forma is designed to be used at the planning phase of building."

Forma is not a file-based work environment, instead operating with design data on a more granular level via cloud-based APIs, Mangon says. In this initial release, the connection does require converting between the Forma and Revit formats, using plugins. Over time, Forma will natively support granular data models from across the Autodesk portfolio, including Revit, which will allow Forma to operate directly on these model entities without any need to convert between them, he says.

Mangon and Carl Christensen, Autodesk vice president and lead of Autodesk's Unified Design Group who came over when the company acquired Spacemaker in 2021, say the new conceptual process Autodesk is offering to customers is powered by data and automation. Forma provides outcomes for things like noise, energy and lighting analysis at the beginning of the design process rather than the end. Artificial intelligence tools within Forma are used to ensure outcomes become reality, and site information and other data culled from Autodesk's data repository are used to help engineers and architects make better decisions at those early stages. Data about existing buildings, existing infrastructure and geotechnical data will be available. Mangon notes the primary data sources in Forma are not customer data.

Christensen says users can develop design concepts in minutes rather than days with Forma once daylight, wind and other environmental analyses are automated.

"There is no single AI in Forma. It’s a number of different tools. We don’t want to position Forma as an AI platform," Chrisensen says. "We want to position it as an environment that helps users get to better outcomes with different tools. It’s not a goal for us for the user to notice what is AI and what is not, but, rather, that you see the tools that accelerate you to get higher-quality outcomes."

He said that different modalities—some procedural automation and some machine learning—are used in Forma to keep customers in control rather than one, single AI system that does everything for the user.

Christensen and Mangon explain that Forma is a data depository for not only what is generated by its own tools, but also for Revit data and the federated data that flows in from Internet-of-Things sensors and other sources. Mangon says Forma will, eventually, allow that collective data to be used by outside applications. 

"It’s designed to be open to other systems," he says. "A cloud, SaaS environment that will allow third-party integrations with a base set of focused, design tools in early stages but other things are coming."

Forma's basic architecture is based on Spacemaker's technology. But Christensen says he considers it a new product, since it also incorporates aspects of Autodesk's FormIt conceptual modeling tool to gives it more flexibility in conceptual and manual modeling.

The price of a Forma subscription is $180 monthly, $1,445 annually, or $4,335 for 3 years. Autodesk Forma is also available through the Architecture, Engineering & Construction Collection. While the new offering is available globally, Autodesk said it will initially focus sales, marketing and product efforts in the U.S. and European markets, as that's where the company sees Forma’s automation and analysis capabilities most aligned with local customer needs

Mangon says future releases will have tools for estimation and construction, as well as entirely new technology developed around the processes of preconstruction and building operations.