The Death of the Death of the Death of Drawing

death drawingDrawing is far from over. It’s not even close to dead. Not by a long shot.

Just to make sure, I just tweeted: ‘Is drawing dead?’

Death of Drawing anyone?

‏‪Case Inc’s @davidfano immediately tweeted back: no :)

‪@JayZallan Agreed: no. Next.

‪Chicago architect-in-the-making @joshuamings tweeted: nope. I’m heading out the door to sketch Alfred Caldwell’s Lily Pool and maybe Studio Gang’s pavilion in Lincoln Park.

Mexico City’s ‪@Rodrigo_Medina replied: Drawing will always have its practical applications, thinking it is enough is where I see the real problem.

‪@Parthenon1 Silly question?

‪The serially successful “Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity” author @gapingvoid tweeted: I would say that was an extremely silly question. But I’m old school :D

You get the idea.

Readers may recall the 2012 NYTimes article by architect Michael Graves “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing” which declared:

“It has become fashionable in many architectural circles to declare the death of drawing.”

And then asked:

“What has happened to our profession, and our art, to cause the supposed end of our most powerful means of conceptualizing and representing architecture?”

Says Graves,

“The computer, of course.”

David Ross Scheer, in his new book The Death of Drawing, also answers this question in terms of technology.

Only his answer is book-length, well-illustrated, and extremely relevant for our age.

And I recommend that you purchase a copy, read and discuss it (with only one reservation, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

One look at the six chapter titles in the book’s Table of Contents will speak to the book’s immediacy and relevance, and should help you determine whether this book is for you.

I suspect many of my blog readers and Twitter followers will find these chapter headings both pertinent and compelling:

1 Representation and Simulation 19

2 Drawing and Architecture 49

3 Building Information Modeling 101

4 Computational Design 129

5 Simulation and Architecture 165

6 Simulation and Ideation 193

Earlier drafts of the book’s chapters, the author tells us, were reviewed by Chuck Eastman, Ole Fischer, Daniel Friedman, and Michael Sorkin, a formidable group of scholars and speaks to the author’s pedigree.

Thesis, Purpose, Goal, and Central Argument? Oh my.

Scheer’s thesis will be self-apparent to those who are living it, anxiety-inducing for others:

“I believe that we are in the midst of a transformation that will ultimately reshape architecture to an extent not seen in over 500 years.”

He goes on to explain the book’s purpose:

“These changes reflect the incorporation of architecture and the building industry as a whole into a pervasive social and cultural movement towards virtualization and predictive control through digital simulation. Architects need to understand why this is happening and its effects on how we think and work if we want to continue shape the design of the built environment. This, in a nutshell, is the purpose of this book.”

Elsewhere, Scheer asks:

If architecture loses the idea of representation, how will buildings acquire meaning?

Architects have infused their designs with meaning for ages. But drawing is not the only means by which meaning is actualized. In fact, as with all communication, meaning is a two-way street: the building user and the public at large have some say in the matter. And the meaning they interpret may not be the meaning the architect intended (just think of Venturi’s Princeton Biology Building nicknamed the Purina building for the building’s elaborate brick pattern recalling the Ralston Purina checkerboard logo.)

A great deal of a building’s meaning is acquired not through any effort on the architect’s part, but on the building’s immediate context.

How does the architect know that the meaning they implied was received as intended? What role does genus loci – the spirit of the place in which the building is built, inform the building’s meaning? Is it naïve to think that buildings acquire meaning from the architect’s skill at drawing or from the drawing alone?

Society looks to architects’ buildings to be somehow significant even as it diminishes their ability to do so

Early in the book, Scheer says that he “believes” that BIM and computational design “will ultimately replace drawing as the medium of architecture and the construction industry.”

There’s no reason to “believe” this. It is 2014 and this has already happened. At least in terms of deliverables and documentation, if not – per the tweets above – in terms of how architects converse with themselves.

A few pages later, Scheer states that “this book’s goal is to stimulate debate about the future of the discipline of architecture and inform decisions about its direction.”

One expects that The Death of Drawing will inevitably lead to such discussion – in the studio, in coffeehouses, in schools and in the office.

Simulation and The Author’s Discontents

Scheer next states:

“My central argument is that the relationship between design and reality is undergoing a shift from representation to simulation and that this shift has many profound implications for architecture.”

My one gripe with Scheer’s book is its lack of context. Why is this shift happening? One would expect to find a mention of 9/11 and the subsequent reality hunger that ensued in the arts and service professions? Or a reference to the 2008 economic downturn that perhaps might have led to the need for firms to increasingly simulate in order to differentiate themselves and provide themselves with a competitive advantage?

The fact that nonfiction, these days, trumps fiction every time. And that the architect of representation practiced a refined form of fiction.

Until the fiction is objectified, justified or otherwise backed up with data.

This lack of reference to the outside world – especially given the book’s topics of BIM, computational design and simulation, is disconcerting.

Especially considering we’re living in an Age of Context.

Subjective statements – as well as Theses, Purposes, Goals, and Central Arguments – remain subjective until placed into a larger context.

As with buildings, without that context for reference, they lose meaning.

A book’s argument – any research actually – is a claim backed by reasons based on evidence.

With its thesis, purpose, goal, central argument, this book is not short of claims.

And the reasons – however personal – are there as well.

But the book, despite its wealth of beautiful images, lacks evidence. All we have is the author’s word and a veritable cornucopia of drawings to enjoy.

Due to the lack of evidence backing up the author’s claims, the book almost reads at times like it is a museum exhibition catalogue.

Scheer’s book doesn’t, for example, reference Grave’s article mentioned in the opening of this post, nor any of the other online arguments that spawned from it.

Nor does the book reference the 2012 Yale symposium entitled, of all things, ‘Is Drawing Dead?’

The fact that David Ross Scheer received his Master of Architecture degree from Yale University – it’s mentioned on page 1 – is not lost on the reader or reviewer.

It doesn’t reference MIT’s former Architecture Department Chairman, William J. Mitchell “The Death of Drawing” in the UCLA Architecture Journal 2 (1989)

Nor does it dip into social media. Forget Twitter. See for example, Lee Castili’s thoughtful post What is the drawing’s purpose?

Scheer, for example, states that “Skill in drawing has been the hallmark of the profession.”

But as with so much that is said in the book, we have to take the author’s word for it.

It doesn’t pass the otherwiseness test: What about other hallmarks of the profession, such as problem defining and solving, seeing the big picture, understanding how local decisions have global impacts, or envisioning what others can’t see? Don’t these count?

Simulation is the Enemy

Every good story has a protagonist and antagonist. Scheer’s real war in the book is with simulation. Simulation, he explains, that exists to anticipate building performance.

“Drawing and simulation entail vastly different attitudes on the part of the architect. In fact, the shift in attitude is more important for architecture than the actual uses of a given simulation. Once an architect decides to work in simulation, the values implicit in drawing no longer apply.”

The architect Scheer describes comes across as “as a wielder of information rather than a creator of form.”

He elsewhere writes “computational design is directly concerned with the generation of form.”

Except for when it is concerned with building performance or human performance.

But whether building geometry, building performance or human performance data and information are equally data. In other words, information and form are not separate activities, but integrated and interdependent.

Design integration doesn’t fare well in the book either:

“With all information in a readily transmissible form, there are great incentives to share it more freely, resulting in a leveling of the design team and a consequent redefinition of the architect’s role within it.”

This explanation of integrated design is exactly backwards. Designers aren’t encouraged to share because their work is in a form that is sharable. They share because the other – analogue, drawing – methods didn’t work.

They share information because clients require them to do so. They share information to avoid clashes in the field, cost and schedule overruns, tension in the field, finger pointing and poor relations between team members.

The earlier methods – however good they look in galleries, museums, and books such as this – led to a loss of productivity in the profession and industry. So bad, that many other fields have popped up vying for the opportunity to outdo designers and contractors at their own game.

Watching Michael Graves sketch on bumwad was a lot more fun.

But it didn’t work.

An Elegy for the Architectural Drawing?

There is a romantic notion throughout the book of the lost halcyon days of paper architecture, hand sketching, and perhaps even drafting.

And from what I recall from my 30-year career as a building designer, form-for-form’s-sake wasn’t an especially strong argument for justifying one’s course of design action.

Scheer is all for representation. He states emphatically, “Representation and simulation are incompatible modes of experience.”

In fact, firms like Thornton Tomasetti and their research arm, CORE Studio, have created software and apps, such as TTX, that serve simultaneously as both representational and simulation tools.

Scheer anticipates this when, later in the book, he writes “simulation is as much an orientation towards experience as it is a process. The same simulation can be taken at face value by some and regarded as representation by others.”

He next writes “An architectural simulation behaves like a building—it gives the same results as a building when tested in specified ways.”

If only that were the case. There have been many instances where LEED did not predict energy savings outcomes in the built building.

Again, the book here is weak on context. Surprisingly, Sherry Turkle’s seminal Simulation and Its Discontents is listed under Bibliography and Further Reading but not referenced in the book.

About a third of the way into the book Scheer asks, however rhetorically:

Is representation good and simulation bad?

His answer, perhaps more than anything else in the book, states his case:

The question, he says, makes no sense.

David Ross Scheer’s The Death of Drawing comes out in July, 2014 and can be found here

The Death of Drawing Website and blog http://deathofdrawing.com

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Too Complex and Fast? Slow Down, But Don’t Oversimplify

oversimplifyTo lead our collaborative future, architects need to decentralize or risk being further marginalized.

Architects know that they need to collaborate to succeed. But how will they go about doing it? How, in other words, will they make collaboration happen? As importantly, how will architects make the changes necessary to become not only more collaborative, but leaders of this effort, amidst disruptive change?

AEC leaders already do a great deal to encourage collaboration amongst their teams, providing vision, collaboration-conducive work environments, collaboration technology, and by removing obstacles – including themselves –when necessary, gladly getting out of everyone’s way. They encourage diversity, discussion – even disagreements – as a basis for moving the project forward. By telling their collaboration stories, leaders paint a picture of what collaboration looks like when it is done well. Most importantly, AEC leaders make sure every team member is making the same project. But AEC leaders cannot assure this happens in every meeting on every project. Who, then, on the team will lead the day-to-day collaboration challenge?

Barriers to Collaboration

We know collaboration is hard and takes time — to build relationships, to clear-up misunderstandings, to listen and to get things done. Past experience can hold teams back, and one of the barriers to collaboration remains organizational silos.

Brand erosion is also an impediment to collaboration. For a designer whose singular voice is her expression through her work, collaboration is equated with joint authorship, to some the antithesis of creative expression, muddying the message of the work, dispersing and diluting the voice and design intent of the creator. This thinking is of course mistaken, as leaders need to make clear. One only needs to compare a Beatles tune with any of the band member’s solo efforts to recognize that teams make better decisions – and importantly, results – than individuals. The real fear in collaborating is that we – and our work – will be mediocre, a race toward the lowest common denominator, and with it, irrelevance: we will be seen as just one more designer among designers.

The truth, of course, is by not collaborating architects become marginalized. Not knowing how to effectively collaborate will lead to their irrelevance.

Complexity and Speed

Of the trends impacting our new world of work – including digital tools, collaborative work processes with attendant blurring of roles and responsibilities, working remotely and together earlier – two trends have made all the others a necessity: complexity and speed. Our technology has an impact on the anticipated speed of decision-making. When still hand-drafting, while facing a construction-related question or dilemma, architects would say: We’ll work it out in the field. This was the architect’s go-to VIF: where the contractor on the architect’s behalf would be expected to Verify In Field. Later, working in CAD, architects would say: We’ll work it out in shop drawings. With little bim: We’ll work it out in CDs. And today, with social BIM, We need to work it out NOW!

In the face of increased project speed, we will be tempted to slow down. And we are well advised to do so. Studies show to make decisions that stick, we’re better off delaying choices for as long as practically possible. According to Frank Partnoy in Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, the best professionals understand how long they have available to make a decision, and then, given that time frame, they wait as long as they possibly can: “we are hard-wired to react quickly. Yet we are often better off resisting both biology and technology.” Since our current technology and integrated work process does not accommodate our waiting – in fact, it discourages it – leaders need to make it safe for their teams to make assured, unrushed decisions.

Likewise, despite construction being wickedly complicated, we should not be tempted to oversimplify. We need to take the complex and make it seem simple – without oversimplifying – resisting the temptation to treat a complex task as simpler than it is, potentially leading to oversights and mistakes.

Decentralize or be Marginalized

Architects continue to see themselves as central to decision-making, whether at the top of the project pyramid or a prominent point of the team triangle. Contracts notwithstanding, architects are not the point. For collaboration to work, architects need to get off the pyramid and go wherever and whenever they are needed.

Decentralization implies the transfer of authority from central to local offshoots who represent the firm and serve as its public face, whether as project manager, project architect or project designer – sometimes any two, or all three. These offshoots – like starfish arms – contain the complete DNA and trust of the organization.

Although collaboration requires the architect to decentralize, it has to start at the top, where firm leaders entrust employees to lead teams. What will it take for architects to decentralize? Successful collaboration requires facilitative leadership. For the architect to take on this role, they must play the part of process facilitators over content creators, becoming in essence co-creators. When each teammate contributes as a co-creator, no single person has to carry the load, including the leader. Decentralization allows architects to join the project – and be immediately effective – midstream. Ideally, the architect is called in before the owner even considers undertaking a building project, but the reality is – due in no small part to their own making – the architect is often called upon when the project is already well underway.

Given the collaborative nature of today’s project teams, consideration needs to be given to the firm representative’s leadership and communication style. As proxy stand-ins for the firm, each team leader needs to be able to communicate effectively at all times, with all in the room. Architects’ often-unconscious communication habits will be increasingly scrutinized and decreasingly tolerated in these tight-knit groups. Architects, working more closely with others from every facet of practice, will need to become more familiar with their communication style, paying particular attention to the ability to adjust one’s style to those of others from other work cultures and walks of life.

FOCI: Multiple-centered – not centerless – leadership

Architects – seeing that others have helped narrow their options significantly – narrow them further by opting to see themselves as single purpose entities. One example of this is described in Victoria Beach’s salvo in the newly published 15th edition of the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice where she asks architects to see themselves more as design-focused celebrity chefs and less as engineers assuring the health, safety and welfare of the public. For architects, it’s a both/and, not either/or, proposition.

In fact, architects in the coming years will be needed less as content providers of design intent than as facilitators, orchestrators, collaborators and integrators (or FOCI) of this information and process. Architects will have an opportunity to lead this process if they can learn to become better listeners, aggregators and refiners of the information that arises during the various stages of design and construction.

With the blurring of roles brought about by working collaboratively on integrated teams, the architect’s job is to keep decisions – often multiple decisions – in play. Collaboration and digital practice require a formwork on which to base multi-faceted decisions on increasingly complex projects. One such formwork is that of the rubric FOCI: in lieu of a singular central focus of the center, think of the multiple centers of the ellipse. A redefinition of decision-making that takes digital technology and collaboration into consideration creates such a formwork that will help the architect to communicate effectively with multi-disciplinary teams. To move from a circular to an elliptical model, the architect needs to decentralize.

To decentralize, architects also need to move away from the spotlight where they are the central focus. Many architects are introverts and would gladly succumb the spotlight to others. Architects don’t need to be the loudest one in the room to lead, just the one who listens best. To accomplish this, architects need to focus less, and FOCI more, by serving as project facilitators, orchestrators, collaborators and integrators. By decentralizing, the architect is no longer decision-maker so much as facilitator of project information and decision-making process. As facilitative leaders, architects can become experts in knowing how to find information as opposed to what the information is. When collaborating, it is not about how much any one person happens to know: projects today are too complex for any one person to know everything. Knowing from whom – and where – on the team to find information is more important than one’s ability to store and retrieve it. Architects will also serve as strategic orchestrators of large teams from the earliest stages, often made up with primary, secondary and even tertiary players. The C in FOCI is in flux: the C can represent collaborators or creators or controllers or coordinators. Architects, of course, are component and system integrators.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Deutsch’s article How We Can Make Collaboration Work: How architects can decentralize rather than be marginalized in the Jan-Feb 2014 Trends issue of DesignIntelligence journal.

Read and visit DesignIntelligence.

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6 Qualities That Make Architects Ideally Suited to Lead Collaborative Integrated Teams

leadersIn order to effectively lead collaborative teams, architects would do well to downplay possessing specialized knowledge. Knowledge acquired in school and practice should be thought of as the price of admission, not their “Advance to GO” card, as so many on the team in this connected age have access to and share this same knowledge. Along with specialized knowledge, as a professional duty of practice, architects will also need to reevaluate the role of professional judgment, design intent, responsible control, direct supervision, and serving as the hander-down of rulings in the shape-shifting required from working simultaneously on collaborative teams.

Recognizing that nothing incites a non-architect’s derision, ridicule and ire swifter than to start a sentence “The architect is uniquely qualified to…” here are six qualities that make architects ideally suited to lead collaborative, integrated teams:

1. Architects can lead collaborative teams by tapping into their ability to maintain two or more opposing thoughts until an amenable solution arises. Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind, on the problem-solving power of integrative thinking, describes the human brain’s ability “to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension.” Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test of a first-rate intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” architects need to become even more comfortable working with and maintaining two or more opposing thoughts earlier in their careers. Architects famously can simultaneously maintain two lines of thought – e.g. their own and their client’s; their client’s and that of the public-at-large; the paying client and the non-paying client; the 99% and the 1%; the circumstantial and the ideal; science and art; reason and intuition; evidence and the ineffable; HSW and aesthetics; practical and dreamer. In an interview with the author, Phil Bernstein described the difference between young designers and older designers as the ability to manage an increasingly larger set of variables: “When I was working for Cesar Pelli, that was one of the amazing things about him – he could keep so many things in his head and he could balance them and weigh one against the other, and he could edit out what he called the systematic generation of useless alternatives. He would prevent us from going down that avenue.”

2. Architects are problem identifiers. Not only problem solvers, architects recognize that identifying the right problem to solve is often 80% of the solution. Frequently, the problem assigned is not the one that truly requires addressing. Architects work to make sure that everyone is focused on the most pressing, pertinent problem.

3. Architects see the big picture. Solution-oriented engineers sometimes have a difficult time seeing the forest from the trees. Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context coup d’oeilcourt sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations. Architects, by the end of their formal training, have begun to develop this ability, by thinking laterally and simultaneously – not linearly. Neither exclusively right- nor left- – architects are whole-brain thinkers. In the midst of prolonged analysis, architects can help to keep things whole.

4. Architects draw by hand, mouse and wand. Creatively ambidextrous, flexible and agile, architects are not stuck on any one means of communication or delivery. Architects make the best use of available technology to get the point across. Because architects envision what is not there, they help bring nascent ideas to life. Today, we cannot talk of leadership without the technology. We lead from the technology and the tools we use. In this way, architects lead collaboration from the middle by leading from the model.

5. Architects can lead collaborative teams by thinking like other team members, anticipating their concerns and questions before they arise. Architects see through other’s eyes, empathize and understand what is important to others. They have both deep skills and wide wingspan breadth. Architects are the only entity who serve not only the paying but non-paying client (society-at-large.) In trying to predict the consequences for any course of action, the architect needs to anticipate the responses of each of the integrated team members. To do this, an architect must know enough about each discipline to negotiate and synthesize competing demands.

6. Architects don’t lead collaborative teams because of their specialized skills, technology know-how, or privileged knowledge, but rather because of their comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. Architects are best suited to lead collaborative teams by being able to extrapolate from incomplete information, and won’t let the lack of complete information stop them from moving forward.

The architect leading collaborative teams has implications for education in that independently trained professionals are inclined to remain independent in practice. According to NCARB’s contribution to the NAAB 2013 Accreditation Review Conference (ARC), over 80% of architects rated “collaboration with stakeholders” as important/critical, yet only 31.5% of interns and recently licensed architects indicated they had performed collaboratively prior to completion of their education program. This would need to change.

Let the Team be the Architect

The single most important issue confronting AEC leadership is, as Michael Schrage asked, how to pose problems and opportunities in forms that will elicit and inspire a collaborative response. Consultant Ed Friedrichs describes this as the ability “to inspire an entire team of participants to collaborate, to contribute the best they have to offer, in order to bring value to a client.”

Concerning collaborative teams, leaders need to ask of themselves – as well as prospective hires – are you the glue or the solvent? If architects are to be respected as leaders, their challenge is to communicate with their collaborators as equal partners in design.

In his book Architecture by Team, CRS’s William Caudill wrote: “The so called ‘great man’ approach must give way to the great team approach. From now on the great architects will be on great interdisciplinary teams.”

That was written in 1971. Buried on page 288 is the title of Chapter 109:

“Let the team – designers, manufacturers and builders – be the architect.”

So let the team be the architect, and the architect be the facilitative leader. And act soon, for we may not have another 40 years to see this out.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Deutsch’s article How We Can Make Collaboration Work: How architects can decentralize rather than be marginalized in the Jan-Feb 2014 Trends issue of DesignIntelligence journal.

Read and visit DesignIntelligence.

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Filed under collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, education, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, process

What Will You Do That’s Extraordinary?

onelifeArchitects and others in the AEC industry are well-aware of the forces at work changing the way they go about their business.

Forces brought about primarily by the advent of the computer.

When in all pares down, there are three approaches you can take to participating.

You can work by hand, collaboratively with machines, or allow machines to do most of the heavy lifting.

In other words:

1. Analog

2. Man-machine collaboration, and

3. Machine

While in 2014 it is still possible to design a building and complete a set of documents by hand, you can also add, subtract and multiply on an abacus.

Doing everything by hand is a legacy from a bygone era.

While hand drawing is still a desirable skill to have in one’s toolkit, it’s an unrealistic proposition if you are going to compete in an industry where the only hand drawing is done primarily on tablets.

Working without the tools that are available in our era is an act of protest.

And regret, for living in an age dependent on all things digital. So going analog is no longer an option.

At the other extreme, firms like Aditazz recognize that computers can be put to use to help design projects – and discern the best alternatives – in less time, using less manpower.

An approach that can be especially useful when addressing complex building assignments.

Most architects, engineers and construction professionals today fall somewhere between the two extremes of analog and machine.

They recognize that computers have helped them to become more effective at what they do.

But that computers can’t make all the calls – ethical, contextual – at least not yet.

Working digitally today is a given, even if the AEC industry itself hasn’t become more productive or effective since the 1960s despite the introduction of computers into our workflows.

Computer Aided Drafting/Design (CAD) never lived up to the hype or promise to make architects, engineers and contractors more productive.

In many ways, CAD just became a digital version of what architects had long done by hand.

Even with BIM, when I ask architects how they are being more productive or effective working in BIM, they’ll mention that they create templates for repeatable portions of their projects (for example, in housing, kitchen and bath templates – with rules of thumb, building code and ADA constraints indicated.)

Which is great. A process that should be automated in the near future.

But one wonders if this is just the digital equivalent of the “sticky back” boiler-plate details we used to attach to mylar sheets in our documents back in the 80s?

As the saying goes: Measure twice, draw once – and use it over and over if you can.

Thomas L. Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times discusses Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s new book, “The Second Machine Age.”

Authors of Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, their new book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives our economy…and our industry.

The book focuses on three massive technological advances that recently reached their tipping points, advances they describe as “exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

A commenter at the Times website wrote:

A time is coming when most routine tasks can and will be done by computers.

This is really how computers can best support design and construction professionals.

Becoming an architect, for example, was never about aspiring to address routine tasks.

Routine tasks – whether running prints, drafting bathroom or column details – were in the past taken-on by architectural interns.

Today, due to their considerable smarts and technological know-how, these same emerging professionals are working on entire buildings.

They’re the first lookers and early responders inside digital building models.

All the more reason that routine tasks ought to become automated.

Freeing-up design and construction professionals to do what they do best.

The article commenter continued:

What happens then to the average people in the world? Extraordinary people will find ways to take care of themselves, but not everyone can be extraordinary.

Not everyone.

But you can.

You can be extraordinary. In fact, for those who want to work in the AEC industry, it’s a requirement.

Being extraordinary at what you do doesn’t change due to the technology you use.

Being extraordinary is all the more important in the workplace and at the jobsite today.

To distinguish oneself.

To differentiate yourself.

What will you do that’s extraordinary?

Bringing your weaknesses up to a level where they’re not so glaring, where they can no longer trip you up and undermine your career ascension, will only get you so far.

Working on your weaknesses will only make you ordinary.

Not extraordinary.

This year, identify a strength and develop it.

Take it as far as you can.

Seek help. Get training.

Track your progress.

Share your results.

Most AEC professionals today who are gainfully employed are already extraordinary people who are extraordinary at what they do.

The trick is in remaining so.

Heed the words of poet Mary Oliver, and ask yourself:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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Why My BIM Book Didn’t Sell and Why I’m Writing Another One

BIM-and-Integrated-DesignWhen I meet architects and others working in the BIM world, they usually mention that they have a copy of my book.

My standard response is something like:

“My publisher told me someone bought a copy. Now I who it is.”

Which isn’t far from the truth.

Of course I thank them – for purchasing the book, for reading it, for mentioning this to me – none of which they’re obligated to do.

Next, they inevitably ask me The Question:

How many copies has it sold?

As I embark on the lengthy and arduous process of writing and publishing another book in the architecture and construction space, I was reminded by my publisher that my last book sold only 1000 copies.

“1069 copies,” I unhelpfully corrected them.

In 2009 I wrote, and in 2011 John Wiley and Sons published, BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice.

1069 copies! Including all of you who read my BIM book and told me they liked it.

Twelve out of 12 readers gave it the coveted 5-star rating on Amazon.

Disney Imagineering told me that they reference the book.

Firm leaders told me that they have a copy that they circulate in their office.

A few professors made it required reading in their classes.

The University of Salford named* their BIM curriculum after it.

I created the world’s only BIM book video trailer set to classical guitar music.

AIA National emblazoned the book across their website.

I placed book ads online including at Bob Borson’s blog Life of an Architect.

I went around the country touting the benefits gained by reading my book.

In fact, in 2011 at KA Connect, during a Pecha Kucha presentation, I went totally blank. And whether out of sympathy or who knows what, the book never sold better.

That time (gratefully, the only time) I froze-up on stage was one of the best things to ever happen to me career-wise.

I handed out coupons and gave books away as door prizes.

I wrote dozens of blog posts bestowing its virtues.

I sent out hundreds of emails to colleagues requesting they share a link.

And sent copies of books to friends, magazine editors and bloggers in the hopes they’d write a review.

Despite these efforts to move books, all-in-all equal to – or even greater than – what it took to write the book, the book sold poorly.

Pandering to architects has never been a particularly effective business model.

I recognize that it was not all my fault. The BIM book arrived in the midst of the world’s greatest economic downturn.

The fact that the book came out in 2011 was not lost on the author or publisher.

Nor the fact that the book’s undiscounted asking price is $75, that the book comes in hardcover (no inexpensive paperback version,) the images are b/w, nor that it looks like a textbook.

Why would anyone (apparently my students included) willingly purchase and read a textbook?

The book was faulted by one reader for appealing in its title (“strategies for architectural practice”) primarily to architects, whereas the “integrated design” in the title includes – and ought to appeal to – Engineers, Constructors, Owners and others.

As the author of the book, I take full responsibility for the fact that it did not sell.

I am mature enough to recognize that just because I like to read – and try to do so for a couple hours each day – it doesn’t mean that others like to read.

And even if they do, they may not like to read books per se.

I know my students don’t do their required reading, the word softly translated by my students as voluntary.

As though to say, how dare I assign textbooks?!

If only they knew how well-written they are!

I know everyone has a copy of BIG BIM, little bim and The BIM Handbook, but do you realize how excellent the writing is in Dana (Deke) Smith and Michael Tardif’s Building Information Modeling: A Strategic Implementation Guide for Architects, Engineers, Constructors, and Real Estate Asset Managers?

Or how exacting and spectacular the writing is in François Lévy’s BIM in Small-Scale Sustainable Design? François Lévy’s book is brilliant. I didn’t let the fact that it concentrates on smaller projects or that he uses Vectorworks, to dissuade me from reading it for pure enjoyment.

Having written a BIM book, and BIM blog for 4 years, I have a real appreciation for how hard it is to cut through the clutter and hype and say something that is mercurial and potent and insightful. Lévy manages to do this on every page – sometimes several times a page – and it is a shame more people haven’t read his book and sang its praises.

I learn best by books but recognize that professionals have different ways they prefer to learn: some by video, some lecture, some tutorial, or site visit, or hands-on, or via gamification.

When I interviewed very important people (VIPs) for my BIM book (Phil Bernstein and Chuck Hardy, among many others) I was blown away by the insightful things they said. And also by the way they said them. New things, things that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

I became who I am because of the books I read – and continue to read. For me, reading is like living two lives. The advantage it provides you is empowering. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can provide one with what can be found in a good book. Not first-hand experience (because in books, you gain other’s experience vicariously on top of your own;) new ways of looking at things (on top of how you already look at things;) new ways to do things (ditto;) and perhaps best of all, insights that take your knowledge up a notch – that could otherwise only be acquired through long and hard work on your own. All that, and they fit snuggly on a shelf or nightstand, iPad or Kindle.

This is why – despite the disappointing sales of my first book – I am devoting the next year of my life to writing another book.

I believe in the power of books and the power of the written word.

Especially as an antidote for those days I spend behind a computer monitor, messing with digital this, and computational that.

Books seem to place what I’m doing into a larger context, and in doing so, the best ones help provide a purpose for the time when I’m not reading.

* OK, not really but a pretty amazing coincidence nonetheless.

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Why Being Proficient is Not Sufficient

proficBetween doing design technology searches and helping out my university students, I look at – and make suggestions for improvements on – a couple hundred resumes and CVs each year.

Students shouldn’t place education on top. They need to start seeing things from the employer’s perspective. Anything even vaguely work-related needs to move up.

Students also make the rookie mistake of listing every piece of software they know. Photoshop. InDesign. Microsoft Office.

While mastering these tools is in itself a minor achievement, if not miracle, listing them on your resume says more about you than you may intend.

To the prospective employer, these tools are the air you breathe. Putting them on your resume is like saying “in my spare time I drink water.”

Somewhere over the past couple years the technology bar has been raised. You are now expected to know more and do more. And, more and more, you’re expected to learn these tools in your spare time.

What exactly are you supposed to know? I’ll get to that in a moment.

In a recent conversation with the Head of University of Minnesota School of Architecture, Renée Cheng, she admitted that learning BIM is no longer part of their curriculum. Revit classes have been sequestered to the architectural archipelago of Saturdays.

At the University of Illinois School of Architecture where I teach – Revit and other software lessons are covered sporadically in the evenings. I personally try to teach BIM and building science as inseparable subjects, and work in the topic of BIM as often as I can for my 134 undergrad and 90 grad students, and students are encouraged to learn Revit for extra credit outside classroom time.

It is as though I now have to teach each class twice. I teach the material that, according to the accreditation body, students need to know to succeed in a career in architecture. Then I put on my BIM hat, walk to the white board on the side, and inform them of the implications of that topic in terms of BIM and integrated design.

But back to learning software. In off-hours my TAs provide live software tutorials, and students are expected to practice outside of class on their own. We make sure students know they have free access to Lynda.com and other online tutorials, and answer questions in and out of class as they arise.

In a few weeks Paul F. Aubin will be stopping by my Anatomy of Buildings lecture class to wow my students with his family editor magic. A couple of the students may recognize him from the Lynda.com tutorials or from his Mastering Revit Architecture book series, but by and large the students see him not as the Revit rock star and rocket scientist rolled in one that he is, but simply as a guest lecturer. Paying attention is voluntary.

On your resume, your ticket to talk is prior experience with Revit and skill with learning new software. So why, then, isn’t being proficient in software sufficient?

It’s not so much about what you learned in 4-6 years (OK, seven) of school, but your willingness, openness and ability to learn software – including tools that haven’t been invented yet. In college, what we try to do is teach you not for your first year out of school but for your tenth, fifteenth, twentieth.

Firms want employees to be self-motivated, to mess around with software on their own. For example, to develop their own expertise in advanced Revit features.

More and more of these firms are all-Revit – or All-in Revit. They’re Revit firms.

Like ArchiCAD instead? See if Papageorge Haymes (Chicago, IL) is hiring. Or Jared Banks (Newton, MA) or Ashen+Allen, BAR Architects (both SF, CA) or CJMW (Winston Salem, NC) or Kirksey Architecture (Houston, TX) or Woods Bagot or check out this list to see if any are hiring.

But back to reality.

When – under the skills category – you place the words “AutoCAD” or “Revit” on your resume, it is to start a conversation.

If they ask you how well you know Revit and you say that you did an extra credit assignment for Professor Deutsch or watched a tutorial 4 years ago but haven’t actually used it, it will be a short, and not particularly sweet, conversation.

If they ask you how well you know Revit and you say that you are proficient in AutoCAD, 3D Studio Max, Rhino, Revit and that you’ve messed around in your spare time scripting in MaxScript, what the prospective employer hears is not the litany of software you’ve burned through but “Holy cow, they mess around with software in their spare time.”

A few might wonder why you have any spare time (i.e. what’s wrong with you?)

If they ask you what is your experience working with the scripting language in Autodesk’s 3ds max, VIZ 3D, and gmax applications, call their bluff. They probably were coached by IT to ask you this, but the senior person who is interviewing you probably has little idea what it is they are asking. Whatever you do, don’t make them feel stupid. Just answer the question as accurately, and as briefly, as you can. They will be relieved by whatever you answer, happy to move on to the next question or show you around the office.

Oh, and if you want a job offer, when they ask you if you have any questions, don’t ask them about software. Ask them if you can see a set of their documents. Employers are never so happy as when someone asks to see their documents. It’s as though you asked to see pictures of their children. It’s as though you asked if you could raise their children. They’ll be that proud to share them with you. That is one thing that hasn’t changed.

Firms are looking for do-ers, but also for strategists: employees who take software matters into their own hands, who might recommend that the firm look into a certain software over the one they’re married to, or invest in a particular software because that is where the competition or industry is headed.

So, while it is important that you know Photoshop, InDesign and the Microsoft Office suite, it is also important that you breathe and drink 8 glasses of water daily. Important, yes. But not sufficient.

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The Poughkeepsie Principles

pkpsWe are in a race now to produce better and better information, instead of better and better buildings. – Paul Fletcher, RIBA architect

There is a school of thought that contends that BIM is not an authoring tool or software platform or an industry standard, but an approach to creating and managing information.

This way of thinking has blossomed in recent years – from an emerging movement to accepted wisdom – in the AECO industry.

Not that architecture itself is getting the short shrift.

Despite the advent and subsequent diffusion of digital tools in the design process, some of which have a more intuitive design interface than others, we shouldn’t worry about losing our ability to design exceptional buildings anytime soon.

In fact, when it comes to architectural design, there is ample evidence that we are in the midst of a Renaissance (re-Renaissance? Re-naissance?)

Just scroll through archdaily or archinect or archidose or architizer or architonic or archello or abitare – or thumb through this – I think you’ll agree:

Architecture isn’t suffering.

This New Architecture is all about better buildings because we can produce better and better information.

Because we can use this information to convince clients to go along a path that they would otherwise – without the metrics, the benchmarking, the information and data – not take.

But before we can lead owners down this path, we ourselves have to make an important choice.

A Road Not Taken

Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, describes two paths: one well-trodden, the other less travelled.

You may remember this poem from school. The author takes the path less travelled – the one that “wanted wear” – and, for the author, that has made all the difference.

We, too, have the choice before us – to continue on the well-trodden path of practice –

Whether that means designing using our well-worn visualization tools, working in CAD, or delivering projects by design-bid-build –

Or going outside of our comfort zone, exploring a new way of working.

Our industry’s less travelled path.

Taking the less travelled path

A while back on a sojourn from NYC to Albany, due to inclement conditions I was forced to pull over on the side of the road.

Seeing that the rain wasn’t letting up any time soon, I made a mad dash to a lodge on the edge of the woods.

Inside, locals huddled over coffee weren’t in any hurry to head out. Nor was I.

Battened-down into a booth, I composed the following principles on a napkin.

Principles I swore to – and ascribe to – ever since that fateful day. I call these

The Poughkeepsie Principles

1. BIM is not an authoring tool or software platform or an industry standard, but an approach to creating and managing information.

2. BIM puts information in place to coordinate the digital process from design through operations and beyond.

3. That information comes from somewhere.

4. Digital processes in architecture not only enable, but also determine the way we design, construct, and work together – and relate with our tools.

5. Despite the near-constant temptation, don’t put your tools before people.

6. Everything points toward more expansive ways of digital production.

7. Digital processes alter how we work with one another for the good of all.

8. We collectively determine the meaning of the good of all.

9. Digital networks are there to improve communication and to assure that we communicate with one another. So communicate.

10. Those with digital capabilities work collectively, not autonomously, for the highest good.

11. We collectively determine the meaning of the highest good.

12. Those with digital capabilities will find themselves catalysts for a new organization and industry order.

13. Those with digital capabilities will not find themselves catalysts for a new world order.

14. Where you end up in that order will be determined by your capabilities and collaboration quotient (CQ).

15. Call it collaboration quotient, not CQ. Your colleagues will thank you.

16. Designers will continue to author the design of projects.

17. In the new digital workflow, everybody is a designer.

18. Semi-autonomous algorithmically driven design workflows deeply embedded in a collective digital communication infrastructure will continue to create alluring objects.

19. But designers will be needed to determine how these objects look, scale, function, shed water, stand up and meet code.

20. In other words, designers will still be needed to design.

21. The proliferation of advanced digital modeling tools has enabled designers to conceive and create designs that would be messier to do using Koh-I-Noor Rapidographs on mylar, Razor Points on napkins, 2/HB soft/hard black pencil in Moleskines, lead holders and electric erasers.

22. And drafting dots.

23. Digital modeling tools require less cleanup, therefore, save time.

24. There is a time and place to use Rapidographs on mylar, Razor Points on napkins, 2/HB soft/hard black pencils in Moleskines. This isn’t one of them.

25. Go ahead, experiment with algorithmic and simulation-driven design. Just remember your client and users are waiting.

26. They’re still waiting.

27. Computational design is considered to be a design tool, and also a series of instruments that can be applied in the creation of architecture.

28. The previous principle is both redundant and superfluous. It is redundantly superfluous.

29. Computational design enables architects to incorporate performance analysis and knowledge about material, tectonics and the parameters of production machinery.

30. That’s just a fancy way of saying information, alluded to in the first principle.

31. Computational design really needs to say what it means.

32. In the new world of integration, architects become hybrid- – not hyphenated- – practitioners.

33. In other words, hybrid-practitioners, not hyphenated-practitioners.

34. Architects can counter the traditional model that isolates architects from the economics and construction of buildings by positioning themselves towards the operational center of each project.

35. To do so, architects need to become developer-architects or contractor-architects, (see hyphenated-practitioners.)

36. Architects need to define what it means to be hybrid practitioners without the hyphen.

37. Use nothing out of the box. All software shall be customized. See principle #6.

38. Customizing computational tools can create more responsive designs.

39. Learn how to customize software for your specific needs and the needs of the project.

40. New digital tools are new and shall remain so until they aren’t.

41. Computation is indeed changing the way architects design, only nobody can say how.

42. There are digital design tools and there are results. Focus on the results, and the tools will take care of themselves.

(To be continued: the napkin on which I was writing was full.)

Published works that inspire – and uphold – these principles include, but are not limited to:

- Digital Workflows in Architecture, Scott Marble

- Digital Fabrication in Architecture, Nick Dunn

- Computation Works: The Building of Algorithmic Thought, Xavier De Kestelier, Brady Peters 

- SHoP: Out of Practice, Shop Architects

- Inside Smartgeometry: Expanding the Architectural Possibilities of Computational Design, terri Peters, Brady Peters

- Material Strategies in Digital Fabrication, Christopher Beorkrem

- Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques, Lisa Iwamoto

- Material Computation: Higher Integration in Morphogenetic Design Architectural Design, Achim Menges

- Digital Manufacturing: In Design and Architecture, Asterios Agkathidis

- Manufacturing Material Effects: Rethinking Design and Making in Architecture, Branko Kolarevic  

- From Control to Design: Parametric/Algorithmic Architecture, Michael Meredith

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Filed under BIM, collaboration, construction industry, defining BIM, modeling, Uncategorized, workflow