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?)
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
- SHoP: Out of Practice, Shop Architects
- 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