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Google’s BIM-busting App for Design and Construction

flux-1%20cityscape

By Randy Deutsch AIA LEED AP

Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder of Github, believes there will only be two types of jobs in the future: people who code computers, and people who get bossed around by computers.

“In the future there’s potentially two types of jobs: where you tell a machine what to do, programming a computer, or a machine is going to tell you what to do,” says Preston-Werner.

“You’re either the one that creates the automation or you’re getting automated.”

Remember the “Google[x] to revolutionize the construction industry” headlines from this time last year?

Google technology could halve construction costs

Google’s secret development unit has developed a technology that could earn the company $120 billion a year, and,

Is Google planning a BIM-busting app for construction?

Google_X

Google’s secret is secret no more

Flux, a 25 person, 2 year old company, the first — and so far only — startup to spin off of the semi-secret Google[x] research moonshot lab and incubator at Google dedicated to projects such as the driverless car and Google glass, has set out to automate the AEC industry.

It’s about time we take notice – and sides.

Google[x] is the company’s main initiative to diversify its sources of income.

With the global construction market estimated at $5 trillion a year, why not enter our turf?

First, a little background.

The Google X engineers initially called the development of the invention Genie (after the genie in Aladdin in “1001 Nights”). Genie, the development team told Google’s management, was a platform with online-based planning applications to help architects and engineers in the design process, especially for skyscrapers and large buildings. The platform includes planning tools of expert architects and engineers and advance analytics and simulation tools. Genie standardizes and automates the design and construction processes with unlimited design options, enabling an architect to preserve the building’s uniqueness in the urban environment.

In the report, the Google X team estimated that Genie could save 30-50% in prevailing construction costs and shorten the time from the start of planning to market by 30-60%. The Genie team estimated that the platform had the potential of generating $120 billion a year for Google, and so Flux was born.

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Former Gehry Partners architect, Michelle Kaufmann, co-founded Flux with ex-Google software engineers Nick Chim (who is also CEO), Augusto Roman and Jen Carlile.

Flux says they are in business to address urban population growth.

In short: we’re going to increase our urban population in the next 35 years by 3.3B people – which nearly doubles our urban population from right now – and, depending on the size of the building, will require between 6.6 million and 33 million new apartment buildings by 2050 to house them all.

And so the need to see buildings not as one-offs, built from scratch, but from seeds.

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Buildings as Mother Nature would want them to be

From a talk Jen Carlile, Co-Founder of Flux, gave in October 2014 at KeenCon,

Using Data to Improve the Built Environment:

Today we build individual buildings as though Mother Nature built each one from scratch, rather from seeds.

Flux asks: What if we were to build buildings from seeds? Seeds that took on different forms and characteristics depending upon where they were planted?

The thinking goes, if we designed this way, we could leverage data and design and build buildings by the thousands in the time it currently takes to design one.

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Tool #1: Coded within the building app are all the rules that the building needs to grow or auto-generate: the structural system, HVAC, façade, etc. It knows, for example, that it needs external sunscreens on the west elevation to reduce late afternoon heat gain. These rules are all encoded into the building seed. (See the video within the video that starts at 8:30.)

They use the analogy of the Monterey Cypress tree, which takes on a different shape based on where it is planted, the prevailing winds and conditions of its location and site.

cypress

In the same way that if you plant three separate Monterey Cypress seeds in three separate locations you’ll get three separate trees; if you place three separate building “seeds” in three separate locations you’ll get three separate buildings.

In other words, the building takes on different forms based on the different sites it is placed on.

The software “designs” all of the bathrooms, fire stairs, ducts. Because all of the rules are encoded within the building seed, you can make changes to the building. When you do that, the building regrows.

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The seeds of change

To address the urban population crisis, says Jen Carlile, we need to stop designing individual buildings and start designing building seeds.

The time it takes to design and build needs to dramatically decrease.

Slide1

Tool #2: Another tool Flux built helps with organizing data, making it more actionable and more universally accessible. Think of it as a feasibility study algorithm that, once you identify a site or sites, instantaneously assesses entitlements, massing, building program, building performance, leasable area and overall project budget.

Simon Rees, Associate Principal / Structural Group Leader at Arup in Los Angeles, in a talk he gave in late October 2014 about a data-driven, integrated project named P12 that involved input from ARUP, Flux, Gensler, Cupertino Electric, Turner Construction, among others, calls this Wrangling Geometry from the data.

Slide2

Embracing the full complexity of the design and construction process, grounded in real estate data, P12’s goal was to reduce the design and construction of a large-scaled building to a 12 month cycle: 3 months for design, one for permitting, and 8 for construction.

They use the example of zoning codes that dictate what can be built on a site.

Slide3

The tool pulls in data from neighboring lots, buildings, vegetation. It looks at overlay zones, view corridors. Then it looks at the building code, generating the buildable envelope for a site.

Using downtown Austin, TX as an example, Flux’s software Metro purports to provide a better way to visualize Austin’s development code by

  • aggregating multiple data sources in one place: data from cities, tax assessors, and third-party sources, so you quickly understand the parameters for a land parcel;
  • helping developers and land owners to visualize their parcels by situating proposed projects into the surrounding landscape;
  • showing only the development codes that are applicable, including conditional overlays and uses; providing a quick assessment of project potential. “If and when you are ready to go deeper,” says the website, they’ll “provide helpful reference links to deeds, entitlement history, and permitting history.”
  • taking a snapshot of the project and share with anyone, getting stakeholders aligned around a common vision
  • rendering zoning incentive and building usage impacts on the parcel and massing.

Slide4

They make the process transparent so you can see where all of the data is coming from. So up on you monitor, as part of the tool, side by side with the building massing is the building or zoning code and all of the rules that can be derived from it.

As Simon Rees put it, browser-based exploration democratizes access to otherwise industry-specific information such as zoning codes and building models.

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Calling BF Skinner

After using the tool for a while, says Carlile, you can develop an intuition as to why the buildings are shaped the way they are. “What we often think of as artistic license is really just the manifestation of a rule set.” This represents one of the exciting ways that the data feedback loop can inform – and over time, improve – one’s intuition.

In the spirit of openly sharing technology in the software industry, making the design and construction process not only more transparent but more efficient, and reduce the time it takes to design and build buildings, Flux asks: What if there was a standard library where people could build upon the work of others, as opposed to solving the same problems over and over again?

We already have that technology: it’s called the human mind and memory.

I think the population growth storyline and Mother Nature metaphor don’t mask the underlying opportunity to best greedy developers at their own game by charging for this software as a service (SaaS.)

i.e. Free test-drive on 10 parcels $100 per additional parcel (introductory price.)

33 million buildings will be needed by 2050. That’s 33 million rules-based, design-by-constraints, deterministic, GMO seeds.

Constructors will be needed who know how to componentize, commoditize, and put the buildings together quickly.

The technology raises questions such as: Should humans be performing modeling tasks that a computer can perform?

I did feasibility studies for building developers most of my career and on most days I felt like I had the best, most creative job in the world.

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding is that code searches aren’t drudgery that needs to be performed by computers. While the most cursory first looks can be made by computers, any building designer knows that interpreting the code – whether zoning or building – can be every bit as creative a task as designing the building itself. I have myself doubled the size of the allowable square footage of a project without seeking a variance based on nothing more than creative interpretation of the code. A computer can read a code, but it can’t read between the lines of a code book: only humans can.

The tools appear to be quite sophisticated. But a structural- nor software-engineer shouldn’t be touting the upside of these services or technologies. In the two presentations I have seen on the software, each look at a comprehensive, integrated system from their own narrow perspectives.

Flux needs someone as a spokesperson who sees the big picture. Someone who orchestrates large teams and knows the complete assemblage of building design and construction – not just from their silo, domain or point of view.

Something Jen said in the Q & A after her talk in particular hits home:

I think of it like APIs. You can have an API for a structural system. If you can connect your structural API to your fabrication machine, you no longer have to have humans involved.

For the foreseeable future, Flux’s Metro and other tools require the input of designers and other experts – in other words, human input. I wonder how team members such as Arup and Turner Construction would feel hearing that what they are contributing to may soon put them out of business?

More on where Flux is headed with all of this here.

Not building in Austin’s Central Business District? Subscribe to Flux’s mailing list to find out when they launch in your city. https://flux.io/metro/

Watch Jen Carlile, Co-Founder of Flux.

Read: Google X spin-out Flux is harnessing data to make designing buildings better.

Images: Flux

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The 7 Convergences in Contemporary Practice

by Randy Deutsch AIA LEED AP

Slide1Last summer over early morning coffee in Cambridge, Phil Bernstein – whom the past couple summers has joined me on the second day – asked me what I covered on the first day of my two-day Harvard GSD BIM leadership seminar.

So I gave him the run down. BIM as a database, interoperability, the seven convergences…

Wait. Again?

In all the times I’ve spoken with Phil, he had never before asked me to repeat myself.

So I listed them for him.

Oh those, he said distractedly – and returned to whatever he was doing.

It was then I knew I was onto something.

Background

The convergences in question have both practical and emergent antecedents.

Since the downturn in the economy in 2008, architects and other design professionals have been expected to design and construct in a manner that uses fewer resources, while still innovating, adding value and reducing waste.

Deliverables have to take less time, cost less money to produce, while not compromising on quality: expectations that are unrealistic at best, often resulting in a negative impact on outcomes, working relationships and experiences.

Old paradigms such as “Quality, Speed, & Price: pick any two”- no longer apply. Owners expect all three – Perfect, Now and Free – on almost every project. Traditional linear thinking no longer works in this converged upon world.

At the same time, emergent forces and technologies have come together in the second decade of the twenty-first century that have developed to the point where they make real-time integration of all facets of the design and construction process possible.

An unstructured, as of now unnamed group of twenty- and thirty-somethings have met the challenges and opportunities of this moment with skill, verve and aplomb (you know who you are.)

Closing Gaps vs. the Eternal Now

The metaphor of closing gaps is based on linear thinking: two events occurring in succession or transition are brought together or bridged.

With increasing demands to make decisions in real time, design professionals are moving beyond the linearity metaphor and thinking in terms of simultaneity, super-integration and convergence.

Emergent tools, work processes and the cloud make real-time convergence today a reality.

Those in academia, the design professions and industry are experiencing a tectonic shift approaching a real-time/right-time meeting point marked by multidisciplinary integration, intersections, interactions – and daresay collisions.

Because areas of professional expertise are converging on transdisciplinary teams increasingly made up of data scientists, computer scientists, mathematicians, sociologists, statisticians, strategists, scripters, and economists working alongside design professionals – it is no longer adequate for students of architecture, engineering and construction management, or for design and industry professionals, to strive to learn and master individualized skills.

Being proficient in any one domain – whether skill, technology or tool – is no longer sufficient. As I’ve written elsewhere, being proficient is no longer sufficient.

Adapting to the new world of work requires learning to think simultaneously on several fronts, and from several points of view.

This is the world of convergence thinking.

There are seven convergences in contemporary design practice that occur at the meeting of two seemingly opposite forces:

  • Virtual and Physical World
  • Data and Intuition
  • Parametrics and Computation
  • Visualization and Model
  • Design and Fabrication
  • Conception and Construction
  • The Practical and Ineffable

As this is a blog post, not a dissertation, here they are in capsule one at a time:

  1. Virtual and Physical World

Real-time tools enabling man-machine interaction in design and construction are being developed on the UIUC campus. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is entering the construction space with implications for how buildings are designed. Software now provides intuitive, real-time answers to wickedly complicated questions, which in turn enables much better decisions.

How can students of design and engineering, and their educators, work together to help leverage these tools throughout the building lifecycle?

  1. Data and Intuition

In lieu of buildings as buildings, or buildings as documents, we’re now seeing a convergence of buildings as data. Design firms are already leveraging data to make better decisions, bring about better insights, and make better buildings.

Where do employees who can do this – understand buildings as databases – come from? How are they learning to effectively and creatively accomplish this? Is this something that can be introduced in school or in practice?

Working with data and analytics not only informs, challenges and validates intuition, but over time changes (i.e. improves) intuition. Convergences such as the data/intuition feedback loop are quickly changing the way design professionals work, the way they think, communicate and interact with one another, and thus have implications for the way they learn, train, and practice.

  1. Parametrics and Computation

Existing BIM tools are in the process of becoming more computationally aware.

Converging parametrics and computational tools. We are now able to compare alternative building designs on the fly – in real time – assuring teams that they are on the right track, meeting the owner’s and building inhabitant’s criteria, comfort and needs from the start.

Converging processes and people. Using Grasshopper plug-ins like Platypus – developed by firm employees, not corporations, disseminated freely on Twitter, not via software resellers – individuals are now able to communicate and collaborate on the design of buildings in real time.

Are architects going to sit side by side with hackers, computer scientists and algorithm builders? Right now, several offices already have architects sitting side by side with hackers, computer scientists and algorithm builders. The future, in other words, is already here. Are we preparing our students for this future? Who will lead this effort? Who, in other words, will be the glue?

  1. Visualization and Model

Tools are currently being developed where visualization reacts directly to analysis, in the 3D model, without the need of producing additional reports.

What impact will this have on the way we currently teach structures, and the daylighting and energy analysis of buildings?

  1. Design and Fabrication

Convergence of design and fabrication. University, not trade school, students today learn to operate robotic arm fabrication equipment directly from their CAD and BIM software.

What are the implications for not only education and practice, but for the trades and industry?

  1. Conception and Construction

After winning the international design competition, it took Jørn Utzon 6 years to figure out how to build the Sydney Opera House shell structures, and by that time he was no longer on speaking terms with the client or the contractor.

Flash forward 50 years: Nathan Miller as the lead computational designer, and later Andrew Heumann, leader of NBBJ’s design computational group, designed, fabricated and all but constructed the Hangzhou Stadium from their laptops.

How are the boundaries between two historically separate entities, design and construction, converging? What are the implications for the way we learn? For the way we practice?

  1. The Practical and Ineffable

As David Ross Scheer has discovered design professionals are increasingly challenged to realize meaning and agency within the constraints of computational tools.

Who are the individuals that are succeeding at this need for the transference and making of meaning brought about by increasing convergence of technology, tools and processes?

Implications for education

The seven convergences have implications for both education and practice.

Convergence requires multidisciplinary participation, merging STEM subjects with those in design and the arts.

We need to educate designers to work compatibly and effectively with those from across different domains and fields.

Like it or not, this is where design practice is heading: we need to understand the implications for education and training, research and development.

Implications for practice

Architecture is a complex undertaking requiring the input of many individuals with varying interests, backgrounds and expertise. This has not – and will not – change.

What is changing is the way these individuals are working, communicating and collaborating. Their individual contributions are converging. In response, they are integrating their efforts – not multitasking. To meet today’s demands for speed, affordability and quality – they are taking and making smart cuts, not shortcuts.

They are currently learning to do this at conferences, at informal meet-ups, in online forums, via gaming, and in social media.

If you aren’t in the Grasshopper forum, or follow them on Twitter, a whole epoch might pass you by.

The linear design process transforms – and increasingly tightens – as a result of the introduction of convergences in contemporary design practice workflows.

A new book

There is a need to clarify and concretize what is happening at this moment in time for those who aren’t following.

Books – whether physical, digital or audio – are seen by some as antiquated technology. But in the middle of the second decade of the third millennium, they are still the best means we have for synthesizing moments and movements, giving them a name, and as importantly, a language that can be understood, shared and discussed by others.

The seven convergences will be explored in a new book I will be writing in 2015.

For those keeping score, convergence is the next natural succession in the research from my previous two books on building information modeling (BIM,) and data analytics in the AEC industry.

Specifically, the practice-based research for this new book aligns with, grows out of, and builds on my current research on the collaborative leveraging of data in design that has led to my in-progress book, “Data Driven Design and Construction: Strategies for Capturing, Analyzing and Applying Building Data,” (John Wiley & Sons, 2015) a +400 pp. publication providing practical information, useful strategies and technical guidance to practitioners, educators and students who are looking to leverage data throughout the building lifecycle.

As a meditation on the impact of technology on the education and making of design professionals, this new book – Convergence – can go a long way to help explain what is happening now in the world of design, as well as to discuss the implications for the future of practice.

I would love to hear from you. Anyone

  • for whom this topic strikes a chord, rings true, captures the zeitgeist
  • who works in any of these areas, or knows someone who does
  • who thinks there are too many listed, or sees something missing
  • who has something to say on this topic.

Email me at rdeutsch@illinois.edu or let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Design Smart. Build Smart. Live well.

stepsNote: Today’s posts are by guest blogger Elijah Gregory, a high school senior interested in all things BIM. If Elijah represents the future of our industry, we’ll be in good hands.

The Purpose of BIM: IPD to Life Cycle Management

When envisioning the future through the eyes of an early 2000’s film, we see men dressed in sharp, all-black suits, women in sleek, all-black dresses, and almost all business processes completed virtually. Phone calls are made through technological-emulated telepathy, balance sheets are brought up and thrown around a corporate board room on a series of screens mirroring a Tony Stark creation, and we see security officers responding to seeing breeches in a building through a hologram. The hologram always struck me: how could the security officers see through the entire building and manipulate the model? How did they know where the attackers were? Of course, the concept, Hollywood animation at the time, is encroaching upon reality. The future of BIM lies in life cycle management.

Currently BIM acts just as the acronym implies, for modeling of a building and information extraction from the model. The system works from the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) process of construction which ties together architects, engineers, construction companies and owners. Through BIM, all stakeholders in the construction of a building can contribute.

Architects typically rely on the modeling aspect of BIM. Through the software, architects can create the drawings of the building, a model of the building (of course), a virtual walkthrough of the building for the client, as well as a vast array of visual aspects to the overall design of the building. The modeling aspect of BIM currently contributes the majority of the current use of the software. Of course, the information derived from models produced by BIM still plays an incredibly important role—and arguably the most important role, depending on which stakeholder you are in the process. The information is used to create estimates and schedules, decide on critical points in the construction of the building, and ultimately to sell the building to the owner and make a profit for the CM firm.

The current state of BIM is incredible: over the last two decades, construction has changed more than in the last two millennia, and largely due to the adoption of the software. BIM has always been about streamlining data and communications from a construction aspect, but the future of BIM takes streamlining one step further—to interoperability from the erectors, to owners, maintenance men, and end users of the building.

Life cycle management through BIM allows the model and information to be leveraged throughout the entire life of the building. From the software, owners could schedule maintenance and users could plan additions or analyze energy usage for sustainability. Of course, for the simple interoperability to occur, BIM must be simplified immensely to a substantially more user-friendly level–a feat not easily conquered. Although seemingly far-off, the conceptual days of holographic building manipulation via the streamlined usage from IPD to life cycle management through BIM are quickly approaching.

On the Horizon of BIM

All too often I find myself nearly completed with a project in Revit and I realize my lack of adding information into the model. I need summaries of costs associated with the materials in the building, cost per square foot, panel schedules, optimizations of the model, energy analysis and a whole host of information-driven items, which all too often I cannot create quickly due to my lack of using the tool to the full potential.

Of course, all the information discrepancy lies in the lack of identity data for the various components in my building design. From there, a breakdown of room costs, overall building costs, energy analysis, and all other comparative and analysis functions Revit can do, Revit then can do.

As a high school senior with limited experience and education with the data associated with the intricacies of flow rates for MEP systems, cost data, or Uniformat, I am highly unable to create information for the components which Revit requires to analyze. And although I am in no regards a professional architect, I suspect architects and common users of Revit know all of the needed information either.

The design of a building alone stands as nothing less than a masterpiece. All the information associated with the design can stand as much more: smart.

Currently, very limited standards exist for BIM software. Such a lack creates inequalities in depth of design for both the building and more prominently the components within the building.

In an attempt to create a community workspace for BIM operators in which to share families and components, Autodesk created Autodesk Seek.

Although the components from the online warehouse can serve the purpose of design or layout, more often than not, the models come very generically information wise if drawn by Autodesk or loaded with intricate, unexplainable parameters, poor constraints, and a lack of cost data if drawn by a manufacturer.

Needless to say, the two very different levels of information causes some issues down the road in the design to delivery cycle.

The future of design lies in an operation-to-drawing-board approach. The user comes first. Inasmuch, a standard upon which to design from BIM-wise sees all the more calling as the future draws near.

With the rivalries for market share never ending, I cannot imagine a full-tilt, industry-wide warehouse upon which components for the various BIM software may arise in the near future. But with Autodesk’s innovative nature and record, a calling for standards of acceptance to Seek does not appear out of line.

The cliché proves timeless: we are on the cusp of something great. Hopefully, with the trend of BIM acceptance and implementation, standards do not live so far in the distance. Design smart. Build smart. Live great.

Thank you Elijah Gregory for your dedication to BIM and collaboration, and for writing these great posts! You can read more of Elijah’s writing on all things BIM at Sean D Burke’s blog Paradigm Shift http://www.seandburke.com/blog/2014/09/02/the-vdc-cycle-leveraging-the-i-in-bim/

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IPD: The Missing Manual

Missing ManualMy first impression after reading The Owners’ Guide to Starting Integrated Building Projects by Oscia Wilson is that it is much more than a guide for building owners. This easy to read handbook will guide anyone interested in either pursuing this important and still little used collaborative project delivery approach – integrated project delivery or (IPD) – as well as those interested in gaining a better understanding of its methodology, to be better informed and prepared to explain it to others.
The book has its roots in social media, in that it originated as a LinkedIn discussion, with many expert voices adding their two cents to the discussion. It soon became apparent that what was needed was an IPD users manual, and after some toil, as the discussion grew and grew, this must-have book was born.
San Francisco architect Oscia Wilson envisioned turning the outcome of that very valuable online discussion onto a much needed owner’s guide, several integrated project delivery experts volunteered to contribute, and what ensued – the book I hold in my hand – turned out to be much more than the sum of its parts.

While Oscia’s name is the only one that appears on the cover of the book, in true IPD spirit, the inspiration for the book was crowdsourced – integrating the expert advice, experience, knowledge, colorful anecdotes, judgment, and hard-won wisdom – of several excellent, big-name building industry contributors (all listed and acknowledged inside the front cover.)

Wilson wisely kept the length of the book down – it can easily be read in one or two sittings. Owners are busy people, and they want to get to the goods, the facts, sooner than later, so keeping the book slim was probably a wise choice. That said, the book maybe could have used more of a preface or introduction, to provide a little background – explaining, for example, why there’s a need for an owner’s guide (owners most often decide on the project delivery method for a project) and why not an architect’s guide or contractor’s guide. Also, for all of the rich content and comprehensive covering of topics, I was surprised that there wasn’t a mention of the several hybrid approaches to IPD that many firms have taken-up when IPD itself is not an option, including the so-called IPD-ish and IPD-lite workarounds which are pulled out when one can’t pursue IPD for legal or insurance (or just plain risk-aversion) reasons. Perhaps the author didn’t want to give Owners the option to duck out of using IPD pure and proper? That said, the book does have an excellent section on What To Do If You Can’t Do IPD which offers some excellent alternative approaches and tactics.

If, like owners, the goods are what you are after, the book is chock full of excellent collaboration-related tips, techniques, talking-points and step-by-step processes. More than an owner’s manual, this book could be thought of as an IPD Users Guide which should appeal to a much wider readership. This easy-on-the-eyes book is itself a beautiful object – well worth owning for its considerable contents as it is for the attractive cover, the clear and well-illustrated color graphics, and the closing invitation to add to the continuing conversation. Everyone in the building industry will benefit from reading – and rereading – The Owners’ Guide to Starting Integrated Building Projects.

You can find Oscia Wilson’s five-star book here on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Owners-Starting-Integrated-Building-Projects/dp/1499627327

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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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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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