All I Really Need to Know about BIM and IPD I Learned in Kindergarten

“The architect who combines in his being the powers of vision, of imagination, of intellect, of sympathy with human need and the power to interpret them in a language vernacular and time—is he who shall create poems in stone.”              Kindergarten Chats on Architecture, published in 1901 in which Louis Sullivan, as a master architect, teaches a fictional student his principles of architecture and philosophy. 

Maybe it’s time we have a kindergarten chat? In a recent online group discussion, I asked two questions:

            What is the right place to learn the habits, mindsets and attitudes required for design professionals and others in the construction industry to work effectively in an integrated environment?


            If the current generation of emerging design professionals didn’t learn the habits, mindsets and attitudes critical for working effectively in a BIM and IPD environment in kindergarten, when will they pick it up?

Responses kept coming, dozens and dozens of insightful comments in all. One thing that is clear from the comments is that we should have learned these basic habits, attitudes and mindsets such as trust, sharing and collaborating in kindergarten. But it has become apparent to many – especially to owners and contractors – that these values weren’t picked up by their design professionals in kindergarten –or any time since.

So what to do?

Before we all take crash courses to rekindle these basic – but critical – values and practices, it makes sense to address what needs learning and when best to learn it, so that we remain relevant and effective practitioners for those we work with and advise. To this point there are roughly three schools of thought.

BIM and IPD: Three Schools of Thought

            Integrated project delivery (IPD) integrates all team members–owner, architect, construction manager, engineers, and subcontractors–to form a collaborative effort, seeks input from project team members at the onset of the project, allows team members to leverage Building Information Modeling (BIM) by creating a virtual design of every element of a construction project as well as its process.

As a school of thought is a collection or group of people who share common characteristics of opinion or outlook, this might be an effective way of categorizing the range of attitudes we carry about what’s important for design professionals to know – and when they need to know it.

BIM/IPD School of Thought 1: All I Really Need to Know about BIM and IPD I Learned in Kindergarten

My 14 year old son is learning BIM software this year at his high school. He and his peers find the software intuitive and pick it up quite readily.

With IPD, the focus is usually on Early Goal Definition, Intensified Planning, Appropriate Technology, Organization and Leadership. While these are important, as a process IPD is based on some very basic values and principles that unless mastered by all involved, the project will fail. These include: Mutual Respect and Trust, Mutual Benefits and Rewards, Collaborative Innovation and Decisions, Open Communication and Sharing of information.

An early reviewer of my in-progress book on BIM and Integrated Design summed it up this way: “Perhaps one of the most important benefits wouldn’t even cross your mind, and this book attempts to explain it succinctly: Integrated Design and BIM require a much different mindset, and this mindset requires collaboration, coordination, team work, and knowledge sharing in order to succeed. This is not an option, this is a prerequisite.” 

Some feel we should have picked-up these principles and values in kindergarten but either didn’t or weren’t paying attention. More likely, we did learn – but unlearned them in the years since – especially once we left the cocoon of school and embarked on the hard knocks of a career in architecture and construction. There we learned to be mistrustful, skeptical, competitive, secretive, working independently out of silos. In other words – we unlearned all of the critical habits, attitudes and mindsets necessary to work on an integrated team – and be effective practitioners today for those who need us most.

This line of thinking is perhaps best exemplified by this comment from a recent discussion:

            “Modeling/BIM as a craft/technical skill should be taught freshman year, just as pre-arch curricula traditionally taught drafting and rendering. As far as integration/collaboration goes, however, that’s a skill students (and professionals) should have picked up by         Kindergarten…”

BIM/IPD School of Thought 2: All I Really Need to Know about BIM and IPD I Learned in College

For others, college is the best time to address these work habits and attitudes. One commenter put it like thus:

            “This whole ‘change’ which is coming in our world has to be based on a foundation of trust, respect and a willingness to let one’s ego take a back seat to the ‘team’, the project and the client. If you can get the students & future architects to embrace this new way of working and thinking, early, I feel that they would be starting out on the right foot towards this new way of working.”

BIM/IPD School of Thought 3: All I Really Need to Know about BIM and IPD I Learned in the Workforce

While many comments stated that school was the ideal place to learn the technology and work processes to work together in an integrated fashion, others thought that this scenario was at best unrealistic, opting for this learning to take place after school – as summarized by this comment:

            “As a 50 year-old returning to school for a Master’s in Architecture, I would hope that the program exposes me to the core principles and concept being used today. It is important for students to have an understanding of IPD/BIM and the role they play in our profession. But, the true training will come as they enter the workforce. As mentioned in an earlier comment, many students are still graduating with little to no understanding of the business side of architecture, but, are well versed in the latest computer programs. I think the student should be exposed to what is currently being used in the profession. And then, allow their employment and progression toward licensure to hone those core principles that were taught in school.”

Whatever school of thought you belong to, I am not suggesting here that we return to school to relearn what some of us have unlearned – the hard way – in the midst of our careers during heated discussions, presentations and negotiations.

The hard truth is that owners need more commitment to collaboration – and with that trust and respect – from their architects and general contractors.

Perhaps it is time for a kindergarten chat – starting with one that we have with ourselves and then perhaps branching out to chats with our colleagues – where we refresh our memory and recommit ourselves to the basic but all-important values and principles that IPD is based on: mutual respect and trust, sharing, open communication and cooperation. Perhaps this is one all-critical commitment we can keep in what promises to be a pivotal year for our industry and profession. 



Filed under BIM, collaboration, education, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, process, Uncategorized

4 responses to “All I Really Need to Know about BIM and IPD I Learned in Kindergarten

  1. Brian Lighthart

    One thing I have learned from operating in a commercial environment as an architect, is that most owners expect the services they trade tangible assets for to yield a tangible benefit – and pretty darned quick, too. They have neither the desire to be educated, patience to listen to why it is a good idea to build “smart”. By the time they arrive at my place of business, they just want their project permitted and built. The designer and his product are a means to an end.
    If the process can be friendly, then great. If it can be beautiful, strong, and comfortable, with all systems are optimal, then great. But it is much more important to an owner that it just get done with minimal falderall. It is undeniable that BIM front loads the design process, and the bidding process precludes much of IPD.
    IPD and BIM are wonderful for us as designers. Some Contractors have come to see value in them. As a group, Owners and Developers have not. They want to see plans in for plan review ASAP. The Process are not of concern to them at all.
    This is very understandable for me. I need to find the value in BIM for myself. I cannot expect my commercial clients to help me out with that.

  2. We’re happy to see an increase in IPD conversations. You’ve done a good job putting it in perspective and simplifying the concept. We need more people like you to share this same message. If everyone involved in the project takes a moment to step back and look at the goal of the project they’ll realize the shared interest they have. Easier said then done though I guess. You make a great case for continued collaborative, integrated education. Lets bust out of the silos! One thing we’ve done, and will continue to do, is look closely at how our Contracts can help expedite adoption of IPD practice. Most recently, we worked with architects, contractors and owners to develop a new Multi-Party Agreement that creates a collaborative working environment where the parties are compensated for collaboration in design and construction. This collaborative process has the potential to result in a high quality project for the owner, and substantial monetary and intangible rewards for the other parties.

    • randydeutsch

      Thank you for your helpful comment. The work of the AIA Contract Documents Team is at a critically important juncture. As you continue to look closely at how your contracts can help expedite adoption of IPD we’ll be looking for greater use of the documents – and integrated practice – not only by architects, but hopefully their use will be instigated by more and more contractors and owners. Best, Randy

  3. IPD is a special interest of mine, as well. I run a steering committee on this subject at KMD Architects, and I also talk about it on my blog pretty regularly.

    When I first entered the field, the inherent inefficiencies of the way we practice seemed obvious to me. I’m five years in now, and although I’ve learned the ropes of how things work, it still seems crazy to me. IPD just seems so logical and obvious that I’m often dumbfounded to find so much fear and resistance.

    A lot of people really are just uncomfortable with change, and that discomfort clouds their judgement and makes it hard for them to think logically. We younger architects seem more able to understand IPD because we have less to “unlearn.”

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