Monthly Archives: April 2010

BiM: Building intuition Modeling

While the architectural design process is largely an intuitive exploration, what happens to intuition in this rational, digital process we call BIM?

Most everyone in the AEC industry by now knows that the purpose of a building information model (BIM) is to generate and manage building data during its lifecycle. And that the model’s data – in the form of information – covers building geometry, light and energy analysis, geographic information, quantities for estimating costs and properties of building elements.

But what if the BIM was used to contain acquired knowledge, build intuition and generate insights?

After attending two critical AEC-related events in Chicago in one week – Christopher Parson’s seminal KA Connect 2010 conference on Knowledge Management, and Illinois Institute of Technology’s Divergent Perceptions Convergent Realities: IPD and BIM – I started thinking about how BIM models, as a technology and process still very much in a nascent state of development, had the potential to impact the modeler’s, designer’s and even end user’s knowledge, wisdom and intuition.

Today, especially in this economic climate, the BIM is very much a rational model. And while most would agree that one model is not a realistic end goal or even an ideal, what if what we were working toward were multiple models – rational models, intuitive models and rational-iterative models – all assisting in our individual and collective professional judgment and decision-making?

Wisdom Management >> Intuition

Most in the knowledge management and Knowledge Architecture world – the “KA” in KA Connect – would recognize the data flow

Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom

where each term is differentiated – and evolves – from an evaluation of its immediate precedent and antecedent. Read more about this and systems thinking here.

That the succession of terms, when stacked, forms architecture’s primordial building form – the pyramid – is almost perverse.

At the IIT colloquium, esteemed Assistant Professor John Durbrow raised the question as to whether intuition could be defined as the successful outcome of internalizing one’s own experience over time?

If this were the case, the new formula would look something like

Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom >> Intuition

The Designer’s Burden of Proof

Aaron Greven at the IIT colloquium argued that intuition-based design is being replaced with analytic-based results, creating greater certainty for owners, translating as lower risk, with an emphasis on accountability by the design professional. For evidence of this, see HBR’s The Future of Decision Making: Less Intuition, More Evidence.

But what if our models were able to contain both analytics and intuition-based parameters, resulting in an analytic-intuition model?

Architectural Justification

It is a dirty little secret that architects design what they like and only justify later. They do what they do because they like it – and work hard to provide reasons for their intuitions in the socializing or coming-out of their designs. Architects self-justify and rationalize, then justify and post-rationalize. One could argue that all-in-all the world is a better place – with much better buildings – for having taken this approach.

Here’s the nuance in this argument. What an architect likes is not inherent to the architect – not something she is born with – but something learned, nurtured and inbred, over time, through trial and error and the school of hard knocks. The successful moves rise to the top while the not-so fall like lead to the bottom, seldom to rear their ugly little heads again. Or one would hope. Over time what we call professional judgment or experience is merely the accumulation – and recollection – of such positive feedback over time.

Forget for a moment about what this says about our freedom to choose and the faintly behaviorist underpinnings. What does this have to say about BIM and how BIM might be taught in schools?

It is often argued that undergraduate students ought to be immersed in building construction early on and once familiar with how buildings come together, only then introduce digital technologies such as BIM. Others, of course, believe that there is no place in the curriculum for BIM and it ought to be picked-up on the sly.

Several at the IIT conference expressed concern that students were being exposed to BIM earlier and earlier in the curricula.

Analytic-intuition (Ai) models

But what if BIM was used as a tool to learn how buildings came together? Here, the teaching of BIM in schools could be broken-up into 4 areas of focus

1. Building Data >> 2. Building Information >> 3. Building Knowledge >> 4. Building Wisdom >> Intuition


  • Building Data covers building concepts and systems
  • Building Information covers materials and products
  • Building Knowledge covers research and development
  • Building Wisdom covers collaborative application of the above

Once ingrained, acquired building knowledge and building wisdom would result – through the iterative and social process of an integrated design studio – in intuition.

Some inevitably would argue that intuition is the result of years of trial and error – and wouldn’t be developed until long after school has ended and professionals were well into their careers. Perhaps. But if – as some have said – that architectural education ought to focus on educating future architects for their long careers and not to be employable interns day one out of school, then immersing architecture students in the model to learn modeling AND construction – how buildings come together – would make some sense.

BDM: Building Data Model

This is the building model at its most elemental form, involving pre-information in the form of symbols. Read more about it here and here.

BIM: Building Information Model

Where information is neither the accumulation nor collection of data but represents the next level of information.

BKM: Building Knowledge Model

Knowledge-building activities and even decision-making models may exist in decision theory – but not building knowledge models. Knowledge is putting information from the model into action. Think of it as applied information of the BIM model. The next morning after drafting this post, T.J. McLeish, IIT College of Architecture Virtual Realms, in his colloquium talk on Planning Tools/Digital Design and Fabrication- a self-proclaimed advocate for making smarter people not smarter buildings – rhetorically asked is it building information modeling or knowledge modeling? No doubt a convergence of perceptions.

BWM: Building Wisdom Model

The wisdom model puts the acquired, collective knowledge to use, resulting in understanding. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I am not proposing a Building Understanding Model (BUM)

BiM: Building intuition Model

It is my firm belief that there is a book in response to every question, and the Building + Intuition question is no exception. While not specifically about buildings, Building Intuition: Insights from Basic Operations Management Models and Principles (International Series in Operations Research & Management Science) – while written primarily to enable readers to develop insights with respect to a number of models that are central to the study and practice of operations management – is equally applicable to working in BIM. As the book explains

One of the primary purposes of any model is to build intuition and generate insights. Typically, a model is developed to be able to better understand phenomena that are otherwise difficult to comprehend. Models can also help in verifying the correctness of an intuition or judgment. In spite of the fact that many educators and practitioners recognize the intuition-building power of simple models, this is the first book in the field that uses the power of the basic models and principles to provide students and managers with an “intuitive understanding” of operations management.

What if a BiM were to result in the modeler’s intuitive understanding of how buildings come together, how they ought to be sited, how they impact the entire lifecycle, which designs work and which are better left in the monitor? It is worth a longer look into the role of intuition in design, BIM and IPD.

IIT Colloquium: some observations

There’s a lot you could say about the IIT Divergent Perceptions Convergent Realities – IPD and BIM all-day colloquium on integrating Virtual Realm Design Environments into integrated Building Delivery methodologies and curricular intents. With fewer than 2 dozen non-presenters in attendance the conference was not well-attended. Someone asked:

Have you ever noticed that every technology conference starts with difficulty advancing slides?

Can you really fault those who might have benefitted most by attending for wanting to spend an all-too-rare beautiful Chicago Spring Saturday out of doors instead of in the dark and noisy basement of IIT’s Crown Hall on Chicago’s South Side when there have been a seemingly endless succession of dismal Winter Saturdays when the event could have taken place?

Yes you can. The atmosphere was admittedly a bit like educating the educators. No matter – the presenters and presentations more than made up for calendar and Crown Hall’s less-than-accommodating underbelly. That the event was memorialized on video – one can only hope that the presentations reach a wider audience once uploaded.

John Durbrow, chair of IIT College of Architecture’s Master of Integrated Building Delivery program, as the master of ceremonies, set the tone. Aaron Greven, founder of AG Design Works and teaches in IIT College of Architecture’s Master of Integrated Building Delivery program, spoke on Status of the BIMvolution. Perhaps – along with CM Matt Riemer of Gilbane Building Company’s presentation Pre‐Seeing and Its Impact on Process – the most earth-bound of the talks, served the critical purpose of grounding the topic in such a way that allowed the presentations that followed to diverge or converge as necessary. With the presence of Mies ever-looming over the conference, Greven concluded his talk with these already prophetic words:

“Less may be more, but our looking to get more out of less will lead the way.”


Since Sachin Anand, dbHMS Envisioning Energy Flux, representing building systems was not able to attend, Joseph Burns, Thornton Tomasetti, hot on the heels of his recent AIA podcast with Markku Allison revisiting his 2006 insights on BIM and IPD, spoke about Structure not Unseenly, a show-and-tell of his recent work with little critical assessment. David Bier, Futurity provided a much-needed GIS-level view of applying landscape to the BIM environment on Data Systems for Engaging the Environment. A great deal of minute detail was presented, sometimes losing sight of the forest for the trees.


T.J. McLeish, IIT College of Architecture Virtual Realms, in his talk on Planning Tools/Digital Design and Fabrication – who, along with all of the faculty presenting and in attendance an alumnus of Murphy Jahn, making the event something of a MJ reunion – explained how he doesn’t see clear-cut boundaries between virtual and non-virtual realms. His interests, he said, fall in the intersection between the real/physical and abstract/digital worlds – and how we translate, manage and move from one to the other. He went on to present a number of research projects he is involved with that have very real applications.   

Ryan Schultz of Studio Wikitecture spoke on Enabling Wiki: Task Definition for Distributed Management – crowdsourcing as a business plan that allows individuals with diverse viewpoints to integrate – indirectly commented on the potential effectiveness of IPD by alluding to how the Skunkworks and Jet propulsion teams collaborated well by reducing the number of participants. It would have been interesting if IPD can be seen as a form of crowdsourcing. I will take this up in a future post. Robert J. Krawczyk, IIT College of Architecture, presented 982 slides illustrating computational design, in The Role of Exploration – What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do. Krawczyk presented the idea of BIM as the latest tool in a long succession of tools (and applicable to this post, where a tool is equated with knowledge.)

While all interesting, the divergent talks could have benefitted from time to time with a reference back to the topic of the day: IPD and BIM.

Keith Besserud, Studio Head [BlackBox] at Skidmore, Owings, & Merril, LLP, also evoked Mies in his talk on Form Follows Data. Keith described BlackBox an applied research studio in the Chicago office of SOM (started back in the glory days of 2007 when firms could still afford R&D,) focusing on developing and leveraging parametric, algorithmic, and computational design methods and tools in the design work of the office. Keith gave an inspiring, if canned, talk on his recent work. Interestingly, what resonated and lasted long after he was finished speaking, was a short digital video illustrating the understanding of wind performance around tall buildings.

A model for a Building Understanding Model? Yes, analytic tools such as Ecotect, take some geometry and look at behaviors in two different locations in the world. Bottom line: Analytic, yes – but also breathtakingly beautiful.

Neil Katz, also of SOM Blackbox, the last presenter (alternatively, Open Visions, Vibrant Visions, and Algorithmic Modeling/Parametric Thinking) before the closing panel discussion, reminded us –in action if not words – that, while IPD and BIM is first and foremost about delivering more efficient results to owners, what attracted us to the field in the first place was the pursuit – and creation – of beauty. His vision presented in creative computational solutions to design problems, is a beautiful one. His work is faultless, beautiful. Neil came across as a gentle soul who spoke without ego or any of the pretensions normally associated with the worst of academia or working in a large competitive firm. That such beauty can result from such circumstances – and after so many years of practice – ought to provide manna for those who wish to continue on their chosen career path despite the many changes and hardships.               

In the panel discussion IIT’s John Durbrow stated that, to architecture and design

Intuition is the assimilation of observations made over time, to see what seems right.

And in doing so

You’ll develop intuition based on the performance of digital tools.

Aaron Greven responded with this inquiry:

How do you teach intuition?

How do you demonstrate intuition?

How do you test, validate and evaluate intuition?

It’s just a hunch but perhaps the answer is in a Building intuition Model (BiM)?


Filed under BIM, collaboration, craftsmanship, design professionals, education, impact, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, modeling, process

BIM (in) The Game

The Game is the name given to the annual football game played between Harvard and Yale. The two teams have met 126 times in the past 135 years, and while Yale has a slight edge (in) the series, Harvard is the current champion.

They call the end-of-season annual meeting between the two teams The Game.

The Game is the second oldest rivalry – after Princeton vs. Yale – and so it is ironic (and an admittedly less than smooth transition) that Princeton Architectural Press (PAP) has produced two Game-changing publications – one from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD) and the other from the Yale Architecture School (YAS) – that I would like to briefly describe and compare in this post (PST.)

Enough with the acronyms.  For those who have read my current piece in AECbytes you’ll know that I’m on something of a synthesis kick right now that is threatening to become a synthesis rampage. I would personally like to see a moratorium on BIM and Integrated Design analysis until someone steps forward with a clear roadmap, less findings, more wayfinding. In the viewpoint article I state that

There is a tendency—with each new release, with each new product, posting and revelation—to add to what is already known instead of clarifying—and solidifying—what we already have. What our industry needs right now is not more information or analysis of information: the pieces are there. What is needed is a coming-together, a coalescing of knowledge—a synthesis of BIM and Integrated Design.

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here. I mention this because while I believe YAS’s Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture may very well be the finest commentary on the condition of the profession to come out in the past 15 years – when compared with Harvard’s GSD’s freshman effort from 1996, Reflections on Architectural Practice in the Nineties, it becomes increasingly clear that we as a profession have lost sight of – or no longer see – the forest from the trees.

To be clear, Yale’s Building (in) the Future, by grounding the discussion (in) technology, admittedly focuses on the trees of technology and the changing roles of those who work in them, while Harvard’s Reflections is as the title implies, more forest-like (in) its scope.

But this may be due to the publication’s separate ambitions: one to describe changes to an evolving profession over the course of a decade, the other focused not only on the increasingly diverse technologies impacting the profession as well as on the roles of those working with them – with the resulting transition from master architects to master builders.

At a book launch event in late February 2010, Phil Bernstein was reported saying that with the book he hopes “to create a theoretical frame in which we can begin to explore these options, because the technology is moving even much, much more quickly than we could possibly have known.” The implication being that the book offers frame-like branches from which will hang our future exploration’s leaves that, in time, will make-up our much needed forest.

Both books cite the grandfather of architecture profession studies, Robert Gutman, and his presence is felt in both publications. In fact, Yale’s Building dedicates the book to Robert Gutman (1926-2007) as “a most sensitive analyzer of the architectural profession.” And this is the crux: analyzer – not synthesizer. What is needed (in) our current transition is more effort put into synthesizing the vast amounts of information concerning BIM and Integrated Design at our disposal and less analysis.

Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture is divided (in)to two sections: Working and Making, and Collaboration, which remarkably cover the (in)terests of this blog and blogger:

Working and Making = BIM

Collaboration = (In)tegrated Design

My concern is that with spring upon us we’ll be reading even less than we do as a profession. Upon completing this post, I would like to ask that you peruse the books mentioned at the end of this post, order, purchase or borrow the one that most (in)tuitively connects with you on a visceral level, read it, doodle and comment in the marg(in)s, and when you’re done, draw-up a map – a roadmap, a plan, your vision – for how you would suggest we move forward as a profession. Tap into your all-too-rare-(in)-this-world ability to synthesize vast amounts of often conflicting, complex and contradictory information into an elegant and smart solution for our current condition. We are looking to you for this. Lead. Start a movement – and in doing so – you will have done your not-so-small part to help all of us along.

I won’t review these books here (in) their entirety – but recommend that you read Building (in) the Future for yourself. For a review of Building (in) the Future look here and for a summary, here.

At the risk of inundating you with too much information, in October 2006, the Yale School of Architecture held a symposium that became the inspiration for this book, entitled “Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture.” You might want to take a quick look at this presentation from the conference with one of BIM + Integrated Design’s favorite speakers, Joshua Prince-Ramus. In a session entitled “The Organization of Labor: Architecture,” Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX; façade consultant Marc Simmons of Front, Inc.; architect Coren Sharples of SHoP; lawyer Howard W. Ashcraft; and Phillip Bernstein of Autodesk and Yale University discusses issues such as hiring, structuring of project teams, responsibilities and liabilities, compensation, contracts, scope and responsibility of work, and the legal and public recognition of authorship. Watch –

The Read-Now List

Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture, Phillip Bernstein, Peggy Deamer eds.

Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture raises as many questions as it addresses. Over thirty contributors – including Phillip Bernstein Autodesk, Inc., Building Solutions Division VP and Yale School of Architecture lecturer, Peggy Deamer, Kenneth Frampton, Paolo Tombesi, Howard W. Ashcraft, Jr., Reinhold Martin, James Carpenter, Branko Kolarevic, Chris Noble and Kent Larson among many others – including designers, engineers, fabricators, contractors, construction managers, planners, and scholars examine how contemporary practices of production are reshaping the design/construction process. The book that grew out of the 2006 symposium is still relevant and provides as succinct and convincing snapshot of the profession in the throes of change as you are likely to find anywhere.

A beautifully produced book, well-made, small in format if not in ambition.

Reflections on Architectural Practice in the Nineties

This still largely timely and thought-provoking collection of essays offers a detailed examination of architectural practice in the 1990s, having grown out of a year-long symposium at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, which took stock of pressing issues in order to speculate on future paths for both education and practice.

Among the many familiar challenges the architecture profession faced at the time was a constantly volatile economic climate, rapid technological change, and a general globalization of society. Reflections presents 29 essays by leading critics, scholars, and designers, essays that grapple with these and other issues and provide strategies for confronting them.

To give you an idea of the scope of Reflections, the book is organized into sections:


Some of the stronger essays included:

  • Getting Beyond Architectural Monographs and “How-To” Management Books • Roger Ferris
  • Practice Realities Must Be Integrated in Design Studios • Fred Stitt
  • The Shaping of Architectural Practice • Elizabeth Padjen
  • Growing Complexities in Practice • A. Eugene Kohn
  • In Big Firms, Most Do Not Design • Stephen Kliment, Peter Forbes
  • Three Models for the Future of Practice
  • On the Need for the Collaboration of Diverse People • Frances Halsband
  • How Should Architects Respond to Changes in Practice? • Andrea Leers
  • Notes on the Fate of the Architectural Profession in the Post-Structuralist Era • George Baird
  • Mentors Are More Important than Curriculum • Margaret Henderson Floyd
  • Changing Roles for Architects: Conversations from a Colloquium
  • Losing and Regaining Ground: A Jeremiad on the Future of the Profession • Carl Sapers
  • On Virtuous Architects • Carl Sapers
  • Collaboration Is a Management Art • Charles B. Thompson
  • On Liability and Litigation • Richard Crowell
  • Information Technology: A New Source of Empowerment for Architects • Spiro Pollalis
  • Globalization, Flows, and Identity: The New Challenges of Design • Manuel Castells
  • Design in an Increasingly Small World • Peter G. Rowe
  • Shaping Design Education • Peter G. Rowe

Architecture From the Outside In: Selected Essays by Robert Gutman (2010)

Today, in the face of the challenges confronting their profession, from the economic crisis to an urgent need for longer-lasting, more affordable, and greener construction, architects have been forced to reconsider the relationship between architecture and society, between buildings, their inhabitants, and the environment. No single individual did more to build this discourse than Robert Gutman. Sometimes referred to as the sociological father of architecture, Gutman in his writing and teaching initiated a conversation about the occupants of buildings and the forms, policies, plans, and theories that architects might shape. A sociologist by training, Gutman infiltrated architecture s ranks in the mid-1960s. Over the next four decades at Princeton s School of Architecture, Gutman wrote about architecture and taught generations of future architects, while still maintaining an outsider status that allowed him to see the architectural profession in an insightful, unique, and always honest way. Architecture From the Outside In is the only book of Gutman’s collected essays to span his entire career, with the earliest essay included from 1965, and the most recent from 2005. Before his death in 2007, Gutman wrote a new introduction for the book, its chapters, and each of the included essays. The fourteen essays included here are the rare case of valuable historical documents that remain relevant to architects practicing today. Editors Dana Cuff and John Wriedt added twelve dialogues by some of Gutman’s former students, now some of the best-known architects and theorists of today: Bryan Bell, Deborah Berke, Peggy Deamer, Frank Duffy, Keller Easterling, Robert Fishman, Marta Gutman, Wallis Miller, David Mohney, Patricia Morton, Eric Mumford, and Sarah Whiting. These essays give a contemporary response to Gutman’s work, and make Architecture From the Outside In an invaluable addition to any contemporary architect’s library. 

Architectural Practice: A Critical View (1988)

The book that started it all describes the state of the profession in the latter 80’s and the historical reasons for its condition. Drawing from economical, social and political forces he explains the reasons for the decline of the role of the architect. A used copy can still be had for $1.58



Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice: A Special Report by Boyer and Mitgang (1996)

Despite being focused primarily on architectural education, this study provides a forest of recommendations for the profession.


HUNCH 6/7: 109 Provisional Attempts to Address Six Simple And Hard Questions About What Architects Do Today And Where Their Profession Might Go Tomorrow (2003)

For a profession that is too busy to stand still, HUNCH 6/7 stops time, slices through the moment, and exposes an international sampling of architecture’s voices against a newspaper backdrop of the world today. On the occasion of the farewell to Wiel Arets and the welcoming of Alejandro Zaera-Polo as dean of the Berlage Institute, 109 architects and critics who have stimulated research at the Berlage Institute were invited to reflect on the changing profession of architecture and to reconsider their role as spacemakers. They were asked six simple and hard questions about what architects do today and where their profession might go tomorrow. Forest.

HUNCH 13: Consensus (2010)

A collection of twelve provocative contributions by leading and emerging architects, critics, and scholars focuses on how collective thought shapes and enriches the built environment. From decision-making strategies, participatory forms of urbanism, and top-down planning methods, to the collaborative approach of the architecture studio, the political implications of commissioning of star architects, and the realization of universal planning principles, the authors explore how different constituencies work together to make design decisions, Along with these topical contributions – which are supplemented by marginalia of annotations, terminologies, and short stories – a series of four conversations with renowned architectural practitioners and theorists, and a visual essay and text reconsidering the role of imagery in architectural history and theory.


Issue devoted to the future of architecture as a profession includes articles on: Boyer Report, African American architects, Sherrie Levine’s Chimera, gated communities, a prose poem by Victor di Suvero, women writer’s influence on American architecture, Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, Goodman2, and interview with Kenneth Caldwell. Vol. 1 – if you can get your hands on it – it equally outstanding and deserves a wider readership.


Ever-nostalgic for the demise of our beloved,  you can still look to this site for a comprehensive list of books and essays to stimulate and sharpen your thinking on this critical topic; a forest preserve of a list that addresses a much wider range of topics than our current trees painting a richer picture of the profession with each category listing dozens of relevant sources including: Diversity in the Profession, Career Paths, Internship, Licensure, Comparisons to Other Professions, Practice, Studio Culture, Surveys and Studies and Women in the Profession.


Filed under BIM, craft, craftsmanship, education, modeling, people