No one goes into a career in architecture because they love to crunch numbers or deliver hard data.
But once initiated into the tribe, it has increasingly become a reason for many to stay.
This is where we find ourselves today: instead of surviving on our wits – we’re surviving on analytics.
Practicing an art and a science, architects naturally run both ends of the spectrum. Some consider themselves artists first and foremost, unconcerned whether their designs ever see daylight. These paper architects, updated for the conceptual age as digital architects, perform primarily in pixels.
And give architects their not always positive reputation as artists.
At the other extreme are architects for whom it is all about the hard evidence.
For them a day at work is more CSI: Crime Scene Investigation than CSI: Construction Specifications Institute.
Feeding on constraints and ever-changing regulations, design for them is a matter of looking-up and plugging-in information that’s required and, if necessary, trimming off the excess – literally in the trim command, trim tool or by way of value engineering.
So when BIM came along, these hardscrabble architects pounced on it. They love the plug-‘n-play apparatus. They devour the dialog boxes and cannot feed enough information into them.
Rather than being exhausted by the umpteenth request to provide information they’re energized by it. As though to say, hit me with another question.
It’s not that BIM has done away with RFIs; they’re now embedded in the program.
These are the people who grew up watching game shows and love to answer trivia.
I’ll take Creating New Types and Templates for $1000 and Instance Properties for $1500.
The reality is that we need both types of architects. I have argued here that in the best of worlds the two would reside in the same person. Others have argued elsewhere that it’s good for project teams and organizations to have both types of people, to provide flexibility and agility, and to serve as a checks and balances function to assure the work stays in line.
But how much information is too much?
Could there be a fear of too much information (TMI) – too much I in BIM?
For that is the crux – to know how much information is needed and when it is needed.
And while this has been addressed, particularly in some of the better contracts, it’s a mindset and skillset that needs to be developed that we’re talking about here.
It’s like when a sales rep calls on you at an inopportune time – say on your way into a design presentation and you unadvisedly or unwittingly took the call. It’s not bad information that they want to impart – it’s just not the right time for it. A week later that same information may come through for you and help you get your design approved. Just not now.
This ability – to gauge how much information is needed and when – is not a new skill but it’s just never been more important than it is now for individuals, teams and firms to acquire.
It’s not only a matter of knowing where to hit the hammer, it’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging the context so you can nail the the question: of the project phase, who will use the information, what they will use it for and when they will need it.
And this ability is age-related: it is easier for senior team members than still emerging talent to see the bigger picture.
Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context: coup d’oeil or court sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations.
Information Intelligence (II)
Call it Information Intelligence (II) the uncanny ability to gauge when, how and to whom to apportion information.
Developing this ability in your staff – and hiring for Information Intelligence or II skillset – will save more time, fee and headaches than any other single move you could make right now.
It takes an understanding of the technology, as well as how buildings come together.
But the higher science of this knack is a people or social skill: understanding how people receive information, how much of it they can consume at one time, what the best format for the information is so that it finds its highest and best use.
We have all had the opportunity to work with people who have the II gene. They possess the uncanny ability to gauge and deliver just the right information, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way.
When LOD becomes LOL
I am not asking here whether you can get to level of detail (LOD) 300 in Revit or ArchiCAD without working in 2D or whether these tools are ready to take-on LOD 400 for fabrication (they’re not.)
While important to know, what we’re discussing here is a higher order matter.
In an interview for my book, BIM + Integrated Design: Strategies for Practice, a BIM manager and project architect described the process thus:
The process should be like an onion where you’re building an onion backwards. You’re putting on the overall scope and slowly putting in each layer inside until you get all the way down. It’s very difficult to do that in BIM because the first time you put in a wall it asks you how thick is your drywall?
What’s the least amount of information that is needed at this moment to get the design intent across?
What’s the role of “hard facts” and just how hard are they?
Owners see data this way: the facts, pure and simple.
Constructors and design professionals know better, because they know more.
This is where things get more complex and uncertain.
Contractors put their own spin on the data when they indicate other contributing factors to consider – adjacencies, impacts to schedule, availability of labor, codes, etc. They see the data within a larger context.
Architects are wont to bring up the sociological impacts, the social impacts, psychological impacts and not mention the equally important aesthetic impacts of the decision-by-data point.
Death by Data Point
Statistics are definitely in. Evidence the evidence-based everything.
The New Yorker’s June 7 2010 issue lists the top jobs for the coming decade. Most involve information, metrics, data analytics or statistics.
But last time I looked architecture remains an art and a science.
And while it is foolhardy to justify subjective, aesthetic predilections by any other means than by invoking hard data – it will make you this much, it will improve quality, it will get the project done on time – it does nothing to stop an underlying and critically human need for subjective, aesthetic predilections.
Still, there’s a point when TM is definitely TM.
Just as “Death by PowerPoint” is a criticism of slide-based presentations referring to a state of boredom and fatigue induced by information overload during PowerPoint presentations, Death by DataPoint is the state we feel as design professionals when relegated to feed the beast by plugging-in infinite streams of information.
So let’s put an end to TMI and work towards just enough, just-in-time information.
Start with Seven Simple Questions
Before imparting our infinite wisdom, before sharing or over-sharing, start by asking these seven simple questions:
- What do I need to know?
- How can I get this information?
- How reliable is it?
- What do they need to know?
- When do they need to know it?
- Can I help them get this information?
- How can I best communicate this?
By doing so we’ll do everyone, including ourselves, a favor.