Monthly Archives: August 2010

Is BIM the Machine in the Garden?

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet. – Cyril Connolly

Some design professionals resent the intrusion of technology into their practices.

Things, for them, were fine as they were.

It wasn’t always this way.

At first, when CAD was first introduced, we thought that computers were machines in the garden of architectural Eden.

Our reactions to BIM are all over the map.

Some are enthused and have readily adopted it as the next technology.

They may not be utilizing the information in BIM, but are well on their way to doing so when the opportunity arises.

But for some folks, BIM is seen as an unwanted intruder.

Mary Shelley’s monster was a creature of technology after all.

The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America by Leo Marx examines the difference between the pastoral and progressive ideals which characterized early American culture.

And which ultimately evolved into the basis for much of the environmental debates of contemporary society.

Where pastorialism represents the yearning by civilized man to occupy the space in between “art” and “nature.”

The book illustrates how American writers and artists came to grips with the penetration of the machine into the garden.

And talks about the “middle landscape,” where many find themselves between primitivism and progressivism.

A purgatory of sorts where many design professionals find themselves today.

This could easily be describing the introduction of technology into contemporary design practice.

It has been almost 50 years since architects considered their profession a new Eden that would redeem mankind.

For them, as the title implies, technology today is an unwelcomed guest in Eden.

Others would less generously call BIM the proverbial fly in our professional soup.

That BIM, and now IPD, are crashing our party.

We used to have such a nice profession – look what BIM has gone and done to it.

Waxing Nostalgic

For the most part, design professionals have readily, seamlessly, adopted the new technologies.

With relatively little kicking and screaming.

But for others, BIM represents a line drawn in the topsoil.

Irrespective of the many surveys that indicate well over 50% of the profession – and construction industry – is already making strides with BIM, there continue to be hold-outs.

And I suspect that deep down, below the espoused reasons for not getting on board the machine, are overriding fears that somehow BIM is a foreign intruder in architecture’s garden.

Where their fear of BIM is almost xenophobic.

They’re concerned about the insidious effects of industrialization on the spirit, as it were.

They feel threatened by BIM.

BIM, they believe, commoditizes what they do.

Allowing others to make and then eat their lunch.

And Integrated Design (IPD) all but silences their already weakened voice at the table, lessens their power and ability to negotiate.

Making them even more invisible than they already feel.

Hear this, resellers:

For BIM to truly catch fire, we will need to address our fellow practitioner’s emotions.

For all the perfectly sound reasons we have for moving forward with BIM.

For BIM to truly work for our profession, it’s

more a matter of the amygdala and emotion than of the cortex and thought.

Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly, first published in 1938, is famous for listing the adverse elements that affect the ability to be a good writer.

The overarching theme of the book is the search for an explanation of why Connolly, though widely recognized as a leading man of letters and a highly distinguished critic, failed to produce a major work of literature.

The book lists the factors that can stifle a writer’s creativity.

Warning writers to be on the lookout for them.

A representative quote from the book: There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.

You can almost hear design professionals today complaining that

There is no more somber enemy of good architecture than BIM on the ball.

That it will stifle your creativity.

Don’t let BIM be your enemy of promise.

It’s All Technology

Is it BIM or is it technology that enters our figural garden?

Consider them one and the same.

In fact, it is probably healthiest to accept the fact that mechanical pencils, pin bars, Mylar and Maylines were technologies well before CAD entered the scene.

Not to mention Fortran IV with Watfour and Watfive and stacks of punch cards that I and my classmates were weened on.

I am looking forward to reading What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, cofounder of Wired magazine, when it comes out in October.

Watch Kelly discuss What Technology Wants here at TEDxAmsterdam or here on YouTube.

This essay by Kelly presenting a refreshing and inclusive view of technology as a living force in the world ought to tide us over until then.

In the essay, Kelly asks:

So, looking at the evolution of life and the long-term histories of past technologies…What does technology want?

Possibilities
To increase diversity
To maximize freedom/choices
To expand the space of the possible

Efficiencies
To increase specialization/uniqueness
To increase power density
To increase density of meaning
To engage all matter and energy
To reach ubiquity and free-ness
To become beautiful

Complexity
To increase complexity
To increase social co-dependency
To increase self-referential nature
To align with nature

Evolvability
To accelerate evolvability
To play the infinite game

To align with nature.

There you have it.

What does BIM want?

Not to fight.

Not to crash our party.

Not to be a thorn in our side.

Nor an enemy of promise.

Nor a machine in our garden.

But to belong.

To a time when we see no conflict between the machine and the garden.

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Filed under BIM, design professionals, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD

Moving to Plan B: BIM and the Startup Mentality

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

When’s the last time you looked at your business or practice through a fresh pair of eyes?

If the same old way of doing things – Plan A – is not working for you, consider relooking at how you’re going about it.

By working for you I mean:

Is the way you’re doing things today bringing in the bucks, sustainable, competitive, and nurturing to your staff, providing growth opportunities for your firm as well as growth-promoting opportunities for employees?

If you said no to any of these, there’s another way to go about business.

And the time is ripe for you to consider it.

Consider exploring Plan B.

B as in BIM

Christopher Parsons, founder of Knowledge Architecture, a knowledge management and information systems consultancy based in San Francisco, gets the credit for this one.

It’s a gem.

In a comment for a previous post on business model generation and BIM he wrote:

I believe that architects need to return to startup mentality — starting by conducting the search for the new “scalable, repeatable business model.”

That’s huge.

That’s it.

Just imagine.

It’s a new way of looking at your architectural practice.

As though it were a startup like SHoP or LTL Architects or any of the other fresh new faces that have been around for years, in some cases decades, and we’ve only recently started to pay close attention to.

Every business of course has its own variables. What works great for one may not work for yours.

But the great thing is you don’t actually have to open a design and production boutique under your considerable roof.

You only have to start thinking like one.

The Lowdown on Startups

What were you doing when these 8 practices startedup? What was the economy doing at the time these 8 firms were established?

  • Front, 2002
  • Gehry Technologies, 2002
  • Chris Hoxie, 2007
  • Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis Architects, 1997
  • MY Studio, 2001
  • nARCHITECTS, 1999
  • SHoP, 1996 and
  • George Yu Architects, 1992

You were probably doing business as usual.

How was business for you in 1992? What results did you see in 2002?

Startup Commonalities

What these organizations share:

  • a common denominator in technology’s application to architectural practice, especially the use of BIM
  • a shared commitment to experimentation and learning-by-doing
  • a pragmatic, “roll-up-your-sleeves” approach
  • a belief that process matters as much as product
  • seek opportunities to redefine the role of craft in architectural practice
  • open to not resembling a traditional architectural firm
  • can be seen as architecture firms of the near future
  • technology and its incorporation into design and practice plays a large role
  • an openness to alternative approaches to building design and production, including research, diversity of work and other approaches
  • the design work itself can differ radically from one from to another and is not dependent upon the approach

Read more about these emerging firms here.

Again, you don’t have to become one of these nimble startups.

You just have to start to think like one of the more creative firms in the industry.

It’s not an either-or but a what-if proposition.

What do you have to lose?

Startup Mentality

We’re still hesitant to consider our businesses as startups after the quick assent and burn-out of the dot.com bust a decade ago.

Startups are agile – most large firms would like to be more like small firms because they are flexible and nimble – as opposed to intrepid behemoths.

Again, we’re not suggesting launching a new venture in this economic climate, but launching a new vision for your business.

The mentality in this post’s title.

What is a mentality?

It’s a mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations

A mindset – a way of thinking, one’s view and outlook.

So what’s a startup mentality?

Beginner’s Mind

It’s about thinking like a beginner.

Having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions.

Even when you’ve been practicing at an advanced level for years.

Just as a beginner would.

It’s a mentality that’s innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices.

And it’s about thinking like an entrepreneur.

Without projecting your worries and concerns onto your situation.

Remember how fearless you were in school or early in your career?

That was probably due less to your mental make-up than to the fact that you didn’t know better.

Today you do know better – and your knowledge and awareness are inhibiting your thinking, your willingness and ability to see your practice in a different light.

It’s about having the ability to step back and see opportunities that may have been lying dormant.

It’s about setting a direction for your employees – giving them a why but not dictating the means and methods of how to get there.

It’s about doing scenario planning – projecting your new idea into the future – and seeing what might result from it.

This is what architects do after all.

You are already exceptionally talented at this.

You spend all day applying this ability to your client’s situation.

Try for a change applying it to your own situation and circumstance.

Consider this a design assignment like any other.

Questions

  • Are there business models that you’ve seen succeed for other industries that you might consider for your own organization? The Long tail? Offering “free” services? Minor trust-based adjustments of existing team collaborations around agent CM formats in which the owner and team are long-time collaborators?
  • In you firm, can you take an agile, flexible and nimble attitude and approach to innovation?
  • Within your firm, how would you go about proposing a startup mentality?
  • How are you going to monetize the enhanced uses of BIM and its add-ons within your practice?
  • How aware are you of how others have started to go about doing this?
  • Are you willing to conduct a search for a new scalable, repeatable business model for your organization?
  • How are you going to convince owners of the increased value that you are bringing to the table? And that you ought to be remunerated for this increase in effort and improved results?

and

  • Are you convinced?

How are you going to convince others of your deliverable’s considerable value and worth if you  are not yet on board?

Start by reading the book, Getting to Plan B, about the process of discovering a business model that works, with the assumption that your initial plan is most often wrong.

In other words:

Don’t reinvent the wheel, make it better.

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Filed under BIM, BIM organizations, craft, process