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?

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

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

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

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.



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

5 responses to “Is BIM the Machine in the Garden?

  1. I find this post to be quite interesting as it relates to my own graduate research and professional experience.

    This idea of the “machine in the garden” reminds me of Martin Heidegger’s writings. In “The Question Concerning Technology,” he examines the historical role that technology has had in our lives. He argues that technology has always been a mode of ‘revealing’ nature and that ‘modern technology’ (based on modern physics) – while also a mode of revealing – tends to result in the ‘enframing’ of nature. In other words, modern technology distorts our view of the world and its resources into a commodity to be extracted and exploited. Now, I’m realize that Heidegger didn’t have BIM in mind when he wrote this, but I believe the theory still applies. BIM is a modern technology and one that is particularly designed to represent a realistically built environment. With the information capabilities of BIM, there is now more emphasis being placed on performing various types of analysis (energy, materiality, lighting, etc). This emphasis definitely has the potential to distort our [design professionals] view of the built environment into something that must be quantified and controlled (parametric definitions?). Perhaps there should be equal focus placed on the ‘revealing’ capabilities of BIM. Through Integrated Project Delivery, the design process becomes more transparent since the entire design team is involved throughout the project life-cycle. BIM necessitates multi-disciplinary interaction and collaboration. It is through both the technology and social interactions that enable better designs and better buildings.

    I believe that the “fear of BIM” which is expressed by some of these hold-out design professionals is less related to the technology itself and more related to the need for transparency and social change in the building industry. With the advent of BIM, there is less room for egos and isolationism. For this reason, I suspect, BIM is an unwelcome change.

    • Justin,

      Thank you for visiting and for your thorough and interesting comment.

      If your writing and interest here are any indication of the quality of your writing and thought in your blog and graduate thesis I am certain each will make strong contributions to the field. Please keep up the great work.

      And for anyone else reading this, visit Justin’s BIM blog at

      Great work!


  2. Here’s a pretty impassioned reply to this post left on the AIA LinkedIn Group site. Do you agree?

    “I believe that BIM is indeed ‘a machine in the garden’, along with REVIT, integrated design, LEED AP, green/sustainable design and a host of other current buzz words and acronyms that are distractions from the core professional skills, education, talents and the very identity of being an architect, or at least what I believe are the core attributes of an architect. These distractions again exemplify the public’s need to find ways to commodify our profession, a profession that is such an intangible mystery to so many lay people (people outside of the direct realm of our profession).

    BTW, sorry world… I’m not talking about IT architects, systems architects, data architects, software architects, architects of policy or any other architects other than those plain old architects who are licensed to design buildings. That leaves out most of you architects out there.”

    Posted by Herman Otto Architect/Fine Art Rep

  3. Aaron D. Wagner

    I do understand the analogy and this is one of the most inspiring posts I’ve read in some time but let me ask…

    Are we, ourselves, not machines? Aren’t all organic (i.e., living) things not machines? Aren’t our cities and complex infrastructures not also even greater machines, all part of an even larger and vastly complicated machine? Aren’t we of the building industry the creators of the most elaborate and largest machines known to mankind? Do our creations, our wonderful manifestations not become involved within an ecosystem, a machine that is as old as time itself?

    Stating that something is a “machine in the garden” as a means of discarding it, discards the purpose, the essence of us all. A machine that pollutes and ultimately diminishes or lays to waste a “garden” is a machine that was neither well-crafted nor well-planned.

    It is our purpose to enhance those machines that are the living, breathing, moving mechanisms who inhabit our creations, our machines, which are in turn part of the larger machine for which we are also responsible.

    BIM is a process that helps us to produce machines more readily, BIM enables us to analyze our machines to ensure that they are appropriate to the garden (a larger machine comprised of smaller machines), more importantly, BIM is the machine by which our minds’ abilities, our moral (and legal) responsibilities are leveraged so that we understand and have more control over our creations as never before, and in a way that they will continue to run more efficiently, and enhance and add to the quality and well-being of its neighboring and parent machines much further into the future.

    My concern is that Architecture is a rapidly dying pulse in our society. BIM is a machine through which we produce even greater machines than ever before.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Justin above in his closing statement. Get over your egos, release your fears, become the Architect once again.

    • Leighton Gregory

      PIN-BAR, Architectural & Engineering scales, t-squares, templates, lead, ink, tables, velum, mylar, kroy, sticky backs etc….were tools to express a design in your mind. The same is true for CAD taking the PIN-BAR method and putting it in the virtual so we would not spend so much time with the motorized erasure. Delete, Undo and reduced tolerances from the pencil dulling were amazing features CAD gave us. I remember when I was conscripted to build models for two weeks in a developer’s architectural studio. This CAD jockey printed our floor plans for a Supra Mall. Sprayed some sticky spray on foam and attached the CAD plan to the foam and started to cut the floor plan out of the foam. As I was putting the first and second level together with the main feature being the stairs connecting the two levels it entered my mind that we need to be able to do this in CAD. Being able to echo what we are visualizing and being able to communicate to a client this idea would be better in the virtual world. Then to realize the next level of Construction & Facilities Management with a database attached to track this, priceless.

      Now the main issue would be a transfer format the plays well with other software packages. Kinda similar to .DXF but better.

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