Monthly Archives: March 2011

PREFAB, BIM and IPD

With the announcement last week that the world’s tallest prefabricated steel structure, a 34-story entirely prefab affordable housing tower, will be erected in the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn NY, it’s an opportune time to touch on the subject of prefabricated architecture and its relation to BIM and IPD.

I’m in Mexico this week surrounded by prefab housing so am thrilled to have someone fill in for me who’s an expert on this subject and believes the strategies of IPD and BIM are integral to the success of modular and prefab.

Who better to address this topic head-on but my friend and guest-blogger, Ryan E. Smith, the Director of Integrated Technology in Architecture Center (ITAC), an interdisciplinary research group dedicated to lean and sustainable design and construction.

Ryan also happens to be the author of the excellent and well-researched Prefab Architecture: a guide to modular design and construction (Wiley, 2010). Thanks Ryan!

Modular Lessons Learned: Context, Integration and Technology

After researching and writing Prefab Architecture: a guide to modular design and construction, I have often been asked by architects that if I had to list the most important lessons learned on the topic of modular, what would they be.  Nobody actually wants to read the book; there are frankly too many words and not enough pictures for most architects’ taste.  In all seriousness, the following is a response to architects who are interested in designing and constructing with modules.  You might call this “modular lessons learned.”

Lesson 1 – Context Matters

Technology is not deterministic, rather is affectively determined by societal values.  Prefabrication, more specifically modular, as a technology emerges from social and cultural needs and desires.  The environmental contexts in which modular can be categorized include team, type and location

Team:  There are a few factors that determine whether a project team will be more or less likely to employ modular.  These determinants include – previous experience with prefabrication and working in integrated teams; control demands by complex, budget restrictions, or other pressing project factors; project teams working on a series or sequence of buildings; manufacturing process and principles exposure; and financing freedom for early factory payout. 

Type:  Project type can determine the degree to which prefabrication is employed.  For example, projects that are under extreme schedule constraints benefit from reduced duration offered by modular.  Also, projects that are repetitive – harnessing mass production or highly unique – harnessing modular’s quality control characteristics may both demand modular employment.  Certain projects require traditional multiple prime contracts, decreasing the opportunities of modular that require early project team engagement and design assist.

Location: Perhaps the greatest determinant in utilizing modular construction, is the geography of site; the building site proximity to manufacturers, materials, and local labor.  Sites that are remote or densely urban are perhaps the best candidates for modular construction.  Conversely, sites that are open, accessible, and in close proximity to many methods of manufacture, material and skilled labor are difficult to justify offsite modular.   

Lesson 2 – Integration Matters

Just as important lesson for modular employment is the collaborative context of the team in which the project is realized.  Early determinations of the potential to use modular require input from both the design and production teams early in the process of delivery.  This suggests utilizing integrated and lean delivery methods for successful modular design and construction.  The earlier in the project that decisions regarding offsite modular can be made, the more positive the impact for schedule, cost, quality and risk. (below)   

Contracts:  Design-build (DB) contracts reduce the overall project duration and have been found to support modular construction projects positively.   Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) takes the desirable elements of both design build’s speed and information sharing and performance contracts, which emphasize outcomes via shared risk and incentives.  IPD supports designers and constructors working collaboratively to provide preconstruction services including cost estimating and constructability reviews, thereby integrating the activities of each project team player with the others.  Ironically enough, the AIA developed their series of IPD contracts AIA295 and SPE from product design and production deliveries such as the automotive industry – not far in methodology from modular.

Leaning Design & Construction:  IPD is primarily a relational legal framework that aligns the interests of project participants with those of the owner.  Lean construction theory was developed years before research on relational contracts that is primarily a map of a collaborative process that aligns the collaborative project organization and the project operating system – made to work in any contractual environment. This approach is in contrast with efforts that start with issues of motivation and contract and never come to grips with the work itself. Leaning the design and construction process therefore uses principles necessary for successful modular deployment including:  Target Value Design (designing to a detailed cost rather than cost estimating based on a detailed design) and Set Based Design (entertaining multiple solutions and not deciding until the last responsible moment)

Lesson 3 – Technology Matters

Despite the fact that technology dominates our buildings, our practices and our lives, architects know relatively little about it.  Two technologies have been touted for their potential to fundamentally reconsider architectural practice: CNC and BIM – both are integral to modular delivery.

Standardization to Automation:  Manufacturing has progressively moved in the following manner – industrialization (c.1850), standardization (c.1900), mechanization (c.1900), mass production (c.1925), automation (1950), & mass customization (c.1990).  Automation and mass customization utilizing computer numerical control (one tool for flexible outputs) exploits an economy of scope.  This is in contrast to standardization and mass production’s economies of scale.  Although computer controlled machinery is more sophisticated and accessible to the building industry than ever before, its deployment is perhaps more appropriately called mass personalization, where customers personalize predetermined configurations.  The goal of mass customization is to meet the needs of clients without sacrificing efficiency, effectiveness and affordability.   This is where modular shines.

BIM:  The future of modular relies on the success and ubiquity of BIM.  Linking time and three-dimensional information, simulation of construction in modular can anticipate schedules from factory workflow to onsite jobsite assembly sequencing.  BIM allows for interface of automation equipment to virtually remove the shop drawing phase and have multiple manufacturers producing modules for onsite assembly.  This may take the form of a building model that is further detailed or networked with other aspects of production and construction by the modular manufacturer.  Building modular parametrics has not occurred to date in the industry but is expected to be a reality in the near future realizing the same productivity benefits the steel industry has found with BIM and CIS2 workflow.  

Conclusion

The environmental context of team, project type, and site location are not alone in determining modular employment any more than integration process and technology – all three “matter” or are meaningful in creating value for project stakeholders.   Specifically, the strategies of IPD and BIM are integral to the tactic of modular, making its adoption more rapid across the building industry. (above)   IPD and BIM suggest a restructure of workflow allowing for an information and knowledge transfer through formal operating system and commercial terms.  Although modular design and construction will not solve integration problems alone, it is one of the arrows in the quiver of the integration paradigm that may be used to realize reduced durations, increased quality and controlled cost.  In order to realize these benefits, it demands an early integration effort and information sharing.  Altogether this potentially results in lower risk for all involved.  In the end, modular design and construction is only as good as the demands placed upon it by architects – this requires deeper knowledge.

Ryan E. Smith is Director of an interdisciplinary research group dedicated to lean and sustainable design and construction inquiry called the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center (ITAC).  He is a researcher, educator, author and speaker on the integration paradigm and building technology.  He is author of Prefab Architecture: a guide to modular design and construction published by Wiley in 2010, serves as the educational liaison on the AIA Center for Integrated Practice Leadership Group, and is a member of the Lean Construction Institute.  He is currently President of the Building Technology Educators’ Society (BTES), an academic group of building technology and building science educators.

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System Requirements for IPD to Flourish

We all know with each release of software the computer system requirements increase.

Our computers must get more powerful as the software does.

And also as the work processes become more collaborative, with more information sharing taking place.

This is certainly the case when working in Building Information Modeling (BIM).

But how about for Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)?

In what ways do we need to grow more powerful as the 64-Bitlike process becomes more open and connected?

  • What is our capacity?
  • What are our limits for understanding and empathy?
  • What are our system requirements for working in BIM and integrated design: for ourselves, our teams and organizations?

Are we going to go through a laborious and time-consuming download of these tools and processes into our own work lives only to discover that we’re missing a key video card equivalent of attitude or mindset?

What system requirements need to be in place for IPD to take place?

  • For an integrated team made up of key stakeholders to gel early and often?
  • For team members to show all their cards, knowledge and expertise concurrently and on many levels?
  • For risk to be collectively managed and mutually shared?

7 Performance Recommendations

Here are the minimum system requirements for IPD to flourish:

1. Collaborative attitude and aptitude

A capacity and willingness to work with others and strong collaborative skills to back it up. Begins with each team member, not the project or at the organization level. Capacity to work compatibly as a team.

2. Discretionary emotional energy and enthusiasm

The passion, excitement and dedication that team members have available to give freely to the project and fellow teammates. Attempts to mandate this will lead to passive-aggressive undermining behavior. More on this here.

3. Authentic presence

Team members exhibit the capacity to maintain an authentic, non-defensive presence throughout the project. Honoring each other’s POV.

4. Climate of openness

Team members commit to telling the truth – and hearing what others have to say, even when it conflicts with one’s own beliefs or findings. Create a safe environment for concerns, issues and problems to be discussed and resolved.

5. Multidisciplinary mindset

Aspire to become a new breed of polymath – not a one trick pony – blending technology (BIM, next-generation analytics, cloud computing, sustainability, social networks,) creativity, innovation, comprehensive building knowledge with a multidisciplinary mindset.

For more on this see my article in the upcoming May/June 2011 Technology issue of DesignIntelligence, BIM Beyond Boundaries

6. Self-awareness

Each team member’s capacity to handle whatever comes their way – stress, challenges, failure. Embrace change.

7. Meaning making

Deliver not just data but meaning.

Process information for others. Not everyone on the team will be as fast an information processor as you (the human USB port.) Discover and deliver data that is relevant to the project and team.

Now it’s your turn: Can you think of any performance requirements not shown here? You’ll do all of us a world of good by letting us know by leaving a comment below.

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

How to Learn Revit in 1000 Difficult Lessons

In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. – Eric Hoffer

No matter where you fall on the BIM continuum, there is always more to learn, further you can take the tool and process.

You may know the program but can you, for example, get it to address the entire building lifecycle?

And there have never been so many ways to learn.

Books and , tutorials, webcasts, gurus, on-demand video, pilot projects, in-house and out-of-housetraining at local tech school or software reseller, regional training centers, bootcamp, side-by-side training and DIY.

Our friends Eddy Krygiel, Phil Read and James Vandezande are working on a Revit series for new users.

(I am so excited I get to write another spoof!)

Learn tips and tricks in forums such as AUGI forums.

You can order dvds and videos and learn at your own pace in pajamas.

Paul Aubin even has a Revit Architecture 2011 quick reference guide that doubles as a reusable dinner placemat for $4.95

It depends on what you are looking to learn.

And where you are on the BIM journey.

And whether you’re the office or in the field.

You alone know how you learn best and how you retain what you learn.

And that is key to learning.

So chose the method that is a good fit for you and your needs wherever you are on the learning curve.

There is no one size that fits all when it comes to training, retraining and retaining.

Take Revit (please)

You can actually learn it quite easily – several places offer ½ day, 1 day and 3 day training sessions.

Some offer cut prices for those out of work, both onsite and remote learning in the privacy of your home.

So why is learning so difficult?

The way we make learning anything difficult is by any one of  four reasons:

  • stopping and starting.
  • forgetting what you learned by not using it.
  • using a method that isn’t a good fit for your budget, lifestyle, mindset.
  • doing it for the wrong reasons,

such as being forced by your employer before you’re ready, through peer pressure, fear of not keeping up or being left behind.

There are those who will read the title of this post and either 1. feel justified in their having worked in ArchiCAD, a perhaps more intuitive BIM program or 2. empathize because they too struggled with learning the program and then struggled to keep up with the inevitable changes with each new release.

Take a deep breath

Before you pounce – this site is vendor agnostic.

Revit was merely used in the title to provoke and incite a riot – two requirements of any effective blog post headline.

So take a deep breath.

It is not that the lessons themselves are difficult.

Or even that the program application is difficult – though once you do learn to work in BIM you may find some advanced uses difficult to grasp.

The fact is, we each make learning difficult by not honoring the way we best learn.

And by ignoring other basic signs and practices.

Professional practice is hard enough – don’t also make the learning hard.

You owe it to yourself to make learning interesting.

Some training sessions meet from 8am to 5pm in a plain vanilla box of a room.

Not for you.

Can you sit still for that long, let alone learn a new application?

Ask yourself some basic questions

Ask yourself: What’s the best environment for you to learn in?

Doesn’t exist? (Then make it your pilot program and design it in Revit!)

Ask yourself: How important is it that your instructor be fun or at least interesting? Making the information and learning process interesting?

Make sure you are challenged – it is important that the instruction isn’t too easy (you’ll be bored) or too hard (you’ll feel defeated and give up.)

Look for a challenge worthy of your effort – one that will maintain your interest and engage you.

Get your hands dirty.

Work in the program as you go.

And be prepared. Have everything you need at hand before class begins.

Your instructor ought to be prepared as well – for students who are quicker or slower at picking-up the software – and be prepared to make adjustments accordingly.

Ask yourself: How do you know you’ve learned the program?

Having endured the tutorial many only mean you can produce what you were told to do in the tutorial.

Real projects have many more nuances.

The best way to know whether you’ve learned something?

Its very old school.

Take a test.

“To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test” found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

“One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.”

But don’t take my word. Read the blog post and its over 320 comments.

Ask yourself: How do you know you’ve learned the program?

Teach it.

Those who are fortunate enough to attend training are sometimes asked to go back and teach those back in the office who did not, could not or would not attend training.

No better way to learn than teaching. If given this opportunity, jump at the chance.

Teaching BIM to others is a great opportunity to discover just how well you learned – and retained.

Turn off distractions including smart phones (you can leave this blog on.)

Kids might be able to study algebra while posting on Facebook.

You? Not so much.

In The Power of Mindful Learning, Professor Ellen Langer suggests that all of the all-nighters we pulled in college were for naught.

Why?

According to Langer, real learning takes place in a “mindful” environment, one that provides a context for the subject we are studying and allows us to bring something of ourselves into the process.

Make your training an extension of you.

Know what motivates and what de-motivates you.

Know why you are learning and have some sense about how far you want to take it.

Know who you are doing it for. As with anything you’re going to indulge time and effort in, you’ve got to own it.

Not only the tool but the process.

 

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