BIM in ACADemia

“The industry needs new specialists and if the academia doesn’t provide them, then the industry will have to resort to setting up private academies”. 
 – Practice 2006: Toolkit 2020 written by two Arup employees

BIM in Academia is a new collection of essays edited by the venerable team of Peggy Deamer and Phillip G. Bernstein.

The book is printed on demand by the Yale School of Architecture Press and therefore a bit hard to find.

So until it becomes more readily available, I’ll do my best to point out some of the more progressive and salient features of this important and much-needed document.

Generally, the 117 page book addresses whether

1. BIM ought to be taught in school, and if so,

2. How

The second in a series of these editor/educators’ books, after 2010’s excellent Building (in) the Future: recasting labor in architecture from Princeton Architectural Press – that I featured here a while back – the new book expresses several viewpoints without taking a strong stand.

The editors allow the faculty essayists to speak for themselves.

BIM in Academia, brought about by the Yale SOA Symposium in 2011, highlights some of the work taking place in US universities at this early moment in BIM’s evolution and argues, at best, that BIM must change the way architects work and are trained.

There’s a lot of great writing here. Of architects in the age of CAD, for example, the book says: “Their output was paper-based projections of the design rather than a simulation of the design wrought whole.”

Peggy Deamer’s opening essay “BIM in Academia” paints a picture of an already over-crowded curriculum which, now, we suddenly want to insert into yet another subject: BIM.

She asks:

  • Is learning BIM a software issue? (and therefore a non-credit workshop)
  • Should it be placed in the structures/technology course?
  • Is it part of professional practice?
  • Or is it a new way to practice design – and therefore be integrated into studio?
  • If this last is the case, should it be offered in the early, core studios – or be offered in an advanced or even post-degree studio?

Deamer emphatically fires the first shot by stating that BIM threatens all of the established hierarchies in academia and that no matter the designation – software, process or some combination – academia’s curriculum structure is unreceptive to BIM.

Next, Phil Bernstein’s serving-as-introductory essay, acknowledges the great divide between practice and education and offers a strategy – a model, really, based on the 40-year-old work of MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte – to re-examine the college curriculum under BIM.

Hereafter, the book is split into two parts: challenges and case studies.

There’s no effort to come to a comprehensive conclusion or to provide clear direction for the road ahead: the work is presented more or less as it was in the symposium.

We are left to come to our own conclusions. But let it be said that there is a lot of useful, helpful information offered here that – by the end of the book – ought to allow the reader to come to their own stance on the subject.

From the moment in the first paragraph that Renée Cheng’s essay, “Facing the Fact of BIM,” calls BIM a “maddeningly slow-to-learn design process,” any thoughts she’s going to gloss over the considerable difficulties of integrating BIM securely into the curriculum suddenly vanish.

Cheng has questioned the role of BIM in architectural education perhaps longer than any other educator or practitioner, so her perspective on past, present and future architecture curriculum is an important and valuable one.

After providing some much-needed background and context, Cheng admits that BIM is “excellent as a building production and project delivery tool” but disappointingly “a poor match with the needs of design students…”

Despite these handicaps, she writes, BIM emphatically has a place in the architectural curricula.

Where, exactly?

Her answer – in 2 hour professional practice courses – unfortunately leaves as many questions as it answers.

While the essays are generally of high quality, there are a couple clunkers – which is unfortunate, given how short a document this is.

“Characterizing the Problem: Bioenergetic Information Modeling” is largely unreadable – the three authors (chefs?) apparently didn’t get the memo that academic jargon belongs in subscription-only journals.

IIT’s “Master of Integrated Building Delivery” reads less like a case study than an advertisement for the program. Seeped in history and process, the text falls flat and fails to mention that the essay’s authors – John Durbrow and Donna Robertson – have either mysteriously left the program or are leaving this year (an oversight that is inexcusable given the book is printed on demand, in real time, and could have been pointed out or at least alluded to.) Full disclosure: I have guest taught, lectured and juried in the program.

Other essays – Andre Chaszar’s Beyond BIM come to mind – are considerably more helpful, after building their case provide specific recommendations for how to proceed.

As for the case studies – “Educating the Master Building Team” is a stand-out in the bunch – viewing BIM as a foundational technology to share information, and is a classic example of how thoughtful, engaging writing can and will help move the profession and industry forward. Excellent effort.

Auburn University’s Master of Design-Build (MDB) program’s case study – “Enabling Integration: the Role of BIM” – by Joshua Emig and Paul Holley extracts extremely useful observations and discussion points from their considerable studio experiment experience.

Points of view

When I asked Phil Bernstein, in my book, BIM and Integrated Design, whether there was room for BIM in school, he said

“There’s a distinction, in my view, between training and teaching. At Yale, for example, you don’t get credit for learning a piece of software, any more than we would give you credit for using a band saw or a water jet cutter. Those are just skills that you pick up as part of the curriculum.” (pp.219-220)

Practitioners elsewhere have voiced their opinions on the subject.

Here is a sampling:

I do not believe that there should be special courses in BIM…BIM should be well integrated into the curriculum as simply what’s part of the professional workflow

At the community college where I teach part time…all the architectural drafting classes are being phased out and are being replaced by “BIM authoring for architects” classes

For industry to benefit from these studies, they must be conducted under Faculty (multidisciplinary) not School (single discipline) settings

More universities should just stop delaying the inevitable and start preparing ALL their AECO students for model-based collaboration and integrated workflows.

BIM programs abound

In Switzerland, at Berne University of Applied Sciences and Lucerne University of Applied Sciences, there are courses that focus on BIM including hands-on interdisciplinary BIM projects

Here is a comprehensive BIM class covering all aspects of BIM/VDC, from authoring to project management on a graduate level at USC School of Civil Engineering in conjunction with Virginia Tech: http://viterbi.usc.edu/news/news/2010/innovation-comes-to.htm.

Penn State has some BIM classes in their masters program.

Washington University in St Louis has also a few BIM courses in their architectural curriculum.

SOBE in UK has a post -grad course http://www.sobe.salford.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate-programmes/bim-and-integrated-design

And one of the best-known programs in CA is at Chico State http://cm.csuchico.edu/degree.html.

Additional reading and viewing

Until the book is more readily available, you might consider reading the following resources:

BIM in Academia: Collaborate, Adapt, Innovate by Alexandra Pollock, SOM New York. Download the White Paper (1.2 MB PDF) presented at Ecobuild America in 2010.

Integrating BIM with Academia: Pennsylvania State University from the 2010 BIM Award Program

Watch Yale University professor, Peggy Deamer, present on BIM‘s pedagogical placement in academia as she presented at the Autodesk Yale BIM Symposium.

The Role of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in Education and Practice abstract was presented by Laura Floyd and Douglas R Seidler at The Interior Design Educators Council 2010 Annual Conference – Atlanta, GA

Advancing BIM in Academia: Explorations in Curricular Integration http://www.igi-global.com/viewtitlesample.aspx?id=62944

And, as mentioned, I also have a chapter on BIM and education in my book, BIM and Integrated Design.

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