Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Poughkeepsie Principles

pkpsWe are in a race now to produce better and better information, instead of better and better buildings. – Paul Fletcher, RIBA architect

There is a school of thought that contends that BIM is not an authoring tool or software platform or an industry standard, but an approach to creating and managing information.

This way of thinking has blossomed in recent years – from an emerging movement to accepted wisdom – in the AECO industry.

Not that architecture itself is getting the short shrift.

Despite the advent and subsequent diffusion of digital tools in the design process, some of which have a more intuitive design interface than others, we shouldn’t worry about losing our ability to design exceptional buildings anytime soon.

In fact, when it comes to architectural design, there is ample evidence that we are in the midst of a Renaissance (re-Renaissance? Re-naissance?)

Just scroll through archdaily or archinect or archidose or architizer or architonic or archello or abitare – or thumb through this – I think you’ll agree:

Architecture isn’t suffering.

This New Architecture is all about better buildings because we can produce better and better information.

Because we can use this information to convince clients to go along a path that they would otherwise – without the metrics, the benchmarking, the information and data – not take.

But before we can lead owners down this path, we ourselves have to make an important choice.

A Road Not Taken

Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, describes two paths: one well-trodden, the other less travelled.

You may remember this poem from school. The author takes the path less travelled – the one that “wanted wear” – and, for the author, that has made all the difference.

We, too, have the choice before us – to continue on the well-trodden path of practice –

Whether that means designing using our well-worn visualization tools, working in CAD, or delivering projects by design-bid-build –

Or going outside of our comfort zone, exploring a new way of working.

Our industry’s less travelled path.

Taking the less travelled path

A while back on a sojourn from NYC to Albany, due to inclement conditions I was forced to pull over on the side of the road.

Seeing that the rain wasn’t letting up any time soon, I made a mad dash to a lodge on the edge of the woods.

Inside, locals huddled over coffee weren’t in any hurry to head out. Nor was I.

Battened-down into a booth, I composed the following principles on a napkin.

Principles I swore to – and ascribe to – ever since that fateful day. I call these

The Poughkeepsie Principles

1. BIM is not an authoring tool or software platform or an industry standard, but an approach to creating and managing information.

2. BIM puts information in place to coordinate the digital process from design through operations and beyond.

3. That information comes from somewhere.

4. Digital processes in architecture not only enable, but also determine the way we design, construct, and work together – and relate with our tools.

5. Despite the near-constant temptation, don’t put your tools before people.

6. Everything points toward more expansive ways of digital production.

7. Digital processes alter how we work with one another for the good of all.

8. We collectively determine the meaning of the good of all.

9. Digital networks are there to improve communication and to assure that we communicate with one another. So communicate.

10. Those with digital capabilities work collectively, not autonomously, for the highest good.

11. We collectively determine the meaning of the highest good.

12. Those with digital capabilities will find themselves catalysts for a new organization and industry order.

13. Those with digital capabilities will not find themselves catalysts for a new world order.

14. Where you end up in that order will be determined by your capabilities and collaboration quotient (CQ).

15. Call it collaboration quotient, not CQ. Your colleagues will thank you.

16. Designers will continue to author the design of projects.

17. In the new digital workflow, everybody is a designer.

18. Semi-autonomous algorithmically driven design workflows deeply embedded in a collective digital communication infrastructure will continue to create alluring objects.

19. But designers will be needed to determine how these objects look, scale, function, shed water, stand up and meet code.

20. In other words, designers will still be needed to design.

21. The proliferation of advanced digital modeling tools has enabled designers to conceive and create designs that would be messier to do using Koh-I-Noor Rapidographs on mylar, Razor Points on napkins, 2/HB soft/hard black pencil in Moleskines, lead holders and electric erasers.

22. And drafting dots.

23. Digital modeling tools require less cleanup, therefore, save time.

24. There is a time and place to use Rapidographs on mylar, Razor Points on napkins, 2/HB soft/hard black pencils in Moleskines. This isn’t one of them.

25. Go ahead, experiment with algorithmic and simulation-driven design. Just remember your client and users are waiting.

26. They’re still waiting.

27. Computational design is considered to be a design tool, and also a series of instruments that can be applied in the creation of architecture.

28. The previous principle is both redundant and superfluous. It is redundantly superfluous.

29. Computational design enables architects to incorporate performance analysis and knowledge about material, tectonics and the parameters of production machinery.

30. That’s just a fancy way of saying information, alluded to in the first principle.

31. Computational design really needs to say what it means.

32. In the new world of integration, architects become hybrid- – not hyphenated- – practitioners.

33. In other words, hybrid-practitioners, not hyphenatedpractitioners.

34. Architects can counter the traditional model that isolates architects from the economics and construction of buildings by positioning themselves towards the operational center of each project.

35. To do so, architects need to become developer-architects or contractor-architects, (see hyphenated-practitioners.)

36. Architects need to define what it means to be hybrid practitioners without the hyphen.

37. Use nothing out of the box. All software shall be customized. See principle #6.

38. Customizing computational tools can create more responsive designs.

39. Learn how to customize software for your specific needs and the needs of the project.

40. New digital tools are new and shall remain so until they aren’t.

41. Computation is indeed changing the way architects design, only nobody can say how.

42. There are digital design tools and there are results. Focus on the results, and the tools will take care of themselves.

(To be continued: the napkin on which I was writing was full.)

Published works that inspire – and uphold – these principles include, but are not limited to:

– Digital Workflows in Architecture, Scott Marble

– Digital Fabrication in Architecture, Nick Dunn

– Computation Works: The Building of Algorithmic Thought, Xavier De Kestelier, Brady Peters 

– SHoP: Out of Practice, Shop Architects

– Inside Smartgeometry: Expanding the Architectural Possibilities of Computational Design, terri Peters, Brady Peters

– Material Strategies in Digital Fabrication, Christopher Beorkrem

– Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques, Lisa Iwamoto

– Material Computation: Higher Integration in Morphogenetic Design Architectural Design, Achim Menges

– Digital Manufacturing: In Design and Architecture, Asterios Agkathidis

– Manufacturing Material Effects: Rethinking Design and Making in Architecture, Branko Kolarevic  

– From Control to Design: Parametric/Algorithmic Architecture, Michael Meredith

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AEC’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Kool-Aid1“You’re either on the bus or off the bus.”

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Tom Wolfe’s classic saga is about Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters as they test the boundaries of consciousness.

However his 1968 book is remembered today, it is arguably the most popular example of the then growing literary style called New Journalism.

Just as New Journalism marked a turning point in the writing of nonfiction, the use of data in the AECO industry today marks a turning point in our own time.

Just as New Journalism captured the events that took place in the 60’s, so too all things digital has captured ours.

First Who, Then What

Your practice is either digital, or it is toast.

“You’re either on the bus or off the bus.”

What about you?

You’re either using BIM, or you’re off the bus.

Kool-Aid2Jim Collins in Good to Great told us it is imperative to have the right people on the bus.

That great leaders start – not by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going – but by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats

In your office, those right people – irrespective of what seats they are working in – are immersed in digital technology.

They’re fearlessly using BIM, and the information therein, for higher and better purposes.

“Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.”

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Up until now, as an industry, we haven’t made the most of digital tools that are available to us.

For many digital natives – those interacting with digital technology from an early age – this is moot.

They’re wondering why we’re even discussing this, like flowers discussing the sun; or fish, water; birds air.

But some of us late-arrivals-to-the-industry-digital-tools party believe ourselves to be not just digital immigrants, but digital exotics, digital foreigners, or digital aliens.

Kool-Aid3These are our basic fears:

Digital renders what we do as free

Digital renders what we do a commodity

Digital renders what we do as untraceable

Digital renders what we do as risky

Digital renders what we do as legally untenable

Digital renders what we do as obsolete

Our Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test moment

“I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.”

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

People love buildings.

Architects love designing them.

Engineers love analyzing them.

Contractors love building them.

And yet our future depends on our producing computer-generated models together that contain information – geometry and data – to support the design, construction and fabrication through which our buildings come into being.

The reason this – here, today, now – is The AEC’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (or, if you prefer, our Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep moment) is because we have arrived at this point – and there is no turning back.

All the pining for freehand drafting and hand sketching, nice as they are, adds-up to just so much romantic longing.

All the arguing in favor of continuing with CAD falls on deaf ears.

Just as the Earth has in recent weeks reached the uncharted territory as atmospheric carbon dioxide has shot past the penultimate 400 ppm mark, so too our industry has reached its own 400 ppm mark.

Only in terms of BIM.

No longer on the periphery of our visual field, edge of our consciousness, or margins of our minds – just as carbon is diffused in our atmosphere – BIM is as part and parcel of our practices.

We’re soaking in it. It is the air we breathe.

As Lachmi Khemlani has said: BIM has not only arrived in the AEC industry but has literally taken it over.

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Quit BIM Fast, Quit BIM Often

seth-godin-the-dipEveryone hits a point when working in BIM where they want to quit.

BIM offers some the temptation to quit on a weekly basis.

For others, Kenneth, that frequency is daily.

Especially when you aren’t seeing the results you expected.

Especially when you can’t get the program to get with the program.

Especially when what goes into BIM is greater than what comes out.

When that happens, where can you turn?

On Quitting BIM

What we’re talking about here isn’t quitting BIM for good.

BIM isn’t going anywhere, and for those who have hit a wall – there is a way out.

For us users of BIM, the way out is the way through.

Lord knows, not around.

But what about those who find themselves close to quitting time?

Like vote early and vote often, quit BIM fast and often.

In other words, too many users of BIM believe that the obstacles they face are permanent and immovable.

End Task/Force Quit

When, in fact, if they were to take a step back (and a deep breath), they’d see that they’ve just travelled down a dead end.

They’ve wandered off the path and just need to find their way back.

So they, once again resolved, can start up again.

When this happens, just quit the dead end and get back on the path.

But what if it’s just a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing?

Maybe it will never get better, no matter how hard you try.

How can you tell the difference between a temporary obstacle and road closing?

Strategic Quitting for Beginners

On a recent walk, I re-listened to The Dip by Seth Godin, a little book about quitting that came out just around the time when the only thing quitting was the economy.

In many ways, the book accurately describes the predicament we – individuals, teams, firms, profession and industry – find ourselves in today.

The book acknowledges that every new undertaking starts out exciting and fun.

Just like, for example, our initial adoption, implementation and exploration of BIM.

Then it gets harder and less fun.

Until it hits a low point, and – as Godin points out – is not much fun at all.

And then you find yourself asking if the goal is even worth the hassle.

Just as many of us have been asking if BIM is even worth the hassle.

To get to that promised land of benefits, you have to pass through the wilderness of adoption

Josh Oakley, Founder and Principal of ANGL Consulting, identifies this adoption dip as “the J-Curve”, and calls it “the greatest risk to BIM adoption.”

True that. But the wilderness many of us find ourselves in today is well past adoption.

Many of us are deep in the woods – well past the halcyon days of implementation.

We’re in it. Deep. Subscription deep.

Deep, dip, whatever. What do we need to quit to take your work in BIM further?

The Long Slog

We’ve all heard or read about The 10,000-Hour Rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.

The 10,000-Hour Rule is very similar to working through the dip, that period where the gains don’t seem to be coming as quickly as you’d like.

For many of us, i.e. now.

In The Dip, Godin describes “the long slog between starting and mastery” in which those without the determination or will find they’re burning out.

What really sets BIM masters apart from everyone else is the ability to escape (i.e. quit) dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated.

BIM masters quit fast, quit often.

In fact, Godin contends, winners realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it.

And on the other side of the barrier is the ultimate competitive differentiator:

BIM to the higher power.

Godin points out if you can become number one in your niche, you’ll get more than your fair share of profits, glory, and long-term security.

Call on a Sherpa to help you navigate your BIM climb

Sometimes you can’t make it on your own. – U2

Need to get back on track and see some more BIM wins?

You don’t have to go it alone.

Call on a BIM consultant to help you figure out

  1. if you’re in a dip that’s worthy of your firm’s time, effort, and talents.
  2. when to quit, and
  3. when to stick

Try case or ANGL (or, if you provide BIM consulting services to individuals or firms, feel free to put your contact info in the comments below.)

A BIM consultant can help you, your team or firm, identify and quit your dead end situations, in which no amount of work will lead to success.

They will get you back on the path to meet your goals and inspire you to hang tough.

If not, they’ll help you find the courage to quit – so you can be number one at something else.

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