The Future of AEC

Teaching the second year undergraduate construction sequence of courses is challenging.

Students, already smitten with studio, see required tech courses as unnecessary evils.

BTES car apart

They have had so few architecture courses at that point, it’s like teaching students how to put a car together before teaching them how to drive.

BTES car apart 2

While the courses serve as a wake-up call that there’s more to architecture than the making of form, not everyone is happy about it.

So, how best to spark and engender a lifelong love affair with building technology?

BTES BIM Figure-7-3

One model is mutual mentoring.

In this model, emulated from practice, senior team members (TAs, the course instructor) work with emerging professionals (students) on building technology, while the emerging digital natives (students again) share what they discover in their digital models.

In a perfect world, this is how things would work.

Due in part to the 2008 economic downturn, when many senior firm members were let go, this model doesn’t materialize as often as one might expect.

In class, I play the surrogate seasoned firm member – the technology principal – teaching my students building technology in lecture.

Ideally, students incorporate what they learn in lecture in the lab section of the class.

The teaching assistants redline their work, the students pick up redlines, and in doing so some facsimile of the office workflow is recreated.

The problem with this model is that there is no evidence that students – let along emerging professionals – always understand what the redlines mean.

So, this past semester, I tried an experiment.

What if students learned building technology at the same time that they learned to work in BIM?

What if, in other words, these two activities occurred simultaneously?

The convergence of building technology and digital technology

Each student was provided with a set of architectural and structural CAD documents to work from.

BTES 308 E Green

By the end of the semester, over 100 students, mostly sophomores no older than 19 years old, each completed a 30pp set of BIM documents of a 16-story high-rise under construction near campus – a student apartment building with duplex units.

Slide1

This was no drafting exercise in construction documentation: students had to think, and make critical decisions, every step of the way.

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The course’s fabulous teaching assistants offered in-class tutorials, and Lynda.com was made available to students.

Revit Architecture was offered free to students from Autodesk’s education community.

By the end of the semester, our students

  • compared/contrasted the CAD documents with those produced from their BIM models;
  • visited the construction site, met with the architect and contractors, wrote a field observation report and compared as-built conditions to their BIM model;
  • redesigned portions of the façade; they redesigned the tower’s units;
  • learned how to collaborate in BIM, create BIM standards and families, and how to leverage BIM as a searchable database.

Slide1

Most importantly, they demonstrated that they learned how to put a large-scaled, complex building together as they were still learning the digital technology, bridging the lecture/lab divide along the way.

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Did students really need to produce 28-30 sheets of documents to demonstrate that they learned how to put a building together?

If they were drafting in pencil or in CAD, then the answer would be “no.”

But with BIM, the question is irrelevant, because the documents are merely snapshots of the model, slicing it this way or that.

This in itself was a revelation for many students.

Slide1

As the instructor, my motivation in conducting this experiment was

  • To teach students how to put a large, complex building together
  • To help them to learn from each other
  • To help them recognize the benefits of just-in-time learning
  • To encourage them to ask questions
  • To have them understand how BIM differs from other tools
  • To have them create a set of BIM documents

As demonstrated in their work, students learned

  • the difference between BIM and CAD tools
  • that BIM is not just a super-charged version of SketchUp
  • that in BIM, unlike CAD, a wall knows it’s a wall
  • that you must know what wall type you are modeling and why
  • that a change in one place is a change everywhere
  • that the model it is a searchable, mineable database
  • that the higher uses of BIM are where the spoils are
  • that you cannot fake it in BIM the way you can in other tools
  • BIM standards and the value of clear communication
  • that they are capable of accomplishing a lot in a short period of time

HereGallery-Exterior

What about collaboration? Why didn’t students work on teams? Teamwork is critically important, starting in school. But in terms of learning the fundamentals early in their architectural education, I felt it was important to assess each student individually.

Doing so teaches students self-sufficiency so that teamwork and collaboration becomes a strategic choice, not a crutch to lean on due to a perceived weakness in one area or the other.

The ultimate goal is collaboration.

The general wisdom goes something like this: due to increasing complexity of buildings, no one person can possibly know it all.

Or can they?

With this experiment, I decided to find out.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Future of AEC

  1. Andrew Abernathy

    Randy,
    You’ve given your students a rare glimpse into what real BIM practice is all about. So often studio environments are so contrived they never approximate what daily practice is all about. They have no idea the wonderful gift they’ve been given.

    Your next big hurdle is to get them to understand cross-functional teams and how to use them effectively-building them up when needed and the tearing them down after the work is finished. Learning how to create parings and very small, productive workgroups is the new paradigm in practices who effectively use BIM today and into the future.

    Keep up the good work and push them beyond themselves so they have to learn humility and real self worth.

    • randydeutsch

      Thanks Andrew for chiming in and for the kudos. I appreciate it. You’re absolutely right about the next steps. The good news is that universities are encouraging collaboration on multi-disciplinary teams, paving the way for students to work in an integrated way. The challenges are many: making sure that each discipline is equally motivated to work in an integrated way, and finding ways to assess students fairly when working on teams.

  2. bimingargentina

    Reblogged this on BIMing Argentina.

  3. Pingback: Weekly Roundup – 2015.24 | The BIMsider

  4. AEC education and professional training in general is a major issue. Life-cycle management of the built environment, collaborative construction delivery, and information standards should be the focus. Unfortunately, it’s just not happening.

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