While the architectural design process is largely an intuitive exploration, what happens to intuition in this rational, digital process we call BIM?
Most everyone in the AEC industry by now knows that the purpose of a building information model (BIM) is to generate and manage building data during its lifecycle. And that the model’s data – in the form of information – covers building geometry, light and energy analysis, geographic information, quantities for estimating costs and properties of building elements.
But what if the BIM was used to contain acquired knowledge, build intuition and generate insights?
After attending two critical AEC-related events in Chicago in one week – Christopher Parson’s seminal KA Connect 2010 conference on Knowledge Management, and Illinois Institute of Technology’s Divergent Perceptions Convergent Realities: IPD and BIM – I started thinking about how BIM models, as a technology and process still very much in a nascent state of development, had the potential to impact the modeler’s, designer’s and even end user’s knowledge, wisdom and intuition.
Today, especially in this economic climate, the BIM is very much a rational model. And while most would agree that one model is not a realistic end goal or even an ideal, what if what we were working toward were multiple models – rational models, intuitive models and rational-iterative models – all assisting in our individual and collective professional judgment and decision-making?
Wisdom Management >> Intuition
Most in the knowledge management and Knowledge Architecture world – the “KA” in KA Connect – would recognize the data flow
Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom
where each term is differentiated – and evolves – from an evaluation of its immediate precedent and antecedent. Read more about this and systems thinking here.
That the succession of terms, when stacked, forms architecture’s primordial building form – the pyramid – is almost perverse.
At the IIT colloquium, esteemed Assistant Professor John Durbrow raised the question as to whether intuition could be defined as the successful outcome of internalizing one’s own experience over time?
If this were the case, the new formula would look something like
Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom >> Intuition
The Designer’s Burden of Proof
Aaron Greven at the IIT colloquium argued that intuition-based design is being replaced with analytic-based results, creating greater certainty for owners, translating as lower risk, with an emphasis on accountability by the design professional. For evidence of this, see HBR’s The Future of Decision Making: Less Intuition, More Evidence.
But what if our models were able to contain both analytics and intuition-based parameters, resulting in an analytic-intuition model?
It is a dirty little secret that architects design what they like and only justify later. They do what they do because they like it – and work hard to provide reasons for their intuitions in the socializing or coming-out of their designs. Architects self-justify and rationalize, then justify and post-rationalize. One could argue that all-in-all the world is a better place – with much better buildings – for having taken this approach.
Here’s the nuance in this argument. What an architect likes is not inherent to the architect – not something she is born with – but something learned, nurtured and inbred, over time, through trial and error and the school of hard knocks. The successful moves rise to the top while the not-so fall like lead to the bottom, seldom to rear their ugly little heads again. Or one would hope. Over time what we call professional judgment or experience is merely the accumulation – and recollection – of such positive feedback over time.
Forget for a moment about what this says about our freedom to choose and the faintly behaviorist underpinnings. What does this have to say about BIM and how BIM might be taught in schools?
It is often argued that undergraduate students ought to be immersed in building construction early on and once familiar with how buildings come together, only then introduce digital technologies such as BIM. Others, of course, believe that there is no place in the curriculum for BIM and it ought to be picked-up on the sly.
Several at the IIT conference expressed concern that students were being exposed to BIM earlier and earlier in the curricula.
Analytic-intuition (Ai) models
But what if BIM was used as a tool to learn how buildings came together? Here, the teaching of BIM in schools could be broken-up into 4 areas of focus
1. Building Data >> 2. Building Information >> 3. Building Knowledge >> 4. Building Wisdom >> Intuition
- Building Data covers building concepts and systems
- Building Information covers materials and products
- Building Knowledge covers research and development
- Building Wisdom covers collaborative application of the above
Once ingrained, acquired building knowledge and building wisdom would result – through the iterative and social process of an integrated design studio – in intuition.
Some inevitably would argue that intuition is the result of years of trial and error – and wouldn’t be developed until long after school has ended and professionals were well into their careers. Perhaps. But if – as some have said – that architectural education ought to focus on educating future architects for their long careers and not to be employable interns day one out of school, then immersing architecture students in the model to learn modeling AND construction – how buildings come together – would make some sense.
BDM: Building Data Model
This is the building model at its most elemental form, involving pre-information in the form of symbols. Read more about it here and here.
BIM: Building Information Model
Where information is neither the accumulation nor collection of data but represents the next level of information.
BKM: Building Knowledge Model
Knowledge-building activities and even decision-making models may exist in decision theory – but not building knowledge models. Knowledge is putting information from the model into action. Think of it as applied information of the BIM model. The next morning after drafting this post, T.J. McLeish, IIT College of Architecture Virtual Realms, in his colloquium talk on Planning Tools/Digital Design and Fabrication- a self-proclaimed advocate for making smarter people not smarter buildings – rhetorically asked is it building information modeling or knowledge modeling? No doubt a convergence of perceptions.
BWM: Building Wisdom Model
The wisdom model puts the acquired, collective knowledge to use, resulting in understanding. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I am not proposing a Building Understanding Model (BUM)
BiM: Building intuition Model
It is my firm belief that there is a book in response to every question, and the Building + Intuition question is no exception. While not specifically about buildings, Building Intuition: Insights from Basic Operations Management Models and Principles (International Series in Operations Research & Management Science) – while written primarily to enable readers to develop insights with respect to a number of models that are central to the study and practice of operations management – is equally applicable to working in BIM. As the book explains
One of the primary purposes of any model is to build intuition and generate insights. Typically, a model is developed to be able to better understand phenomena that are otherwise difficult to comprehend. Models can also help in verifying the correctness of an intuition or judgment. In spite of the fact that many educators and practitioners recognize the intuition-building power of simple models, this is the first book in the field that uses the power of the basic models and principles to provide students and managers with an “intuitive understanding” of operations management.
What if a BiM were to result in the modeler’s intuitive understanding of how buildings come together, how they ought to be sited, how they impact the entire lifecycle, which designs work and which are better left in the monitor? It is worth a longer look into the role of intuition in design, BIM and IPD.
IIT Colloquium: some observations
There’s a lot you could say about the IIT Divergent Perceptions Convergent Realities – IPD and BIM all-day colloquium on integrating Virtual Realm Design Environments into integrated Building Delivery methodologies and curricular intents. With fewer than 2 dozen non-presenters in attendance the conference was not well-attended. Someone asked:
Have you ever noticed that every technology conference starts with difficulty advancing slides?
Can you really fault those who might have benefitted most by attending for wanting to spend an all-too-rare beautiful Chicago Spring Saturday out of doors instead of in the dark and noisy basement of IIT’s Crown Hall on Chicago’s South Side when there have been a seemingly endless succession of dismal Winter Saturdays when the event could have taken place?
Yes you can. The atmosphere was admittedly a bit like educating the educators. No matter – the presenters and presentations more than made up for calendar and Crown Hall’s less-than-accommodating underbelly. That the event was memorialized on video – one can only hope that the presentations reach a wider audience once uploaded.
John Durbrow, chair of IIT College of Architecture’s Master of Integrated Building Delivery program, as the master of ceremonies, set the tone. Aaron Greven, founder of AG Design Works and teaches in IIT College of Architecture’s Master of Integrated Building Delivery program, spoke on Status of the BIMvolution. Perhaps – along with CM Matt Riemer of Gilbane Building Company’s presentation Pre‐Seeing and Its Impact on Process – the most earth-bound of the talks, served the critical purpose of grounding the topic in such a way that allowed the presentations that followed to diverge or converge as necessary. With the presence of Mies ever-looming over the conference, Greven concluded his talk with these already prophetic words:
“Less may be more, but our looking to get more out of less will lead the way.”
Since Sachin Anand, dbHMS Envisioning Energy Flux, representing building systems was not able to attend, Joseph Burns, Thornton Tomasetti, hot on the heels of his recent AIA podcast with Markku Allison revisiting his 2006 insights on BIM and IPD, spoke about Structure not Unseenly, a show-and-tell of his recent work with little critical assessment. David Bier, Futurity provided a much-needed GIS-level view of applying landscape to the BIM environment on Data Systems for Engaging the Environment. A great deal of minute detail was presented, sometimes losing sight of the forest for the trees.
T.J. McLeish, IIT College of Architecture Virtual Realms, in his talk on Planning Tools/Digital Design and Fabrication – who, along with all of the faculty presenting and in attendance an alumnus of Murphy Jahn, making the event something of a MJ reunion – explained how he doesn’t see clear-cut boundaries between virtual and non-virtual realms. His interests, he said, fall in the intersection between the real/physical and abstract/digital worlds – and how we translate, manage and move from one to the other. He went on to present a number of research projects he is involved with that have very real applications.
Ryan Schultz of Studio Wikitecture spoke on Enabling Wiki: Task Definition for Distributed Management – crowdsourcing as a business plan that allows individuals with diverse viewpoints to integrate – indirectly commented on the potential effectiveness of IPD by alluding to how the Skunkworks and Jet propulsion teams collaborated well by reducing the number of participants. It would have been interesting if IPD can be seen as a form of crowdsourcing. I will take this up in a future post. Robert J. Krawczyk, IIT College of Architecture, presented 982 slides illustrating computational design, in The Role of Exploration – What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do. Krawczyk presented the idea of BIM as the latest tool in a long succession of tools (and applicable to this post, where a tool is equated with knowledge.)
While all interesting, the divergent talks could have benefitted from time to time with a reference back to the topic of the day: IPD and BIM.
Keith Besserud, Studio Head [BlackBox] at Skidmore, Owings, & Merril, LLP, also evoked Mies in his talk on Form Follows Data. Keith described BlackBox an applied research studio in the Chicago office of SOM (started back in the glory days of 2007 when firms could still afford R&D,) focusing on developing and leveraging parametric, algorithmic, and computational design methods and tools in the design work of the office. Keith gave an inspiring, if canned, talk on his recent work. Interestingly, what resonated and lasted long after he was finished speaking, was a short digital video illustrating the understanding of wind performance around tall buildings.
A model for a Building Understanding Model? Yes, analytic tools such as Ecotect, take some geometry and look at behaviors in two different locations in the world. Bottom line: Analytic, yes – but also breathtakingly beautiful.
Neil Katz, also of SOM Blackbox, the last presenter (alternatively, Open Visions, Vibrant Visions, and Algorithmic Modeling/Parametric Thinking) before the closing panel discussion, reminded us –in action if not words – that, while IPD and BIM is first and foremost about delivering more efficient results to owners, what attracted us to the field in the first place was the pursuit – and creation – of beauty. His vision presented in creative computational solutions to design problems, is a beautiful one. His work is faultless, beautiful. Neil came across as a gentle soul who spoke without ego or any of the pretensions normally associated with the worst of academia or working in a large competitive firm. That such beauty can result from such circumstances – and after so many years of practice – ought to provide manna for those who wish to continue on their chosen career path despite the many changes and hardships.
In the panel discussion IIT’s John Durbrow stated that, to architecture and design
Intuition is the assimilation of observations made over time, to see what seems right.
And in doing so
You’ll develop intuition based on the performance of digital tools.
Aaron Greven responded with this inquiry:
How do you teach intuition?
How do you demonstrate intuition?
How do you test, validate and evaluate intuition?
It’s just a hunch but perhaps the answer is in a Building intuition Model (BiM)?