Tag Archives: BIM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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What Will You Do That’s Extraordinary?

onelifeArchitects and others in the AEC industry are well-aware of the forces at work changing the way they go about their business.

Forces brought about primarily by the advent of the computer.

When in all pares down, there are three approaches you can take to participating.

You can work by hand, collaboratively with machines, or allow machines to do most of the heavy lifting.

In other words:

1. Analog

2. Man-machine collaboration, and

3. Machine

While in 2014 it is still possible to design a building and complete a set of documents by hand, you can also add, subtract and multiply on an abacus.

Doing everything by hand is a legacy from a bygone era.

While hand drawing is still a desirable skill to have in one’s toolkit, it’s an unrealistic proposition if you are going to compete in an industry where the only hand drawing is done primarily on tablets.

Working without the tools that are available in our era is an act of protest.

And regret, for living in an age dependent on all things digital. So going analog is no longer an option.

At the other extreme, firms like Aditazz recognize that computers can be put to use to help design projects – and discern the best alternatives – in less time, using less manpower.

An approach that can be especially useful when addressing complex building assignments.

Most architects, engineers and construction professionals today fall somewhere between the two extremes of analog and machine.

They recognize that computers have helped them to become more effective at what they do.

But that computers can’t make all the calls – ethical, contextual – at least not yet.

Working digitally today is a given, even if the AEC industry itself hasn’t become more productive or effective since the 1960s despite the introduction of computers into our workflows.

Computer Aided Drafting/Design (CAD) never lived up to the hype or promise to make architects, engineers and contractors more productive.

In many ways, CAD just became a digital version of what architects had long done by hand.

Even with BIM, when I ask architects how they are being more productive or effective working in BIM, they’ll mention that they create templates for repeatable portions of their projects (for example, in housing, kitchen and bath templates – with rules of thumb, building code and ADA constraints indicated.)

Which is great. A process that should be automated in the near future.

But one wonders if this is just the digital equivalent of the “sticky back” boiler-plate details we used to attach to mylar sheets in our documents back in the 80s?

As the saying goes: Measure twice, draw once – and use it over and over if you can.

Thomas L. Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times discusses Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s new book, “The Second Machine Age.”

Authors of Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, their new book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives our economy…and our industry.

The book focuses on three massive technological advances that recently reached their tipping points, advances they describe as “exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

A commenter at the Times website wrote:

A time is coming when most routine tasks can and will be done by computers.

This is really how computers can best support design and construction professionals.

Becoming an architect, for example, was never about aspiring to address routine tasks.

Routine tasks – whether running prints, drafting bathroom or column details – were in the past taken-on by architectural interns.

Today, due to their considerable smarts and technological know-how, these same emerging professionals are working on entire buildings.

They’re the first lookers and early responders inside digital building models.

All the more reason that routine tasks ought to become automated.

Freeing-up design and construction professionals to do what they do best.

The article commenter continued:

What happens then to the average people in the world? Extraordinary people will find ways to take care of themselves, but not everyone can be extraordinary.

Not everyone.

But you can.

You can be extraordinary. In fact, for those who want to work in the AEC industry, it’s a requirement.

Being extraordinary at what you do doesn’t change due to the technology you use.

Being extraordinary is all the more important in the workplace and at the jobsite today.

To distinguish oneself.

To differentiate yourself.

What will you do that’s extraordinary?

Bringing your weaknesses up to a level where they’re not so glaring, where they can no longer trip you up and undermine your career ascension, will only get you so far.

Working on your weaknesses will only make you ordinary.

Not extraordinary.

This year, identify a strength and develop it.

Take it as far as you can.

Seek help. Get training.

Track your progress.

Share your results.

Most AEC professionals today who are gainfully employed are already extraordinary people who are extraordinary at what they do.

The trick is in remaining so.

Heed the words of poet Mary Oliver, and ask yourself:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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Why My BIM Book Didn’t Sell and Why I’m Writing Another One

BIM-and-Integrated-DesignWhen I meet architects and others working in the BIM world, they usually mention that they have a copy of my book.

My standard response is something like:

“My publisher told me someone bought a copy. Now I who it is.”

Which isn’t far from the truth.

Of course I thank them – for purchasing the book, for reading it, for mentioning this to me – none of which they’re obligated to do.

Next, they inevitably ask me The Question:

How many copies has it sold?

As I embark on the lengthy and arduous process of writing and publishing another book in the architecture and construction space, I was reminded by my publisher that my last book sold only 1000 copies.

“1069 copies,” I unhelpfully corrected them.

In 2009 I wrote, and in 2011 John Wiley and Sons published, BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice.

1069 copies! Including all of you who read my BIM book and told me they liked it.

Twelve out of 12 readers gave it the coveted 5-star rating on Amazon.

Disney Imagineering told me that they reference the book.

Firm leaders told me that they have a copy that they circulate in their office.

A few professors made it required reading in their classes.

The University of Salford named* their BIM curriculum after it.

I created the world’s only BIM book video trailer set to classical guitar music.

AIA National emblazoned the book across their website.

I placed book ads online including at Bob Borson’s blog Life of an Architect.

I went around the country touting the benefits gained by reading my book.

In fact, in 2011 at KA Connect, during a Pecha Kucha presentation, I went totally blank. And whether out of sympathy or who knows what, the book never sold better.

That time (gratefully, the only time) I froze-up on stage was one of the best things to ever happen to me career-wise.

I handed out coupons and gave books away as door prizes.

I wrote dozens of blog posts bestowing its virtues.

I sent out hundreds of emails to colleagues requesting they share a link.

And sent copies of books to friends, magazine editors and bloggers in the hopes they’d write a review.

Despite these efforts to move books, all-in-all equal to – or even greater than – what it took to write the book, the book sold poorly.

Pandering to architects has never been a particularly effective business model.

I recognize that it was not all my fault. The BIM book arrived in the midst of the world’s greatest economic downturn.

The fact that the book came out in 2011 was not lost on the author or publisher.

Nor the fact that the book’s undiscounted asking price is $75, that the book comes in hardcover (no inexpensive paperback version,) the images are b/w, nor that it looks like a textbook.

Why would anyone (apparently my students included) willingly purchase and read a textbook?

The book was faulted by one reader for appealing in its title (“strategies for architectural practice”) primarily to architects, whereas the “integrated design” in the title includes – and ought to appeal to – Engineers, Constructors, Owners and others.

As the author of the book, I take full responsibility for the fact that it did not sell.

I am mature enough to recognize that just because I like to read – and try to do so for a couple hours each day – it doesn’t mean that others like to read.

And even if they do, they may not like to read books per se.

I know my students don’t do their required reading, the word softly translated by my students as voluntary.

As though to say, how dare I assign textbooks?!

If only they knew how well-written they are!

I know everyone has a copy of BIG BIM, little bim and The BIM Handbook, but do you realize how excellent the writing is in Dana (Deke) Smith and Michael Tardif’s Building Information Modeling: A Strategic Implementation Guide for Architects, Engineers, Constructors, and Real Estate Asset Managers?

Or how exacting and spectacular the writing is in François Lévy’s BIM in Small-Scale Sustainable Design? François Lévy’s book is brilliant. I didn’t let the fact that it concentrates on smaller projects or that he uses Vectorworks, to dissuade me from reading it for pure enjoyment.

Having written a BIM book, and BIM blog for 4 years, I have a real appreciation for how hard it is to cut through the clutter and hype and say something that is mercurial and potent and insightful. Lévy manages to do this on every page – sometimes several times a page – and it is a shame more people haven’t read his book and sang its praises.

I learn best by books but recognize that professionals have different ways they prefer to learn: some by video, some lecture, some tutorial, or site visit, or hands-on, or via gamification.

When I interviewed very important people (VIPs) for my BIM book (Phil Bernstein and Chuck Hardy, among many others) I was blown away by the insightful things they said. And also by the way they said them. New things, things that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

I became who I am because of the books I read – and continue to read. For me, reading is like living two lives. The advantage it provides you is empowering. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can provide one with what can be found in a good book. Not first-hand experience (because in books, you gain other’s experience vicariously on top of your own;) new ways of looking at things (on top of how you already look at things;) new ways to do things (ditto;) and perhaps best of all, insights that take your knowledge up a notch – that could otherwise only be acquired through long and hard work on your own. All that, and they fit snuggly on a shelf or nightstand, iPad or Kindle.

This is why – despite the disappointing sales of my first book – I am devoting the next year of my life to writing another book.

I believe in the power of books and the power of the written word.

Especially as an antidote for those days I spend behind a computer monitor, messing with digital this, and computational that.

Books seem to place what I’m doing into a larger context, and in doing so, the best ones help provide a purpose for the time when I’m not reading.

* OK, not really but a pretty amazing coincidence nonetheless.

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7 Reasons to Attend the Symposium on Technology for Design and Construction

Following the overwhelming success and enthusiastic feedback from the 150 plus participants and dozen vendors in the 2011 event, the 2012 symposium will feature even more timely subjects in the industry and provide more opportunities for networking, knowledge-building, and exposure to cutting edge developments.

7 Great Reasons to Attend this Year’s Symposium:

Reason 1: The real advantage in attending an event like this is to enhance your understanding of the current and future role of technology in design, construction, and facilities management from industry experts and those working at the cutting edge of their fields.

Reason 2: Included in the program will be such topics as augmented reality, legal insights on Integrated Project Delivery, GSA’s approach to facility management and technology usage in heavy construction. The assembly of world-class speakers promises to challenge your imagination.  Check out the schedule and presentation abstracts.

Reason 3: AIA continuing education credits will be available. Attend all three days and earn up to a total of 16 CEUs.

Reason 4: Professional discount extended for those who register by Friday, July 20. Architecture, engineering, construction, and facilities management students attend for just $25! Find complete registration fees here

Reason 5: The primary focus of this year’s Symposium is to improve project efficiency by reducing costs, accelerating delivery, improving quality, minimizing risks, and leveraging resources. In the spirit of the event, the presentations will be quick, short, and more concentrated with plenty of time for interactive Q/A.

Reason 6: Location. Chicago, on Northwestern University’s downtown campus on Lake Michigan, near Michigan Avenue. Here’s a map and list of nearby hotels.

Reason 7: All conferences boast the chance to rub shoulders with colleagues in an informal setting. The Symposium affords attendees the rare opportunity to network with researchers, academics, practitioners, software and building developers, vendors, IT professionals and university students working in architecture, engineering, construction, and facilities management – as well as leaders in the industry.

Sponsored by the Northwestern University Master of Project Management Program http://www.mpm.northwestern.edu/, and the newly created Executive Management for Design and Construction program, the 2012 Symposium on Technology for Design and Construction will assemble design and construction researchers, academics, and practitioners to discuss the present state-of–the-art and the prospects for future advancements in this field.

Check out the Symposium brochure.

Detailed information about the Symposium is at www.techforconstruction.com or inquiries can be sent to me, Randy Deutsch, at randydeutsch@att.net.

One last thing: Northwestern University’s School of Engineering would greatly appreciate your mentioning this content-laden Symposium to your colleagues.

Thanks!

The facts: Symposium on Technology for Design and Construction

August 15-17, 2012

Northwestern University, School of Law

Thorne Auditorium

375 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago

www.techforconstruction.com

Again, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me, Randy Deutsch, via email randydeutsch@att.net

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The State of IPD and BIM: an Owner’s Perspective

Since owners benefit as much – if not more – than contractors and architects from use of the new digital technology tools and collaborative work processes now used on many building projects, why is it that we so seldom hear about building information modeling (BIM) and integrated project delivery (IPD) from the owner’s side?

To help rectify this situation, I decided to conduct an interview with Symphony Partners.

Clay Goser and Dawn Naney served as owners at BJC HealthCare prior to starting Symphony LLC and are extremely knowledgeable about how these new tools and processes serve the entire project team.

Saying you can do IPD without regard for a contract is a recipe for disaster: True or False?

Clay: False. It’s not about a contract –

Dawn: –  it’s about getting people to behave differently.

Clay: A contract is a tool that has two purposes – to set business terms and conditions and to allow the team  to have the critical conversations around expectations.  The reason IFOA agreements often work is that they are different enough that they introduce risk and firms want to know what that means for them.  The Integrated Form of Agreement (IFoA) begins to define how a group works as an organization.  What we don’t have most of the time is a conversation about what we’re going to do and how we are going to do it. The nature of IPD is getting people to come back together – collaborating to a greater extent. Collaboration is the behavior.

Dawn: The contract has a different purpose. The purpose of IPD is to identify and proactively manage risk and capitalize on opportunity within the delivery process.  The purpose of the contract is different. It asks: what are you going to do, how much are you going to get paid to do it and the process outputs required (i.e. status reports, schedules, RFI turn around times etc.) and does not address how are you are going to operate as a team and the procedures to implement the project.   Defining what you are going to build and HOW you are going to build it is critical to successful integration outside of the IFoA contract.  This is the behavior change.

What do you see as the current state of IPD?

Clay: IPD is firmly in Gartner’s Hype Cycle©  as we try to define what IPD will do for us. We will head for the Trough of  Disillusionment© -[ meaning when inflated expectations are not met, there will be a threat of abandonment. All new technologies and ideas go through this cycle.  Some survive, some don’t and that is dependent upon how long and how deep the trough lasts.   The risk we introduce is that as firms start to market IPD and implement without completely understanding why it works those waiting for IPD to become mainstream before introducing this new delivery method to their organizations, will abandon the concept as unpredictable and risky and start to question the value of integration.

Dawn: One challenge we’re having as an industry is distinguishing what is – and is not – an IPD project. We need to change the question.

Whether an IPD project is pure or IPD-ish is not the right question?

Dawn: Right.  There isn’t a standard checklist of “do this” that makes a team “IPD”.

Clay: Here’s an example: some teams feel that you have to  do BIM throughout the entire project to be IPD.   However, a team, for example, that adopts BIM to answer key critical questions that the team deems important to their success without creating waste – such as using BIM to define how the exterior structure ties into an existing structure that’s ‘pure’ IPD or integration at it’s best.   I have seen many design teams implement 100% BIM only to have the trade contractors turn around and dismiss the model because the model isn’t useful to fabricate from. True IPD would define how much BIM is needed from the design team to facilitate understanding and fabrication by the trades, stop there and let the person best equipped to carry it forward, carry it forward.   It’s based on the project, time and circumstance.

What do you see as the impact of the economy on IPD?

Dawn: When an owner goes for the lowest bid, they often just get what they pay for not what they need, which results in change.   We incent bad behavior when we, as Owners, award solely on lowest bid…i.e. we incent firms to hide the risk and submit change orders to course correct the scope instead of buying intelligent performance to avoid the risks and do it right the first time and eliminating the waste. Owners are under the impression that we’re in a buyer’s market, so they’re holding back from pursuing IPD. The market needs to look for better, smarter ways to be profitable and sustainable in a down economy and Owners needs to look for better, smarter ways to conserve precious capital.   Buying through low bid introduces risk to both parties.

Clay: As a percentage, all construction projects vs. IPD projects, the number of IPD projects is very small. There are a lot of conversations about how prevalent IPD is now. The industry is ramping up. Every IPD project is a petri dish from which we continue to learn. We’re at a very early adoption stage of IPD.

The economy is driving us to work and behave differently: smarter.

When people say “once the economy comes back we’ll consider change:” IPD won’t go gangbusters. When firms are busy they don’t have time to think about how to work better, more effectively: they are worried about how to get the work done.  People should be thinking about how to work more effectively NOW, so that they can differentiate themselves when the economy gains momentum.

What has been the impact of IPD case studies – those published by the AIA and University of  Minnesota? Is it your impression that owners are reading them?

Clay: Owners are interested in the IPD case studies, especially owners of robust and innovative organizations dedicated to continuous learning. Owners focused on keeping their head above water or adverse to risk aren’t as interested in the IPD case studies.

Owner-involvement in IPD is critical to a project’s success: Is owner-led IPD the only way to go?

Clay: Owners impact vendors – architects, engineers and contractors – by incentivizing and setting specifications, and not always in a good way. As for IPD, owners don’t always understand what IPD means.  Do Design-Bid-Build jobs go poorly? Yes. Do Design-Bid-Build jobs go well? Yes. What’s the difference? The team – how they cooperate, how they behave.

The question needs to be: How do we produce good collaboration and reproduce it?

Dawn: Owners must ask and seek out why IPD worked when it does work for them. Most of the time, it’s because the team wanted it to work well. The relationships were better and they problem solved in the best interest of the project, not themselves. Team formation is critical to successful integration.  Each new project is a melting-pot of different cultures melding together.    When you bring the right people to the table at the right time to best inform project decisions this integration occurs earlier in the process allowing for the critical forming, norming, storming and performing of the team to occur prior to construction when the cost of change escalates exponentially. IPD allows for time at the beginning for the team to create a team culture and define how they are going to work together.

Clay: When you show up early in the design process, IPD allows you to have a conversation about how you’re going to work vs. just show-up and perform.  Many firms are marketing IPD to Owners promoting the need for an IFoA agreement.  Many Owners don’t know what’s in the contract. What it involves or how it effects all of the team members as a group.

Architects, engineers and contractors say we have to do something different from Design-Bid-Build to remain profitable. Owners say: why don’t architects, engineers and contractors drive IPD?

Keep in mind, IPD after all, when it was first created, was used by the team without knowledge by the Owner!

Dawn:  Owners are asking: If IPD is so great, why haven’t you been doing it for 100 years?  Why do I need to incentivize you to “collaborate” by removing risk?

Owners are used to accepting the lowest bid. They have a hard time swallowing the IPD pill because it isn’t quantifiable or defendable to their Boards and Investors.

We need to educate Owners that IPD allows you to solve problems, avoiding risk and uncovering opportunities we didn’t know existed.   A lot of the time teams don’t know what the real problems are so they solve symptoms. What they need to do – and this comes from Lean – is identify the root problem and solve it.  We need to understand the cause and effect relationships of our behavior.

Clay:  An owner empowers an IPD team but doesn’t need to demand it.

Dawn: IPD is a smart way to work. If you don’t have the owner driving IPD, integrate anyway and reap the benefits as a best business practice.   It makes the team members more profitable, reduces risk and informs an improvement strategy that is sustainable and lucrative for future business. 

Can you do IPD without BIM?

Clay: You can’t divorce Lean from BIM from IPD. Lean is a not a methodology, but a philosophy.  BIM is a tool.   You don’t have to do BIM to be IPD. IPD is a means to an end. Lean is the end. BIM is a way to get there.   You can do IPD without BIM and have great results. BIM is a tool that helps facilitate communication – understanding what it is you are trying to achieve.

Likewise, you can use BIM without IPD but the benefits may be marginalized. BIM and IPD coupled together are stronger.

Rate obstacles in terms of most prevalent to least: owner involvement (thru ambivalence, skepticism, indifference); insurance issues; legal issues; blurring of roles; who owns the BIM; collaboration; need for education/processes; inflexible behavior; MEP/engineers; resistance to change.

Clay: The need for education and a consistent definition of what IPD really means, not how but what you are trying to accomplish is very important. 

Dawn: Most often, people want to jump into IPD and make it a revolution – not an evolution. Most owners don’t have the flexibility to change to IPD right away. IPD requires a change in process and considerable amount of change adoption.

People don’t resist change – they resist risk.  Remove the risk, remove the resistance.

Clay:  The collaborative nature of a nimble-thinking team approaches obstacles as problems to be solved.

Integration is the “leaning” of the entire delivery process wherever people and process touch each other.

We need to reframe “obstacles” as just “problems to be solved.”

Clay Goser has been responsible for projects in nine hospitals and over a half billion in medical construction in and around the metropolitan St Louis area. He left BJC Healthcare to start Symphony LLC, a company consulting in strategic improvement in portfolio, program and project management. Read more about Clay here.

Dawn Naney has over 15 years of experience establishing and managing teams responsible for the successful planning and execution of portfolios, programs and projects in a variety of fields including design/construction, information technology, clinical interventions and process improvement, primarily in the healthcare industry. Prior to serving as consultant at Symphony LLC, Dawn served as an owner in the area of Portfolio/Program/Project Management for the Center for Clinical Excellence. Read more about Dawn here.

Symphony LLC is a consulting firm providing collaborative leadership, education and management of capital portfolios, programs and projects primarily for the design and construction industry. Symphony balances tradition and innovation to lead high performance teams focused on delivering the best value for a fair price. Best value for capital expended is derived from improvements resulting in better quality and performance, reduced cost and competitive differentiation for owners and service providers. Learn more about Symphony LLC here.

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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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The Architect (2012)

Speaking of Hollywood, last night I had the opportunity to see Oscar contender, “The Architect,” a film whose story begins in the late-CAD era.

“The Architect,” whether you consider it a screwball comedy, a sentimental melodrama or a spoof, is a 2D black-and-white film that has received a great deal of praise from critics.

The story is a simple and familiar one

 The story focuses on a declining male starchitect and a rising starletchitect, as CAD grows out of fashion and is replaced by BIM.

A valentine to early computer-aided drafting and design, “The Architect,” stars leading man Jean Dujardin as a CAD-using starchitect named George Valentin.

At the top of his profession, Valentin meets eager would-be architect, Peppy Miller.

She dreams of success in architecture, invests time in learning BIM, and as her demand rises in the industry, Valentin’s shine is eradicated.

Architect Valentin faces untold obstacles: the fickleness of the public’s changing taste, the adoption of disruptive new technologies, waning powers that come with age, competition from fellow industry professionals and unemployment, among others.

Faced with the economic insecurity of the Great Recession and technological change that threatens to make him obsolete, George is being crushed in a vise grip all too familiar to mid-career architects.

Refusing to adapt to the onset of BIM, he puts all his money into one last CAD production.

And pays for it.

George has owners in the palm of his hand, at least until BIM arrives

It turns out George isn’t well-suited for BIM, not least because of his mindset and attitude, dependence on 2D CAD and archaic drafting style.

But BIM is perfectly suited to vivacious ingénue Peppy Miller, who crosses paths with George, first as a fangirl, then as an intern in the office of his firm.

In 2009, just after the economy crashes, George’s studio stops making CAD documents.

The studio head announces the end of production of 2D CAD documents, but Valentin insists that BIM is just a fad.

It’s fitting that the next time he meets Peppy, on Rapidograph Studio’s main stairway, she’s on her way up and he’s on his way down.

When the studio head lays-off all his 2D CAD starchitects, George decides to open his own office where he could work in CAD.

His project is submitted on the same day as Miller’s new BIM project, and Valentin is ruined.

His wife kicks him out and he moves into an apartment with his valet, while Miller goes on to become a major 3D star.

“If that’s the future, you can have it!”

However reassuring excursions into bygone golden ages may be – whether drafting in pencil or CAD – they carry with them the potential for revisionism, soft-focus complacency and the refusal to embrace uncomfortable but necessary change.

This is why some critics are grumbling about “The Architect,” which has won a cache of critics’ awards and looks to be a contender for the Best Picture Oscar.

Whereas naysaying design professionals can appreciate the fond look back at the medium they adore with equal devotion, they inevitably see “The Architect” as an all too-comfortable 2D nostalgia trip that represents stasis rather than genuine innovation, provocation or artistic risk that working in 3D enables.

Those skeptics may be missing a modest but meaningful truth buried under “The Architect’s” surface and story, which is that George’s plight could easily be transposed into any modern-day profession or industry.

In one of “The Architect’s” most poignant scenes, George plays a character sinking in a cement pour, an aptly desperate metaphor at a time when so many architects feel they are in over their heads.

It’s a film that taps into our anxieties as we encounter seismic economic and technological transformations.

Having just witnessed his first BIM model, George says at one point:

“If that’s the future, you can have it!”

He could be speaking for an entire generation of architects who feel as if they’re in mortal danger of being left behind, forced into early retirement they can’t afford — literally or psychologically – or leaving the profession altogether.

At the risk of revealing a spoiler, it turns out all is not lost for George.

Disappointingly, it involves a work-around – when everyone recognizes the only way out is the way through.

“The Architect” may be drenched in the romance and visual values of CAD’s bygone era, but it’s a motion picture uncannily of its time.

(Apologies to critics of “The Artist,” which – like this post – is a shameless pastiche.)

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