Tag Archives: CAD

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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Filed under BIM, collaboration, design professionals, modeling, people, workflow

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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Filed under BIM conference, BIM instructor, education, process

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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Teaching Tyler Durden to Revit


My iPhone nearly vibrated off the nightstand.

“Mr. Deutsch?’”

Yes?

“I represent a client who is interested in rivet training.”

Revit…

“Is this something you do?”

I explained that I specialize in BIM consulting and what the difference was.

“So you can do this. You wrote the book on BIM, right?”

Thank you but actually there are several excellent…

“Will you come out to California and teach my client rivet?”

When are they looking to start?

Later that week, I found myself driving north from LA along the coast, address in hand. The house was smaller than I remembered from the spread in Architectural Digest.

Miss Jolie? (I almost said Mrs. Smith!)

“Please, come in – excuse the mess, we’re renting – Ellen’s got our old place – while we wait for our new house to be completed. Can I get you something to drink while I get Brad?”

Looking around, I expected to see Oscars or Golden Globes but the place was sparsely furnished, a few architecture photos and sketchbooks piled high on tables, sets of documents strewn across the floor. Not a computer in sight.

“My iMac’s in storage.”

At once both taller – and shorter – than I expected, we shake. He offers me a seat.

“Hey, thanks for coming on such short notice.”

Holding up one of the drawing sets, pointing out the initials “BP” in the title block, I ask: You do your own drafting?

“Always. You can always tell when a double does it. Right?”

We laugh. One drawing set in particular must have had 500 sheets. I try to lift it.

“You see Oceans Eleven?”

And 12 and 13…

“The Bellagio plans?”

Yeah?

“Who did you think drew them?”

Get off!

“Structural and MEP…even the security docs!”

Unreal…

“What they don’t know about me is that I do all my own CAD work. Its true!” He paused, suddenly looking grave. “And that’s the problem…”

Just as I thought: You’re designing your home and want to do it in…

“The house? We’ve actually got someone else on that.”

He cleared his throat, moving a couple inches closer on the divan. Speaking in a whisper:

“I used to be able to show up at a place, say Orleans, and be taken seriously. You know?”

I nodded.

“But now, all of a sudden, you’re not taken seriously unless you can show them that you can do it in BIM.”

I shake my head. Certainly they must make an exception…?

Looking down, shamefully: “I know!”

I hear you…

“So teach me, will you? Teach me Revit. Can you do that for me?”

With all due respect, you must have friends who could…

“Who? Clooney?! The old fart’s still stuck in CAD. Can’t seem to kick it.”

What I…

“And Damon? Jumped on Microstation and never looked back.”

…I think…

“Listen. PBS is thinking about not renewing my sustainability series unless I can show them I got my BIM chops.”

…you need…

“Obama returned my charitable contribution along with a note saying he couldn’t accept it seeing it was ‘CAD money.’”

…to do is…

“And, get this…”

…to learn how…

“They’re thinking of taking away my USGBC award unless I can provide analysis.”

…to put a building together.

Staring at me, incredulous. “What did you just say?”

BIM’s not like CAD. It’s not a drafting tool. Because you’re essentially building the building virtually in the computer before you build it out in the field, in order to work in BIM, you need to know how a building goes together.

“Crap.”

Later that day, on my way back to LAX, I realized what he was looking for was something I couldn’t help him with: “Hollywood BIM.”

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Filed under analysis, BIM, BIM drafting, BIM trainer, defining BIM

Finding Your Way Around BIM

Michael Korda, in his brilliant and entertaining memoir, Another Life, tells the story of his first day of work at a publishing house.

Upon arriving at work he notices a bronze plaque on his desk bearing these words:

“Give the reader a break.”

It was the publisher’s view that their job was to make things as easy and clear for the reader as possible.

And they wanted him to know that.

It is in this spirit that I provided what I hope will be helpful guideposts throughout the text of my book.

I did this to help the reader find their way around what can be treacherous territory in a book that concerns itself largely with technology.

I wish more technology – and architecture – books would give the reader a break.

In organizing my book, BIM and Integrated Design (John Wiley & Sons, 2011,) I divided the information into roughly three parts: a triptych of sorts.

I find that organizing a book into parts helps with wayfinding – providing the reader with a much-needed big-picture view of the content they’re about to delve into.

So here’s a bit more detail – part by part – about what you’ll find in the book.

Part I: BIM AS THOUGH PEOPLE MATTERED

In Part I of BIM and Integrated Design, you will uncover mistaken beliefs surrounding BIM and the social co-benefits of BIM.

Here you will explore the most commonly encountered obstacles to successful collaboration, as well as the challenges this technology and process create for individuals and organizations in their labor toward a comprehensive, successful BIM adoption and implementation.

You will discover the social impacts and implications of working in BIM on individuals and firms, and how to overcome real and perceived barriers to its use.

Read these chapters to discover proven strategies for managing the disruptive change brought about by BIM, how to assess your team’s progress, and how to own not only the software but also the process.

You will learn about the recent proliferation of BIM-related professional titles and roles, the current state of transition of the industry from CAD to BIM, and what the real distinctions are between BIM- and CAD-, and IT-related roles, including distinctions between BIM managers, CAD managers and IT managers.

In this part,

  • you will read about a design firm that struggled with adopting BIM, only to find itself growing through the recent downturn due in large part to its attitudes and approach to BIM; and
  • how firms have successfully implemented BIM, from the varying perspectives of a consultant with extensive experience working in BIM with designers, a clinical and organizational psychologist who works with design and construction professionals who are contending with constant change, and a firm owner who has strategically and successfully worked with BIM since the application’s inception.

Part II: LEADING INTEGRATED DESIGN

In Part II of BIM and Integrated Design, the focus is on working alone and with others in BIM; obstacles to successful BIM collaboration and how to overcome them; and why collaboration is the way forward for our profession and industry.

Read these chapters to familiarize yourself with challenges to BIM collaboration including interoperability, workflow, firm culture, education, technological challenges, working in teams, communication, trust, BIM etiquette, one model versus multiple models, cost, and issues concerning responsibility, insurance, and liability.

Learn about the one critical skill set design professionals need to master if they are to survive the current professional, economic, social, and technological challenges, as well as strategies for making collaboration work.

Read these chapters to better understand why owners and design and construction professionals have been slow to adopt integrated design and how we can rectify this situation.

A brief but incisive overview of integrated design is offered to help you promote the process to owners and your team, and learn how BIM and integrated design together help design professionals achieve their ultimate goals: well-designed, high-performing buildings that deliver value to owners while benefitting all involved, including future generations.

In this part,

  • learn how a major architecture firm’s chief information officer is contending with near-constant change brought about by BIM;
  • learn from a major constructor regarding their experiences working on more than one hundred integrated BIM projects; and
  • hear from the author of the industry’s first integrated project delivery (IPD) case studies on where IPD is headed.

Part III: LEADING and LEARNING

In this last part of BIM and Integrated Design, you’ll learn how BIM changes not only the technology, process, and delivery but also the leadership playing field; how to shift into the mindset essential to lead the BIM and integrated design process in turbulent times; and how to become a more effective leader no matter where you find yourself in the organization or on the project team.

You’ll discover how the introduction of BIM into the workforce has significant education, recruitment, and training implications, and review the most effective ways to learn BIM.

A brief overview of three approaches to the topic of BIM and the master builder is offered, including arguments in favor of and against the return of the architect in the master builder role, and an argument for the composite master builder or master builder team.

In these chapters, you’ll

  • meet an architect and BIM manager who successfully made the transition from pencil to CAD to BIM of the greatest complexity; glean several significant insights from a regional director in the Office of Project Delivery at the General Services Administration (GSA); and
  • hear from two educators—one a designer and an ethnographer of design and technology who brings a background in architecture, computing, and anthropology to the study of human-machine-environment interaction; and the other an educator and industry technology strategist with firsthand experience working in integrated design on a significant IPD project, who shares his perceptions of what is on the horizon for professionals, organizations, and the AEC industry as it concerns BIM and integrated design.

Hopefully you now have a better sense of what the book is about and how it is organized.

If you have any questions about the book, please let me know by leaving a comment and I’ll try to answer them. Thanks!

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Filed under BIM, collaboration, Integrated Design, process, writing

The Value of Versatility

The DesignIntelligence website just posted an article I wrote, also published in the May/June technology issue of their printed journal, entitled BIM Beyond Boundaries.

The hard copy of the journal will cost you $365. And while this also gets you a Design Futures Council membership with the DesignIntelligence subscription, most of their articles are available for viewing 24/7 free.

Marjanne Pearson read this piece and suggested to me on Twitter that the article goes beyond a discussion on BIM, by touching on what she called the value of versatility in being an expert. (Follow Marjanne on Twitter @NextMoon if you want to be in the know on anything important happening in the architecture/design/business world.)

While I consider this piece my summa, or summary statement on a topic that is very important to me, it is really too long for a standard blog post.

I would really like you to read this post on the DesignIntelligence website. The reason I am posting it here is because after reading it I would like you to leave a comment. And you are only able to do that here.

Tell me if I am off the mark or if you agree with what is said here. Tell me what you think.

I’m in this to learn from you so please consider taking me up on this chance to provide some constructive feedback. Thanks!

BIM Beyond Boundaries

by Randy Deutsch

Opting for depth over breadth of expertise is a false choice that will lead individuals, organizations, the profession, and industry in the wrong direction.

Several forces are converging to create an unprecedented and timely opportunity for organizations that have embraced building information modeling (BIM). These forces — including the rise of the expert, the growing complexity and speed of projects, and BIM’s increasing recognition as an enabler, catalyst, and facilitator of team collaboration — also present significant challenges that can be overcome with the right approach and mindset.

At one time, being an expert meant knowing more than one’s competitors in a particular field. Firms that reinforced their expert culture hoarded information, which resulted in silos of expertise. Today, many firms are looking to hire people perceived as building and software technology experts, shortsightedly addressing today’s needs at the expense of tomorrow’s. While architects have always been trees with many branches, our current economic climate has discouraged them from being anything but palm trees: all trunk, no branches.

And yet things change so quickly that those who went to bed experts are unlikely to wake up experts in the morning. Due to the speed and complexity of projects, we do not have time to acquire knowledge the old way — slowly, over time, through traditional means. Even when we supplement our book learning with conferences, webinars, and continuing education, it is impossible to keep up with the flow of new information in our industry.

Expertise today is a much more social, fluid, and iterative process than it used to be. Being an expert is no longer about telling people what you know so much as understanding what questions to ask, who to ask, and applying knowledge flexibly and contextually to the specific situation at hand. Expertise has often been associated with teaching and mentoring. Today it’s more concerned with learning than knowing: less to do with continuing education and more with practicing and engaging in continuous education.

Social media presents the would-be expert with both opportunities and challenges. Working with the understanding that somebody somewhere has already done what you are trying to do, design professionals, like agile technology experts, can find what they’re looking for by tapping into their networks and aggregating the responses. Conversely, due to the rise of social media, virtually all anyone has to do today to be considered a technology expert is to call themselves one. Because social networks allow people to proclaim themselves experts, it can be hard to know who to turn to, resulting in the rise of otherwise unnecessary certifications.

An expert today is someone whose network, community, or team deems him or her so. Such acknowledgment from one’s community can be considered a form of social certification. To grow one’s professional reputation, expertise in BIM counter-intuitively requires unlearning, detachment, collaboration, and developing both deep skills and broad interests.

BIM Expertise Requires Unlearning

As we grow in our careers, we tend to focus more on people issues and less on technology. We also tend to cooperate conditionally, responding to the behavior of others. This has huge implications for design and construction professionals who might be naturally collaborative — through sharing knowledge, learning, mentoring, and teaching — but are otherwise conditioned and tempered by the culture of the firm where they work.

Working in BIM provides an unprecedented opportunity to learn: how buildings go together, how projects are scheduled, cost implications of decisions, and impact on the environment. At the same time, there is a great deal we still need to unlearn with BIM. We can start by asking some questions: Which aspects of the traditional design process change with BIM and which stay the same? What knowledge, methods and strategies must be abandoned due to BIM and what is critical to keep? And perhaps most important: What, while learning to work in BIM, needs to be unlearned?

While unlearning habits we picked up working in CAD would seem like a good place to start, there’s also a great deal we need to unlearn in order to return to our original sharing attitude and cooperative ways. These include bad habits we’ve acquired since we left the cocoon of school and embarked on the hard knocks of a career in architecture and construction, where we may have learned to be mistrustful, skeptical, competitive, secretive, and working independently in silos. In doing so, we’ve unlearned many of the critical natural habits, attitudes, and mindsets necessary to work effectively and collaboratively on integrated teams.

BIM Expertise Requires Detachment

From Japanese martial arts there’s the concept of shuhari: First learn, then detach, and finally transcend. As consultant Ian Rusk has explained, shu, ha, and ri are considered three phases of knowledge that one passes through in the study of an art. They can be described as the phases of traditional knowledge, breaking with tradition, and transcending it.

Working in BIM, we need to address all three steps to meet our goals. Of the steps, the second (detachment, or breaking with tradition) is the most important. Detachment requires that we remain flexible and agile while learning, not holding on tightly to our ideas, agendas, or prejudices, so that we can move beyond them.

BIM Expertise Requires Collaboration

While we as an industry have now lived with BIM for more than two decades, most firms have acquired and implemented the technology primarily as a visualization and coordination tool in the past several years. We appear to have reached a standstill in the software’s use, with many firm leaders wondering how to make the leap to more advanced uses. Further mastery of the application through traditional means won’t help us get there. If we are to achieve our personal, organizational, professional, and industry-wide goals of fully participating in public, community, creative, and economic life, something more needs to happen.

Achieving higher levels of BIM use — including analysis, computation, and fabrication — requires skills and a mindset that allow us to work productively and effectively in a collaborative setting. Working with BIM enables but doesn’t necessarily lead to collaboration. We each have to decide whether or not to look beyond BIM as a tool and embrace it as a process. When recognized as a process, BIM can be a powerful catalyst and facilitator of team collaboration.

BIM Expertise Requires Depth and Breadth

It would be a mistake to assume that expertise in BIM as a technology alone will lead to greater leadership opportunities on integrated teams. In this capacity, BIM requires attention to acquiring skills that, while easy to attain, can be overlooked if we focus primarily on the software tools.

With BIM, technical expertise should not be considered more important than increasing one’s social intelligence, empathy, or the ability to relate well with others. Additionally, the conventional window for achieving technological expertise is too long. Better that one achieves a high level of BIM competency motivated by passion and curiosity. Having competency in one subject doesn’t preclude you from addressing others. In fact, it can be a determinant for doing so.

Being versatile flies in the face of current thinking that to succeed we should bolster our strengths over our weaknesses. The answer to Should I be a specialist or generalist? is yes. There must be people who can see the details as well as those who can see the big picture. One gift of the design professional is the rare (and underappreciated) ability to do both simultaneously. As with any hybrid — generalizing specialist or specializing generalist — one’s strength provides the confidence to contribute openly from many vantage points and perspectives.

It is critical for “T-shaped” experts to reach out and make connections (the horizontal arm of the T) in all the areas they know little or nothing about from their base of technical competence (the vertical arm of the T). T-shaped experts have confidence because of their assurance that they know or do one thing well. Their confidence allows them to see as others see by means of — not through — what they know. Their expertise doesn’t color their perception so much as provide a home base to venture from and return to with some assurance that they’ll maintain their bearings when venturing out across the table.

Broad-minded design professionals often find themselves in the role of “anti-experts,” approaching challenges from the perspective of the outsider. To this Paula Scher of Pentagram said, “When I’m totally unqualified for a job, that’s when I do my best work.” Once we balance, own, and ultimately realize our expert and anti-expert selves, we (as a community, profession, and industry) will do our best work.

What Do We Do Now?

Firms want to know how to optimize their work processes to become more efficient at what they do best, to remain competitive by leveraging the competitive advantage of BIM and integrated design. One of the ironies facing the industry is that in order to master BIM, don’t learn more BIM. Instead, do other things.

What will bring about greater efficiencies and effectiveness, increase productivity and deliver value, is not additional technology knowledge but our ability to communicate, relate, work together, think like one another, have empathy, understand, and listen. If design professionals want to lead they will do so not by increasing their depth but by benefit of broader capabilities involving their reach.

What do we do now? Go wide and deep. Go against common wisdom and fortify your soft skills, your reach and wingspan. To master BIM you have to transcend BIM.

We need to develop both sides of ourselves in order to move beyond our own and others’ biases and anticipate consequences for courses of action before they are acted upon. We need to develop the ability to put the project first, navigate iRooms and packed conference tables to get our ideas and points across, be able to read people for overt and subliminal responses, have the confidence to ask questions without feeling threatened and be asked questions without becoming defensive. It is as though we have placed so much emphasis on the bricks we’ve forgotten the mortar that allows us to communicate genuinely, to relate well with one another and integrate.

Having to choose between depth and breadth is a false choice that heads our profession and industry in the wrong direction. Rather than focusing on one over the other, we need to develop simultaneously vertical deep skills and horizontal soft skills, to work on our strengths and weaknesses, to be expert and anti-expert, specialist and generalist, to design from evidence and from intuition, to be task- and people-oriented, to have mastery over one thing and be a jack-of-all-trades.

As one blog commenter recently asserted, “In order to practice architecture well, you need to understand a lot of things that aren’t architecture.” BIM technology experts know one thing. To flourish and persevere, we need to know and do many things.

Often overlooked in mutual mentoring of computer technology and building technology by senior and junior staff are basic people skills: listening, questioning, negotiating, collaborating, communicating. The concern is that the emerging design professional — adept at BIM tools while learning how buildings come together — won’t learn the necessary communication and people management skills to negotiate a table full of teammates on an integrated team. These skills need to be nurtured, mentored, and acquired as assuredly as computer and building technology skills. These skills require the same amount of deliberate practice and feedback as the mastery of technology skills. Developing complementary, collaborative skills is as critical as becoming competent with the technology. As Ernest Boyer anticipated, “The future belongs to the integrators.” And that future has arrived.

Succeeding in practice today is a both/and, not an either/or, proposition. Design professionals must be both BIM technologist and building technologist. Those who accept this model will lead, persevere, and flourish in our new economy.

Last year in DesignIntelligence, Stephen Fiskum wrote, “One thing is certain: The solution to the current malaise in our profession is not for us to go broader but to go deeper” (“Preparing for a New Practice Paradigm,” January/February 2010). This is a new world: By going wider and deeper we provide owners and our organizations with the most value and increased productivity. Working effectively and collaboratively in BIM will help us transcend our current state, bridge the gap, and cross over to more advanced uses.

The Multidisciplinary Mindset

It is not just that the integrated team is now multidisciplinary, but we each must become multidisciplinary. Doing so requires a multidisciplinary mindset. This entails empathy, a genuine appreciation for others’ ideas, seeing from many perspectives, and anticipating possible consequences to any course of action. An industry representative recently stated in a public forum, “I don’t want the architect to think like a structural engineer. I need for him to think like an architect!” To leverage our technology tools and work processes, being an architect today means that we think like a structural engineer as well as a contractor and owner. Doing so doesn’t take away from architects’ role but increases their credibility by making them more effective and influential at what they do well.

Working in BIM — inward focused, object-oriented, filling-in dialog boxes — discourages this mindset. It is a mistake to think that those who work in BIM are technicians and that a firm principal or senior designer who sees the big picture will mediate between the model and the world in which the model operates. Leaders must see to it that their teams look outward, keeping an eye on the model while seeing the horizon.

The Technology/Social Continuum

Working in CAD, there are those who focus on drafting and those more adept at communication, negotiation, and persuasion. With BIM, technical understanding and people know-how must exist in each and every design professional.

The majority of BIM-related literature has been focused on the technology, not on the people who use it. People issues and attitudes are the main impediment to the collaborative work processes enabled by the technology. Human issues, issues of communication and collaboration, firm culture, motivation, and workflow — all exacerbated by the advent of BIM into the workplace — are an even greater challenge than the admittedly considerable software application and technical problems associated with BIM’s use.

Leading from the Model

Working in CAD, a senior team member would redline an emerging employee’s work. Leadership was decidedly top-down: Someone senior designed or detailed, and someone less senior drew it up. The problem was that the senior team member never knew whether the emerging employee understood what was being drawn.

Working in BIM provides a completely different work flow — one we have yet to leverage fully. Because those on the front lines are not only the first to discover clashes and inconsistencies but also to visualize what something looks like and how it might function, BIM allows our emerging talent to lead the process — to learn on the job while recognizing their power from their privileged position of the first look in the model.

The new leadership mandate in this process is for architects to lead from their involvement in the BIM environment. Leading from the model can be likened to leading from the middle in that BIM requires and even enables followership, and servant- and situational-leadership, as opposed to top-down or command-and-control. While leadership historically has been top-down, working in BIM and on integrated teams changes that. Leading in BIM and integrated design is more similar to followership, in which middle managers lead from within the organization. Thus with BIM, the top-down and bottom-up approaches converge, where leading from the middle becomes leading from the model.

BIM and the Master Builder Team

Architects who find themselves on increasingly large teams must find a way to lead and regain their voice in the design and construction process. If architects learn how to design buildings that are optimized to give owners, contractors, and other team members what they need — of high quality, low cost, sooner, with less waste, while acquiring the mindsets, attitudes, and skills necessary to collaborate with others — then architects will be trusted, newly esteemed, and return to their desired leadership role. What is critical is not that we linearly help emerging professionals move from technical experts to leaders but to be technical experts and project, team, and process leaders at the same time. Expertise is cultivated by creating the right conditions for experts to flourish; people cannot be forced to learn and grow.

Many A/E/C professionals are stressing the role of the team over the role of any one individual mastering any one subject or technology in advancing practice. The general consensus is that appointing any one individual as master of the project is largely irrelevant. Instead, the architect who works in BIM serves as master facilitator or strategic orchestrator on integrated teams. By working with as well as through others, we get the most out of fellow teammates.

The concept of the composite master builder is the brainchild of visionary environmentalist Bill Reed. The term recasts the historical single master builder (or virtual master builder) as a diverse group of professionals working together toward a common end: the master builder team. The intention is to bring all specialists together, allowing them to function as if they were one mind. A better prescription for what ails our industry would be hard to find.

Randy Deutsch is an architect, speaker, educator, and author of the book     BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice http://amzn.to/jSguAi (Wiley, 2011.) He is cofounder of Deutsch Insights, an innovation and collaboration consultancy, and blogs at www.bimandintegrateddesign.com and www.architects2zebras.com.

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Filed under BIM, BIM expert, collaboration, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, people, process, workflow

BIM as though People Mattered

If you want to foster creativity and excellence, you have to introduce some boundaries. Teams need some privacy from one another to develop unique approaches to any kind of competition. Scientists need some time in private before publication to get their results in order. Making everything open all the time creates what I call a global mush. Jaron Lanier You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

 

This post will introduce you to a book that will change society and alter the future.

But first, some back story.

The other night I was parked outside a bike shop near my home whose storefront window read: Body Machine Integration (BMI)

Being at one with their vehicle clearly appealed to the somnambulist bicyclists inside.

Sometimes Building Information Modeling (BIM) has us feeling like Bodily Integrated Machines (BIM).

After a long day modeling it is easy to feel like we have to call someone over to our workstation to pry us away from our machines.

We now work and live in environments where the line between you and your screen is becoming thinner and thinner.

Promotional materials for BIM products suggests that they “think like an architect” but all too often you discover that you have to think like your software.

This is old stuff for those that have worked in CAD – who, after a long day at work, would fall asleep at night only to dream that they were inserted in a CAD drawing.

Thinking in abbreviated commands and talking in macros.

MIT’s William J. Mitchell has long warned – or promised, depending on your outlook –  about our evolving into cyborgs.

But that’s not the book, nor the author, that will make a sign post of 2010.

Voodoo Architecture

So I naturally googled Body Machine Integration for architects and came up with…Archibots? Archibots are the latest thing in the emerging area of “Architectural Robotics” – intelligent and adaptable physical environments at all scales.

It is somewhat comforting to know that this is about robotic technologies embedded in the built environment – not people. 

Soon you’ll have the opportunity to hire one of these to do your drafting – or better yet, input information into your BIM.

Archibots: a workshop on intelligent and adaptable built environments was held last Fall by students at Clemson U.

The second fragment of this stop-motion video from the event – from a collection of stop-motion vision videos created by participants in the Archibots workshop – indicates the possibility of modifying an as-built BIM model has the parallel effect on the actual built building the model represents. Almost like a voodoo doll.

Voodoo architecture where you modify the model and the building changes.

My office is missing! Who left the model unlocked again?!

Imagine where you drag-and-drop materials and textures off of your laptop screen onto adjacent surfaces.

And they become those surfaces.

Where the line between you and your screen disappears, the two become indistinguishable.

It gets you thinking about where things are going (holograms, artificial intelligence, singularity, according to designintelligence.)

One day, everyday robotics embedded in our built environment will increasingly support and augment work, school, entertainment, leisure activities – as well as the construction industry – in an increasingly digital society.

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

Which brings us to Jaron Lanier, the 1980s Silicon Valley dreadlocked visionary who coined the term virtual reality and was among the first to predict the revolutionary changes the internet would bring to the worlds commerce and culture, and has now written a long-awaited book: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, an editor’s selection Best Book of the Month.

You Are Not a Gadget is being called “a useful, respectful dialogue about how we can shape technology to fit culture’s needs, rather than the way technology currently shapes us.”

It is also being called a “most thought-provoking, human, and inspiring critique of the computerized world of information that has yet been written.”

In the book, Lanier discusses the technical and cultural problems that can grow out of poorly considered digital design, and cautions against the current Web 2.0 fad which elevates the wisdom of the hive mind over the intelligence and judgment of individuals.

In You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier argues that the idea of collective is smarter than the individual is wrong. Why is this?

Here’s Jaron Lanier on Collaboration: There are some cases where a group of people can do a better job of solving certain kinds of problems than individuals. One example is setting a price in a marketplace. Another example is an election process to choose a politician. All such examples involve what can be called optimization, where the concerns of many individuals are reconciled. There are other cases that involve creativity and imagination. A crowd process generally fails in these cases. The phrase “Design by Committee” is treated as derogatory for good reason. That is why a collective of programmers can copy UNIX but cannot invent the iPhone.

Biological cells have walls, academics employ temporary secrecy before they publish, and real authors with real voices might want to polish a text before releasing it. In all these cases, encapsulation is what allows for the possibility of testing and feedback that enables a quest for excellence. To be constantly diffused in a global mush is to embrace mundanity.

Here’s Jaron Lanier on Intellectual Content: On one level, the Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice. It is increasingly disheartening to write about any topic in depth these days, because people will only read what the first link from a search engine directs them to…Or, if the issue is contentious, people will congregate into partisan online bubbles in which their views are reinforced. I don’t think a collective voice can be effective for many topics, such as history–and neither can a partisan mob. Collectives have a power to distort history in a way that damages minority viewpoints and calcifies the art of interpretation. Only the quirkiness of considered individual expression can cut through the nonsense of mob–and that is the reason intellectual activity is important.

A must read.

BIM as though people mattered

Here are 10 things you can do to keep the body-machine integration at bay – and help you to remain you human and keep your feelings alive – while building information models:

  • Spend time in nature
  • Sit in front of a favorite painting at the museum over lunch
  • Read a poem  
  • Keep your passion for architecture alive by revisiting the work you love & admire
  • Or get a daily dose of architecture here
  • Know yourself, your preferences, by cutting out things that appeal to you at a visceral level (no thinking required) and by keeping a file of these images
  • Keep a list of the things you know for certain that you like, love, enamor and return to it often for sustenance
  • Read The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America
  • Keep your passion for work alive by remaining awake at work
  • Listen to your favorite music every day (you know where to find it)
  • Watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, A Single Man or another film directed by a visual artist

What are some of the things you recommend doing to keep it real and stay human in the face of the technological forces at work?

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Filed under BIM, collaboration, Integrated Design, modeling, people, Uncategorized