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Building Knowledge in Architecture

Using books as floatation devices is nothing new.

Cradle to Cradle, subtitled Remaking the Way We Make Things, is printed on waterproof paper for this reason.

Poetry anthologies served this purpose after 9/11 as did commonplace books carried by soldiers.

In fact, the book I’m about to introduce you to defines the original use of the word “communication” to mean bringing something to the “common place, to the community, to make it part of the larger social group.”

That is what I hope to accomplish with this review.

Building Knowledge in Architecture is a new book and lifesaver by architect, educator, researcher, scholar and poet, Richard Foqué.

On the academic side, Foqué is a professor and dean emeritus at the Henry van de Velde Higher Institute of Architecture at the University College Antwerp.

On the practice side, Foqué is the founder and honorary principal of FDA Architects (now OSAR), one of the largest architectural firms in Flanders.

Richard Foqué’s work is characterized by the integration of architecture, art, design and science and reflected in the book “Bringing the World into Culture”, dedicated to Foqué and in which 21 eminent scholars, architects and designers bring a tribute to his work. An interdisciplinary thinker, Foqué lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.

But don’t read Building Knowledge in Architecture because of his credentials.

Read this book because Richard Foqué is the first poet to write beautifully and meaningfully about the architect, design, creativity,

And as importantly, digital design tools such as BIM and collaborative work processes such as integrated design, design-build, lean construction and design thinking, subjects at the focus of these discussions.

You had me at Introduction

A book, like any of us, competes in a marketplace for attention.

Building Knowledge in Architecture, until today, appears to have been satisfied waiting patiently to be discovered on library shelves.

Book, wait no more.

To stand out and distinguish yourself, says consultant and author Sally Hogshead, you get only 9 seconds.

Because that’s how long our attention spans today have been shortened to.

Reader, here I’ll introduce you to what will surely become a fine traveling companion and fellow conversationalist in the weeks ahead.

But I’ll need 9 minutes to do so – not 9 seconds. So please bear with me.

Man Measuring the Clouds

A passing glance at a sculpture, Man Measuring the Clouds, inspired Foqué to reflect on architecture and what it means to be an architect today.

“The architect works in the field of tension between imagination and reality. The architect’s task is to convert the dreams and often unreachable wishes of the client into a buildable concept, which should be functional, technically resolved, and in compliance with all building and safety codes, but at the same time must inspire a sense of well-being and have the necessary aesthetic qualities to contribute to and enrich its context.”

Foqué then asks:

“Is the architect the person who is measuring the clouds all the time? Is architectural design, per se, an impossible task to perform? In other words, what is the essence of being an architect? What are the skills, competencies, and knowledge an architect needs to perform as a true professional?”

Aware of the access to practical knowledge readily available to other fields such as medicine, business and law, things can be otherwise for the architectural profession, the author sets out in search of a robust knowledge base architects can access:

“In my own practice, I have endeavored to use my professional experience and accumulated know-how in an innovative way for every new commission. But I have always been left with a feeling of discontent: Could I have done better? Did I use all the creative potential and knowledge at my disposal, and did I not overlook essential elements?”

Foqué concludes that the architectural profession no longer has a shared knowledge base. Building Knowledge in Architecture asks all of the important questions:

“Why did we abandon or sacrifice (this) knowledge base? Why is the architectural profession drifting? Why are we sometimes reinventing the obvious? Why do we struggle to cope with contemporary technological evolution, and why is it so difficult to integrate in a satisfactory way new findings and insights into our design solutions? Why are we losing ground, and why are essential responsibilities of our professional practice being assumed by others?”

One page into the book, you realize you have underlined every line. It is one of those books.

The Creation of New Knowledge through Practice

The book is organized in two parts.

In Part 1, Building Knowledge in Architecture serves as a practical overview of contemporary architectural design methods, and proposes design – apart from science and art – as a third way to investigate the real world.

“Perceiving themselves as practitioners of a ‘creative’ profession, architects hover between science and art.” p. 25

This is one of the very few books that discuss new digital design tools such as building information modeling (BIM) from academic, theoretical and practical standpoints (discussed for the first time on p. 93.)

But also integrated project delivery (IPD) or at least a facsimile of the same.

In the section called The Exteriorization of the Design Process, Foqué indicates that recent evolution of communication information technology processes forces designers

“…to interact increasingly with his environment. He has no escape, so to speak, but must engage in a permanent dialogue with his surrounding world.” p. 82

Foqué points out that the concept of transdisciplinarity – and the way specialized knowledge can be integrated – harkens back to the work of developmental child psychologist, Jean Piaget, in the 1970’s.

Where, according to the author, specialized knowledge needs to be incorporated into a comprehensive body of integrated knowledge, “within a global system of values and well-considered choices.”

Per Piaget, those who have taken part on integrated design teams will recognize the suggestion that multidisciplinary collaboration is, at root, child’s play.

Key quotes:

“Learning should be revalorized in the sense that the creators of knowledge should also be held accountable for the application of that knowledge.” P. 24

“It is recognized that at the modern university, there exists a hierarchy of knowledge, which starts with the basic and fundamental science at the top, applied science in the middle, and technical skills at the bottom.” P. 26

Explaining why digital design tools, while used extensively, are infrequently taught at the university.

“…grounded in the field of tension between ‘technical’ performance and ‘artistic’ creation. It is exactly in that field of tension that every professional discipline grounds its own knowledge base.” P. 26

Foqué defines a critical component of the architect’s arsenal, intuition, as “a not-yet-conceptualized and not-yet-systematized form of knowledge.” P. 27

Beautiful.

Before I go on to quote every line in the book, I want to point out an additional pleasure in reading a book written with a poet’s sensibility.

In describing the synergistic integration of art, science and technology, Foqué uses the seemingly simple example of learning to ride a bike.

“If you describe every part of a bike in extreme detail and add these descriptions together, you will by no means have produced an appropriate description of a bike.”

He concludes this explanation:

“In other words, it is not by knowing the why that you master the how. You need to add the artistic dimension, the art of bike-riding.”

As only a poet – who is also an architect, educator, scholar – could have written.

Foqué explains the now familiar story of how architects abandoned responsibility, and in doing so, relinquished authority, over the past 40 years.

He asks: How can we reverse this decline?

Part 2 of the book presents his case, so to speak.

Reinventing the Obvious

In Part 2, Building Knowledge in Architecture makes the case for case studies in architecture.

The case goes something like this:

Because case studies are used as teaching tools at law, medicine, and in MBA programs, architectural training should also include more reading and creating of case studies.

Here’s the problem with this argument:

It doesn’t need to be made.

In the introduction, the author asks: Why are we sometimes reinventing the obvious?

And then proceeds to fall into this same trap.

Architecture curriculums already make use of case studies. I know, for example, when I taught an integrated design/technology studio, we made great use of them.

They are not only, as the author argues, a practical tool for documenting complicated building projects, finding solutions to technical problems and expanding a firm’s expertise.

They are also excellent opportunities for having architecture students work in teams and learn how to collaborate on a project team while still in school.

The complexity of building projects almost guarantees that the teams will be multidisciplinary.

An example is Aaron Greven’s course in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in the Integrated Building Delivery program, a class that focuses on integrated practices and the technology that facilitates collaboration across a broad range of building project participants, for the Masters in Integrated Building Delivery program, a post-professional program that is in its pilot phase.

While the example does not prove the rule, I have previously reviewed these case study presentations here.

And more recently, they have been reviewed here.

The book does an excellent job explaining case study research as a means to establish a knowledge base and, as importantly, develops a practical method to do so.

“Architecture is no longer considered a true discipline, based on a comprehensive knowledge base, as it was for more than 2000 years. It is clear that this situation is no longer tenable, if architecture wants to survive in the Information Age, and in a quickly changing globalized world. A key question regarding the discipline of architecture today is how we can build a store of knowledge again.” P.174

But for me, proving the case for use of case studies in architectural education is not the reason to read this book.

This point has been made before here and more importantly, here.

Perhaps it is not case studies that are needed but a knowledge management and information system that can readily access the design professional’s accumulated knowledge.

There are people out there who do just this.

But this book does provide the rationale as well as a unique approach to constructing case studies, grounded in the arguments and methodology presented in the first part of the book.

And more importantly, this book explains how we can build knowledge in our profession and industry through the use of case studies.

Eminently Tweetable

The strengths of the book overwhelm its few weaknesses.

Weaknesses first. For all of the wonderful discussion about design and creativity throughout the first part of the book, there is nary a general mention of or reference to either in the index. It is almost as though the index was created for academics who might scrutinize sources for perfunctorily academic reasons but alas, not for the general reader’s ease of use.

Likewise, many of the otherwise wonderfully rich sources cited, are from the 1970’s or earlier. The book would have benefitted the reader (but no doubt not fellow academics) by referencing more contemporary examples of the same ideas or even the cited author’s more recent work.

On the strength side, the book’s diagrams are truly spectacular and help to illustrate many of the book’s finer concepts.

Another remarkable and no doubt unintended strength of the book is it is eminently tweetable.

A book of well-composed sentences, Building Knowledge in Architecture is remarkably aphoristic, and there are literally hundreds of quotable 140 character lines that are just crying out to be tweeted on Twitter:

“Intuitive thinking and rational thinking are not opponents; they are the twin poles between which the artist structures reality.” http://amzn.to/lyhDEl

Foqué explains that in earlier craft societies, severe penalties were imposed on those members who reveal knowledge in public. P. 93

Today, we are rewarded for the same by being retweeted.

See below for how critical Twitter is to this discussion.

Read or drown

Read Building Knowledge in Architecture even if you don’t learn anything new by reading this book (you will.)

Because you will come to realize that by doing so, you will know what you know for the first time.

And that is some accomplishment. For any book.

It is absolutely critical that you read this book. Why?

Here are 3 reasons:

For all of the reasons I have stated above.

For the reason that it tells us where we have been, where we are today and where we are headed.

And for this reason:

When drowning and you are thrown a life preserver you don’t say, “no thanks, I’ve seen one of these before,” and toss your line to safety aside.

Do so and you’ll surely drown.

A strength of this author, as mentioned, is that he has one foot in academia and the other in practice, a perspective evident in nearly every sentence:

“Professional disciplines…reduce the gap between real world problems and academic research, research increasingly captured by its own agenda.” P. 25

A book such as this can go a long way starting to fill the gap between education and practice.

That the author is a published poet can be seen in the book’s nearly perfect prose – so clear that you will not need to go back and read any sentence twice.

But you will do so anyway.

Because the sentences are so well-written they’ll strike a chord in you.

And you will find yourself rereading them for the sheer wonder and pleasure.

So don’t read Building Knowledge in Architecture because it develops a general design theory, a theoretical framework and practical instrumentation to establish a knowledge base for the discipline of architecture.

Read it if you want to improve your understanding of the impact and motives on decision making so that your designs are more responsive to real needs.

Read Building Knowledge in Architecture because you are an architect, an educator or student.

Read it because books like this are why we still have books.

Read Building Knowledge in Architecture because we as a profession are adrift and this book has been thrown to us as a lifeline.

Read it because at a time when the publishing and construction industry are experiencing upheavals, it is heartening to discover a book that is as well-written and well-illustrated as it is well-constructed and physically beautiful.

The book feels good in the hand, like a book by Peter Zumthor.

When you hold it in your hand for the first time it will be as though you have done so before, as though the book is being returned to you after a long absence.

To you alone.

That is because this book has been written for you.

The book, Building Knowledge in Architecture, was recommended to me by Ryan Schultz, founder of http://www.openingdesign.com/ via Twitter

@randydeutsch Hi Randy, speaking of books… ran across this one today in the library… looks right up our alley: http://amzn.to/hX0YG2

@theoryshaw P. 78 of Building Knowledge in Architecture (Design as a rational Process: The Triangle Broken) could be your mission statement. Thanks!

Ryan, with fellow IPD maven Oscia Timschell, is launching a beta version of the new site in time for the AIA National Convention. Check it out and follow Ryan on Twitter @theoryshaw

FYI This blog was posted for readers at my other blog by a different name.

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Filed under BIM, collaboration, construction industry, craft, design professionals, education, impact, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, modeling, people, process

BiM: Building intuition Modeling

While the architectural design process is largely an intuitive exploration, what happens to intuition in this rational, digital process we call BIM?

Most everyone in the AEC industry by now knows that the purpose of a building information model (BIM) is to generate and manage building data during its lifecycle. And that the model’s data – in the form of information – covers building geometry, light and energy analysis, geographic information, quantities for estimating costs and properties of building elements.

But what if the BIM was used to contain acquired knowledge, build intuition and generate insights?

After attending two critical AEC-related events in Chicago in one week – Christopher Parson’s seminal KA Connect 2010 conference on Knowledge Management, and Illinois Institute of Technology’s Divergent Perceptions Convergent Realities: IPD and BIM – I started thinking about how BIM models, as a technology and process still very much in a nascent state of development, had the potential to impact the modeler’s, designer’s and even end user’s knowledge, wisdom and intuition.

Today, especially in this economic climate, the BIM is very much a rational model. And while most would agree that one model is not a realistic end goal or even an ideal, what if what we were working toward were multiple models – rational models, intuitive models and rational-iterative models – all assisting in our individual and collective professional judgment and decision-making?

Wisdom Management >> Intuition

Most in the knowledge management and Knowledge Architecture world – the “KA” in KA Connect – would recognize the data flow

Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom

where each term is differentiated – and evolves – from an evaluation of its immediate precedent and antecedent. Read more about this and systems thinking here.

That the succession of terms, when stacked, forms architecture’s primordial building form – the pyramid – is almost perverse.

At the IIT colloquium, esteemed Assistant Professor John Durbrow raised the question as to whether intuition could be defined as the successful outcome of internalizing one’s own experience over time?

If this were the case, the new formula would look something like

Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom >> Intuition

The Designer’s Burden of Proof

Aaron Greven at the IIT colloquium argued that intuition-based design is being replaced with analytic-based results, creating greater certainty for owners, translating as lower risk, with an emphasis on accountability by the design professional. For evidence of this, see HBR’s The Future of Decision Making: Less Intuition, More Evidence.

But what if our models were able to contain both analytics and intuition-based parameters, resulting in an analytic-intuition model?

Architectural Justification

It is a dirty little secret that architects design what they like and only justify later. They do what they do because they like it – and work hard to provide reasons for their intuitions in the socializing or coming-out of their designs. Architects self-justify and rationalize, then justify and post-rationalize. One could argue that all-in-all the world is a better place – with much better buildings – for having taken this approach.

Here’s the nuance in this argument. What an architect likes is not inherent to the architect – not something she is born with – but something learned, nurtured and inbred, over time, through trial and error and the school of hard knocks. The successful moves rise to the top while the not-so fall like lead to the bottom, seldom to rear their ugly little heads again. Or one would hope. Over time what we call professional judgment or experience is merely the accumulation – and recollection – of such positive feedback over time.

Forget for a moment about what this says about our freedom to choose and the faintly behaviorist underpinnings. What does this have to say about BIM and how BIM might be taught in schools?

It is often argued that undergraduate students ought to be immersed in building construction early on and once familiar with how buildings come together, only then introduce digital technologies such as BIM. Others, of course, believe that there is no place in the curriculum for BIM and it ought to be picked-up on the sly.

Several at the IIT conference expressed concern that students were being exposed to BIM earlier and earlier in the curricula.

Analytic-intuition (Ai) models

But what if BIM was used as a tool to learn how buildings came together? Here, the teaching of BIM in schools could be broken-up into 4 areas of focus

1. Building Data >> 2. Building Information >> 3. Building Knowledge >> 4. Building Wisdom >> Intuition

Where

  • Building Data covers building concepts and systems
  • Building Information covers materials and products
  • Building Knowledge covers research and development
  • Building Wisdom covers collaborative application of the above

Once ingrained, acquired building knowledge and building wisdom would result – through the iterative and social process of an integrated design studio – in intuition.

Some inevitably would argue that intuition is the result of years of trial and error – and wouldn’t be developed until long after school has ended and professionals were well into their careers. Perhaps. But if – as some have said – that architectural education ought to focus on educating future architects for their long careers and not to be employable interns day one out of school, then immersing architecture students in the model to learn modeling AND construction – how buildings come together – would make some sense.

BDM: Building Data Model

This is the building model at its most elemental form, involving pre-information in the form of symbols. Read more about it here and here.

BIM: Building Information Model

Where information is neither the accumulation nor collection of data but represents the next level of information.

BKM: Building Knowledge Model

Knowledge-building activities and even decision-making models may exist in decision theory – but not building knowledge models. Knowledge is putting information from the model into action. Think of it as applied information of the BIM model. The next morning after drafting this post, T.J. McLeish, IIT College of Architecture Virtual Realms, in his colloquium talk on Planning Tools/Digital Design and Fabrication- a self-proclaimed advocate for making smarter people not smarter buildings – rhetorically asked is it building information modeling or knowledge modeling? No doubt a convergence of perceptions.

BWM: Building Wisdom Model

The wisdom model puts the acquired, collective knowledge to use, resulting in understanding. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I am not proposing a Building Understanding Model (BUM)

BiM: Building intuition Model

It is my firm belief that there is a book in response to every question, and the Building + Intuition question is no exception. While not specifically about buildings, Building Intuition: Insights from Basic Operations Management Models and Principles (International Series in Operations Research & Management Science) – while written primarily to enable readers to develop insights with respect to a number of models that are central to the study and practice of operations management – is equally applicable to working in BIM. As the book explains

One of the primary purposes of any model is to build intuition and generate insights. Typically, a model is developed to be able to better understand phenomena that are otherwise difficult to comprehend. Models can also help in verifying the correctness of an intuition or judgment. In spite of the fact that many educators and practitioners recognize the intuition-building power of simple models, this is the first book in the field that uses the power of the basic models and principles to provide students and managers with an “intuitive understanding” of operations management.

What if a BiM were to result in the modeler’s intuitive understanding of how buildings come together, how they ought to be sited, how they impact the entire lifecycle, which designs work and which are better left in the monitor? It is worth a longer look into the role of intuition in design, BIM and IPD.

IIT Colloquium: some observations

There’s a lot you could say about the IIT Divergent Perceptions Convergent Realities – IPD and BIM all-day colloquium on integrating Virtual Realm Design Environments into integrated Building Delivery methodologies and curricular intents. With fewer than 2 dozen non-presenters in attendance the conference was not well-attended. Someone asked:

Have you ever noticed that every technology conference starts with difficulty advancing slides?

Can you really fault those who might have benefitted most by attending for wanting to spend an all-too-rare beautiful Chicago Spring Saturday out of doors instead of in the dark and noisy basement of IIT’s Crown Hall on Chicago’s South Side when there have been a seemingly endless succession of dismal Winter Saturdays when the event could have taken place?

Yes you can. The atmosphere was admittedly a bit like educating the educators. No matter – the presenters and presentations more than made up for calendar and Crown Hall’s less-than-accommodating underbelly. That the event was memorialized on video – one can only hope that the presentations reach a wider audience once uploaded.

John Durbrow, chair of IIT College of Architecture’s Master of Integrated Building Delivery program, as the master of ceremonies, set the tone. Aaron Greven, founder of AG Design Works and teaches in IIT College of Architecture’s Master of Integrated Building Delivery program, spoke on Status of the BIMvolution. Perhaps – along with CM Matt Riemer of Gilbane Building Company’s presentation Pre‐Seeing and Its Impact on Process – the most earth-bound of the talks, served the critical purpose of grounding the topic in such a way that allowed the presentations that followed to diverge or converge as necessary. With the presence of Mies ever-looming over the conference, Greven concluded his talk with these already prophetic words:

“Less may be more, but our looking to get more out of less will lead the way.”

Convergence

Since Sachin Anand, dbHMS Envisioning Energy Flux, representing building systems was not able to attend, Joseph Burns, Thornton Tomasetti, hot on the heels of his recent AIA podcast with Markku Allison revisiting his 2006 insights on BIM and IPD, spoke about Structure not Unseenly, a show-and-tell of his recent work with little critical assessment. David Bier, Futurity provided a much-needed GIS-level view of applying landscape to the BIM environment on Data Systems for Engaging the Environment. A great deal of minute detail was presented, sometimes losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Divergence

T.J. McLeish, IIT College of Architecture Virtual Realms, in his talk on Planning Tools/Digital Design and Fabrication – who, along with all of the faculty presenting and in attendance an alumnus of Murphy Jahn, making the event something of a MJ reunion – explained how he doesn’t see clear-cut boundaries between virtual and non-virtual realms. His interests, he said, fall in the intersection between the real/physical and abstract/digital worlds – and how we translate, manage and move from one to the other. He went on to present a number of research projects he is involved with that have very real applications.   

Ryan Schultz of Studio Wikitecture spoke on Enabling Wiki: Task Definition for Distributed Management – crowdsourcing as a business plan that allows individuals with diverse viewpoints to integrate – indirectly commented on the potential effectiveness of IPD by alluding to how the Skunkworks and Jet propulsion teams collaborated well by reducing the number of participants. It would have been interesting if IPD can be seen as a form of crowdsourcing. I will take this up in a future post. Robert J. Krawczyk, IIT College of Architecture, presented 982 slides illustrating computational design, in The Role of Exploration – What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do. Krawczyk presented the idea of BIM as the latest tool in a long succession of tools (and applicable to this post, where a tool is equated with knowledge.)

While all interesting, the divergent talks could have benefitted from time to time with a reference back to the topic of the day: IPD and BIM.

Keith Besserud, Studio Head [BlackBox] at Skidmore, Owings, & Merril, LLP, also evoked Mies in his talk on Form Follows Data. Keith described BlackBox an applied research studio in the Chicago office of SOM (started back in the glory days of 2007 when firms could still afford R&D,) focusing on developing and leveraging parametric, algorithmic, and computational design methods and tools in the design work of the office. Keith gave an inspiring, if canned, talk on his recent work. Interestingly, what resonated and lasted long after he was finished speaking, was a short digital video illustrating the understanding of wind performance around tall buildings.

A model for a Building Understanding Model? Yes, analytic tools such as Ecotect, take some geometry and look at behaviors in two different locations in the world. Bottom line: Analytic, yes – but also breathtakingly beautiful.

Neil Katz, also of SOM Blackbox, the last presenter (alternatively, Open Visions, Vibrant Visions, and Algorithmic Modeling/Parametric Thinking) before the closing panel discussion, reminded us –in action if not words – that, while IPD and BIM is first and foremost about delivering more efficient results to owners, what attracted us to the field in the first place was the pursuit – and creation – of beauty. His vision presented in creative computational solutions to design problems, is a beautiful one. His work is faultless, beautiful. Neil came across as a gentle soul who spoke without ego or any of the pretensions normally associated with the worst of academia or working in a large competitive firm. That such beauty can result from such circumstances – and after so many years of practice – ought to provide manna for those who wish to continue on their chosen career path despite the many changes and hardships.               

In the panel discussion IIT’s John Durbrow stated that, to architecture and design

Intuition is the assimilation of observations made over time, to see what seems right.

And in doing so

You’ll develop intuition based on the performance of digital tools.

Aaron Greven responded with this inquiry:

How do you teach intuition?

How do you demonstrate intuition?

How do you test, validate and evaluate intuition?

It’s just a hunch but perhaps the answer is in a Building intuition Model (BiM)?

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