Will Architects Win- ie Regain Relevance- by Adopting BIM?
BIM. What exactly is it? If you’re like me, you may automatically think of a particular software system- a step up from 2D AutoCAD- like Revit, Archicad, Bentley, or any number of other 3D software systems on the market. After attending a few seminars on BIM over the past 5 years, including the one I’m currently attending- the new 40-hour Architecture 2030 program- I realize the term ‘BIM’ is not merely a software tool, but is a business strategy. Overall, ‘BIM’ (Building Information Modeling) is a process of how architects and the project team can work together collaboratively- and in an integrated fashion- to conceptualize, design, draw, detail, specify, coordinate, develop and build, and, finally, to provide a 3D detailed model to enable the client to maintain a building or facility over its lifetime.
So, that leads us to the core definition of BIM: it is NOT a software system; it is a process. But, perhaps you already knew that.
To say that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in choosing to write about BIM is an understatement. In my inaugural blog post, I said that I would be writing about the newest cutting edge book on BIM titled: “BIM and Integrated Design- Strategies for Architectural Practice” by Randy Deutsch, AIA, LEED-AP. The book is 200 pages long and I don’t know why I underestimated the amount of time it would take to read and absorb the material, but I did. Similar to thinking ‘Oh, I can get that project done in 3 weeks…” The lesson of ‘under promise and over deliver’ is screaming in my mind right now! So, without any further delay, here it is: my take on BIM, integrated design, and Randy Deutsch’s new book.
The Topics of BIM and Integrated Design
BIM and Integrated Design are two separate topics, really, but both are completely inter-related and are essentially married with the term IPD (Integrated Project Delivery). I won’t be getting into the details of IPD in this blogpost- that is for another time. If you’re interested, the AIA has a new family of IPD forms available at www.aia.org.
There are a smattering of books on BIM available on Amazon, but there are infinitely more articles and forum posts on the topic. A Google search on the term ‘BIM’ will yield 36,700,000 results! “BIM and Integrated Design” search yields 240,000 results (most of which are about Randy Deutsch’s book…).
Where to Begin in Blogging About BIM?
To better understand a new concept, I find it helpful to research the history of how we arrived at this point. So, with that in mind, I had envisioned a brilliant, well-researched post covering the history of architectural drawings, the advent and history of AutoCAD (and the culprit to blame for such a torturous user-UNfriendly software interface!), and then planned to lead into hitting the high points of BIM. Well, that would be enough information to fill a small encyclopedia, so I will be as concise as possible.
‘BIM,’ the acronym, was first coined by the construction industry back in 2001, according to the book “Big BIM, Little BIM.” To the best of my knowledge, BIM was first introduced as a seminar topic at the AIA National Convention in 2003 (and possibly sooner).
I must admit, I’m a bit of a skeptic. When first reading Deutsch’s book, I had to fight against my own apprehension- much like how I felt upon first learning about the industry standard to become LEED accredited. I needed to make sure I wasn’t being “brainwashed” into believing in a faulty software nor “sold a bill of goods.” Why would I feel this way? Well, in my estimation, BIM was potentially just another new buzzword in the industry (… that it followed on the tracks of the none-too-friendly-AutoCAD).
But, according to Randy Deutsch’s book, BIM holds the keys to helping architects- once again- become relevant leaders in the AEC industry.
A Very Brief History of Hand-Drafted Architectural Drawings
I thought it befitting to begin with a brief history of architectural drawings, a chance to reminisce. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was not able to find the type of great classical architectural drawing images I had in mind. A word search, however, did turn up an interesting course called “The History of Architectural Drawing and Its Implications for Design” by Kristina Luce. I have no idea what school this is from- it’s just a pdf with an interesting course psyllabus and bibliography of texts.
Lest anyone think I’m off-base with my regressive focus on hand-drafting, you may not have yet heard about this new school that is all about making sure architects retain their ability to freehand draw and hand-draft; they just opened their doors last month in NYC: The Beaux-Arts Atelier. Their motto: no computers allowed, ever.
The Advent of CAD: Autodesk went Public in 1985
Of those of us who attended architecture school in the mid-1980s, most of us did not learn AutoCAD (or CADD) in school; the only required course at The Ohio State University at the time was an almost ludicrous course in which the instructor taught us Fortran using ancient computers- quick, somebody get me back to my drafting table, thank-you-very-much! And many of us did not learn AutoCAD (or its equivalent) on the job as we became project managers before CAD was implemented in our firms. In a Google-search of the term “the history of CAD,” I found a few interesting sites that tell the story of Autodesk. Here’s a link to one of their current historical sites: http://www.fourmilab.ch/ .
Did CAD Lead to a Decline in Architectural Mentorships?
One of the most satisfying aspects of architecture, for many of us, has been the hand-drafting of working drawings. In this project delivery method, there tended to be a lot more interaction and opportunities to learn how buildings go together. A great article which was the subject of one of last year’s TSA (Texas Society of Architects) Convention seminars, ‘Your Grandfather’s Working Drawings,’ has been written on this topic by Grant A. Simpson, FAIA, and James B. Atkins, FAIA. In it, they point out how “the drafting room” (later re-named “the studio”) was a place where mentorship was fostered– this, in stark contrast to today’s methods of computer drafting- where the PMs in charge rarely interact with the CAD operators. But, with BIM, this is all changing…
My Book Report & Summary of: “BIM and Integrated Design- Strategies for Architectural Practice”
This book by Randy Deutsch, AIA, is phenomenally well-researched and goes very deep into the subject matter; the author lists 56 references (books, links, blogs, etc.) for one chapter alone. His approach was to write the book with both breadth and depth as expressed by the chart on page 164, Figure 6.4: “The T-shaped teammate has a variety of skill sets and resources in his or her arsenal.” (I had first heard about this concept at a Design Futures Council Summit last January when Christopher Parsons, an IT leader, brought it up.) As Randy’s chart depicts and describes it: Picture a T-shape in your mind- the top, Horizontal part stands for: Broad, Concepts, Integrated Design, Soft (People) Skills; the bottom, Vertical part stands for: Deep, Software, BIM, Hard (technical) skills.
The book is about 200 pages long and is divided into 3 convenient sections:
- PART I- BIM As Though People Mattered
- PART II- Leading Integrated Design
- PART III- Leading and Learning
- As you can see, the book focuses on the people part of the BIM adoption equation and BIM’s effects on firm culture and work processes; the author also discusses the potential roadblocks that any firm may face when choosing to adopt and implement BIM. So far, as I’m not yet finished reading it, I have found this book to be honest, helpful, straightforward, and most importantly transparent: there is no evidence of sugar-coating the facts.
The book is well-supported with relevant case studies and interviews with key people such as Rich Nitzsche, CIO of Perkins + Will; Phil Bernstein, FAIA, vice president, Autodesk; and Yanni Loukissas, PhD, postdoctoral associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of “Conceptions of Design in a Culture of Simulation: Socio-technical Studies at Arup” (Routledge, 2012).
The book has many helpful charts and images to visually explain the complex concepts.
Against the author’s request at the beginning of the book to not do so, I did the “unthinkable” and skipped to the last section of the book after first reading the Introduction. Why did I do this? Well, to save time for one thing; and mainly, to help me get an overview of what this book entailed. It is much easier to climb a mountain when you know how high you’re going to climb. BIM has become a mountain of meanings in our industry, it is a catch-phrase that we hear thrown around so much these days. I respect the earnest thoughts of architect Lee Calisti, AIA, that he shared on a recent LinkedIn forum post on ‘The Bummer of BIM’ thread on the ‘Architect’ Group: “…the original goal [referring to his post on BIM] was largely this, have an honest conversation of the good, the bad and the ugly. Every magazine, every seminar, every article for the past decade had either BIM or green in the title.”
To be sure, the book “BIM and Integrated Design” is not a casual read, nor one that you would necessarily take with you for a relaxing or adventurous read at the beach. It requires effort; it is a daunting text book of sorts that deserves serious studying and note-taking, much like how we all studied for the A.R.E. I would suggest you plan to spend about one week on each of the 7 chapters, more or less, especially if you like to absorb what you’re reading; and I think it’s wise to highlight and bookmark (with post-it notes, tags) the pages on which you find a helpful quote, concept, or lesson.
I think this book will quickly become a required core part of the solid foundation of any architecture curricula and an important point of reference for graduates, emerging professionals, educators, and seasoned architects alike. Even contractors and clients can benefit from this book. It is all-encompassing, yet very user-friendly. It’s a place to begin to understand, truly, what is BIM and how we can all benefit by adopting it.
New Hope for Dinosaurs, aka Seasoned Architects
One of the most positive aspects of Deutsch’s book was the emphasis by more than one of his interviewees on how BIM (in this case learning the tool of BIM, such as Revit or Archicad) is not off-limits to older architects. I found that particularly encouraging. In fact, Randy Deutsch asked Brad Beck (project architect and BIM manager at Fitzgerald Associates Architects in Chicago) this question: “Some say BIM will be utilized primarily by younger, emerging professionals. Agree or disagree?” Mr. Beck’s answer: “I completely disagree.” (Please read page 181 in the book for his complete, mind-blowing response! It will breathe new life into you!). To give you a foretaste of Mr. Beck’s response, here’s a quote highlighted in bold text by the author on page 177: “The mutual mentorship is the biggest benefit I have had working in BIM. Sitting down together, you’re both learning from each other.”
A Chance to Win One of Two Copies of Randy Deutsch’s Book :
I highly recommend this book and, as promised, I am offering two free copies via a random drawing to take place on Monday, November 7th, 2011- to allow time for people to read the blog and send me their contact information via email (please see details below for easy instructions to enter the drawing).
An Early Adopter and Industry Leader on BIM: Kimon Onuma, AIA, Creator of BIMStorm
A BIMStorm http://bimstorm.com/i/BimStorm.php is a new process created by Kimon Onuma, AIA, (who has been working with BIM since 1993); he said in his presentation to Canadian architects: “Buildings are not static, they change like the weather.” In his bold, forthright open letter to the AIA, Kimon Onuma wrote that the architecture profession might ‘miss the boat’ on BIM if it doesn’t act quickly. To read what he wrote, go here: http://www.bimconstruct.org/steamroller.html
Further Questions to Explore on BIM (answers to which can be found in Randy Deutsch’s book):
Why have architects been slow to adopt BIM?
What are the differences between CAD and BIM in terms of adopting the new technology?
How have other firms successfully implemented BIM?
Who is currently working in BIM? (See also an article in the RIBA Journal July/Aug 2011 issue on BIM- p.58.)
Is BIM appropriate for all size projects, including residential remodels?
Here’s how to enter to win one of two free copies of “BIM and Integrated Design“ by architect and author Randy Deutsch, AIA, LEED-AP (find his website here): Leave a comment on this blog post and you will automatically be entered into the drawing that will be held on Monday, November 7th, 2011 before midnight that day. All entries must be received by 5:00pm that day to be included in the drawing. The two winning names drawn will be announced on this blog and on Twitter the following day, Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 by 5:00pm. Anyone can enter to win. (Note: If you already own a copy, you can still enter the contest– and choose to give your extra copy to one of your best clients, or add it to your firm’s library, donate the copy to your local School of Architecture, or give one to your boss or intern.) The focus is to get the straight scoop out there on BIM and to support those in the profession who may have been without work for an extended period of time.) Good luck to all!
Extra Incentive to Enter the Contest- Be a Guest Blogger on Indigo Architect!
For those of you who need to earn your win, I can relate to that! Therefore, I would like to up the ante by offering you a special opportunity: if you win- I invite you to be a guest blogger (upon submitting worthy content, of course) on www.IndigoArchitect.com. Good luck!
Other resource links on BIM that you may want to explore: