“I just want you to know that computers are my life now.”
-former coworker who loves hand drafting
Paul never used AutoCAD or any other CAD program. In mid-2011, he got the go ahead from our bosses at SALA Architects to start learning ArchiCAD. Paul was (and still is) a project architect at the firm. It was a bold move on the part of our leaders, and I commend them for their decision. Our track record at the firm for getting senior staff members to make the transition to ArchiCAD was less than stellar. Everyone started out excited, but once the transition proved to be less than easy and straight forward, enthusiasm waned. Confronted with experiences illustrated by these diagrams, most of the project architects chose not to embrace the difficult path of switching. Faced with all the short-term problems of running current projects, managing clients, worrying about profitability, etc. it’s no surprise that most of the architects with responsibilities beyond that of the younger staff members got distracted and didn’t give ArchiCAD the attention it required to learn.
Paul fit this category perfectly. He had tons of experience, could out hand-draft just about anyone in the office, and knew how to put a building together. All pluses. Additionally, he was motivated to learn. But he also had projects to run and all the worries that get in the way of focused learning. Additionally Paul was not the most technologically savvy guy in the office (shit, he still keeps a small Walkman at his desk so he can listen to the radio). I was happy to train him, but I was prepared for another promising start to end the same way as too many others.
But Paul was different from his contemporaries. He was the right kind of student. He had the right kind of attitude. Here’s an e-mail I got from him shortly after I started training him:
“Thanks, I got it. Like I said, we did this before, so I just went and looked at the properties of that slab and it made sense, I needed that white 91 pen, not the transparent. I keep forgetting that I’ve got so much already to look at, all I have to do is select something done right and look at its info box to set up the unknown stuff, and not just panic and think because I forgot something that I have to re-ask the question!”
Be calm and problem solve. Look at what’s working, replicate, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
This past week, I ran into Paul again at SALA Architect’s 30th birthday party. Paul was so excited to see me and tell me what he’d been doing in ArchiCAD since I left the firm in early 2012. He exclaimed, “I love working in ArchiCAD. I’ve got a much closer connection to the design. Everything is more real. More so than when I was doing details by hand.” He told me he goes home on the weekends and works on models. When his wife asks him “honey, are you working?” he responds “well I guess… but I’m just having fun!”. He is playing in the program. He told me that he’s now modeling things no one else will ever see: for instance, he models studs just to understand the design. He described laying out panels and joints in elevations more diagrammatically than he did by hand. Before he’d use trace after trace and redraw the whole elevation. Now he constructs a grid, looks at it, makes a decision, scraps what he doesn’t like, moves it off to the side and looks at more options. He’s faster. He’s seeing more possibilities. He’s a step removed from the creation of the basic jig. Before he was focused on MAKING the patterns. Now he’s focused on ANALYZING the patterns.
I couldn’t be more proud as a teacher. Paul has made ArchiCAD his own. And he realizes it’d probably be the same if he learned some other program (which I completely agree with); he acknowledges the paradigm shift he’s made to the BIM mindset. He understands the value of ArchiCAD and BIM to a designer. ArchiCAD is making him, if not a better designer, at least a happier designer. A designer who’s having more fun. He’s taken OWNERSHIP. He has internalized the process and separated his love of drawing from the utility it provides to design. He now finds a different joy within his new way of working. My favorite aspect of Paul’s transformation from someone with a pencil and a tentative connection to a computer to an architect who fluidly uses both analog and digital tools is that he was able to translate his love of design and exploration from one medium to a next. How Fucking Cool is that?