Skeuomorphs and Architectural Documentation
Architectural Documentation in the 21st Century
“A skeuomorph is a physical ornament or design on an object made to resemble another material or technique.”
I think this fits perfectly with discussions about output from BIM. Often the discussions and arguments about what we should share from BIM comes down to two opposing views. Either we scrap traditional 2D documentation and just aim to share models or we accept that we need to document like we always did, and the 3D model becomes a supplement to those documents. It’s a little more detailed than that, and I’m open to hearing others opinions, but put simply it is 2D vs 3D.
However, when we start thinking about skeuomorphs, there’s another dimension to this argument. We live in the digital world. There’s no need for our digital products, regardless of their dimensional quantities, to be slavish facsimiles of traditional analog materials. Or is there?
I’d argue no.
Let’s briefly look at both 2D and 3D architectural documentation. I’ll be quick: this is just the beginning.
This one is pretty straight forward, and I’m going to be writing about it elsewhere soon. Right now we base on 2D documentation methods on the requirement for it to be printed. That is very limiting because there is a HUGE difference between a 24 x 36 printed set of documents and that same set as a PDF. And that difference equates to so much lost value and potential. Beyond that though even our printed sets are designed to mimic a pile of paper from the 1950s. That’s unfortunate. Static printed documents can maintain connections with the vast web of data on the Internet, both public and private. Clearly we need to discuss further the evolution of 2D documentation and the advancements possible with PDF sets. Here’s something to ponder until next time: if you’re creating a PDF set, there’s no reason that every sheet needs to be the same size. If you’re using the Publisher (or Layout Book) in ArchiCAD it’s amazingly easy to create a multi-page PDF set with as many different page sizes as you’d like. Want some more thoughts on why PDFs are superior to printed sets? Read this post.
I saw a comment on twitter a few weeks ago that went like this:
“Layers” were an invented abstraction – an antiquated relic when compared with real BIM.
The argument here is that abstractions don’t belong in BIM, just real elements. Without going into the value of abstractions and placeholders in BIM, let’s look at that statement as our example of a skeuomorph. Basically, condemning unbuildable data (ei, layers) is to declare that BIM = physical reality. But why can’t BIM > physical reality? Why can’t BIM = augmented reality. Maybe in an augmented reality layers have real world application. This concept is so much bigger than a single post. So I’ll wrap up this thought with one more concept: Hyperreality. Instead of viewing BIM as a digital approximation of reality, imagine it as a window into Hyperreality. That’s when things really start getting awesome. This all comes back to the idea that true BIM isn’t 3D, it’s 3D+ (4D, 5D, 6D, 7D, etc.). It’s a 3D model with added data. But what is that data? To say it’s schedule, cost, FM, sustainability, in that order is so limiting. There are so many other possible layers of data. Once we accept that additional ‘dimensions’ are not necessarily physical dimensions, but tiny wrapped up dimensions like in string theory, or perhaps other senses—a 3D digital model and a 3D digital model with tactile feedback are two VERY different things—then the relationship all the team members have with the design (via the model) expands exponentially.
update 12/24/13: I expand on this concept of BIM being more than just a digital approximation in a post over on BIM Engine. The article is ArchiCAD-centric, but even if you’re not an ArchiCAD user you should be able to apply the concepts to your tool of choice. And if you can’t…well that sounds like trouble.
If you shared your instruments of service with a time traveler from 1950, would he recognize everything you produce, whether printed or digital, as something architects of his time were doing? If you think so, get busy because that noise you hear is the sound of doom. Follow Shoegnome on Facebook and Twitter to be prepared to bewilder the next Cold War Time Traveler you meet.