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Basic Unchangeable Decisions

A Brit, an Australian, and an American walk into a bar. It was after a long day of adventures around Brisbane, Australia. For two of them the sun was in the wrong location in the sky. For one of them the cars were driving on the wrong side of the road. One had to translate m to ft everywhere. One lived comfortably in m. The third struggled with an awkward balance of the two (plus stones). Each looked at the others’ electrical plugs and thought “stupid.” But more or less everyone was using the same language and claimed to be a native speaker.

Loo, Shitter, Toilet, Restroom

Sitting in the car, speeding down the highway to the Australia Zoo, trying to adjust to everything on the road being flipped, my mind of coursed wandered to templates and BIM. This wasn’t too surprising since Rob, Nathan, and I spent a lot of our time talking about templates and BIM. We were all together to speak at ArchiCON. Australia (and the UK’s and Japan’s) roads led me to muse about basic unchangeable decisions. The three of us could all argue about who’s right. How driving on the right or left makes more sense. How the non-hot pepper should be called a bell pepper or a pepper or a Jon’s head or a capsicum. How the room we all use to pee should be called the Loo or the Toilet or the Restroom or the Privy. And how every time I said restroom I was laughed at, and the creeping doubt appeared: Maybe I’m foolish to say restroom. Maybe I’m wrong. After all we are all speaking English. One of us is right, right? And in Australia, I was definitely in the minority for what to call that room we all use. For the most part we knew what each other meant—except sports, shit, I was lost because they were using weird words to talk about weird activities we don’t really do in the USA.  But if we all called these things the same (bin lorry instead of garbage truck), there would be a bit more clarity. That’s good, right? I’m not convinced. Removing the colloquial diversity would be sad and sterile. I think it’d make each of our core selves a little less interesting.

But the roads! Wouldn’t it be great to just fix the roads? It’s not hard to argue for which side should win for that. So much of the world already drives on the right. Australia, the UK, Japan, and those other places should just switch. They should adjust and be like everyone else. Right? Same with meters and feet. The USA should just join modern times. We should submit to metric. Goodbye perfect 65 degree weather. Hello…whatever 65 degrees is in Celsius (18, I checked). That won’t ever happen. And it shouldn’t. Imagine the chaos. Imagine the cost. Imagine the unnecessary effort. Think about the mental energy required by millions of over a billion people to look left then right then left each time rather than right then left then right. And all the other little psychological shifts. I know these changes have happened in the past, but I think we’re pretty much past the point of world unification.

I can claim that our way is better, that Australia and the world would be better off. No more building custom cars for select backwards countries. No more energy reminding foreigners that things are different here. It would streamline industry. It would save some big companies a lot of money. But it will never happen and it’s pointless and not worth the effort. There are so many other things to focus on, so much other work to do. This isn’t a basic decision we need to fight. Other things we do need to combat, but not this one. That 10% of the world’s roads are reversed from the other 90% is a basic unchangeable decision. It is what it is.

I daydream about roads and then think about being a practicing architect. What are the basic unchangeable decisions of BIM? The existence of multiple software programs? Definitely. There is no answer to Revit vs ARCHICAD: what’s the point? It’s just driving on different sides of the road. But we can dig deeper than that. There are ways we use these programs which don’t need to be fought against. There are aspects of templates that we can accept. Understanding what those are are important. Because some things do need to be scrapped, even though the effort may seem insurmountable. Some things are holding us back. Others aren’t. We need to understand the difference. What campaigns to fix Australia have you faced when developing processes and systems for how to work more efficiently with BIM? When have you wisely stopped fighting because it was meaningless to win, or lose?Converting full

Self Driving Cars of BIM

There is another way to look at this issue. When will these immutable differences that are pointless to have but impossible to change vanish? Perhaps IFC5 or IFC6 will solve interoperability and we can all become software agnostic—not in our personal choices, but in the ability to work with anyone. Or maybe processor power will increase such that file size, number of faces, and model regeneration will cease to be a problem. Perhaps in a few years we will speak to our computers in plain language and our BIM programs will properly interpret what we mean. I think of these future solutions as the self-driving cars of BIM. When we all stop driving, when AI does it for us, does it matter what side of the road we drive on? No.

Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and the RSS feed. Look at the marketing of ARCHICAD 19. GRAPHISOFT is using words like automation and predictive. I’m sure all their competitors are thinking about this stuff too. It’s still early days, but amazing things are coming. And fast. ARCHICAD 30 and Revit 2027 will make ARCHICAD 19 and Revit 2016 look like piles of archaic garbage. We will look back at the best in class software of 2015 and it will be comparable to how we currently feel about AutoCAD 2.5 and ARCHICAD 4.55. Focus on what matters, not on the pointless to change and/or the inevitably solved by wild technological advances.


  • June 22, 2015

    Interesting article Jared. We have to blame the Brits for everything! They left you with Feet/Inches, Pounds and Fahrenheit and us with the left side of the road. 😀

    Actually, while we’ve officially been metric since the late ’50s, architects (at least of my generation) use both systems interchangeably. My parents still think in miles/feet/inches but youngsters these days are pretty-much completely metric. So yes, it took a long while but, because it wasn’t forced down our collective throat, the process has been fairly smooth.

  • June 22, 2015

    Hilarious article, Jared. A deep article to also ponder on! Cheers!

  • September 6, 2016

    Michael Runyon AIA

    Being of a generation before calculators. We knew that the English system of measurement was based roughly in a Kings dimensions for various body parts with a thumb’s width for an inch and 12″ for an approximation of length of an adult person’s foot. links (1″), rods/poles 16.5 ft & chains (2poles) were also used in surveying.
    We knew that the Metric system Started in France to create a universal measuring system for length & Weight that could be replicated by each country; these are all measured from benchmarks In Seattle area Lewis & Clark Established the Meridian and Benchmarks. Unfortunately, as I found out they forgotten to adjust for curvature of Earth and We had to then adjust all the property lines for ten miles North of my project to the next reference point.
    For your reference:
    “Use of decimal prefixes drove the adaptation of the metric system and have historically been seen as a self-evidently easier method of calculation. However, in the modern computer age, decimal is considered a reflection of biological accident: 10 fingers on two hands. It is no longer seen as the most natural or mathematically fundamental system of arithmetic, that mantle having passed to binary and other powers of 2 such as hexadecimal. Even modernly, one can consider: Man has “two thumbs and eight other fingers”. Twice eight equals sixteen. This undermined a core rationale for the metric system’s power of 10 based units.”

    We also had slide-rulers to calculate with and everyone in architecture, engineering, math and science had one. One of the issues for calculations is that slide rules were not really good for calculating fractions and were accurate to three (3) decimal places. Scientists basically wanted a form of measurement that worked with a slide-rule and created an argument to get a way to get away from feet, inches and especially fractions. Initially using the circumference of the earth divided by a number as a basis for the metric length and a unit of water for weight system. (Note though the circumference of the earth was thought to be a firm distance we now know it changes and is not used by most countries).
    All architecture students had a slide rule (a round one (circular) was best for calculating while taking a test and could be used with one had while writing with another). It also was longer in a small package. therefore easier to “read”. You used decimal feet and we all could convert them to fractions in our head. There were calculators also Abacus, and manual (non-electric or non-electronic) calculators like the Adler and ones that looked like typewriters and were manual an electric (and other than Adler) a little large and too heavy to carry to class. (Also noisy and not allowed in most classes.
    About this time the first portable electronic “scientific” calculators came along from Texas instruments with square root multiplication & division to us it was amazing that cut a several day structural calculation down to about a day. Then the first programmable calculators HP 25 and 35 literally changed structures for Architects in one year. you had all the Calculus ability programmable and fit into your shirt pocket and you were now down to a few hours for entire assignment. you could write and run your own programs (and not in machine language 0,1 or SPS – Free at Last.
    With Geometry you could graphically solve about any problems architects and engineers needed on a design project and we spent about a term (shorter than a Semester) in math for architects solving mathematical formulas drawing with geometry on our drawing board with a Mayline parallel rule (a step above a T-Square) and a triangle. This was still about the same time as the above programmable calculator revolution was being introduced.

    All of this above is to say we do not need a three digit decimal system any more that does not relate to human scale as does the English System. Both are now standardized and people relate to a scale that they can see in themselves. The same applies to temperature it was about the Slide Rule and arguments related to commerce & scientific research. not necessarily human perception which is about 1/2 degree Fahrenheit. Unless you state fractional degrees Centigrade it is a very gross measurement system that disregards human perception it is great for the lab and slide-rule calculation, not human perception.

    We as architects and building engineers are always trying to understand human scale and effects on humans in Evidenced Based Design, Patient Centered Care, Holistic Design and Neuroscience for Architecture.
    MY APOLOGIES- for this extended dialogue or “dump” but you touched on a sensitive area for me in over 50 years in architecture. I moved from Medicine Psychiatry to Architecture when I realized you could do more to heal and help people by their experience in the space where they live and work with conscious design and interaction of others. As you are aware this was the basis of original Hippocratic practice not typical organ based practice. The Salk Institute and others research such as John Eberhard, FAIA, Esther Sternberg, MD, Fred Gage, PHD – which was presented at the 2003 AIA convention confirmed the perceptions and effects of physical space. Note this led to the establishment of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (AANFA).
    Research recently presented by The Center Health Design Institute – The Green Road Project: presented by Frederick Foote, M.D. indicates – Healing Via Nature for Wounded Warriors showed healing environments are major contributors to effective healing of PTSD patients and that the typical organ medicine drugs were relative ineffective.
    Also See – Intrepid Center for Excellence Architects: Smith Group.

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