Here We Go Again
This Post is by Jon Buerg.
I’ve been working in the architecture profession long enough that I can remember the days of manual drafting by hand. When I was in school, the profession was already in the midst of the transition from manual drafting to CAD, and people were freaking out about it—both positively and negatively. On the positive side, people were getting hyperbolic about how much this would revolutionize everything and change the world forever. On the negative side, there were pessimists concerned about everything from mass layoffs to erosion of the relevance of architects. All because of little old CAD, that technology that many of us now look at with the same kind of charm we reserve for things like cassette tapes and 8-bit video games. This should sound familiar to anyone working in the AEC industry today, because people are freaking out all over about BIM too. Here we go again…dammit.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ George Santayana
That’s a classic quote from ol’ George, and it’s so true. Here are the lessons I learned from entering the workforce during the transition from manual drafting to CAD back in the mid-90s. Do any of these ring true for you?
Don’t Dilly Dally
I was fortunate to begin working as an intern and later a full time employee for a firm that had already fully embraced CAD, so we were not doing any manual drafting for construction drawings and only a limited amount of manual drafting was being done for schematic design and design development. This was in 1994 and I was seeing a lot of firms doing things like drawing the floor plan for the project in CAD and plotting it out on vellum to annotate it by hand, then also doing the rest of the CDs by hand. I remember the industry buzzing about the Mall of America project (the largest mall in the US) being drafted in CAD and it being the largest CAD project in the world at the time. I was all like, “big effin’ deal, my projects are small but they are all CAD all the time, and there are dozens and dozens of them every year. Plus EVERY project should be all CAD, right now anyway!”
My point here is that then, just like now, people are not going all in with the new technology. Instead they fall into groups such as “staying away from that for now” or “I’ll use parts of that technology, but the old way is better for the rest.” I firmly believe in getting on board as soon as you can and fully embracing things like CAD back then and BIM now.
Getting Over the Hurdles is the Hardest Part
I remember back then that the biggest hurdle in the process was not so much learning CAD as a tool to draw, but rather learning the workflows that went with it and how different they were from manual drafting. In school, a lot of classmates naturally gravitated towards CAD. Others were much more comfortable drawing by hand. I think the difference that separated these two parties was the ability to get on board with the CAD workflows and clear that hurdle, which was a pretty big hurdle at the time compared to manual drafting. Then once you were past that, you never wanted to look back. How many times today do we say the same exact thing about BIM? The biggest hurdle in going from CAD to BIM is the workflows. You can learn BIM as a tool to model a building easily enough, but you aren’t really BIMing it until you embrace the workflows that go with it—and you’ll also feel like there’s no point to BIM over CAD without getting over the workflow hurdle. I think this is the common thread to so many who don’t embrace BIM.
Embrace the Inevitable
I still encounter people who refuse to embrace CAD (though these moments are getting more and more rare), and now they are two generations of technology behind. Most recently, it was a guy that had a one-man shop for drawing tract houses for a developer building sprawl out in the exurbs of Minnesota. He just saw no point in changing, even though the very repetitive nature of his work could’ve been revolutionized, first by CAD and then more so by BIM. These kinds of sentiment are bigger now with BIM than they were with CAD. I spoke with another architect who was working on a new chain concept for his client and, while the client’s primary concept was already in what I would describe as a small BIM environment, this new one was being kept in CAD because, “it’s just too soon for BIM; it doesn’t make sense at this stage.” Are you kidding me!?! The only thing that doesn’t make any sense is using two separate technologies for different phases of project delivery. A major benefit of BIM is the ability to grow with the project as it progresses through the various phases of project delivery. It’s never too soon for BIM.
I use anecdotes like these all the time to explain why the state of BIM is what it is today with coworkers when they express confusion over sloppy modeling or a resistance to moving towards BIM workflows. Let’s all try not to repeat the past, cool?
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