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Is BIM making you a better designer?

BIM and design

I once read a great quote from the head of the architecture program at the University of Minnesota. I’d share it, but I long ago forgot where I read it. The the quote was about “the incompatibility of BIM and design in school”. It didn’t surprise me. Actually the reverse would surprise me more. Not because BIM can’t aid design. Quite the contrary. I’ve spent years now untangling that fundamental truth. The reason I’m not surprised is this: our professors are unqualified to teach the links between BIM and design. How can you teach something if you not only can’t do it yourself, but don’t believe in it? This is an unacceptable status quo. As buildings and building programs increase in complexity, we need more robust tools and design processes to cope with them. Is anyone ready to hand sketch an energy model as the basis for the design of a new building? Didn’t think so.

I do believe BIM makes better projects. Using good tools (whether ARCHICAD, Revit, or some other good tool/program) will make your work better. If you’re a poor designer, the best software in the world won’t turn you into Le Corbusier; but it will make you better than if you didn’t use that tool.

Here’s an apt analogy. Back in Minnesota, I played softball for about five years. First with my old coworkers on an architecture league, and then with friends in various city leagues. On days when we had good bats, we were a better team. We hit more often, and farther. We got more runs, were energized, and overall played better. Even when we were in the field, the energy boost of those higher quality bats was felt. Those awesome bats didn’t turn us into the Red Sox or the Yankees, but we had access to more of our potential as players. I’m a very fast runner. A better bat means I hit a little farther. Instead of my typical singles and doubles, a better bat coupled with my usual speed gave me doubles and triples. The bat let me use other skills and talents I already had.
Thunderbats T-shirt

The Art of BIM & The Aesthetics of Production

I find myself returning to my first blog post: Aesthetics of Production. However good a tool is, if it gets in the way, then it’s not helping. There are a lot that programs like ARCHICAD and REVIT can do, and we can argue about the true goals of BIM. But we’d be fooling ourselves if we also didn’t want to use BIM to make beautiful drawings and better designs. Is there a separation between design and production; between inspiration and perspiration? No. The great thing about pencil and paper for most people is that it is invisible. Unfortunately BIM programs aren’t invisible for most people. Yet. So they aren’t helping everyone as much as they could or should. But for those who are proficient, or heading down the path to mastery, those programs and processes should be making us better designers. Otherwise, what’s the point? If I’m wrong (which I’m not), then we need to re-evaluate how we’re using the various software packages to make it true. If all this technology isn’t giving us access to more of our innate creative power, then something is wrong. The tools we use should both enhance how we design and simultaneously become invisible. A great artist isn’t distracted by his paint brush. The ideas flow seamlessly from that dark space in the artist’s mind to the canvas. And so it needs to be in the Computer Age of Architecture. Great architecture cannot be stymied by what key command is needed for free-form rotate or what size paper the plotter has. The nuts and bolts of the programs need to be understood, internalized, and vanish.

For more on how BIM can be harnessed for design, read this post that I wrote after this one, but published before it. Follow Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube for more…


  • October 28, 2015

    BIM – when used as a full multi-dimensional modeling system – can transform the entire process of design because we now have the modeling and simulation tools that folks in the automotive aerospace and consumer electronics products sectors have had and have used every single day for many years. BIM also highlights the incredible inefficiencies that far too many people and professionals take for granted in the construction and real estate sectors. If Boeing, TESLA, BMW or Apple designed and assembled their products using the same disjointed and error-prone processes that characterize today’s construction sector – improving through it is – nothing much would work and pretty much everything would break after just a few uses. The world would be a far more dangerous and risky place than it is already.

    Over the past 50+ years, human habitats (built environments of all kinds and functions) have been reduced en masse to mere real estate commodities to be built on the cheap so as to satisfy the fee demands by bankers, lawyers, realtors, “value engineers” (value…really?) and municipalities. BIM provides a wide range of tools for architects to demonstrate why the “build-it-on-the-cheap” mantra so often heard fails society, our planet and the economy short term and long term. And its long past due for architects to use these tools like the the concert pianists they should be and, like any great aerospace engineer, be able to demonstrate how and why their design solutions work on several economic, social and environmental dimensions.

    Having a BIM tool in the office is one thing, but too many architects – in my view – continue to think that producing 2D drawings at all levels of detail is somehow a completely separate endeavor from creating a complete simulatable multi-D model of a building. These same folks also talk about needing 2D “computer-drafting” staff or they refer to their CAD or BIM guys. Seems to me that the power of BIM to improve design lies in the talent, experience and expectations that are honed and nurtured in the Schools of Architecture and in practices. When an architectural practice uses BIM technology and related technologies such as 3D laser scanning and 3D digital photogrammetry for surveying and understanding and documenting the urban or landscape contexts for a project, then perhaps the architectural profession can stand shoulder to shoulder with its aerospace, automotive and consumer electronics peers.

    On its own BIM can’t improve design. When its full power and that of closely related technologies are embraced by design professionals (no more “BIM guys”…please!) then I think the public and clients will begin to see – and compensate – architects for the power of their insights and abilities to shape economic, social and environmental conditions for the better.

  • October 29, 2015

    Jared, again, you nailed it in this post. BIM, whether Archicad or Revit flavored, is ultimately a tool– an extremely powerful tool. But it is ultimately the job of the designer to use the tool to create beauty. In architecture school, these professors do have a good point, however: in the studio environment at school, the focus is learning to see beauty, proportion, balance, etc. By stripping away the trappings of graphics accelerated texture mapped 3d virtual environments, it allows the student to not dwell on how great the software makes stuff look, but focus on the deeper fundamental design elements of form and composition. But this only gets someone through the early conceptual stages. Once you move into the “real world” of accommodating HVAC, building envelope, lighting, etc., BIM becomes the most valuable tool in virtually building all components so the designer can plan ahead for those awkward spots that inevitably get created by designers who do 2D only.

  • October 30, 2015

    You touch on a subject I’m quite familiar with: the reluctance and resistance of many architects towards BIM. I encounter it on various occasions.

    I’ve been in architectural practice for a few years and was always shocked to learn how little interest architects had with the main tool they use on a day-to-day basis (whether it be Vectorworks, AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, Allplan, Microstation, SketchUp, …). Most of them were able to finish decent drawings using a subset of the tool they were using.

    It’s like driving a car in first gear and only turning to the left on occasions. You’ll get there… eventually. That said, all car analogies fail on some point, so let’s keep it at that 😉

    BIM is a methodology, a way to organise a process (to plan, design, build and operate a construction). The tools for BIM are supportive of this process, but mastering the tools make you more effective and more successful in implementing the process and getting actual work done.

  • November 19, 2015

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