2D is Dead, Long Live 2D


3D, 4D, 5D, 6D. We have all heard a great deal about these in recent years, but what about 2D? "2D is dead" they proclaim and nobody is going to be using 2D any more... or are they?

We all by now know that BIM is not a software in itself, but a set of defined processes supported by technologies (and the packages of software that we use). But let us not forget that some of the major roadblocks to successful BIM delivery lie in the mastery of this software, as well as ensuring that we still produce the necessary deliverables (in whatever form) which are clear, concise and timely in order the project to be successful.

I've been told that 2D is a dying concept, yet on many of the projects I work on, a large amount of time and budget is spent producing what you might still call “traditional” 2D deliverables.

The Issue

Well what's my point? Many of you may have read the opening statement and thought “his approach is all wrong, the contractor should not need 2D drawings if they are BIM ready!” Or “they should be better utilising the software available to them” or “this can all be conveyed in the model”.

All of the above statements are true of course, in their own way. However we live in a reality where some are more developed than others and some sectors are simply further ahead on their BIM journey. So in short, this spectrum of variation in skill and expertise really does need to be accommodated.

The fact of the matter is the vast majority of projects that are being delivered today (certainly in infrastructure) still require some quantity of 2D deliverable; whether to support tendering, procurement, manufacture, fabrication or construction.

Consequently we need a hybrid solution, one where modelling in 3D and the subsequent production of 2D deliverables work in greater harmony.

We have been sold an idea by software vendors - that drawing production from the 3D model is a simple and quick process, but as many of you may have discovered, this is not always the case. In my own experience, I find that long linear projects do not lend themselves well to this kind of 2D data extraction, and many hours are spent trying to creatively bend the software to perform something that it was never meant to do.

This is not to say that 2D extraction should not be done from the 3D model, quite the opposite, but when, where and how this is done needs considerable thought at the beginning of the project.

I’m sure you have heard the statement in recent years, “If we'd have done this in 2D in the first place, we’d be finished by now!” The view that replicating a 3D form in a traditional 2D environment (plan, section and elevation) is quicker is simply a misnomer. The advantage from BIM in this sense is not gained in the initial creation of 2D details but in their inevitable amendment as the designs progress. Not to mention the Information contained within.

Simple changes in geometry as designs develop can be updated from the 3D model to the 2D deliverables with relative ease, but there needs to be considerable investment at the initial stage to reap the rewards later, something that in my experience project managers are understandably reluctant to invest in - without first seeing the benefit. So how do we get around this? We can start small and prove the system and push it that significant time needs to be invested early on in setting up the 2D deliverable methodology to gain the advantage later.

The Solutions

Do we still need 2D? In an ideal situation we should not and in my view we willslowly move towards a world where all construction projects operate in the 3D world throughout, but for now we will have to continue to factor its existence into our workflow. Until the industry learns to wean itself from it. The same way it did with drawing boards in the 1980’s.

Part of the issue is defining the outcomes to begin with; what are we producing and why? Who is actually going to use it? And what are they going to use it for? I’ve often been asked the question; why are we even producing all of these drawings that are taking up so much of our time? and I’m met with the answer, “because we were told to!” But who told you to? Who asked for them? Did we question why they wanted them? Is there a better alternative?

I see that the use of CAD data for a project falls into four areas:

  • Construction / Fabrication
  • Procurement (Tendering)
  • Client Approval
  • Digital Record

It is true that the technology exists for all the above to be purely 3D, and there could be no need for 2D, but as stated earlier it depends highly on the clients, designers, contractors and subcontractors all being at that level of expertise., I’m sure this is happening out there, but I have not born witness to it yet. So until that day how do we reduce the burden and ensure that time and money isn't wasted? How do we create the desired harmony between 2D and 3D?

  • More investment at project inception. This is of both time and money, there is a need to establish early on what can be done in just 3D, what has to be done in 2D, and for what end purpose. Then any 2D deliverables can be specifically targeted for purpose and hopefully their number reduced. This requires both client and supplier engagement at the earliest stage as possible to understand their needs and properly manage their expectations.
  • Where 2D is necessary, the methodology of how it's going to be produced needs to be outlined as early as possible and properly programmed in and costed. Education that the “Magic” 2D button doesn't really exist needs to happen.
  • Boundaries need to be pushed in regard to client expectations, to demonstrate how things can be done though examples of innovations and to encourage others to follow. The phrase “because it's always been done that way” cannot be an acceptable response, even from our clients; we need them to be brave and innovative.

The Challenges

There are of course many challenges that may been to be overcome in order to achieve this harmony.

  • Skills shortage - Understanding the workflows needed to produce the varying types of delivery and having that widely available within a project team can be difficult and expensive to achieve. How much should we spend on training? How much can be on-the-job training? Who should take the burden - the client, the designer, the contractor?
  • Programme constraints - Occasionally time is simply against us, sometimes a project programme just won't allow for everything that is desired. Therefore without clearly defined outcomes we are fighting a losing battle and something will have to give.
  • Education and managing expectations - This refers to the education of all parties involved in  a project and the expected outcomes, what can be achieved and how, and what cannot be achieved and why? This may mean that some uncomfortable conversations need to happen.  


So I say 2D is not dead! In fact far from it and it is with us for the foreseeable future. But we need to address 2D deliverables as a separate deliverable to the 3D model while ensuring that all parties understand that 2D outputs do not have a magic button that is pressed at the end of the design process. 2D deliverables can be complex and time consuming and there needs to be an investment of time during the program to accommodate them. It is about managing expectations at the outset, and having clearly defined outcomes based on those expectations.

All of this is of course my opinion based on my experience and how I view the current status of the sector in which I work, your views may be somewhat different. As such, I want this to spark the debate.

Do you work in another sector that also reflects this? or does this not affect you at all? Do you agree with this view or not? Are you working in the 3D utopia that I have described? I'd love to read you views in the comments below.