In this special feature, Architosh takes a look at the nature of ‘performance’ both in the architecture firm and its value in the BIM transformation from 2D CAD to BIM workflows. What is the firm performance trade-off due to BIM? How have architects argued against performance? And how do we discuss and evaluate performance within software and BIM in today’s workflow? This feature illuminates this topic using one BIM developer’s software development work as a case study.
One could say the main reason for using a personal computer is to increase our “performance” in the actions we would normally do in a manual way. This was certainly the case in the late 70’s and early 80’s when VisiCalc and other similar programs emerged in the nascent PC era. The creators and visionaries of personal computing didn’t have a hard time promoting the advantages of the personal computer over analog workflows and manual methods. By the time the mid-80’s came along personal computers were growing exponentially because they delivered tangible business performance benefits.
The evolution of the use of personal computers and workstations in the architecture industry follows a similar though more contentious path. In the beginning, the computer in the architecture industry had to contend with another powerful factor (if not two) that challenged the benefit of performance. It had to deal with aesthetics and culture. Architects had long-held beliefs about the virtues of their time-honored hand drawings and the aesthetics of draftsmanship. In the end, however, these limiting factors lost out as computers soon provided new aesthetic possibilities that were not really possible via hand drawn methods and enticed the next generation.
With computers victorious in nearly all sectors of industry, architects soon settled into a new normal, based around 2D CAD and eventually the rise of 3D BIM. It would be literally impossible for an architecture firm today to compete in the industry using pure hand drawing methods. I can hear some readers’ minds raising an objection but the truth of the matter is the performance benefits of computers in architecture now goes largely unquestioned.
A Landmark Trade-Off: Lessons from the MacLeamy Curve
While computers and CAD drastically accelerated architectural processes over analog methods over a three decade evolution, we have reached a new critical juncture in the industry: computers are so powerful it makes sense to change our workflow model.
BIM (Building Information Modeling) is an argument to change the typical workflow model, not just in architecture, but in the entire AEC industry. The difference between the old model (based on analog drawing and 2D CAD) versus the new BIM model (based on virtualized 3D, 4D and 5D buildings and processes) is best illustrated from the architect’s point of view in particular in the now famous MacLeamy Curve. (see image).
MacLeamy Curve is named after HOK principle Patrick MacLeamy, a true champion of the BIM movement in Architecture. With BIM, the workload of the architect increases dramatically up front, earlier in the project, but is dramatically (though argued) less later on in the process. Furthermore, BIM makes possible new types of services for the client (image: Nikken Sekkei, used with permission. All rights reserved.)
This curve plots the effort or “work load” in the building design and delivery cycle, from project start to building occupancy, for the architect. It says in a nutshell that with BIM the architect puts more effort or resources up front in the beginning of the process than in the older previous workflow model. The reason for doing so is because this is the period when the architect can make the biggest impact on the eventual outcome of the building and its performance for the least amount of effort (or cost).
In short, with BIM, an architect can better determine fixes and adjustments to a building and its performance for less money in the earlier stages of design than during later stages of documentation or construction. The landmark tradeoff of BIM compared to the pre-BIM era of working is that the architect pours more resources into earlier phases of the project. This means her costs rise as BIM workflows demand more share (or percentage) of the architect’s overall resources in the early phases of design.
Architects Who Have Forgotten the First Arguments
This argument has been used by architects to resist transitioning from largely 2D CAD to BIM workflows. Despite the overall virtues and benefits clarified in the MacLeamy Curve, the big whammy in “performance” brought about by applying computers to time-honored analog drawing methodology appears to be canceled out by BIM when viewed from this perspective. Some architects worry BIM brings new levels of work requirements without any financial payback to the firm; many architects have acclimated themselves to the notion that acceleration of 2D workflows is in fact the road to higher firm performance…because it was for decades.
However, this form of thinking is flawed. Firstly, it forgets that computing performance continues to rise; yet computing performance does not apply itself equally to CAD versus BIM due to the nature of the problems each solution tackles.
Secondly, it forgets the first counter arguments to performance itself. Architects argued that analog methods had tangible benefits some of which were not always easy to quantify and therefore performance alone was not enough. That same line of thinking applies to BIM.
BIM is an industry-wide transformation. Only with BIM can architects and others in AEC bring about capabilities and benefits not possible with drawings alone. But what can BIM still offer the skeptic whose mindset remains firmly stuck on the notions of performance?
Pure Performance and Perceived Performance
To look at performance with BIM we shall evaluate two key aspects:
Workflow Performance: how quickly the user completes an actual task, eg: how many clicks it takes to create a specific model element or place different model views into actual layouts, and;
Software Performance: how quickly the software (actually computer’s performance at running the software algorithms and formulas) completes a certain task, eg: opening up a 3D view or a section view or rendering a view with sunlight and shadows.
While both types of performance matter in BIM, for the rest of this article the focus will be on Software Performance.
To understand the difference between “pure” performance versus “perceived” performance an example will be used. In this case, if a photorealistic rendering of a complex 3D model could be achieve in just 2 seconds, users would feel that process was super fast, because in historical terms such functions would take hours or many minutes to complete. On the flip side, if “auto-saving” a BIM file took 2 seconds, and it interrupted the user, folks would feel that 2 seconds was annoying and time-sapping. In the first case, the user expects to wait for the function (eg: rendering) to begin, and importantly, initiated the function to begin with. In the latter case, the user is interrupted and often isn’t mindful of its impending request. Due to these differences, the “perception” around the same amount of time, 2 seconds, is vastly different.
A BIM Performance Case Study: ArchiCAD 19 : http://architosh.com/2016/03/high-performance-the-ultimate-bim-feature/