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THE BIM MOMENT: WHAT WE’RE LOSING IN THE ROBOT-AGE OF ARCHITECTURE

 

For most architects today, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the elephant in the room. We know BIM and Revit take the efficiencies of CAD drawings and launch them into a near seamless technological integration of the entire design/build process that will ultimately change the way every architect works.

But change is always hard. Especially change that is both not chosen and involves alien technologies. Involuntary change causes great fear and often angry rejection. When huge machines began to eliminate artisanal labor in 1811 textile mills in England, some radical rejectionists began smashing those machines—Luddites, named for a possibly apocryphal young textile worker, Ned Ludd.

I may be closer to Ned Ludd than I want to admit. I am 61 and cannot draw a line in Autocad, let alone Revit. My firm has been CAD-centric for the 21st century, but my job description has not changed since I founded my firm in 1987. I scribble, communicate with clients and builders, visit sites and redline my staff’s CAD drawings (derived from my scribbles). Most of my contemporaries had to make the choice to dive into the CAD world themselves or spend money to have others do it.

It’s now Round 2: the BIM Moment.

Given the scale and rapidity of these changes, it’s easy to be nostalgic. Nostalgia is usually delusional, and when nostalgia mixes with the fear of the unknown, “the good old days” can be an excuse to “Make America Great Again.” In architecture the permanent resizing of expectations post-2008 crash has had a collateral depressant: another new way buildings are designed, spec’d, and even built. Some say this BIM wave has had more impact on design and construction than any seen in the last two millennia.

Clearly this technological revolution has cost jobs, just as it did in textile mills in the 1800s. Beyond the fear of underemployment, or simply not having the newly required skills to be hired, there is a professional undercurrent that BIM’s impact on the creativity and value of the built product has been hurt by the latest round of technological tools.

Clearly this technological revolution has cost jobs, just as it did in textile mills in the 1800s. Beyond the fear of underemployment, or simply not having the newly required skills to be hired, there is a professional undercurrent that BIM’s impact on the creativity and value of the built product has been hurt by the latest round of technological tools. Despite the quiet desperation and  uneasiness in many small firms headed by older architects, there are zealots in the cause of The New Way, especially in larger firms. Architect Randy Deutsch has written profusely about the BIM’s virtues as “a convergence of buildings as data,” essentially seeing buildings as “databases.”

However the old guys, being old guys, are not so sure. The late Michael Graves lamented the “lost art of drawing” in the New York Times. Yale had a 2012 symposium “Is Drawing Dead?” David Ross Scheer has written The Death of Drawing, a book that declares this change in means and methods greater than anything experienced in 500 years (since the creation of the Master Builder Architect in the Renaissance). He warns of a “pervasive social and cultural movement towards virtualization and predictive control through digital simulation” that will compromise the reality of built structures.

In ZDNet CC, Sullivan writes that BIM is becoming part of governmental policy to reduce our carbon footprint. McGraw/Hill notes that BIM is being imposed on architects by their consultants. Unlike CAD—which was a new language that made communication and revision so much easier, but followed an architect-centered mode of project execution—the fundamental shift to treat “Buildings As Data” has transformed the role of architects in the design/build process.

It’s a world turned upside down, where the role of the designer has been subsumed by the tools used. When combined with a fully cloud-based world of instantaneous universal data sharing, this new era of design-as-data makes the human touch seem quaint and retrograde.

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