Patrick May Talks About His Journey with ARCHICAD and GDL Scripting


Creating bespoke solutions as part of yours or your firm’s toolkit goes part and parcel these days with staying competitive in the world of architecture. But these skills—scripting and even programming—are very left brain for the traditionally right-brained world of creatives.

Generally speaking, scripting architecture design tools is hard. But it can be made a lot easier and Patrick May appears to have found a pathway to making it so.

So how did he do it and why is his method of value? As one might explain it, chances are high that if his sessions at this year’s 2017 BIMCON were popular it likely had a lot to do with his background of not being a “programmer type.” He will quickly admit that there are far more advanced GDL scripters out there than he.

Patrick May, bearded and unassuming, wearing clothes that felt a bit retro and with a steady and quite demeanor, sat as sturdy as a 60-year old Harvard archeology professor before his session at BIMCON. Except, May is an obvious Millennial. I didn’t know where he was from but if I had to take a wild guess I would have said Portland, Oregon.

That turned out to a bit accurate.

A graduate of the University of Oregon, May’s architecture school experience—as the reader will learn below—almost sounds quaint. If he found computing in architecture later than others, he quickly made up for it. Intrigued by his successful approach to GDL learning and his general mastery of ARCHICAD, I spoke to him at length after his session at BIMCON. Here’s what he had to say, about his journey to ARCHICAD and the value he places on mastering GDL (Geometric Description Language).

The Interview

(Architosh) So in the presentation, you said you have been using ARCHICAD for ten years, when did you first start?

(May) Yeah, I started in early 2006. I graduated from the University of Oregon. About five or six months before I graduated I started doing a job search, and I came across a small firm on the Oregon coast; I had never heard of ARCHICAD before that. And I went in for an interview, and they showed me ARCHICAD 8.1, and they handed me a disc and said: “you can play around with this in demo mode and see what you can do.” So I kludged my way through it, didn’t understand it, but got good enough to get the job.

How long did you work there?

I worked there about three years. It was a small firm, mostly residential a little bit of preservation work and we used ARCHICAD, and I learned it; I like to think I mastered it at that point—the three years—and became really proficient at it and that was around 2008 or 2009 when the market just fell out. The next job I got was at a firm as their ARCHICAD expert—they were transitioning from AutoCAD and I came in as their in-house expert trainer and trying to help them roll their projects into ARCHICAD. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

From there I moved onto Walker Warner Architects out in San Francisco. I worked there as—well the design title was Digital Design Coordinator—it was actually kind of a BIM manager lite role where I was their in-house ARCHICAD expert/manager/troubleshooter. I worked there for three years. And then for the last few months, I’ve been on my own as I started up my consultancy called 4dProof and I do ARCHICAD training, consulting, template building, light-weight object development and then just a little bit of freelance work.

My primary work is still with Walker Warner Architects. I’m working as their freelance CAD/BIM manager remotely.

How big is Walker Warner Architects?

Walker Warner—well things can always be in flux, but—they are usually between 40 and 50 people. They have, I believe, 35 ARCHICAD licenses now, so they have a lot of people working on ARCHICAD, and their work is primarily residential work, though they do occasional winery jobs and things like that. It’s fun work, really high-end stuff.

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