Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Post pandemic AEC: BIM to the rescue? Don’t get your hopes up!

‘We are experiencing unprecedented times’- flows from every tap I turn on in my miniature home.
Digital and otherwise. No-one knows what’s on the other side.
One thing is almost certain, there will continue to be some need for building/construction for whoever survives.
It will be tough times, so the survivors will have to do their best to make the most of resources, natural, building, human and digital at hand.
Global uptake of BIM will rise, companies will see the opportunity to clean up their operations under this ‘rebirthing’ and work smarter.

Maybe. Maybe not.

As often is with ‘unprecedented’, people try to relate to precedence for reference, my personal experience is, that tough times don’t generally help AEC improve on itself.

When things go well, there is so much work, that there is no need to do things better.
When things don’t go well, there is so little work that all available effort needs to go into relationship/building-retaining, schmoozing and scrambling. No time to do things better.

I can just about see my friend Djordje nodding with mild sarcasm as he is reading the above:
Yep, Zolna – positive as always.
Just for Djordje, a little memory from the past – with a bit more hope:

In 2004 as an employee of the NZ distributer of ArchiCAD, I was in charge of organising a string of extremely well attended seminars held by David Sutherland, the director of Fender Katsalidis, designers of the Eureka Tower in Melbourne and celebrated power-users of the software.

So successful was Mr Sutherland in selling the concept of BIM (or VC as it was still better known then) to the architects of NZ that even after many years had passed I was repeatedly told by the director of the competing software distributer (AutoDesk) that these seminars were the turning point for many of his clients to step up from 2D to 3D.

In 2004 David Sutherland was talking not only about the technology and its use in their Australian and globally operating business but also how it reformed the way his company worked, how they become more productive and better hands-on as designers when they decided to go ‘cold turkey’ 3D.
If I remember correctly, he was referring to a global crisis that forced the management to reduce the number of its people and they went form over a hundred down to a staff of 30.
I don’t wish on anyone to lose their jobs; I just hope that something good will come out of this crisis.

For the AEC. For BIM.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Stay HOME – Learn BIM: Day 4 (week one)

There are so many lock-down diaries out there, no point in me trying to compete.
I’ll do my postings weekly though as I understand some people are trying the paperfree detox – so I’ll compile some tips for the end of the working week.

Until then, here is a little (strangely relevant) something I posted almost 10 years ago:

Stay HOME – Learn BIM: Day 3

The day-counting in the title is per NZ lockdown.
And it is weekend here, so not a lot of work from home probably going on.

I know, that my focus on the elimination ‘the paper’ from construction can seem a bit over the top and pointless. Also a bit low-key for a ‘BIM expert’.
What harm is in having a personal notebook, printing large scale drawings for mark-ups, having a 500-page specification bound in a folder for site works?
There is some cost in printing, yes, but in the scheme of things, it is negligible.

Over the last 10 years I wrote many posts in this blog explaining why it is not good for individuals to carry on using paper in construction (AEC) and why is its continuing availability making any meaningful development of the industry virtually (or literarily?) impossible.

So, if you still need to be convinced that ditching the paper is a good idea, you’ll have to go back in my writings or do your own research. Or just carry on with standard paper-based practices.
But if you think it is worth giving it a go, these ‘unprecedented’ times could be just the right trigger for giving it a decent chance.

There are various theories out there on how long it should take to build/break a habit.
My experience – you really need to ‘want to’ do so – then – time is sort of irrelevant.

I mentioned ‘Word’ yesterday as a simple replacement for a paper-based notebook. Almost everyone uses the program (or something similar).
For notetaking there are 3 commands, I’d like to emphasize:
Page-breaks, bookmarks and links – These 3, coupled with search functions will provide the functionalities of a well-organized notebook in digital format.
Write as you would in a standard notebook (I’ll get to sketching and scribbling later) – heading your notes with dates, subject or other titles.
Use book-marks to distinguish between parts (per day or per topic) and link all bookmarks up at the beginning of the file.

Using book-marks is important with PDFs as well.

In early days of habit-braking, one still has the urge to print everything off.
Decades worth of history will not easily go away. You will get frustrated with the size/shape/clarity of screens (no matter how big or interactive they are); You’ll feel that your brain is hostage to your hands (doodling while thinking) – so go easy on yourself.

One day at the time.
Start the Notebook Word file, don’t print PDFs, look at them on screens – add bookmarks for easier reference, if the document is not already structured.

The exercise may make you feel old and clumsy.
Key is in persistence.

When you want to write down quick reminders – don’t use post-it notes (unless they are digital) – reminder apps on phones are good way to jot down short instructions to oneself.

(picture below from my architectural office, about 18 years ago)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Stay HOME – Learn BIM: Days 1 and 2

I can’t contribute meaningfully to the topic of the Pandemic, apart from obeying the rules and not being a nuisance. It is not an area of my expertise.
BIM is.
So, being a believer of the concept, that learning even a little bit of BIM can do good for anyone working in construction, I’m going to write a bit every day on the topic, at least while this lock-down is on and am capable of writing/posting.

The positive in me says, whatever happens ‘after’, BIM will be useful for everyone, the less optimistic one, that it will not do any harm to whomever survives and the negative, well, the negative can wait for its turn to speak.

Let me set out the terms of reference for this exercise I am planning to undertake.
I will not try to explain (yet again) what BIM is, or is not. I will not try to convince anyone that they should jump now into BIM, nor argue for-against particular software packages, although some personal views on products will be aired.

I will share practical tips on getting a handle on BIM and being able to contribute to the after-the-tunnel BIM world in a more meaningful way, than before. You don’t need to be BIM literate to benefit from following my tips, not even a CAD user. Just open minded about how information on construction projects is (or should be) created, shared and consumed.

You are working from home, wherever that is. Unless you already had a home office, you took something home from your usual office, to enable you to continue working.
What were those ‘things’?
A desktop computer, screens, just the laptop, and/or boxes of paper-based info?

There is problem number one.
If you took home any paper, even a notebook, we will not get far with getting you BIM-enabled.

Let’s start with weaning you/ourselves off the paper!
Apocalypse here or there, no better world will be on the other side for anyone, if we don’t kick this bad habit to the curb.
For the first couple of days, I will share with you tips on how to beat this pesky practice of ‘needing’ paper to work.
As a 55-year-old – glasses wearing – always scribbling – learned to draft with Rapidographs (Rotring) 40 years ago - architect, trust me, I’ve tried every excuse to hang onto it.
But also trust me, no use of BIM, while paper is around. And not just BIM, no progress for Construction full stop.

So, my tip for Days 1 and 2:
Wean yourself off your notebook!
There are many clever applications you can use, for me, a simple system works:
Word. As in, Microsoft Office Word document. I use One Word Document for my general Notebook taking and it sits on OneDrive. (Microsoft)

I will digress for a moment: as I said in the beginning, I am not interested in promoting, marketing or endorsing products for gain, I have never done it, in my 10 years of Blog Writing. I have misgivings of cash-free society, online everything and surveillance capitalism generally, but still know that Construction must become paper-free.

You can stay fully off-line (if you chose) and be paper-free. If you don’t want your Word document in the Cloud, have it on a stick, or on your laptop, or both. (we will discuss cloud based information later).

A Word (type) document can do everything your paper-based notebook could and more.
But you’ll need to be disciplined about it.
Make a clear cut now!

There are two ways to make that clear cut.
One, keep your current notebook at hand but only for reference. Any new note-taking will be digital.
Two, scan in your notebook as a PDF and throw the paper one away.

Give it a go! Any questions - let me know!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

BIM is dead, please do not resuscitate!

Agricultural experts likely have rules on how long one should persist with a new species once introduced into a field. Also, for recognising the signs to give up if the plants are not taking to the new environment.

If there are similar rules for establishing viable crops of BIM around the global AEC industry, they’re better be longer than 30 years.
Based on personal experience, that is at least as long since it has been trying to take roots, unsuccessfully.

Even a decade or so ago, I could see that BIM was nothing like an emerging success story.
For several years since, I worked on analysing, measuring, reanalysing and remeasuring anything that could reliably assess just how well/badly BIM was doing.
While not employing tactics supported by the mainstream, I genuinely wanted to make it work or at least understand why it does not.

The closest I came to formulate the reasons of this very complex failure, is that BIM is a ‘language’ – a complicated, at some point sophisticated, beautiful language.
A language that its host industry does not speak.
Fluency is probably below 1% of all the people that work in the AEC industry and deal with its information day in and out.

People can and will argue with this assumption.
I am confident that proper scientific studies would reflect similar numbers.
And if I was very wrong in my guess, like tenfold wrong and the number was 10%, that is still terribly low for something that has been trying to take roots for 30 years and is the backbone of a major industry.

One can try being positive, acknowledge that languages historically took millennia to develop, but in this context of a highly digitalised word, the out of synch development of a language of a major industry operating in a global context is a concern.

My gloomy view on BIM’s survival prospects is not universally shared.
May I call them BIM-doom-deniers?

Ask anyone that is personally benefitting from BIM and they’ll tell you everything is going just fine.
Ask others that have managed to stay away from it and depending on their status and position will have similarly rosy-coloured stories to say.
(‘on our last project, we could have not done what we had without BIM, sure it cost a bit’).

BIM is still heralded as something that is ‘the thing to really flourish - soon’ and something everyone knows is important and doing everything to develop it within their own teams/projects/organisations.
And yes, doing their best, and knowing it is important and the future is in BIM and…
you get the picture…

This situation seems to suit everyone in the industry.
It doesn’t and shouldn’t by any logic. But I’d accept it as ‘let it be’ (my time has passed, move on) were it not for the upcoming generations.
The new generation of 20 somethings (and younger) in training or about to enter the AEC, are taught that documenting building is about creating drawings.
Don’t get me wrong, I know they are also encouraged ‘to BIM’ at universities or at least allowed to use various modelling software, but I am yet to come across a programme that will squarely say, ‘forget the drawings (paper based or otherwise – i.e. their digital versions) and figure out a new way to think up/document and share building information’.
Or even if such programs exist and students are let loose to model, render and animate to their heart content, once they enter the industry, they get quickly shown the ‘real’ ropes.

A good modeller will have plenty of opportunities to model, but rule number one is, that the ‘drawings’ are priority, what consultancies get paid for.
(what consents are given on, what building contracts are based on, buildings built from etc etc).

It would be great to be able to state that these two aims are not contradicting, that the drawing is gradually losing its power to the models, after all ‘drawings come from models’, but the sad reality is different.
In fact, what comes out of the process of these ‘in practice BIM’ experiments are very poor drawings and mildly better-but contractually useless models.

And if you think that making BIM models ‘contractual’ will be the answer, think again.
CAD drawings never become universally accepted contractual documents and the risk/liability issues of that ‘language’ are significantly less difficult than what making models ‘real’ would be.

Working for a general contractor I’d consider a challenge put to us from the design consultancies to build exactly what they’d modelled (no drawings or specs) after all isn’t that what they charge principals extra for?
Don’t worry. Not going to happen (unfortunately).

Maybe I should not be worried about the future of new generations, they’ll figure out how to claim their piece of the industry. If the last 30 years are anything to go by, this is not a given.
As scary as it sounds, if we can assume to have a viable AEC industry in 30 years from now, it could still be a similar ‘drawing based mush’ as it is now.

So, BIM is dead, has been, will carry on.
What positive spin can be put on?

If you have missed the boat for BIM, if it has been dead all along, you can carry on working without it.
(make the occasional positive comment to your modeller ‘slaves’ and no one will bother you).

Alternatively, you can rethink the process of Building Information Management and consider it as ‘a story’ disassociated from its medium (the drawing).
A story of ‘an idea’ that goes through many hoops to become a building.

Recognise, that being so badly and deeply conditioned, that the only way to handle building related information is through drawings (AND specs – lots of written specs!) is a weight that can be lifted from the industry.

But if drawing becomes redundant, all of us that associate ourselves with creating/reading/checking/sharing drawings will be also be redundant?
That is an uncomfortable thought for all but the most competent of modellers and is what is paralysing the industry and preventing it of reinventing.

Take the ‘drawing’ out of the process of creating buildings. Eliminate it.
And/or give space for the new generations to do away with the drawings and tell their building stories their way.

The typical response to this motion will be:
‘Ha, they can render and animate these young’uns but do they know how structures work?
How plumbing goes in a bathroom, how to detail a window sill? Nah, no idea’.

You might be right, but you aren’t helping this situation either.
The ‘zombie BIM’ is also encouraging and enabling the status quo.

By pretending progress (we all do BIM!) yet sticking to what is familiar to the oldies we are NOT passing on the industry knowledge to the younger generations bur selfishly holding on to it.

Look at building material giants, what do they do to help this change?
Provide CAD files of their installation details? Revit libraries of their windows? Specification writing apps?
What about mammoth-sized global engineering consultancies? Making hay while the sun is shining they cheaply insource BIM modelling and on-sell mildly useful drawings and specs?

Surely there is an industry wide responsibility to tackle the issue of ‘they can model but don’t know how to put buildings together’ in a better way than parading zombie-BIM examples around endless BIM conferences?

I know. Overwhelming.
Another aspect of our lives that we can’t do much about as individuals.

It is such a clich├ęd saying, that every step in the right direction counts.
Keeping this BIM alive is NOT the right direction.

If you are so keen on drawings, go back to drawings and stay with them but make them work (again).
Yes, they can be created via models, but focus on the drawings and increase the level of literacy (read/write) across the industry. Models are not good if only 1% of the industry can create/modify them (even 10% is too low).

Being such a long post, few will bother to read through it.
Some might not get beyond the title and claim, I am being especially insulting to the good BIMmers of this world that are trying their very best.
Nah, I’m not. I give credit where credit is due.
But if you want to really prove me wrong, go paperfree.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Can one trust a BIM-mer, that is not personally practicing ‘paperfree’?

A provocative question.
Of course, one can.
Why would the good character or even the BIM knowledge of a person be undermined by a paper-notebook and a pen?
Or a stack of A3 drawings?
Or owning bookshelves full of ring binders stuffed with paper?

None of the above should be an embracement to those actively promoting BIM?
Surely, not?
One must keep things in perspective, the industry is in a (forever) transitional stage –
of course paper is needed and allowed for, even in the most sophisticated of operations.

So, why do I feel uneasy to reach for an old-fashioned pen even for the most mundane of tasks?
Am I being overly zealous? Because of my ‘paperfreeconstruction’ movement?
Or a bit hypocritical?
The perfect illustration of the old saying of “people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"?

As recently as a month ago, I had a desk-full of post-it notes alongside my keyboard at work.
I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of multiple note books and kept paper copies of critical documents handy.
I still have a bucket of coloured pens and pencils in front of me as I type this.

Surely using paper is not a capital offence.
Moderate  consumption must be acceptable even in a strong push for digital progress of the AEC industry.
Or, should it?

No, let’s draw the line in the sand! (but not on paper…oh, what a feeble pun)

You BIM? You must be paperfree!
If your title has BIM in it, you ought to go paperfree!

Lead by example.
And the best of all is, that you can start on this journey without big announcements or pledges to make.
Just ditch the paper.
If your date-to-date activities are preventing you to do so, the problem is bigger than the medium.
Start examining those obstructions in detail.
They could be tasks, arcane processes or dealings with particular individuals within your organization.
Regardless, it is likely that you will be able to hit a pretty high percentage mark of paperfree within a month of focused work.

You should try it.
And, if you claim to be any-sort of a BIM professional, you ought to.
For the sake of credibility.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The new trinkets of my paperfree adventure

My 10-year-old nephew Viki communicates with the world through drawings.
His latest masterpiece presents a series of occupations. He is self-thought and copies from various sources, nevertheless the illustrations are uniquely his.
One profession noticeable missing from his line-up, is that of the architect.

The absence of my own ‘calling’ on the drawings reminded me, how in popular representations of the architect, the accessories of the job are still the drawing board and the T square (or parallel square) while I have used neither for over 2 decades.

That though led me to explore my memory for films with architects and I quickly came up with a handful: Liam Neeson in ‘Love Actually’, Pierce Brosnan in ‘Mamma Mia’, Steve Martin in ‘It’s Complicated’ and one of (the very few) women, Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘One Fine Day’.
Then, I searched online and found lots of references to other movies and actors and characters...

But back to me. Naturally.
While I rarely consider myself to be ‘typical’ of anything, I do carry some of the usual characteristic of fifty-something architects, in that, I started off my career on the above-mentioned board with the T and parallel squares and using pencils and pens.
Still, the majority of my career has been spent with a computer mouse in my hand (wired) and tapping at a keyboard.
I kept up with sketching, doodling, scribbling and note-taking, but these latter activities were on paper.

Then, recently I went strictly paper-free.
Joining up the Movement toward paperfreeconstruction, I have committed to do all my work without the use of paper.
Cold turkey, no transition period.

I have been pretty good with the mouse for over two decades, drawing, modelling, manipulating models.
However, I have a way of ‘thinking with my hands’ I was very aware, that I had to find an appropriate digital pencil-pen and become comfortable with using it.

I had two versions to choose from.
The first was an HP pen that accompanied my work HP Elitebook (laptop).
The second, an Apple Pencil that came with an IPad, I inherited from my daughter.

It is early days, and I am getting to know both, but one thing is already obvious, that, there is very limited (or no) compatibility between the various media makes and supporting pens.
The other, that I already have a strong preference for the Apple Pencil if for nothing else, no batteries needed.

I’ll get my nephew to draw me holding an IPad and Apple Pencil, next time I see him.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Same, same but different – My mother is not getting paperfreeconstruction, the concept.

My mother has been a solid supporter of my BIM journey over the last 3 decades. She speaks very little English but has lived with us for long enough and attended enough of my Serbian/Hungarian presentations to get the gist of what I am about.
She has no idea what the ‘BIM’ acronym stands for exactly, but is closely associating it with all my professional ups and downs.
She loyally shares my blog announcements on Facebook and looks over Slideshows, YouTube movies, PP presentations I make. I can say, she is a fan of mine.

Launching the ‘paperfree’ movement, I managed to unsettle her.
She is confused.
Sure, she is happy, that I am again enthusiastic about the BIM-thing, the apathy that was consuming me over the stagnation of its development, worried her.
She is just not following the logic.
Almost thirty years ago, I was first talking about computer modelling of buildings.
I ‘drew’ the first axo chair in AutoCAD 25 years ago and showed it to her.
I documented full houses in 3D ArchiCAD 20 years ago in our design studio, while she looked after our children.
I designed and modelled iconic commercial buildings in Teamwork Architecture when we moved to a bigger town 15 years ago.
I built a business based on super-clever construction modelling some 12 years ago.
I taught how to BIM globally 10 years ago.
I’ve been writing a blog on the topic that is widely read everywhere over the last 5 years.
She could see the technology developing, my ideas maturing, the stakes rising.

And now? My blogposts keep coming up with the same hand-phone logo? And talking about paper?
She is curious, of course.
I tell her this is exciting. It is radical.
What can be more radical that all the ideas I presented over the years, many we pushed through fruition even at high personal price?

She questions, wants to understand.
So I say, this is not really radical.
This is nothing new.
It is the old BIM. The same BIM. The BIM that many have been selling and few doing.
Or not even BIM, at all.

I am just trying to get rid of paper from my working life and am encouraging others to do so.
Just asking people to work paperfree.
Keep doing the same things as always (draw, model, write, read, sketch…) just don’t use the paper.

She understands but remains puzzled.
Same, same – but different?

In time, I will be able to explain to her the logic of going back to basics and eliminating the paper from the processes.
I’ll tell her the theory, that a large portion of the industry, that is by and large ambivalent to BIM-ish changes, I believe would respond to positive development given the push in the right direction.
Rather than ‘forcing’ people through BIM training, modelling courses, even just theoretical seminars,

I’d love to see them ‘just’ go paperfree.

Think before you print! (good for the environment too, but my major objective is different, here).

Can you get by doing everything on a laptop? Or a tablet.
Save to a cloud straight away?
Mark up drawings on screen?
Sort them, check against models?
Is it hard? Why? Is it the tools? Or something else?
Can you get rid of your paper note book?

I’d love to hear what keeps you hanging onto paper?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Bullied by BIM? Fight back! Go paperfree!

Despite BIM having been around for 3+ decades, it is by no means embraced by the global AEC.
There is a thin layer of participants that push the idea for various reasons (usually superficial), and there are people (in a very small minority) that practice it wholeheartedly. (my respect is with them).

And then, there is the rest.
Most of the industry is uneasy about the BIM thing, yet there is rarely meaningful discussion about it. It is kind of un-PC to question it, those that do, get often passive-aggressively BIM shamed.

Many, that have at some point jumped into it with enthusiasm had since pulled back and are holding on the non-BIM approach even stronger. They are usually not very vocal about their disillusionment but manage to get by in their daily work without needing to engage in BIM activities.

Often these are the ‘better’ people of the industry, the ones with more technical experience, insight and risk management skills.

As someone that has a lot of affinity with both those that are BIM enthusiast as well as those that are BIM doubters, I feel entitled to offer up an approach that might just counter the indignity of a ‘BIM laggard label’ and fulfil one’s own need for self-development.

Become a self-sustained paperfreemodule!
Ditch the paper in your work no matter if you are pro-or-against BIM.

I believe, that no real progress in the overall construction industry will happen as long as we have ‘the’ paper present in and around our core processes.
I am referring here to the ‘real paper’, in its physical representation, not documents that ‘look like paper documents’ but can just as well function in purely digital forms (letters, contracts, drawings etc);

I have an issue with the ‘medium’ and not the content.
(in fact, I have many issues with the content as well, but here I am focusing on the ‘medium’).

My reasoning goes like this:
For the AEC to modernise itself, (and in fact any type of BIM to succeed), it needs a critical portion of its participants to fully embrace digital information creation and management.
Most will not do it, because they do not have to.
Most will not do it, as ‘they get by’.

Someone else will find the file.
Someone else will print the drawing. (or create a PDF and then print the PDF)
Someone else will CADup a markup.
Someone else will update the model from sketches.

If we take the ‘paper’ out of the industry and out of reach of the ‘average’, non-BIM-literate participants (engineers, contractors) – they will find themselves ever-slightly out of their comfort zones, having to ‘figure out’ doing usual work with unusual tools.

They will not by miracle all start modelling at once or walk around with VR headsets on sketching construction details in the air.
But they will sketch on tablets. And keep their files in the cloud so they are available on all of their devices.
And learn to use flat PDFs in conjunction with models.
And pay attention to models on screens at meetings.

They will in turn also push the ‘supply chain’ to develop meaningful tools that will support everyone, not just the born-and-bred BIMmers from the beginning of this story.

There is much, much more to this concept than what I’ve just described, but for now, let’s assume that the theory has legs.
Let’s also suppose, that even the best breed of self-proclaimed BIM gurus of the industry are only functioning at half speed when they aren’t strictly paperfree.

I’ll have to digress a bit here.
Many, many, many people of the AEC industry will, heaving read my thoughts above jump up and be dismayed on how ‘out of synch with reality I am’ and how old ‘this news is’.
There are many, many, many successful examples of paperfree processes already in place everywhere, they’d state.

I stand by the theory.
Claimed ‘Paperfree processes’ in the AEC are extremely rarely truly paper free.
(or even ‘somewhat’ paperfree)

Look around and the pesky thing is everywhere.

Ring-binder folders of claims.
Marked up (and outdated) drawings.
Printed (and impossible to read) Programmes.

I am an optimist at heart and I believe this reality can be changed.
I am going fully and absolutely paper free in my own working methods and am inviting others to do the same.

The paperfreeconstruction group on LinkedIn is to support the Movement.
Get involved and you might just find this BIM thing much more palatable.
And the best of all, you don’t even have to announce anything publicly, just start doing it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Why is the absence of paper so important for paperfreeconstruction?

Paperfreeconstruction is a goal, an idea, an ideal to work towards, something to believe in.

The road to it is via building up paperfreemodules, that are self-contained, autonomous and self-sufficient.  

Paperfreemodules can be created at any level within the industry.
A construction site can become a paperfreemodule, an engineering company, a large development or an individual.

I am starting with the individual.

So, what I managed to come is the Manifesto of the Movement.
I do know the ‘why’s too, just find it harder to put it into one sentence.
Am working on it;

In the meantime, if you have 1.5 hours free time look at this youtube video:
This slideshow might add a bit more food for thought:

And of course,… there are 8 years of blog posts here that one way or other lead to the same thing: paperfreeconstruction

Join the freshly set up group on LinkedIn!