Thursday, April 18, 2013

What drives what…BIM as an enabler?

One very much-liked claim of BIM promoters is that BIM enables designing architects to be better at what they do.
Like the good old ‘Red bull’ ad, they imply ‘it gives you wings’, ‘unleashes the creativity from within’, lets you fly freely without the constrains of the drawing, paper based or digital!

They often use Frank Gehry, the poster boy of the ‘brilliantly creative’ as an example of someone that made those whimsical, awkwardly beautiful buildings he is famous for, purely thanks to BIM.
I find this interesting, having watched a documentary on Gehry numerous times.
For me, despite of all the wizardly around him, he looked most comfortable working with pieces of shiny paper and folded-up cardboard.  
And possibly ‘in his mind’, like many truly good architects have done for centuries and probably still do.

But, let’s put Gehry and other ‘iconic’ architects aside and look at the ones closer to home.
I’ve been involved with a project for a year now that had ‘obviously’ been designed using a digital model.
Not a bad thing on its own, had the designers taken the model ‘all the way’ and ensured full coordination between various disciplines and documents. They did not do this – an issue and its consequences I will not discuss here, for obvious reasons.

There is however a question I have been asking myself while looking at the ‘ins and outs’ of the project that has ‘public good’ relevance:
Have the architects been ‘using’ the capabilities of the digital modelling tool to enable them to come up with the ‘weird and wonderful’ or has the model instead been driving them and the design into some risky areas normally they would not go to?

Next, the follow-on, more generic questions:
Can the ease of making credible looking models of yet-to-be-built buildings distract designers from doing proper due diligence on constructability?
Can the way models behave possibly encourage unconscious complexity of forms going well beyond practical?
Are the models really able to tempt, lure, and seduce the designers into dangerous territories?

Make them use angles, twists, curves and steps when cleaner, simpler, straighter would do the same or make it better?
I know, this line of thought could lead to opening the ‘can of worms’ about  design styles, aesthetics, client preferences etc…
But, it is not my objective to stir up that dust-cloud just now –

I am genuinely interested by the relationship between the toolset-the user- the end design.

Another example:
I can use it a bit more freely since it is public and with pictures on the net, although not yet constructed.
There is an amazingly ambitious roof-shell designed for ‘a’ villa on an artificial island that is definitely a collaborative brainchild of a creative (young?) designer and a faceless surface modeller.
For a bit of fun (again without questioning beauty or appropriateness of the design) I looked at the scale of the thing and made a mental collection of question of buildability.
To give a good understanding of the true size of the structure – I placed a car and a person alongside.
And for those that like citing manufacturing as the example to follow with AEC processes, I enlarged the V-Dub 7.5 times to fit under the shroud.
Idealist BIM-mers will tell me to stop being so negative and let ‘designers push the boundaries of their imagination’ with whatever tools they wish, as only then will true masterpieces happen and BIM tools reach their rightful potential .

A bit like an ambulance driver that has seen too many sad results of irresponsible speeding, I can only repeat what I said numerous times before:
BIM is as much a weapon as it is a tool.  Potent and dangerous.
Handle it carefully and with respect.

Sketches of Frank Gehry is a 2006 American documentary film directed by Sydney Pollack and produced by Ultan Guilfoyle, about the life and work of the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Disrupting Evolution and The Tortoise and the Hare

So often was I told to be ‘ahead of my time’ over the last 20 years, I almost got to believe in it myself.
The flattering concept certainly helped me keep on fighting the ‘war’ that did not seem to progress into spitting out clear winners and losers, just ‘second bests’ on both sides.
This idealistic image of a revolutionary fighter must have blinded me to the fact that the other side really could not care less about my theories, especially not while they were set to make as much ‘hay’ as they possibly could, since the sun was shining upon them.

Must have reached a new level of maturity in my life, as I now clearly see that what I was practicing then (and am still now) was not ‘revolutionary’ but a desperate attempt to keep ‘evolution’ on track.

An evolution, that would have helped an industry, mature and well-developed over a long history make good use emerging new tools to become more productive and better performing across the board, had it had the chance.

For a long time the industry had been split into two groups: those that consider themselves to be pro BIM practitioners – a tiny minority, and those that act at best BIM neutral – (read: could not give a toss if it is 2D/4D-25D) – a large majority.

I used to define this phenomenon of the industry tearing up along the line of BIM as ‘it does not pay to do a good job when the industry plays along gambling rules’.
Still, for quite a while I had not quite recognise just what an uneven fight this really was, of pro-evolution BIM-mers against the majority set to disrupt the process and retain the bizarre, non-sustainable status quo that bread shoddy work practices and short term gains.

At the end, curiously enough, it was the ‘other side’ that clarified to me, what was going on.

Suddenly, and almost overnight – many of those non-BIM-believers that managed to repeatedly shrug off everything BIM, without getting penalized in any way, realised that the ‘wind had changed’ blowing some clouds in front of the ‘sun’ that was so generously warming them for such a long time.

Still, they could not just turn around and say – ‘hey, you BIM (VC and the like) guys, you were right all these years’… no, they could not, of course.
They could also not admit to letting an entire industry erode to the levels of (technically) skill-less manipulators and knowingly be party to it turning into a speculators controlled circus.
How could they?

Instead, they had to swiftly find a ‘revolutionary idea’ that would fix all the problems now bubbling up:
A badly performing, sluggish industry.
The no longer easy to hide image of anti-innovation management.
A fragmented and hostile workforce.
A bleak looking balance sheet.
 A disinterested young generation and resulting difficulties in finding new supplies of ‘doers’.

Luckily for them, they did not have to look far and long – there it was: BIM!
So cool and innovative, so green and LEED, so OM and FM so IPD and lean!   

Sure guys, go for it!
I’ll keep grinding at my slow-evolutionary pace….