It seems as though the Architecture, Engineering & Construction industries (AEC) have been traversing through a revolutionary period of innovation and technology over the past few years. New products and concepts have been introduced that have the industry overturning centuries old drawing practices and institutionally established standards.
A famous architect was fascinated with this transforming phenomenon and once made the observation:
“In every field of industry, new problems have presented themselves and new tools have been created capable of resolving them. If this new fact be set against the past, then you have revolution.” 1
This famous architect was Le Corbusier, who wrote many of his observations in his book, Towards a New Architecture, published in 1917. He was amazed at how the world was transforming itself through the industrial revolution and into the 20th century.
We are now proceeding into the 21st century with that same sense of transforming revolution. It seems as though the rate of change in the last few decades due to invention and innovation has been exponential and that change is so rapid that new products supersede previous designs rendering them obsolete before the shrink wrap packaging is removed. In reality this transformation has been with us as an evolution over a long period of time.
Back in 1917, the visionary Swiss Architect Le Corbusier was awestruck by the rapid innovations and influences he saw in his day with the advent of the airplane, the automobile, and the steamship. He commented on the technological expansion that was just in its infancy and attributed this spur of innovation to the burgeoning aerospace industry when he said:
“The Airplane is indubitably one of the products of the most intense selection in the range of modern industry. The War was an insatiable ‘client,’ never satisfied, always demanding better. The orders were to succeed at all costs and death followed a mistake remorselessly. We may then affirm that the airplane mobilized invention, intelligence and daring imagination and cold reason.”
One of the most revolutionary tools that has contributed in changing the shape of this world was developed in the aerospace industry during the 1970s and is a combination of many previous innovations. It was called Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM).
In the late 1980s, under competitive economic pressures and market demands, the automobile industry recognized the advantages in using this technology to design and manufacture its products and quickly implemented CAD/CAM. The quality of design in the American automobile increased while the design cycle went from an average of seven years down to approximately three. Along with the automobile industry, the consumer products industry saw the benefits as well and redefined their processes with CAD/CAM producing products with a greater efficiency and a higher quality, resulting in a quicker time to market and at a lower cost.
The architectural industry is driven by artistic and esthetic demands. The greatest pressure in this industry has been its own self-imposed tradition to resisting innovation in its processes. Chastising his own profession for not taking advantage of the tools of innovation, Le Corbusier said,:
“There is one profession and only one, namely architecture, in which progress is not considered necessary. Architecture is stifled by custom.” 1
I believe architecture has arrived at that same juncture in innovation. 3D modeling now enjoys a wave of acceptance as a necessary tool in the workflow process. A number of software developers are vying for market share by selling their unique approach and defining a new process. In the beginning of this frenzy, some of the software development companies tried to differentiate themselves by claiming they had exclusive features or functions in comparison to their competitors.
A predominate architectural software developer, AutoDesk, purchased from the developers of ProEngineer a program called Revit (Revise It). AutoDesk began a marketing campaign claiming Revit had distinctive functionality that allowed for adding textual information to the model that was associated to the geometry. This function is similar to an associated Bill of Material, a schedule or attributes that were standard practice in other industries since the 1960s called Material Requirements Planning or MRP. Even though this capability and concept has been around for decades, and other vendors such as ArchiCAD, Microstation, and CATIA already had similar capabilities, a term was coined by AutoDesk called Building Information Modeling or BIM. It became a bandwagon standard for the industry. To stay competitive, all other program vendors by necessity had to jump on this bandwagon and claim they too had BIM capability. BIM not only became a fevered marketing pitch, but also a whole new acronym that has appeared to become the standard bearer for a new architectural process. BIM was an acronym that was created without a clear definition. Although BIM is evolving and over time will becoming more clearly defined, the industry has debated its concept in articles and in blogs trying to come to terms with what it really means.
The government’s General Services Administration (GSA) recognized that BIM was an emerging concept and needed to define standards for its usage on its projects. A BIM guide released by the GSA’s Chief Architect’s office states:
“3D, 4D, and BIM technologies represent three separate, but synergistic, ways in which computer technologies can aid GSA to manage its facilities throughout a project’s lifecycle. 3D geometric models are the geometric representation of building components and typically serve as an aid for visualization and design/construction coordination. 4D models (3D + time) include information that can inform and analyze project phasing, tenant sequencing, and construction scheduling. Building Information Models (BIMs) include not only 3D geometric models (and, therefore are capable of directly generating 2D and 3D drawings), but also more specific information on a wide range of building elements and systems associated with a building (e.g., wall types, spaces, air handling units, geospatial information, and circulation zones)." 2
Because an architectural design and construction project requires more than just Building Models with Information, we introduced the concept that includes and encompasses BIM:
Continued in Blog Part 2 - Its all about the Process 2
1 Le Corbusier, “The Engineer’s Aesthetic and Architecture,” Towards A New Architecture, trans. from the French by Frederick Etchells, Holt Rinehart, and Winston, New York, N.Y., 1976, p. 13