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Avoiding Ugly Messes

I recently attended the usergroup for another BIM software. And I’m damn proud of our local ArchiCAD usergroup. Our mailing list is about a 1/6th the size of theirs, but they only had about double our usual turn out. Good for us! My favorite comment from the evening was “If you lose your job as a [other BIM software] technician, you can get a job as a database programmer!” What? Huh? Okay. I get the point. BIM is a giant database. The model is just one view of that. The 2D drawings another. The sheets a third. Ad nauseam. I agree and use this argument often. I’ll belabor that point in the future. I’m sure. But but. Technician? Database programmer? BIM should liberate us from the constraints of our old ways for the better. Hey, Mr. Kahn, why design with a pencil when you can use a spreadsheet!!! That’s going to get a lot of converts. How about a tool which will help you understand your designs and execute them better. A tool that might be harder to learn at first, but will help younger staff catch problems and ask more intelligent questions. That’s starting to sound a little better.

One of my coworkers at SALA Architects, Katherine Hillbrand, made a great comment to me while we were working on a new ArchiCAD model. I was showing her how the relationship of a 2×6 wall to the timber truss below it was going to be critical to the location of many doors, windows, roofs, etc., throughout the project. She referred to one of her favorite expressions–The Knots of Architecture.  In BIM-speak we might call this clash detection (though Navisworks-style clash detection wouldn’t recognize this type of issue). It’s those moments where competing forces throughout the design collide into ugly messes. Traditionally, we often find these moments at the end instead of the beginning of the design process. In which case we’re working ourselves out of the jam while trying to not throw the rest of the project into chaos. Fortunately for us, the model was being built from the top down (we first laid out the foundation, then jumped to the complicated roof, which will be discussed in future posts). So as I built the house, this critical Knot showed up. Not from a giant schedule showing all the door hardware or occupancy loads. Not from having all the windows synced to some higher order. Nor from an automated clash detection (all important in its own right). But from accurately modeling the components, understanding how they interact, and keeping an eye on the larger context. ArchiCAD helping us think. It wouldn’t have ruined the project if we’d missed this, but because we caught this early we can thus design a nice holistic solution. BIM is helping us be better architects, not just preparing us for a second career in database immersion.

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