ArchiCAD Insights: The Evolution of Now

15 Dec, 2005 By: F. Rutson Fuqua Cadalyst

Technology and architecture have evolved together to the benefit of all.

Revelations from a meeting I attended at the Graphisoft Park in Budapest, Hungary (figure 1) caused me to reflect on the dramatic changes that have occurred in construction and architecture since the time that I started building homes in 1973.

Figure 1. Graphisoft Park in Budapest, Hungary.

Architecture in 1973
In my last semester at Trinity University, I took a course called Computer Application of Behavioral Science. Little did I know that this APL computer course would shape the way that I would approach building for the next 32 years. In 1973 computers were as big as houses and so was the cost. When I started building, I immediately bought my first computer, a Texas Instruments programmable calculator. Input was by keyboard or magnetic strips that held data and programs. These strips held 4kbB, and the machine had a maximum memory of 32kb. I programmed the TI to track expenses relative to cost estimates for my houses. In 1973 I drew construction details on a drafting machine. Home designs were ranch style, and the first house that I built sold for $16 per square foot.

Royal introduced the first digital calculator in 1973 that cost $98 and could only add, subtract, multiply and divide. Vendor invoices were calculated by hand. Architecture was still done via pencil and paper. Information was transferred by traditional mail. Transportation was either slow or expensive.

Few people knew what loomed on the horizon in 1973 when Gary Kildall wrote a program called CP/M (Control Program/Microcomputer) that enabled read and write capabilities to a floppy disk. Nothing has been the same since. In 1977, I replaced my TI with an IBM Series/1 minicomputer that was by no means mini; it was 6' tall, 2' wide and 2' deep. The programming language was EDL. When I took delivery of this beast, the only programs on it were utility programs for file management and programming. I hired a consultant to write a program for accounting, and I wrote programs for everything from scheduling and estimating to cost analysis and word processing.

My ability to properly handle costing numbers gave my customers a high level of confidence, which set my building business apart from the masses. My IBM was cool stuff, but I sensed that it was only the beginning. I made numerous programming attempts on the IBM to create assemblies of construction types to automate estimating, but the progress was tedious and quantification was still a manual procedure from blueprints to hand entry into the computer.

Advances in Just 10 Years
In 1983 a friend told me that he saw a program that would allow you to draw with the computer. So, I immediately bought a Compaq computer, Lotus 123, Word Perfect and AutoCAD. I continued to use my IBM for accounting and estimating, and I also began to use AutoCAD to export block attributes to spreadsheets.

The Internet Age
In 1995 I started to use the Internet so I could efficiently build three pairs of solid brass French doors for a project (figure 2). I e-mailed shop drawings to a manufacturer in New York to extrude brass parts that were then assembled by a master clockmaker in New Mexico. Technology had begun to become a part of the information communication process, saving time and reducing cost.

Figure 2. The Internet helped transform these brass French doors from blueprints to reality.

BIM for Today
Technology affects our industry today at an accelerating rate because of immediate global communication and global awareness. Proof of this is in my October 2005 trip to Graphisoft headquarters in Budapest. I met other industry professionals from the UK, Canada, Holland, Finland and the United States -- all of whom were using and advocating BIM (building information modeling) methodology.

These professionals reinforced my idea that architects, in general, suffer from technophobia, which is greatly contributing to their diminishing role in projects. Project managers, once unknown, are now filling gaps for wary clients. Design-build companies are becoming plentiful. 3D modelers are becoming a new force. All participants in Budapest agreed that BIM provides professional indemnification against litigation. The drawings are proven through simulation before they are tried on the project itself. 3D modeling makes the architect deal with the hard spots. Defining and proving the difficult areas through modeling eliminates the contingencies added by contractors for the unknown and undefined.

In BIM, a 3D model of reinforcing steel is used as shop drawings as well as for quantification and for clarity of purpose (figure 3). The quantity produced from the building model is 100% accurate, which is unlikely with simple 2D drawings.

Figure 3. A BIM example.

BIM's Impact on Tomorrow
BIM is globally here NOW. So, what is the future?

I foresee that banks will offer preferential rates for projects developed via BIM. Why? Banks prefer to loan money on collateral instead of unknowingly loaning money for couches, drapes and contingencies. I also foresee that insurance companies will offer preferential rates for projects with BIM for the same reasons as banks, plus the benefits derived from having a model to reduce their expenses to settle claims.

In the New Orleans hurricane disaster, for example, insurance companies have paid adjusters 25% of the actual loss in some cases. If the insurance companies had a model, all they would have to do is update prices for the known quantities that exist in the model, and the model would produce quicker settlements based on actual numbers. In large disputed claims, insurance companies spend millions to quantify and prove their position; BIM will provide a solution that is exact for all involved.

BIM eliminates the shades of gray.

About the Author: F. Rutson Fuqua

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