Building Design

The World According to BIM, Part 1

4 Feb, 2009 By: Pete Zyskowski

BIM is bringing new changes to the workplace in terms of whom we hire, how we mentor, and how we share data among the parties involved.

If only one book were to be written about BIM, it might have "DON'T PANIC" printed in large uppercase letters on the front cover. What I am somewhat humorously suggesting is that you will need a level head to enter the next few phases of a BIM implementation. In my article, "Brave New BIM", I touched on some of the practical things you need to think about as you prepare for a transition to building information modeling. This second piece will focus on the less tangible -- but just as important -- changes that BIM is creating in the workplace and in corporate relationships.p> BIM is not CAD. BIM was never meant to be CAD. CAD is a replacement for pen and paper, a documentation tool. By comparison, BIM programs are design applications in which the documentation flows from and is a derivative of the process, from schematic design to construction to facility management.

During one of my early demos of Revit to a large audience, a person asked, "What does this mean for our drafters?" What this person was referring to was a comment I had made about how BIM applications will reward those individuals who actually know how to put a building together. The unfortunate answer could be that with BIM, your drafters will probably be relegated to more menial jobs or translating your detail libraries from your CAD application into your BIM application. I don't like this answer, however. Instead, my actual response to his question revolved around the idea that BIM can be a catalyst for pushing your firm toward a broader understanding of architecture. In other words, it provides an opportunity to teach your drafters, allowing them to grow in their profession while also enabling your firm to advance its technical superiority. Whom Should We Hire?
To be honest, I was surprised that this person's firm was still using drafters. The firms that I or my colleagues have worked for during our careers were almost always consistently looking for the next generation of project managers and eventually, the next generation of architects. They wanted people who had been through a five-year or master's program at an accredited college. But the more I thought about this person's question, the more the similarities between having a drafter and an intern became apparent. Whether your firm has drafters or interns, you still have two major factions: the people who know how to build and the people who simply know how to use the programs. Obviously, this is a gross generalization, but it is one that I have seen over and over in the many firms in which I have helped to implement new BIM applications. These applications are now being taught as early as high school with simplified instruction, and instructors do have some experience in the AEC world. However, I find that they are often still lacking a true understanding of what the design processes are and how buildings really get built and what is behind it all. In other words, what is not being taught is architecture. Schools should, and typically do, impress on their students the relationships of structure to enclosure, spatial concepts and intent, materiality, and working simultaneously at multiple scales -- all things we are confronted with in BIM. Couple this traditional training with the multitude of digital applications to which students are being exposed and it becomes apparent that the industry is receiving a fairly savvy group of young designers with plentiful skills but sometimes little to no practical knowledge. You might think this trend doesn't really sound all that different from the way things are regarding CAD applications, but because construction methodologies are so intrinsically linked with creating a model, it is different. Am I saying that we shouldn't hire young up-and-comers? Absolutely not; we need them. What the profession has to do is live up to the ideology it espouses. We are supposed to be mentoring the next generation, which means that we are going to have to actually talk to each other. In the classes that I teach I am always reiterating how much more communication has to happen when working in a BIM workflow, not just between the designers and consultants, but also internally inside the firm. This is where an extension of education and training begins. Identifying the Best Personnel
The old guard used to be able to look at a drawing and hit it with a red marker with comments like "thicken this line" or "change this note to…" And although there is still some ability to make straightforward redlines like these, more and more often they need to be translated by someone who understands that to thicken that line, one really needs to look into the style of the object in question and modify it there. Or, that simple note change actually requires us to dig into some parameter held within the material in order to update that note across the entire set. Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, not all personnel will readily understand that the note is changing because the spec states it, and that the material embedded inside that slab type really is "hot mop applied asphaltic membrane." I have long held the belief that the next generation of project managers and architects will need to know BIM or CAD applications as well as they know the waterproofing details and building codes. So, the short answer to the question of "whom do we hire?" is simply to hire potential. Hire someone you would want to spend time talking with and teaching. If that person is a drafter, he should have the potential to become an architectural technologist or project manager. If she is an intern, she should have the potential to become a well-rounded architect who understands her tools and her professional duty. As a result of the investment made in these personnel, your firm will then have the potential to become an efficient, profitable, and effective collective of knowledgeable individuals. The importance of identifying potential within your prospective new hires and then mentoring them appropriately cannot be understated. But as part of this, you should also identify seasoned CAD-centric users who have accumulated a wealth of real-world building knowledge. These people may initially be skeptical of the burgeoning BIM paradigm, but they should have an underlying desire to embrace it. They will, of course, require training and mentoring in the BIM application, not only from a purely software perspective but also in ways that the application can be efficiently employed relative to their accumulated knowledge. In short, these individuals will require a bit more finesse to help them find their way into BIM, but they can be invaluable additions to any staff as they already recognize many of the demands and nuances of a project. This is not simply with regard to documentation, but also relating to the need for communication and coordination among the varied parties both internal and external to the organization. In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss the communication that should take place among the various parties involved in a project and how data sharing should be approached.

About the Author: Pete Zyskowski

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