Thursday, April 25, 2013


Well not exactly, but a fair bit of travelling coming up.

Tomorrow morning I get on a plane to London and by middle of next week I will be at BIM show live.   If you are going to be there, please come up and say hello.  I'm the overweight old codger with the long grey hair.

On the second day (May Day, when the red flags fly over town halls in South Yorkshire ... they always used to anyway)  I will be expounding my current pet theory that BIM should be placed firmly in the noble tradition of visual thinking.  I like to draw, always have, and BIM (Revit in my case) has become my "pencil of choice".  To use drawing as a thinking tool, you don't have to be artistic.  It helps sometimes, but lots of artistically challenged people have made intellectual breakthroughs by constructing diagrams.  I came across this one recently & it's my current favourite.

The "artist" here is non other than Charles Darwin, and he was working out his ideas about how different species are related.  What I especially love about it is the scrawled "I think ..."  In effect he is "thinking aloud" - piecing together a rather scratchy diagram in order to firm up his thoughts.  I'm sure this will also provide some inspiration for the next pumpkin extravaganza.  Families /Species /Evolution /DNA/ ... why not ?

I get back to Dubai for just long enough to do some laundry, then it's off to New Zealand for RTC.  Really looking forward to that one.  Also spending some time with my sister in Auckland.  I will be in Kiwi Land for almost 3 weeks, so once again, if anyone wants to hang out, grab a coffee or whatever during that period it would be a pleasure to trade stories with BIM-minded persons.

I have two presentations at RTC.  The first one overlaps a bit with the London one, but more specifically Revit oriented.  Also a bit of a closer look at my pumpkins work.  The second one is a bit ambitious & has absorbed a lot of my time, but it's something I really wanted to do.  In a way this is also an extension of the same idea, using BIM as a thinking tool ... but in this case striving for a deeper understand of our architectural heritage.

Fascism is a dirty word today, but to a young Italian architect in 1934, fascio carried it's original meaning of "group" and stood for unity, transparency, hope for a better future after the great depression.  All this inspired him to create a building that has fascinated many students of architecture for almost 80 years now.  Italian rationalism at its best.

When it comes to the Gherkin, it's been less about a really detailed study of the finished article and more about "how would you create a really flexible parametric family to explore a range of forms somewhat similar to St Mare Axe ?"  There are many possible approaches and I've explore a few as well as delving deeper into the workings of the diagrid structure & the rotated floor plates that I posted about in November 2011.

Lever House has also been eating up my weekends, a fascinating building for a company with a very long history of trying to operate in a responsible way & take care of it's workers.  The original founder of the company called it "prosperity sharing", these days people talk in terms of "sustainable business models".  By pure coincidence my youngest son just published his first blog post on this very topic including a discussion of current Unilever policies.  Way to go Tom !

Here's an old advert showcasing Lever Bros longstanding concern for public health (with a bit of profit on the side)  Turn your nose up if you like, but any company that wants to make a serious contribution to creating a better world has to turn a profit ... that's one side of the sustainability coin.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


At GAJ we are in the process of pushing the use of BIM back into concept design stage.  If you were to break our BIM journey down into phases, it might go like this.
Phase 1 = fighting to establish a core group of users.
Phase 2 = broadening the base.
Phase 3 = confirming BIM as the dominant process for documentation.
Phase 4 = what we are doing now, ie proving that BIM can be used earlier on in the design process.

Each phase has involved improvements to our content library.  So what do you want from a family that is optimised for early design work ?  It should look good.  It should be simple & flexible, user-friendly, etc etc.  This post is about entourage.  You can use the out-of-the-box RPC people if you like, but maybe you would prefer something more abstract.

This is not a new idea.  "Flat People" are common in the skp world that so many early-bird designers inhabit.  It's not very hard to create this kind of content in Revit, especially if you have an existing library of CAD persons.  You are looking to create a very thin extrusion.

You can drag CAD blocks into family editor and they will then exist in 3d space.  If you set the work plane to a vertical surface (or reference plane) they will stand up nicely for you.  If you are lucky, you can tab-select around the edge in a single click.  Sadly CAD people were rarely drawn so meticulously, meaning a bit more effort to pick lines & trim the joins.

One accidental spin-off for me was the realisation that I could leave the CAD file in there and add a visibility control (as an instance parameter perhaps ?).  You could also set it to be only visible at fine scale.

I spent an afternoon making 15 of these families recently.  Maybe 10 minutes each.  And once you have them, the whole office can benefit.  In fact if another 10 Revit addicts were to follow my lead and contribute half a day to the common pool, we could give the whole world a very valuable resource.

So in that spirit, you can download my little collection of Flat People from HERE


And I will follow up with a promise.  If 2 more people do the same and point me to a download that they are willing to share with the whole world (or at least everyone who reads my blog) I will spend another afternoon creating 15 more flat people and upload them for free download.

Any volunteers ?

Monday, April 1, 2013


I just want to share some of the Revit-based work that has been coming out of our office recently.  At GAJ we have been using Revit since release 7, installing our first copies 8 years ago.  The journey has been quite challenging, with more than a few twists & turns, but over the past couple of years BIM has become the dominant methodology in the office.

The images are taken from 3 quite different projects.  One is an art gallery which re-interprets a heritage area in a modern manner.  Construction drawings were done using Revit, and the project is now on complete and ready for occupation.  This is a type of work for which we are well known in the region.

There is a perception that Revit is a documentation tool & other softwares are more effective during the early phases of the design process.  Wise warriors choose their battles, so I kept my protests down to a token mumble.  The first priority was to build a strong core of experienced users.

Of late though we have been using Revit much earlier in the process & the second project here is a competition submission put together in a few days by a small team.  This work has made quite a splash in the office and has gone a long way towards convincing the remaining sceptics.

The third project is the only one where I was directly involved.  It's more of a bread & butter project: a concept design report for a complex of 9 buildings produced by a small team working under a tight programme.  The client has already remarked that he is impressed with the amount & quality of work produced.

We used a couple of techniques here that I will discuss in a separate post: attempts to use BIM in a "diagrammatic" mode.  This allowed us to resolve basic space-planning issues before embarking full-blown BIM, using  "real building elements" (walls, doors, rooms)  But what I want to show here is just the end product.

We were able to show that Revit can produce attractive imagery, appropriate to the stage of work & effective in it's ability to convey our design intent to the client.

Along the way I also revisited our furniture library & produced some simple, "generic" families that help to keep the presentation style clean & focussed.  We don't want to distract the client with irrelevant detail.  That's one of the reasons that architects go for a minimalistic style of drawing.

Far too often BIM looks clunky because users haven't figured out how to achieve that lean & hungry look.  That's what we were aiming at here, and I think we have made good progress.  But at the same time (and with very little extra effort) the appendix to the report is packed with conventional drawing sheets: fully coordinated plans, elevations & sections that match the simper representation shown earlier.