Fragments of ochre found at Blombos Cave suggest
that drawing is almost as old as our species, Homo Sapiens. A thin sprinkling of both two and three
dimensional works spans the archaeological record since then. Among the most
famous are the lion man carving and the remarkable cave paintings of Altamira and
Chauvet. Visual thinking is deeply embedded in the collective subconscious.
Architecture is also very ancient. We
could trace it to mammoth bone huts from the depths of the last ice age, but it
is more conventional to start with the emergence of urban life in the Middle
East some 7000 years ago. We don’t know what drawing techniques the architects
of the White Temple of Uruk used, but we can trace the trace the growth of
geometry from ancient Iraq and Egypt to Greece and Rome. Vitruvius gives us our first detailed
account of the skills and knowledge an architect should have and his work was
closely studied by architects of the Italian Renaissance who also benefited
from ancient knowledge transmitted via the Islamic world.
Brunelleschi and Alberti were two such
architects who played a key role in the development of perspective drawing around
1400. This can be seen as a major
breakthrough in drawing technology based on innovation in both hardware &
software. The concepts of a horizon line
and vanishing points lie clearly in the software realm, but drawings by Durer
and others show a variety of ingenious physical devices that were used during
the unravelling of these mysteries.
Many of these historical giants were also
sculptors, and physical models have long been part of the design process. In fact the distinction between drawings
& models is a false one. Energy
models, financial models and freehand sketches are all simplifications that
help us to focus on key issues. We deal
in abstractions. We capture ideas in
diagrams that isolate some aspect of reality and allow us to see design
problems more clearly. If you study the
concept sketches of famous architects you will detect a remarkable facility for
condensing a complex array of information into a single image. This ability to organise information and to
'see the wood from the trees' is perhaps the key skill of the architect.
the eighteenth century, a group of French Mathematicians unlocked the secrets
of descriptive geometry enabling the techniques we now know as orthographic
projection. The current mania for '3D'
has blinded us to the importance of this breakthrough. Reflect for a moment. Our cities can be built, our projects
tendered & priced, because of the use of orthographic projection: a fully
dimensioned set of plans elevations & sections. The real breakthrough of Building Information
Modelling (BIM) is that it combines the
virtues of a 3d model with the explanatory power of orthographic. Once again it is a question of condensing
vast complexity into a single 'diagram'.
The last century or so has seen many advances in
drawing technology: blueprints, parallel motion machines, tracing paper,
drafting pens, photography, letraset, Xerox.
Architects have always been split in their reaction to these
innovations. Some have seen the dangers
of becoming distracted from their essential purpose by slavish devotion to
gadgetry. Others have grasped the new
potential enthusiastically. It might be
helpful to examine the role of photography in Fine Art. Initially there was controversy, heated
debate, experiment, uncertainty.
Ultimately the fuss has died down and photography has become another
tool like a pencil or a palette knife.
You can use it to create fine art.
You can use it in a purely pragmatic way. You can use it to create the most dismal
rubbish imaginable. It all depends on
the power of the ideas you have and your ability to use tools as a natural
extension of your hands, eyes and brain.
And so we come to BIM. I have skipped over CAD which I regard as a
false start, a fleeting detour along our journey. BIM is a much more architectural way of thinking
and working. It is holistic, volumetric,
integrated, dynamic. There is a danger
that it will become bogged down in the blinkered thinking of 'business speak'. Far too many magazine articles about BIM fall
into this trap. You hear lots about
“Return on Investment”, “Change Order Management” and similar technocratic
terms. But the potential is there to
transform our industry, if only we can find our proper roles within the
emerging digital world.
at GAJ, we began our BIM journey in earnest around 8 years ago. From the start, our motivation was
simple. It was a new and better way of
drawing. We had found ourselves living
in an increasingly fragmented workspace, using multiple computer programmes to
deliver our designs. The multi-tasking
environment of Windows 95 had made this possible, but it did not solve the
coordination dilemma. Someone spends 3
days constructing a section through the site, passes it to a second person to
beautify in Photoshop , then as this work nears completion a third person moves
everything around on the site plan.
make late changes, you might say (especially if you are an engineer) but change
is the essence of the iterative design process.
We make these drawings, abstractions, models of reality, in order to see
the design problem more clearly. We
pause and reflect; internalise the working process of the past week; see
through the mist to a much simpler solution.
We suffer frustration with clients who suddenly change their minds when
half way through detailed design. But
isn't this part of the same phenomenon?
You can't firm up on a budget without building a financial model. You can't make clear decisions about the
building you want until you see it taking shape. Everything is inter-related. Enter the “single building model.”
is a well-known diagram for the adoption of new processes. It describes a roller-coaster ride through
excitement and disillusion before emerging on the “plateau of productivity”. You cannot reach that plateau unless you
board the BIM bus. No pain, no
gain. For us it was a rather lonely bus
ride for the first few years. We were
among the early adopters in the Middle East and it was difficult to find
sub-consultants willing to commit. Perhaps
you are familiar with the arguments. “Yes we have the software, but we are short
of operators, maybe next time” or “the programme is too tight on this project.” And so on.
now we are entering the collaboration phase in a big way. Engineers have got the message and Quantity
Surveyors are starting to bite. Clients
have become aware, but may lack the experience to make realistic judgements
about what BIM can deliver at this stage of the game. Contractors are mostly out of the loop, but
some have grasped the potential of BIM, especially for large, complex projects
with the potential for thousands of clashes.
Suppliers and manufacturers are often totally unaware of what BIM means
but we need them on the bus too. The
next few years are going to be very interesting. We could learn a good deal from the UK, where
the right kind of government intervention is persuading all sectors of the industry
to engage in the process of developing collaborative digital processes.
Godwin Austen Johnson we are fully committed to BIM. It is, quite simply, a better way of
drawing. We have used BIM processes in
dozens of projects ranging from master planning to single villas, traditional
resorts to modern apartment blocks. But
BIM means collaboration and we are acutely aware that the full benefits to
clients and end users will only come when the industry as a whole has embraced
BIM wholeheartedly and invested the time and energy in making it work. That's an exciting future, and we aim to be
part of it.
East is still very much in love with the dream of progress: bigger, faster,
more iconic. BIM is seen as a
management tool for streamlining processes, giving a competitive edge. Nothing wrong with that, but perhaps we need
to look a little further. Architects are
generalists. Our role is to manage teams
of specialists, to coordinate their work while keeping an eye on the bigger
picture and managing the expectations of clients. We are trained to think out of the box, to
redefine problems, to distinguish the wood from the trees. We are also trained to consider the best
interests of society at large. This is
at the heart of the professional ethos which architects still embrace despite
the pressures of commercialisation.
Recently I have been
reading a book by William Rosen on the history of steam power. He talks about the role of visual thinking in
science & technology. “Any inventor's
moments of insight ... are primarily visual.
Pyramids, cathedrals and rockets exist not because of geometry, theory
of structures or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture ...
technology has a significant intellectual component that is both nonscientific
and nonliterary.” He goes on to suggest
that the inventor’s insights are not just visual, but also tactile. Leonardo's hands were as important as his
eyes. "the beginning of the eighteenth
century (brought) an unprecedented enthusiasm for scale models"
Drawing is a most
remarkable activity. Somehow, hand, eye
and brain come together in a seamless process of creation and
communication. In a social context it
has immense power. Think of a group of
people sitting around a table with sheets of tracing paper, cycling through
design possibilities. What is the BIM
equivalent of this kind of rapid brainstorming?
Drawing helped to initiate the technological chain reaction that we call
the industrial revolution, to create a society based on growth and innovation. This has brought many benefits and
improvements to human society, but in recent years we have also begun to see
that continuous growth and change cannot be sustained indefinitely. Are we caught in what is sometimes called a
“progress trap?” If so, how can we
escape? Can we design our way out? Can the new drawing technologies that are
currently emerging help us to see past the current progress trap, to visualise
a more sustainable world?
One of the key ideas in the
debate about responsible business practices is engagement. How do we help clients become more engaged in
the design process? Would it help if,
instead of standing back and asking us to achieve the impossible, they
participated in hands-on design workshops where ideas can be transformed into
walk-through simulations in a matter of minutes?
There is a danger of
getting carried away by science fiction fantasy, of worshiping clever gadgetry
for its own sake and losing sight of the bigger picture. Architects have always used diagrams to
abstract and simplify, to isolate the essence of a problem, to visualise the
underlying shape of a solution. This is
exactly how we need to use new drawing tools: the single building model,
reality capture, social networks, cloud services.
Building Information Modelling
means many things to many people and we do not doubt its potential as a
powerful management tool, but it is also the new pencil. We see the software and hardware tools that
are coalescing around BIM as continuations of the age old tradition of visual
thinking. The world needs fresh ideas
and architects are uniquely placed to provide them. We bring well-honed visual and tactile skills
to the table, embracing new tools that help us to engage our clients in the
design process. Our goal, as always, to
serve society at large and build a better world.
Andy Milburn is an associate at Godwin Austen Johnson with special
responsibility for BIM strategy and Revit implementation. He has had a varied career ranging from
bricklaying in the UK, via curriculum development in Zimbabwe to architecture
in the Middle East. He is a well-known
figure in the global Revit community, speaking recently at the BIM Show Live in
London and the Revit Technology Conference in Auckland. You can follow his blog at www.grevity.blogspot.com