Wednesday, June 16, 2010

(Drafted) Detail Management

A topic of great importance to all architects is that of detailing a project. Despite working in three-dimensional models, we still have to communicate how all the different systems and materials come together through the use of drawn details, whether using 2D or 3D representations. And we still use paper to print out our document sets and send them out for bid. From that perspective, not much has changed in our industry and the need for drafted details is still amongst us for the foreseeable future.

Representing details through the use of 2D drawings does not require complex software. Revit is more than capable of this task although it might not have all the bells and whistles that Autocad has (like trimming elements through the use of crossing windows, etc.)Building drafting views and using detail components extensively can yield great efficiencies and possibilities that are not obtainable if you simply use detail lines and filled regions. One such benefit is the ability to store assembly codes and thus the ability to tie to an automated specification system. This takes effort to set up, but with some good time investment, you could end up with a very efficient system that cuts down on redundant work.

Unfortunately Revit does not offer enough functionality to manage a drafted library appropriately, whether it is built-in tools/functionality or API options. I’m talking about a seamless system of filtering, searching, viewing and insertion. I could write a dissertation about what I've tried to experiment with, including Model Review for filtering purposes, but there is always a limitation that breaks this whole process. Note that if you want to organize a single-office library, you can get something that works ok, but if you want to build some sort of filtering for a multi-office/region library, well then stop banging your head! Current tools offer a series of fragmented solutions at best.

After dreaming about this over the last years, even having nightmares about being chased down the alley by hundreds of duplicated detail components while in a project file (you know what I’m talking about!), ArcXLthe entrepreneurial spirit that drives some people wipes these feelings away and replaces them with a grin. Take a look at ARCxl.

This company has come up with a promising approach to organizing details. I talked with Mark Siever about their ambitious plans and they do not intend to sell the management system as a standalone piece of software. They are exploring various business models and so far, they have invested a lot of time and effort in building up the infrastructure and an extensive library of details. My first thoughts were that this is a fantastic avenue for small firms and sole practitioners. Imagine focusing more on design, solving the building, creating presentations and spending very little time on drafting details. Through their site, you can narrow down your search by picking building systems, which to me, is extremely intuitive.

They are also exploring a subscription model where you will be able to download a number of details based on the subscription level, rather than purchasing individual details. Their main goal is to get to a point where the details are basically free and disposable. They are really trying to sell the management system as a service, rather than the drafting views as a product. Remember that after you download these views, if you want to re-use them, you’re back to the same old problems of management. So having a place that helps you cut to the chase in finding exactly what you want is their target.

But they’re not stopping there. They are developing further infrastructure that ties into an online specification system. Through building product manufacturers that pay for having their products included in this system, the cost for the end user should come down considerably in the near future. If you download their samples and check out the properties of the detail components, you’ll see links that take you to dedicated URLs on their site.

Do I think this concept will succeed? I’m very hopeful but have no crystal ball to tell me. Hey, I thought Twitter was stupid (I still don’t use it, but I’m just one guy!) so who knows? I can see a lot of pitfalls, but the whole concept is very promising. I was excited to see the search system that mirrored almost exactly what I had in mind. How do you see this fit in your practice or firm, big or small? Would you want the ability to upload your own details to their site so your organization can find and use them efficiently, instead of the details they provide? If they’re selling the management service, I would love to have that ability. But how would you tie to their specification system? Feel free to comment!



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