Monday, October 6, 2008

BIM Content - Part 1

It's been a while since I wanted to write something about this topic. I've shied away from it mostly because there are many opinions out there and I guess I was afraid to speak my mind on the subject, especially because I consider myself a “newbie” in the profession in general. I’m going to write it in two parts or I risk the post becoming too long and boring :) And this way you’ll come back!

A considerable part of what designers, architects and engineers do is to plan how real building elements and systems will come together as the builder assembles the thousands of parts that make up a construction project. When this planning was solely done by hand with a series of lines, we were mostly concerned with the spatial characteristics of the represented parts. From a detailing standpoint, it was also important to know what the materials of the interfacing elements were, depending on what view and scale you were representing. Scale had a lot to do with it and when things got to be too small to draw, we substituted them with symbols that were not to scale.

With digital drafting, not much has really changed, but we started realizing that we could start embedding information with each part that we represented. There was a departure from representing assemblies with just lines and we started thinking of objects, thus transforming these lines into "blocks" or "groups", which can be assigned some arbitrary identity. This data could be used downstream either to communicate information to the design team itself or to owners and operators of the building. The other subtle shift was in layering, where these also started being used to convey information. So you knew that a line on A-Wall represented the edge of a wall, whereas a line on A-Flor-Case represented the edge of floor-mounted casework for example.

And then along came BIM, with the premise that the playground was going to change radically. Most of the early adopters of technologies that spurred from this ideology recognized that working in the third dimension helped them to better understand the relationships between building components and systems, resulting in higher quality design. I think it has the potential to make "3D space" accessible to more people. We all know that not everyone in this business can think past the second dimension.

To me, content is a vehicle to increase efficiency. Whether it's a two-dimensional drawing of a detail or a 3D model of a building component, it's a way to get to the end faster. But what is the end?

  1. Is it when the building planning, design and documentation is ready for print?
  2. Is it when the building is completely built?
  3. Is it when the building's service life has reached its end?

The extent of our services is a line that is becoming increasingly blurred. In most cases this is because firms are realizing that they can offer more paid services or add more value compared to the competition, thus winning more work and commissions. Today, the majority of A&E firms operate in scenario (1) and are still producing mostly paper documents. That means that 2D representation is still a crucial component of this content. The industry is slowly beginning to move towards (2), but paper and 2D is still a solid core of the business. Some, like myself, dream of times when digital models become our deliverable and we would not be concerned much with what it looks like when represented in a flat print. However, I cannot stop thinking that the barriers to this future are simply more than rules, regulations and liabilities. The industry as a whole deals with a very wide spectrum of expertise: from unskilled labor to people having college degrees and doctorates. And on top of that, technology-saviness is often independent of the level of education! So how do we deal with using fragile technology in lieu of paper in dust-laden, dirty and rugged jobsites? Paper is not invincible, but it stands up to the challenge quite well. It also doesn't crash and is not dependent on power. It's right there when you need it.

Scenario (3) is where the digital deliverable IS the finished building, or at least BECOMES the finished building in digital form with useable information as construction comes to an end. At least the content used to describe it needs to be flexible enough to be interchanged with more applicable content. I'm refraining from using the word "intelligent" because perhaps it doesn't need to be. Maybe all it needs is more information and connection points to other information, rather than "behavior" intelligence (elements could be static rather than dynamic). I really don't know the extent of the subject of managing a building, and am only speculating at this point. Obviously one could assemble purpose-built digital models for particular downstream uses, but then BIM wouldn’t be living up to the hype. This is what is happening now, where for example manufacturers of lighting controls are not using the BIM model itself to feed/tie their information into.

Earlier, I briefly made a distinction between 2D “details” and BIM content. Next time, I will continue shifting the focus away from 2D content because I don’t think of that under the “BIM Content” umbrella, and also because I don’t think the particulars of 2D are that complex (I’m not talking about the act of detailing). We have probably exhausted all there is to talk about on the topic of 2D representation and we know how to do it. You could argue that we knew how to do it better in the past! In the meantime, I encourage you to comment on this topic and stay tuned for more.



bimdude said...

I find I have to do a lot of callouts on my contract documents so that you can actually see the content that I have drawn. If I tried to go to tender on a 1:100 plan without these callouts we would not get an acurate price. I know in an ideal world we should be in a Design Build situation and sit down with our contractor and show them everything but unfortunately the industry has not caught up with BIM yet. By the way I am in a MEP office not Architectural.

Dave Baldacchino said...

Thanks for commenting. This really impacts the industry as a whole and not just one particular discipline. It's a fundamental shift in what our perceptions of our work are. Dimensional representation is just one aspect of the I in BIM, but it's not everything.

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