BIM and the evolutionary process of architecture

There’s a great quote by James P. Cramer that reads “Those who do not like change will like irrelevance even less.” Change is a necessity in life.  If you don’t adapt you perish.  Maybe perish is too harsh a word.  If you don’t adapt you just don’t change, and if you’re in any type of competitive environment such as sports or business then not changing typically means not growing and not becoming better.

Change is usually initiated in one of two manners – it’s either forced upon us or we possess the initiative to better ourselves.  For all of the negativity surrounding our current economic situation there is one positive attribute affecting the architectural profession – architects must change.

One aspect for architects instituting change is with the computer programs we use to design and create drawings for buildings, known specifically as Building Information Modeling (BIM).  Before BIM architects would draw simple lines unto a two-dimensional surface.  At first this two-dimensional surface was a piece of paper, and as computers began being utilized by the profession it became a digital plane on a computer model.  Even with the computer the design of buildings still involved simple lines.  The computer did not designate any architectural meaning to any of the lines that were drawn.  For the architect each line represented a unique definition of materiality such as the edge of a wall or a pattern demonstrating a type of material like plywood, but the computer understood the line as merely a line, nothing more.

BIM removes the anonymousness of the line and provides an architectural definition that is aligned with the architect’s meaning.  So a wall is no longer disparate lines that run parallel, but rather the computer now reads those lines as a part of a singular entity.  So now that the wall is no longer two simple lines the computer requires more parameters in defining the wall such as the materials used to construct the wall, the sizes and thicknesses of those materials, the length and height of the wall, any anything else that an architect would need to convey to construct the wall (i.e. insulation within the wall, it’s fire-rating, it’s orientation if one side of the wall has one layer of gypsum board and the other side has two layers).

There are a handful of BIM computer applications aimed towards the architectural profession.  My weapon of choice is Vectorworks Architect, which has proven itself perfect for me and my practice.  Other popular choices for BIM include products made by Autodesk Revit, Graphisoft ArchiCAD, Bentley Microstation, and Gehry Technologies (which used to be a part of Frank Gehry’s firm).

There are many definitions of what BIM truly is, and the aforementioned BIM choices will tell you that their programs are more BIM than their competitors.  If the program requires you to input specific information about most every single construction material and product (such as windows and doors), then you are most likely working with a BIM program.  But all of this information is not inputted just for the pure pleasure of tapping on the keyboard.  A BIM program will also be able to compile the building information and provide you and the builder with the amount of materials required to construct the building.

A few years ago a friend of mine asked me to accompany him to the local electronics store to look at some home improvement CAD programs.  He ended up going with a $40 program endorsed by a popular home magazine.  After he installed the program onto his computer I played around with it to show him some of the basic commands (if you’ve worked on one CAD program you’ve pretty much worked on them all), I was amazed how this program had many BIM attributes.

So will a BIM program make you a better architect?  No, just like how a high-tech hammer won’t give you the ability to understand construction methods any better.  But it should allow you to have a better understanding of the building in three-dimensions, and even in four-dimensions (as in the passage of time, like understanding any potential conflicts with the construction of the building in regards to the sequence of construction).  BIM should provide a more accurate depiction of the building and in the right hands it should provide much fewer surprises during the construction process, which always translates into a building that meets its allotted budget.

Here’s looking forward to a more relevant practice of architecture.


1 thought on “BIM and the evolutionary process of architecture

  1. Mile High Pixie

    I have so much to say on this topic, but having worked over the weekend, I’ll d you a favor and sum up my comments: BIM forces you to make decisions earlier and to think in 3D and not fudge stuff the way you used to be able to in regular 2D CAD. BIM ultimately demands that you be a better architect.


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