Selling Short

by Scott Glazebrook

Some have sold Building Information Modeling (B.I.M.) as a panacea tool to solve all the embedded and inherent problems perceived in the architectural profession: to streamline a firm’s productivity, to reduce errors and omissions, to better coordinate the work of the design team, to create more thorough visualizations of a project, among many other promises of such applications. Architects have in turn passed this vision on to our clients, our consultants, and to the general public; some of who now believe we have the option of just pressing the “reglet” button to automatically remove (or add) all the necessary and desired reglets in a project on a whim. The same is presumed true for walls, windows, flashing, and every commonly and uncommonly known building component. While this may in part be true (assuming you have very strict layering and can turn-off a “reglet” layer and the parametric objects “heal” themselves), what is missing from the equation is what happens then. Was the deleted reglet separating dissimilar materials to protect from differential expansion and contraction, was it part of the weather-resistant building envelope, was it an aesthetic device, or all of the above?

Don’t get me wrong; B.I.M. has fundamentally changed the way I work for the positive. I believe it makes one more of an architect, and it requires one to be more of an architect – sort of the opposite of an impression developing outside (and within) the profession proper that software is on the way to replace the architect.

There is another somewhat common belief that architects bring ego and visions of grandeur to a project and not true value to building design; leaving the client to pay for monuments to one’s perceived greatness. Undoubtedly, this belief is based in fact and a few true instances; the exception rather than the norm. But is also a burgeoning belief that I’ve witnessed that B.I.M. applications will “solve” this perceived problem by distilling the design process down to a couple of “buttons” that when pressed in the correct sequence will produce a building meeting all the requirements of a client’s program, compliant with all State and local building regulations, free from errors and omissions, and completely describing the construction process; and by pressing the desired “style” button, details will be applied to the building design to make it look like the desired style. Providing all the value without the “cost” of ego (you just disable the “ego” button).

While it’s been around for years, B.I.M. is just making significant inroads in many architectural markets, so it’s not too late to frame the message of promise provided by B.I.M. accurately and in a way that increases the perceived and real value of architects rather than a trend that may be unintentionally decreasing our value. We as architects are notoriously poor at accurately promoting our industry and ourselves. We have relied on our professional organizations to promote our industry; however I feel they have focused too much on promoting architecture to architects rather than to society as a whole; and those outreach efforts have often seemed ill conceived, incomplete, and underdeveloped with out a clear message or direction. As individual architects we often focus our message in the form of marketing efforts in acquisition of projects through the Request For Proposal and Request For Qualification process, through word-of-mouth, or sitting by the phone waiting for that phone call.

I have been an advocate, one of a growing number in this profession, for actively creating and spreading the message that architects add significant value to building projects (and of course following through!). Open Architecture Workshop is involved in initiative efforts to create and broaden value through organizations like The 1%. We promote and I personally volunteer in local community planning. Both are first and foremost an effort to better our communities by applying the skills and experience of architects in problem solving, placemaking, and understanding of the regulatory environment towards a public good. These efforts also increase awareness of what architects have to offer and can promote intelligent and relevant discussions with people we meet day to day and inform them of the true value that B.I.M. can bring to the profession and what it can bring to individual public and private projects. By leveraging the benefits of B.I.M. in the public realm, architects and private clients can enjoy the rewards of better-considered designs, more efficient production, and more complete documents. B.I.M. streamlines the process; and while this could reduce project design costs, it may be more important to reinvest such “savings” and at least maintain but hopefully create greater value by working more efficiently and collaboratively in a development and regulatory environment that continues to become more bureaucratic and complicated. Traditional design and documentation methods continue to have value (nothing beats the “napkin sketch” in a moment of inspiration or drawing by hand to get one’s head inside an un-built space), but B.I.M. promises to create more value for the same traditional fee structures, not make it less expensive to design.

We need to leverage this tool, along with our creativity, skill, and experience, to advance the profession and make better architecture. Efficiency. Collaboration. Reinvestment. Value.

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