Rebirth of the Master Architect

Our company has been toying with 3-D renderings over the past few years using BIM programs. BIM (building information modeling) has been around for a good 20 years, and while used extensively in Europe, Asia and around the world, has gained momentum here in the United States only over the past decade due to friendlier user design and expanded libraries of objects and finishes.

Described succinctly, BIM offers the ability to command both the design and technical aspects of a project. However, its use by architects has mostly been limited to 3-D maneuvering. It has become a tremendous presentation tool, even though this is just a small part of its power. Architects who have a difficult time visualizing in 3-D swear by it.

My intention is not to extol BIM’s virtues. I’m most interested in pointing out that architects are missing out on tremendous opportunity by not applying the program’s full potential. While there seems to be a few adventurous architects taking the jump, most of us are daunted because the program requires that we have a working understanding of construction technique.

I recently blogged a question about the comparison of Revit and ArchiCad. An immediate response was, “Are you sure you want to open up that Pandora’s box?” Another architect commented that BIM might be well suited to a design/build company, the inference being that it may not be for all of us for lack of construction knowledge. He proposed that architects who “take short cuts” on the details are contributing to the inefficiencies of design and construction, and that owners will gravitate to architects who utilize BIM or an equivalent tool.

One comment really stood my hair on end. Someone expressed that architects are taught that construction documents are supposed to be “design intent” and not a perfect set of drawings because construction techniques and scheduling are the concern of contractors. Whoa!

Residential architects have moved away from our legacy as master craftsmen to become overseers of design intention. This is why the architectural profession is less regarded and is in a downswing because we have abandoned the fundamental knowledge of construction. We’ve lost our foothold in the entirety of the project over the past century. WE are the ones who must know how to put these buildings together, or else bring the experts into our companies so we can do the job properly.

Most architects were taught to convey design by drawing lines, whether on paper or on a computer. Times have changed and we have to change with them. Now it’s about building models that show studs, and literally building the project on a computer. The construction and design industries are in on it, as are manufacturers, and very importantly, owners. If you’re not in on it, start looking at it. BIM is here to stay, maybe not next year but in the coming years.

We all will be using it.

Some sites recommended for follow-up include the LinkedIn.com groups: “Collaborative BIM Advocates” which has a diverse group of architects, builders and owners, and; “I.P.D. Research and Development” which specifically deals with integrated project delivery and explores the IPD/BIM collaboration effort as well as ArchiCAD/Revit discussions.

Without question, we residential architects must know construction to remain at the forefront of our profession. We might even need a new business model. What we can’t afford to do as professionals is to be complacent with producing pretty pictures.

In the end, it’s all about communication of information. We’re at the tipping point of a great evolution in architecture. It can only be positive in the short and long runs. Let us embrace our heritage as master architects and regain construction leadership.

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