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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Revit 2008 - Understanding BIM

Understanding BIM: From the Basics to Advanced Realities

The Advantages of Building Information Modeling
The production of design documents has traditionally been an exercise in drawing lines to represent
a building. These documents become instruction sets: an annotated booklet that describes how
the building is to be built. The plan, section, and elevation are all skillfully drafted—line by line,
drawing by drawing, sheet by sheet. Whether physical or digital, these traditional drawing sets are
composed of graphics—each line is part of a larger abstraction meant to convey design intent so
that a building can eventually be constructed. By and large, this is still the reality we face today, but
the process of creating these drawings is being fundamentally changed as a result of BIM. Let’s put
this into a historical context for a moment and briefly walk through the evolution of architectural
design and documentation.
A Brief History of Design and Documentation
Andrea Palladio’s
Four Books of Architecture
(trans. Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield, MIT
Press, 1997) presents an amazing array of drawing techniques that show buildings cut in plan and
section and even hybrid drawings that show elevations and sections in one drawing. There are
drawings complete with dimensional rules for laying out the relative proportions of rooms. You
can even see hints about construction techniques and structural gestures in the form of trusses,
arches, and columns.
These representations were simplified expressions of a project, and often they were idealized
versions of the building—not necessarily how the building was built. The drawings were communication
and documentation tools, themselves works of detailed craftsmanship. In those days
(14th–17th centuries), the architect was brought up in the tradition of building and had integral
knowledge of how buildings were constructed. Palladio, like many other architects of his day, grew
up as a stone mason. Building techniques were deeply embedded in the construction trades, which
in turn spawned the great architects of the time. Other master masons and sculptors include the
likes of Filippo Brunelleschi, Giovanni Bernini, and Francesco Borromini. These architects are often referred to as the master builders—they were integrated into all facets of the design and construction
of architecture.
Over time, however, architecture became more and more academic as building typologies solidified,
and classical reconstructions on paper and in model form became part of the formative education
of the architect. The design profession began its gradual separation from the building trades. The
notion of design process and iterative problem solving became critical attributes of a design professional—
in many cases superseding knowledge of construction means and methods.
With modern architecture, solving abstract spatial problems, accommodating programmatic elements,
and experimenting with new materials became driving forces. The machine age and the promise
of mass production were idealized and fully embraced. Le Corbusier’s (1887–1965) romantic vision
of steamships and automobiles inspiring a new generation of architecture took hold, and buildings
became increasingly machine-like. Consider all the office towers and commercial office parks that
have emerged, with their internal mechanical systems used to keep the building operational.
As buildings continued to grow in complexity, both technically and programmatically, the
architect grew more removed from the act of physical construction. Modern materials such as steel
and reinforced concrete became prevalent, and complex building systems were introduced. In turn,
the production of more detailed drawings became a legal and practical requirement. Structural
engineers and mechanical engineers were added to the process, as specialized knowledge of building
systems grew. No longer could the architect expect to produce a few simple drawings and have
a building erected. Complexity in building systems demanded greater amounts of information,
and this information was delivered in the form of larger and larger construction document sets.
Architects today find themselves drafting, producing details, working with a wide range of consultants,
and still having to create sketches for contractors in the field.
The traditional production of plans, sections, and elevations continues to this day, but with far
more drawings than in the days of Palladio. At the same time, we ask: Will all these drawings be
necessary in the near future? Will the adoption of BIM lead to new delivery methods, new forms of
construction, and new roles for the architect? Can a shift in technology lead to a shift in thinking
about building?

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