buildingSMART (get over it)

What is "buildingSMART"?

That's "building" as a verb. And, "smart," as opposed to "dumb."

It's similar to "building green."

It's about the Building Industry using computers, and new ways of working, to be more efficient and create a better built environment.

Forget about "Interoperability" and "Industry Foundation Classes" and all that stuff. Most people can't even say those things, much less understand them.

Instead, let's talk about making design decisions earlier.

Let's talk about controlling construction costs; and, using less energy.

Let's talk about better design; and pre-fabrication with mass customization.

I don't need an exact definition for "buildingSMART;" I know it when I see it. Let's get on with it.

Why Do We Have to "Get Over It"?

Because our whole industry—designers, builders, owners, operators, academics, software developers—is doing it now. It is here. It is real.

As individuals, we can lead, follow, or get out of the way.

As a firm, HOK chooses to lead. I have been directed to take the word "try" out of my vocabulary. I don't have the time or patience for surveys or CAD "bake-offs."

What I am doing is showing Revit to our project teams and asking them, "Do you want to work this way?"

"Well, duh!"

Getting Back to Doing Architecture Again

For two decades we have forced design professionals to know about the "DIMWIT" and "DUMBASS" variables and it has hurt their ability to put buildings together. Even worse, our most knowledgeable practitioners are no longer able to "grab the pencil" and teach the next generation.

Computers are changing the way we work; let's make sure that they are making it better. We don't need a "paradigm shift." We simply need to regain control of the design process in those areas where we have historically added the most value.

I foresee that with Revit, our project teams will be smaller and more capable. I don't think we can continue to include pure CAD drafters or CAD-illiterate design professionals. I think we will all be better design professionals as a result.

Sorting Out Autodesk Architectural Desktop and Revit

Read my lips: "We do not want to have two CAD solutions."

HOK is no slouch when it comes to using Architectural Desktop (ADT). Our honorable mention in the AIA's Technology in Practice BIM Awards (see AECbytes Newsletter #21) was for an information model that includes 2.4-million square-feet of hospital space and tracks 300,000 items of medical equipment in 10,000 rooms.

Between our very smart CAD users and some judicious custom programming, we can model anything in ADT. The fundamental strength of its object model, and the inherent flexibility of the file structure, are second to none, including Revit.

But ADT is a bear to implement.

Sit down at home with ADT on a Saturday morning and try to figure out the display system. By 3-o'clock you will be really angry that you have been put in the position of trying to explain this stuff to your users.

Next week, sit down with Revit. You will come away saying, "Hey, this really makes sense." It's not that it is so sophisticated; it is that it is so obvious.

We are doing over twenty Revit projects this year. I believe that next year they will all be Revit.

BIM is Your Friend

The danger in all of this is that the proponents of Building Information Modeling (BIM) have been a bit arrogant in their dismissal of CAD with phrases like "just an automated pencil" or "dumb, 2D drawings."

It is bad enough that this is alienating the people doing that work. More significantly, it has created the expectation that BIM is somehow superior, or at least very different. This has resulted in unreasonable expectations, and ultimately frustration. I find myself bucking a certain amount of misguided attitude about "having to model everything in 3D" and answering questions like, "Why hasn't BIM taken off?""

My response is that we have been doing BIM all along and it is better to recapture that fact than to get distracted by the new toys. After all, those of us who did hand drafting were creating abstract "models," containing hyper-linked, object-based "information," before there was a computer industry.

Those "dumb" drawings were a very efficient way of representing the "building model" and defined just as much "3D information" as the most advanced computer-based representation. What has changed is that the modern CAD programs allow us to maintain a much higher level of data integrity and are much better at illustrating the consequences of our decisions. These new tools are not fundamentally different, but they are vastly more capable.

As we change our culture, users are much more interested in how Revit creates a "coordinated document set" than about the "life-cycle" value of smart documents. The consultants, contractors, facility managers, and others that we work with, have always gotten a lot of good information out of the work we produce; and I'm sure they will get even more value as we organize and structure it more effectively. But that is their business; we'll concentrate on doing ours better.

Some Things I Don't Worry About

Usually, at about this point, somebody asks me about two big concerns: Who is going to pay for the BIM model? And, are we assuming more liability in a BIM?

To be fair, I have the luxury of knowing that someone else at HOK is taking care of these issues. Nevertheless, I think they are misleading in what they imply about our core values.

To begin with, our primary mission is not to collect fees; it is to provide value to our clients. We have always done this well and we are confident that BIM technology will provide better value. There is no principle more fundamental to HOK, and there is no need to make the discussion more complicated than that.

Likewise, the focus on liability is really a diversion from the more significant issue of managing risk. Bad things happen in construction and our goal as an industry is to distribute responsibility and compensation appropriately. BIM provides a way to work as a team, with the other members of our industry, and reduce risk with detailed, coordinated documents.

Things That I Do Worry About

I do have some new worries.

To begin with, the BIM discussion has created a misconception that exchanging information is something like gathering nuts, where the bigger the bag we can toss over the fence at the end of the day, the better. In fact, controlling the flow of information is a very important reason for the traditional divisions of professional responsibility. My responsibility as an Architect requires that I be very careful in how I provide information and how it is used by others. Accuracy and control are far more important than quantity in information management, and I am not convinced that everyone drinking the BIM Cool-Aid gets this.

I am also concerned that the building industry has probably surrendered more control of its processes to the software industry than we ever intended. However good the intentions of the software vendors, they are ultimately driven to maintain their stock value; and, as a result, we are engaged in a continuous juggernaut of upgrades that are not necessarily improvements. HOK has structured its CAD strategy around the Autodesk product suite but there are limits to this commitment. (In other words, we may be living together, but the Charles Mingus Big Band album is mine.)


These concerns are at the heart of HOK's commitment to the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI). We see this organization as the best forum for developing rigor in how our industry exchanges information, and insuring that this process truly serves all of our interests.

The IAI coined the term buildingSMART when it realized that its name wasn't very marketable. But the two are not synonymous. Feel free to add your logo to the movement. Like this:

builingSMART loho

I think that the IAI will ultimately be more significant as a shepherd to the quality of our information exchanges than as a developer of the technical details that have been its historical focus. With this goal in mind, I hope that more of our colleagues in the building and software industries will become actively involved in buildingSMART.

What Now

We are all fortunate to be participants in the reshaping of our industry. Personally, I am also fortunate to have made many friends in the AECO technology business over the years. I hope they are having as much fun as I am.

I also hope that my profession, Architecture, will grow to recognize how important these leaders of technology are to its future. I look forward to the day when our CAD masters and IT heroes get to sweep in with their very own black capes and take a place at the podium.

About the Author

Mario Guttman, AIA, is a vice-president and the Firmwide CAD Director for HOK, a multi-disciplinary, international design firm with 22 offices in six countries. In this role he coordinates the CAD Management activities of the offices and focus groups, as well as setting the strategic direction for CAD within the firm. Mario holds degrees in mathematics and architecture and is a licensed architect. In addition to practicing architecture for 20 years, he has worked in software development, computer-aided facility management and construction.

HOK is a leader in the advanced use of information technology in the AECO industry and supports industry-wide interoperability standards. Mario represents the firm with other members of the industry, standards organizations, and government agencies in promoting these goals.

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