How Revit might change the process.

January 30, 2008

Instead of asking everybody to be as good with Revit as they might have been with AutoCAD I can see a process where there are only a few people who excel at Revit and where this allows everyone else to focus on… something other than making drawings.

What I’ve come to understand is that everyone can (and maybe should) be a generalist to some degree… and that everyone is (can or maybe should be) also an expert at something specific… I want to tap into that expertise and use it for the good of the project, the company, the industry and, perhaps most importantly, the individual.

The funny thing is that for some people their expertise will also be a generalization!

When I was interviewing at Architekton, Doug Brown was asking how it happens that he redlines the same parapet detail, for example, multiple times on a project. I think the reason, and the problem, lies in how we, as an industry, have allowed (even encouraged) everyone on the team access to every drawing. I think something here is representative of our problems in the industry… to use a tired saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.

I think Revit’s greatest strength lies in how quickly it can generate drawings. I think the change that is inevitable in the industry is not too dissimilar to how the printing press changed book and magazine publication. One person who knows what they’re doing can do the work of many… provided they are timely informed of what needs to be done. I don’t consider this person to be a “Revit Drafter” anymore than I might consider an Architect who starts with a “napkin sketch” to create Architecture a draftsman.

Most people see CAD as a necessary evil and work in these applications reluctantly. Before Revit we didn’t have much of a choice. The work required just so much manual drafting. So what would it look like if we stopped focusing on drafting?


Market Advantage

January 29, 2008

I think that using BIM as a means to a market advantage is short lived.

You need to be 10 times better than everyone else… not 10% better. A little better doesn’t cut it… neither does a little faster or a little cheaper.

You have to be A LOT better… A LOT cheaper… A LOT faster. You don’t want to do cheaper or faster. That’s not Architecture.

So you have to be better. Remarkably better.

You need to create a “Purple Cow”, as writer, blogger, marketer, etc. Seth Godin writes about in his books and blogs (and btw… if you haven’t heard of this guy you should start reading his blog at

Architectural Value

January 22, 2008

What do we offer our clients? What is it they want?

I know what I think we think they want… beautiful design. Heck, they might even say that’s what they want. If that’s what they really wanted though then I think they would choose there architects differently… if we’re the Apple of Architects in town then why are we thrown into the hopper as if we were a Dell or a Compaq or a HP? If they were passionate about design (like Apple fans are) the choice would be obvious. But either we’re not getting that sort of client or we’re not of that caliber.

So maybe we could ask what is it that makes someone choose a Dell over a HP or a Compaq. What are they looking for in the Dell that they don’t see in the others? And, most importantly, what, if anything, can we learn from this? Part of the answer depends on what they’re looking for in a computer… and, as we just talked about, it’s probably not design. And really, the fact that it’s not about design is really all I think we need to say.

If it’s not design, what is it they’re looking for? What story are they looking for? What is their world view about all of this?

budget, schedule, program, maintenance… all that “boring” stuff… or rather the stuff we think is boring -maybe, to them, all of that stuff is as important to them as design is to us

how do you resolve then the seeming disparity when they say they want design? are they telling the truth or are they telling us, and their peers, what they want us and them to hear? if they really were interested in the design how would they show it, what evidence would we have? but yeah, I do think they care, at least enough to hire firms like ours instead of the hacks that are out there.

Still, the question remains, how do we separate ourselves from our competition? What do we do that is 10x better than everyone else? What edge can we, do we, occupy?

we talk about LEED (but so does everyone else) – and so i guess that’s no really an edge – so think about edges for a bit

Thoughts on a better process…

January 11, 2008

First and foremost do what energizes you. If you dread the work you’re doing you’re doing the wrong work. Find something that you can sink your teeth into and it make your own. It doesn’t have to be glamorous and it doesn’t have to be what everyone else assumes it should be. It just has to capture your passion.

The next step is to take all the stuff that nobody wants to do and outsource it…


I know… I know. Bear with me and let’s be honest about what we are after.

If it’s to go somewhere for 9 hours each day (more if you count drive time) and grind out a bunch of drawings for 6 hours and think about what you’re making for 2 hours then okay… I guess that’s acceptable. Sounds boring to me but people get pleasure out of the most random things so who am I to judge (though of course that’s what I just did and if you are offended well… sorry about that).

We are all in search of passion… even if we don’t know it. What drives me are conversations that spark new ideas and broaden scope. I know someone passionate about sustainability and another who gets a kick out of thinking about how to make our clients happy. Of course most people in the profession would like to think of themselves as Designers (note the capital “D”) and if they have the talent, then by all means… design away! I don’t think I know a single person who gets up in the morning and can’t wait to come to work excited about making drawings. I used to think that was me but I later realized that what I was really doing was looking for better ways to use our tools.

The drawings are almost always a means to an end and not the end themselves. There are other, better ways, to understand what you are making. You do not have to make the drawing to understand the drawing… just like you don’t have to show every brick in a wall to know if the wall courses.

I know it goes against what we’ve been telling ourselves for all these years but what if it was true? What if you could have more fun and understand the work more completely by doing something else? I don’t know what that something else is… it depends too much on the project but I can make a couple guesses.

* Models – both digital and physical, small and large scale… full scale?
* Artistic – painting, sculpture, photographic… video?
* Textual – poetry, prose, fiction… biographical?

Any of these would tell you more about your project than any drawing you might think to make… and yes, some of this will entail making a drawing or two (or more) but that’s not the point. The point is that you are not drawing for the sake of drawing.

The final step is to take whatever it is you have decided to work on and push it right to the edge… maybe even over the edge.

Remarkable comes from the edges. Ordinary is everything short of that.

What would you be doing if you weren’t drafting?

January 9, 2008

That’s the question I want to ask everyone in my industry… especially all those kids who do little more than make drawings.

It used to be that we needed a certain critical mass of people to do the grunt work… to grind out the drawings and documents we need to make Architecture. The old standard was 40 hours per sheet from start to finish during the CD phase. If you made a cartoon set, and could be reasonably certain of how many sheets you’d need, you could estimate the amount of staff required for the given time constraints.

As an example… let’s say we think we’ll need 50 sheets for the project. That means we’ll need roughly 2000 hours to get the job done… that’ll keep a team of 4 busy for about 12.5 weeks of solid drafting. If you only had 8 weeks you’d need to staff up and put a couple more people on the job… and if you didn’t have the staff available then you’d either put in a lot of OT or produce a set of drawings that’s less than ideal.

Contrast this to something I recently did in Revit. In one, 40 hour week I was able to take a sketch of a 50,000 sf building and create a set of 40 drawings at somewhere close to DD level. That’s one person working one 40 hour week and that is crazy fast. I doubt that a team of 4 could have done the same thing using traditional methods.

If one person can, at least conceptually and in the earlier phases of the project, produce the work of 4 then I think it begs the question… “What do you do with all those people and all that time?”

The problem is that we’ve all been trained to make drawings… to crank out the widget. And if you’re not making drawings then what are you doing?

Hopefully it’s not replicating the work we can accomplish in Revit in a fraction of the time simply because you think you need to in order to understand the project (a lame excuse aimed at avoiding the questions).

Hopefully it’s something that pushes the edges of… whatever.

Hopefully it’s something that you’re passionate about and if it’s not what’s the point… unless, of course, you want to crank widgets.

Drafting vs Modeling

January 8, 2008

Listening to more Seth Godin and am once again struck by the idea that our industry has been operating under the assumption that it takes a lot of warm bodies to document Architecture.

Manual drafting was a tedious endeavor and it took a lot of people to produce the work. It was so labor intensive that people with the right skills were often hired to do nothing more than draft. Computer Aided Drafting did little to change things… if anything it has made the problem worse over the years instead of better.

When AutoCAD first began being used in offices it was only used for Floor Plans… drawings that were useful on more than one sheet and for more than one profession.

Somewhere along the way we began producing more and more work in CAD and we got further and further away from what we were documenting and how and what we should be documenting. We began to add more and more detail into the drawings because we could. We began focusing on detail and nuisances and details that we never would have considered before… or at least focusing on them at smaller scales than we did when manually drafting. All this, and more, has lead us to see AutoCAD as a liability instead of an asset and now seems to require more time and, arguably, more people than it should.

Revit starts to change this… or at least it can if we take what we, hopefully, learned from the transition from manual to digital drafting. The truth is one person who knows what they’re doing in Revit can produce the rough documentation of a project in a fraction of the time it used to take a team of drafters.

If one person can replicate the production of several in less time and with greater accuracy and tighter coordination what does that mean for the industry?

Or… as I’ve been asking at the office… what would you do if you weren’t drafting?