What’s in a name?

August 27, 2008

I was looking at my blog stats today and saw that the traffic I was receiving from Google and the like don’t exactly matchup with the topics I’m talking about. They’re mostly searchs for “cheap wine”! LOL

Guess I have a lot to learn about how search indexes work.

From what I do know about SEO it seems that Google is prioritizing the name of the blog over the content. I’ve read Google gives content that’s emphasized preferential treatment. Titles, headings even bold and italics are more important than body text. Go figure.

So, with that said I think it’s time I changed the title and tag line to something more relevant.

Originally I had “Life’s too short to drink cheap wine.” as my Blog Title and “My maternal grandfather, Robert Smith, used to say this to me a lot as a kid.” as the tagline. Gotta document your history!

Okay then, what should I use? I talk about Revit and BIM of course, but I also talk about work processes and how our assumptions and traditions affect how and why we work. So how do you say that in a way that Google likes? What’s another word or phrase for all that?

It has something to do with marketing as well (I’m heavily influenced by Seth Godin and his writings and thoughts). Seth uses the word zooming to describe the process of continual changes and how they’re critical to business growth and success so that’s another keyword that might work.

How about “Zooming with Revit” and “thoughts on Revit Architecture, BIM and how they change the process” for a tagline?

Yeah, that’s not bad. Let’s try that and see what happens.

Now, what do I do about the URL! LOL



May 29, 2008

About a year ago I found a program for building performance analysis, Ecotect, and its sister website/wiki devoted to training and learning. Complicated program, at least for my ignorant dumb ass, but the wiki is great. My favorite part? The organization of the training based on a series of Levels of Achievements.

Beginning with simple viewing and navigating the application at level 1 and going all the way up to being innovative in the use of the program (essentially untrainable), the Level of Achievements they’ve implemented covers a lot of ground and gives clear signs to know where you are and how to get to where you want to go.

So what if we applied that same thinking to training Revit? Here’s what I came up with:

Level 1 – View

Sufficient skill level for Partners and non-technical Project Managers.

At this level you should be able to move around and through the model in order to acquire and print the information you need without going through another person.

This level focuses on View Tab in the Design Bar.

Specific skills include being able to; navigate through the Project Browser, create additional views to show you what you want (including Visibility Graphics and View Properties settings), and print views and sheets.

Level 2 – Assist

What first time users, resistant AutoCAD geeks, SketchUp kings, interns and more than a few designers I know need to be capable of.

At level 2 you should be able to help others on the project modify existing model content and add annotations. New object creation should be limited to what is specifically “redlined” and previously discussed with Producers and/or Managers. You should also be able to create sheets and place views and have a an understanding of how to create basic schedules.

This level focuses on Drafting and Room and Area Tabs in the Design Bar.

Level 3 – Produce

This is where the majority of work is done and, as such, Project Architects and some Managers may need to be at this level.

At this point you should be creating and modifing projects with all required model components as well as know how to create basic families in either 3D or 2D and create and edit more complex Schedules.

Level 4 – Manage

Here, the power users, the Revit geeks, the computer savvy Project Architects and those highly skilled in AutoCAD making the transition may soon find themselves.

Skills at this level include; creating and managing Design Options and Phasing, creating and managing parametric families that are both 3D and 2D with appropriate levels of detail, understanding the differences between modeling for Design Intent and Construction and how to move from one to the other during the design process, as well as being able to create and edit interrelated Schedules and Schedule Keys.

Level 5 – Innovate

Who knows. How do you define or describe innovation? I think you’ll know it when you see it.

So the question I want to pose is how far down (or up if you prefer) this list do you think is far enough?

I haven’t thought about how this would apply to AutoCAD though I’m confident that, while the specifics would change, the underlying structure and rationalization would stay the same. Nearly everyone I’ve ever worked with is a Level 3 and there are always technical problems that those of us who are Level 4s (and occasionally 5s) have to spend an inordinate amount of time to correct and resolve.

That’s not good enough. Not by a long shot.

Perhaps it would help to explain if I pointed out that the steps between these levels is not geometric, it’s exponential. Each step up the ladder is at least twice as complicated, requires at least twice as much effort and at least twice as much commitment than the one before. Getting to that Level 4 or 5 is not easy. Most people give up when they’ve got enough knowledge and skills to get the job done – about Level 3.

Level 3 is mediocre, average. Level 3 is a “C”. Not good enough.

When we first started using AutoCAD, it was an asset. We used it intelligently where it made sense and only the geeks took control of the computer. Now AutoCAD is a liability. The senior staff who were trained and practiced in creating documents by hand are constantly amazed at how long it takes to get drawings created and modified compared with what it took them when they were responsible for making the drawings.

We have a chance to learn from our mistakes with AuotCAD and keep Revit from turning into a liability. The first step is having the right people, the Level 4 and 5s, working the program. We have to keep mediocrity out of the process. The 4s and 5s cannot spend half their time fixing mistakes based on ignorance. Let the 4s and 5s go as far and as fast as they’re able. Keep them in the design process and feed them what they need to make things happen in Revit.

Let the 3s and 4s focus on something else that will benefit the project, the company, the industry and themselves. Let them focus on their own 4s and 5s instead of settling for a 3.

Everyone can be remarkable. Nobody has to settle for mediocrity.

Macro vs. Micro

February 4, 2008

Where do we focus our design efforts? Why is it that Architecture seems to so often exist only at the Macro?

We spend an awful lot of time working out and worrying over what are little more than massing studies in the design process. Weeks, even months, may be spent on tweaks that most people outside of the design process would likely consider to be pretty darn subtle. I have to wonder if the effort really matches the results…

I know I didn’t always think this way. At my last firm we teamed with a local designer on a community center for Maryvale, Arizona. First time I saw the project on paper I was unimpressed… two shiny metal boxes sitting on top of glass walls. I didn’t get it. And then I did. I went there with a friend of mine, Jenell Bass, who worked on the interiors and my eyes where opened. The attention to detail and subtlety of the design at the human scale was really impressive. My favorite move was how the exterior walls around the basketball court leaned out slightly in order to prevent glare from interrupting your view into the space. Brilliant!

What I now believe was that the decision to simplify the Macro allowed them to focus on the Micro.

I have seen some of this level of thinking in the traditional Macro-focused designs of course. The Designers I’ve worked with typically bring this level of thinking late in the design process. I guess this is okay… if you’re talented enough to have been considering these issues during the earlier phases of the design. And if you’re working under a traditional Design-Bid-Build contract then, as long as it’s in the documents at the end of the bid, you’re fine.

It’s in this newer Construction Manager at Risk (CMaR) contracting type we’re seeing a lot of lately where the problems with this late entry method start to show up.

If the CMaR is working with you as the contract method intends they are providing you with pricing and construction alternates during the design phase… and they can only price what they can see in the documents (or possibly read in a design narrative). If we don’t have something in the project specifically described the CMaR can only assume that we’re not concerned about its design or construction and will price whatever method they think is appropriate. And when we don’t describe and document the Micro of our designs until the end of the project the CMaR, caught off guard and unaware, has no choice but to add cost to the project (likely on the edge of being over-budget anyway) and then we’re left with a big mess and a lot of redesign to get the project back in budget.

The move towards Revit and BIM only seems to shed more light on this problem… though it could and should just as easily be the solution.

Instead of seeing Revit and BIM as an opportunity to play at the Macro level more, confident in the ability to produce the bulk of the documentation in short order, we should use the extra time to start focusing on the Micro sooner and more thoroughly. The shape of the building is not nearly as important as we Architects would like it to be… at least not to our clients and ultimate users of the project. They’re more concerned about that finer level of coordination and detailing that we routinely push off until later.

If we can trust our initial design impulses at the Macro we can use Revit and BIM to allow us more time to focus on the Micro.

Revit Experience

February 3, 2008

Revit is essentially a database and as a fellow Revitter has written, “you can’t accidentally create a database”.

I’m afraid that there is very little anyone can do to “save” a project in Revit. Just today I had a virgin user ask me how to remove the Level tags from a View… was it okay to delete them? Luckily for me he asked… if he had deleted them the project would have been screwed and there would have been almost nothing I could do to fix the problem (short of recreate a large portion of the model).

The only way that I can be confident this sort of mistake doesn’t happen is to have a certain level of confidence in those working in the model. I think we’ve all seen and experienced how this can negatively impact a project in AutoCAD… not imagine that multiplied 10 times.

One ignorant user (and I use that word without malice) can absolutely ruin a project to the point where little, if anything, can be done. How someone obtains the experience necessary to know what to do and what not to do is another question… my personal opinion is that they gain that experience someplace other than on the project.

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?

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?