The lighter side of BIM

I’ll start this post with a disclaimer, the views expressed below are solely the author’s and are not representative of the contributors to this blog, the readers of this blog, or anyone else in the architecture profession. What follows is my lighthearted recounting of my first encounter with BIM and how it changed my attitude towards work.

I’m just old enough to have finished my undergrad education in architecture without any knowledge of computer aided design. I was able to squeak by with ink on Mylar. But I’m just young enough that by the time I started looking for work at an architecture firm, most were producing drawings with the help of AutoCAD or some other CAD drafting program. So I learned CAD and soon found myself employed as an intern, drafting details and plans on a computer all day long. And very soon after this I became bored.

I understood that I needed to put some time in and I wouldn’t be working on any stunning projects right from the get-go but holy smokes, I could barely make the connection between what I was drawing on the computer and what would be built. Before I could see the drawing of a building, I needed to wade through a swamp of line weights, line type scales, plot scales, reference checking, dimension styles, and on and on. The details of drafting were killing me. I stuck it out for several years and my competency rose and the concerns of the drafting program became second hand but I never got the feeling that the space of the design was connected to the practice of drafting. I couldn’t make the connection between the building and the rainbow of colors on my screen representing walls and floors and ceilings. I just assumed it was something that I was going to have to work at and eventually, I would attain some level of fluidity between design and the programs that made the design real. I was not very excited.

And then I was assigned to a project with an owner who wanted ‘everything to be BIM.’ By this time, I had switched firms and my latest employer was slowly making the switch to Revit, their chosen BIM software. I knew roughly what it was but I had never actually opened the program. The building was a small branch bank and I was the only intern on the project. I would have to draw the whole thing up in this new BIM program and due to the schedule the firm set for BIM software training; I would have 2 weeks to learn the program before getting officially trained. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I can tell you the exact moment that I realized my job as an intern was going to get exponentially more interesting. I had been working in the program for a few hours, staying in plan and elevations views only. I understood that when I ‘drew’ a wall in plan, it would show up in elevation but it wasn’t quite clicking that I was actually modeling the building digitally.

Then I found the 3d view and it all made sense.

I was actually going to model the entire building in the computer. When I made a wall, a virtual wall would appear as an object in space that would show up in all the views of the building. It blew my mind. Now I could actually see what I was doing, the walls, the windows, and the doors, all of it. I could put myself in the space and see the space. All of a sudden, the connection between the software and the design was made. My role as a draftsman had gotten a lot more interesting.

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