“BIM”: Stuck in a Muddy Rut

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image from https://deepsouldiver.wordpress.com/tag/stuck/

Of course, a rut is something counterproductive that one “gets stuck in”. The Free Dictionary calls a rut “… an uninspired routine or pattern of behavior that one continues unthinkingly or because change is difficult.”

And in fact this is one of the common slogans one hears all the time advocating BIM: that one needs get out of the ditch of counterproductive old habits and move forward into BIM and so on.

However, I turn this slogan back around on itself and say that BIM rhetoric, BIM sloganeering itself, is a habitually thoughtless muddy ditch and is the single most counterproductive impedance to industry progress that we have to overcome, if indeed we actually do care to make significant progress.

Say all you want to about BIM and AEC process, but think, and notice that today’s BIM discourse overflows with slogans:

  1. “get unstuck from old habits and charge into the future”
  2. “you’re not actually doing BIM; because real BIM is…whatever it is you haven’t done (fill in the blank)”
  3. “BIM is a process not a tool”
  4. “the real payback is in operations and maintenance”
  5. “it’s not about doing things faster, it’s about getting a better result”

Some of these are truisms, and some are good advice generally but misappropriated. Of course industry needs process improvement. But to appropriate process improvement into the rhetoric of BIM presumes to claim process improvement as the domain of BIM. That’s an overstatement. It’s also a statement that ignores the fundamental limits of BIM (as it is currently conceived) in terms of its potential contribution to process improvement. Lip service is sometimes paid to these limits but coherent solutions are rarely offered. Instead, slogans are piled into the rut. The limits of BIM are substantively overlooked, habitually. And then at the same time, BIM “says”, “forget the tools; it’s about the process.”

Well this is just a muddy mess, particularly so when these words are pronounced by software developers. If an A, E, or C firm talks about enterprise process improvements, that can be insightful, but when a tool developer gives up on tools and parrots process rhetoric only, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Try for just a minute, to forget what the slogan told you (that it’s not about tools or anything else, but only process). Let’s try to imagine for a second that software tools could do something more to contribute to process innovation, and to finding better results (and seeing and understanding them). Also try, if you can, to forget for a second the slogan that tells you that drawings are archaic and obsolete and that (building information) modeling will solve everything, “once everyone starts modeling and once everyone does modeling process all the way through to operations and maintenance.”

Imagine the possibility for a second that such a claim may lack substance and that more substantive ideas are possible to find and develop.

Imagine that we could look at the most basic things that we all have right in front of us, and imagine that we could make some reasonable and thoughtful claims about those things along with some reasonable inferences about what could be possible in the future.

So I get to the point… What we have in front of us, in the AECO industry, are two things: models, and drawings. There they are, undeniably present, and staring right back at us if we look at them. Are we willing to look at them? Really? I mean, are we serious? BIM discourse makes a number of claims and judgements and demands and so on. But is it serious? I mean, look, for example, it tends to dismiss drawings, but it dismisses them without looking at them. That alone raises a flag that BIM discourse is insufficiently serious. If the discourse were serious, then it would have a hard look, or rather a thoughtful look, at the scope and limits of both drawings and models. It would clearly recognize that, yeah, here are these two primary things in this industry, and these two things, much like all other things in this universe, are characterized by (their) scope and limits.

So what are the scope and limits of drawings and the scope and limits of models?

Here I attempt to share some thoughts. My thoughts are definitely not perfect, and are not complete, and exceptions can be found, and so on. Yes, the content of what I say, like everything else, has scope and limits. But there is some substance in it, some recognition, anyway, in my remarks, about the subject of my remarks. The subject is drawings and models. I try to listen as they speak for themselves. After all, if you look and listen, drawings and models will tell you what they are. They will show you their function, their role and purpose, and if you are willing to hear, you can grasp their discreet and differentiated  scope and limits, and their mutually dependent interplay. So here is what they say:

Models are, to some extent, reflections of reality. In a nutshell, this is their role, to reflect or encompass “reality”. Models are wide, developing, formative, expansive environments, “environments of information” (or environments that are in formation). Models are like worlds. And like the world, models are so full of information that they overwhelm, and we rely, therefore, on evolved techniques that help us ask and answer certain very simple, very basic, underlying, fundamental questions, like:

  • Do I understand this model?
  • What do I understand from studying this model, and what am I supposed to understand? What matters? Who says so?
  • Is essential information presented in the model in a way that helps me interpret and understand? Does the model communicate?
  • Is the model sound conceptually?
  • Can I understand where the model is made tangible in a way that is declared to be sufficiently reliable and “good enough” by someone authorized and prepared to make such an affirmation? And where are those regions and are they intelligible? Can I and others find those regions and understand them?
  • In other words, is the model done, complete, or good enough? Is it good enough everywhere in the model, or more so in some regions than in others?
  • Where are those regions and how are they indicated?
  • What is my level of doubt, and is reliability of the model in doubt overall, particularly when the answers to these other questions are unclear?

The list above could be rephrased and made more concise and clear I’m certain. Indeed the list is repetitive, but the list comes from models themselves. This is what models tell us and ask us. These are the limits, of models, that confront us. We need resolution to these questions. AEC doesn’t operate without some kind of functional response to these questions. And indeed there is a technique, a method, whose purpose, function, and role, is to answer them. That method is “drawing”.

Drawing is narrowing, focusing. Drawing is not expansive and wide, and is not a reflection of reality (models are). Drawing is rather a completely different thing, a totally different act. Drawing is an attempt to understand reality (not reflect it) by providing, to the extent possible, some answers to the kinds of questions listed above, questions that are imposed on us by models, whether those models are digital or imaginary. In both cases, the purpose of drawing is to answer those questions. Take a close look at your drawings, and at these questions, and you can see how this is done. I’ll write more about this in another post. But consider that drawing does what it does, to the extent possible. And consider that the extent of possibility may change. The extent of what drawing can communicate, the power of it, may not be static. It could perhaps be amplified.

Drawing, if it has a future, may evolve. By recognizing the function of drawing, and this is on the tools side (this is where tools can contribute), the expression of drawing can find new form, new method, new technique. It’s power may grow. it’s contribution to understanding, of modeled worlds, may help get technology and process out of the muddy rut and get industry moving forward in a clear way, with a clear purpose, and with tools that clearly support the progress.

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