At the 2012 Architecture Boston Expo, GRAPHISOFT with the Community Design Resource Center of Boston (CDRC) and the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (WMAIA), held a design charrette to focus on ways to assist the town of Monson, MA in recovering from a local natural disaster. Since I was at ABX, I had the opportunity to participate.
Here’s the first part of my thoughts from the event.
After an introduction to the issues surrounding Monson, MA post-tornado, we broke up into teams consisting of architects, planners, other AEC professionals, students, and other Monson residents. Each team had at least one ArchiCAD proficient member. In total there were 8 or so groups containing a total of 50+ people working over a 4 hour period. People came and went, so the exact number is a little hard to gauge. It was great to see ArchiCAD and the BIM Server used by such a large group of diverse participants, and also to see ArchiCAD used for redesigning an entire town. We did large scale moves and small ones. The grain was variable. We placed individual trees, marked off zones, established paths, flows, abstract representations of forces, created masses… whatever worked. The model included everything from 2d text and lines to Zones, Morphs, 3d text, Objects, and other model elements. And lest I forget… all the teams were working in ArchiCAD 16 using Teamwork 2 and the BIM Server. So each group was working on the same giant model, allowing the sharing of ideas whenever people clicked send and receive in ArchiCAD.
From Analog Teams to Digital Teams, and everything between
Many groups at first ignored the computer. But once ideas started to gel we shifted to digital. Nervousness soon turned to excitement and lots of pointing at screens. I found that the ArchiCAD users hopped between groups to facilitate this transition. There was so much creative energy that I found the best role for some of us ArchICAD experts was to just make the tools invisible. What evolved were mixed Analog/Digital teams. Which of course is where we should all be heading with our work, especially because as tablets and touch screen-enabled devices continue to proliferate the distinction between traditional techniques (pencil and paper) and modern techniques (CAD, BIM, and the panoply of other design related software) will continue to blur until there is complete unification (more on that later, probably over on Shoegnome.com).
Two Quick Examples
One group was developing a professional building at the edge of town. After one send and receive (how we sync data via the BIM Server) they noticed the bike paths another group was developing. Instantly there was group consensus “we need to connect to the river walk!” Their team was focused on a small site not looking at larger networks (intentionally) but once they saw this other idea it was obvious to them. They needed to bring the community closer to their building via this developing idea. Thus the early ideas for this building could be informed by others outside of their core group. And yet this exchange didn’t interrupt either groups’ main focus. Neither got caught up in over-examining the other’s concepts. The development of the core concepts were separate, but the output was live, up-to-date, and visible thanks to Teamwork 2 (for more on teamwork 2, check out this link for articles and videos).
In stark contrast to this open collaboration was the one completely analog team. This group neither built off other’s ideas nor shared their own until late in the game. One member of the analog team kept working well after everyone else had left. The work he did was beautiful, thoughtful, and a great direction. The final images were artful and rendered in a way that made them ready to present to anyone you could imagine (community members, donors, prospective tenants, etc.). The lead of the team even signed the images like one would a painting. However… These images weren’t ready until the group had dispersed. I only saw them because I helped clean up and was going to be working the GRAPHISOFT booth that was just a couple dozen feet away. The ideas in the images were unlike anything the other teams had come up with. Unfortunately they were isolated and disconnected from the fifty other people working. There was no collective. There was no cross pollination. As great as the ideas where, I couldn’t help but focusing on all the lost potential. By not being part of the BIMServer, the ideas were orphaned. No one could steal them, expand them, critique them.
BIM Server… aka Collaboration Machine
The BIM Server allowed a great mix of small group and large group benefits. Ideas weren’t drowned out. Everyone who spoke was heard and more thoughts were shared. There were ideas built on ideas from other groups and some contradictions. But they were enlightened contradictions. They were opposing views that were enriched by the knowledge of the ones others were developing. And while we built off other teams’ ideas, there was limited discussion with others so we avoided the “too many cooks” scenario (everyone arguing about the right solution, getting stuck brainstorming rather than doing, or quieter voices being drowned out) . We were instead able to build off and riff of others’ ideas. It was an amazing start and I know the groups I was involved in benefited from the constantly updated surroundings.
In the end it was all about increased engagement with the design. It was a chance for the owners and clients (the townspeople of Monson, MA) to experience the design process from the inside. No one was an outsider. No one was just an observer, silently watching others do all the work. I’ll wrap up this post with my favorite comment from a City Official of Monson that illustrates how different this experience was for him: “We’re used to just being presented with designs”.