Your first task when switching to BIM

There is no If. There is only When.

While reflecting on ten years of using ARCHICAD, I wrote about my friend Jon. Maybe you clicked on the hyperlink on his name. If you did, you probably read a few of his articles. He’s written some great posts. Two of my favorites pertain to the unyielding march of time; you should read them:

Both those articles address the need to embrace BIM, no matter where you are in your career. They also talk directly or indirectly about the never ending cycle of progress. People fought the transition to CAD and now many people think they can avoid the switch to BIM. Or the switch from merely using a BIM program to thinking and designing with BIM. Or going from thinking and designing with BIM to revolutionizing what one produces…

Building Sections

Wait, what? Avoid switching to BIM!?

For many of us who use ARCHICAD, the concept that people still haven’t switched to BIM is almost unfathomable. ARCHICAD is over thirty years old. Many of us are celebrating ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, or maybe even thirty years of using ARCHICAD. There are people who have been using it for their entire careers. There are people who NEVER used CAD. We have at least one user here in Seattle who told me at our last user group that he jumped straight from hand drafting to ARCHICAD. He got to skip CAD. And he skipped CAD before most of the people around him were even seeing CAD as a serious replacement to drawing all day.

For every user who is a grizzled old veteran, there are many more that are worrying about their first upgrade cycle or excited that they no longer feel like a new user. Plenty of firms will take the plunge and switch to BIM in 2016, leaving the world of flatCAD for good. In the first two months of this year I’ve corresponded with maybe a half dozen firms that fit that description—and that’s with me more or less hiding from the Internet for most of January and February.

E02 Lighting PlanSwitching to BIM in the Era of Big Data

In 2016, the pressure to get more out of BIM will be greater than ever. In years past we switched to BIM because we wanted new software and thought 3D models looked cool. Or we got a new job and that’s what the firm did. The reasons for using BIM in 2016 are more fantastical. It’s not enough to just do 3D models, to just have drawings produced automatically. The stakes are higher. The goals are loftier. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 3D printing, robots, AI: these are all real things. Those were jokes when I started using ARCHICAD in 2006. Now progressive and avant-garde firms are investigating how to incorporate all of those technologies and more. BIM was hardly a term back then. I’m confident I was using ARCHICAD for at least a year, if not two before I even heard that term.

Client demands are greater than ever. BIM standards are more prevalent and demanding. The IFC initiative began in 1994, and IFC2x3 was released in 2006, but it wasn’t until ARCHICAD 15 in 2011 that it really began to matter to hardcore users. And really only since maybe ARCHICAD 17 that the value has been increasing exponentially (though I might argue that it’s as recently as ARCHICAD 18 that the tipping point happened). For those of us who learned ARCHICAD before 2012, we had years before the current obsession with data took over. For those learning ARCHICAD now, you are forced to listen to experts talk about data rather than the best way to do an automatic elevation. And that makes the switch to BIM all that more difficult. The conversation has moved on. The focus of what matters has left the realm of accessibility for most new users. Accomplishments of a new user that once elicited excitement from old-timers might now be met with “that’s nice, but what really matters is the Information”.

As more firms choose to adopt BIM for the right reasons in 2016, I fear that too many will fail to make the transition. And too few will make the leap without heartache, lost profits, and existential trauma. This is because the norm is to buy the software, hear the promises, and leap into the void expecting grand success and amazing output from day one. Companies will focus on what experienced BIM firms are doing and struggle. This is a trap.

When switching to BIM, whether in 1986, 2006, or 2026, we must always do the same first step. I don’t mean step one for some people, I mean step one for EVERYONE learning BIM. ALWAYS. Regardless of the program, though of course we are focusing on ARCHICAD. This is always step one: first match, then exceed.time-cost-quality

This is Always STEP ONE

When switching to ARCHICAD, your first goal is to match the speed and quality of your previous solution. Do what you did before, then do it better. Then add more. This is the path to BIM success. Match the speed and quality. If you are coming from CAD and could produce a beautiful set of drawings in 100 hours, then step one is to create an equivalent set of equal beauty in those same 100 hours in ARCHICAD. It’s that simple. When you switch to ARCHICAD make sure you can equal what you did before. Same scope, same cost, same quality, same time. Fix all the points and work hard until before-BIM and after-BIM are just as profitable.

First Match, then Exceed. If you pride yourself on the beauty of your drawings, make beautiful drawings from ARCHICAD a priority. Accept that the beauty might be different. Match the quality of the aesthetics, but don’t try to replicate. Find an equivalent. Feel free to do things that BIM pros might cringe at. I feel strongly that you should never waste time outlining elevations with thick 2D lines to help them ‘pop’. I used to do that, but haven’t for years. And I think it’s foolish. However I’ve been using ARCHICAD for a decade and for a long time I did that. In fact, if I go far enough back in time, I did many types of drawing fully in 2D. When I learned ARCHICAD, we hardly used the 3D model, let alone thought about photorealistic renderings. That’s how I got my speed. That’s how I learned BIM. And that’s what you need to do too. Cheats, work arounds, etc. they are all in service of getting to where you were. If you didn’t offer renderings pre-BIM, don’t promise renderings on your first project or two. Or tell yourself those are bonuses, once you do your job. Or that they are additional services your clients can pay for. Eventually they might be included in your standard offerings (more on that another day), but when you are first learning ARCHICAD, renderings aren’t free. Don’t promise them to your clients, coworkers, or bosses. They are not part of phase one of conquering BIM.

Do not get distracted by other demands but also remember that this is step one, not the final goal. Understand that your initial solutions are not your final solutions. If you need to do anti-BIM techniques to match your old methods, do it. But don’t get comfortable with those answers. Don’t train yourself into a corner. Use shortcuts, but understand that they will have to go. If you do un-BIM things, remember that once you match the speed and quality of your previous methods, your next step will be to strip away the bad habits you used to get there. This is something long term users did in less demanding times. Balance these shortcuts to profitability with the added time it’ll take to remove them before you can move on to what comes next.

If you are learning ARCHICAD in 2016 (or whatever year in the future you are reading this), you must take the same steps we all took—the steps we took in coddled ignorance of the grander possibilities. Those of us who have been using ARCHICAD for a long time had the benefit to grow with the program. You do not (not yet at least). But, you have the benefit of learning an easier and much better program (proof: upgrade calculator). Times change. Programs evolve. People learn. What took many of us years to master, what we spent countless projects developing and perfecting, you get to do almost right away. ALMOST right away. While we had to discover, you just have to conquer. The path is still the same. You learn A before B before C before Z. You can’t skip steps. Not yet. You have to follow the path. Before you can export IFC for clash detection, do a photo-realistic rendering, movie, or sun study, have perfectly coordinated and automatic schedules, or send a model for fabrication, you first need to make an elevation with little to no 2D cheating. A nice elevation might not be why you switched to ARCHICAD in 2016, but it’s what you must do first.South Elevation

When switching to ARCHICAD, your first goal is to match the speed and quality of your previous solution.

Advice for new users is a perennial topic for me. I love it because I want to help people make a successful transition to BIM. And I know how much fun ARCHICAD can be, once you stop fighting with it. I’ve written many posts and lists about the overall process. Here are two of my favorites:

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  1. Ian Shafer

    Very smart and we’ll written. Regardless of the BIM platform we all need to realize both the potential and the realities of BIM. Every user should read to the end more importantly every project manager and principal needs to read this article. …thank you

  2. Christopher DeHerrera

    BIM will always have challenges over CAD. I agree it shouldn’t, and I have trouble coming to terms that statement is a fact. However, many large scale companies are corporations. If you have ever worked for a corporation, you know that they are huge bureaucratic machines that are completely compartmentalized. Often the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. That’s not an insult, it’s by design.

    BIM requires, as you described, time and questions to be asked by subordinates. BIM requires good house keeping of files, documentation, and much more involvement. Those are all things, that in a corporation, are profit killers. It’s easier for them to divide the tasks, and create several different more simple outputs, an divide them among more entry level positions.

    I am under the same camp as one project, one designer, one engineer, one project manager, and one superintendent. If you can find them all in one, even better. In that scenario BIM is worth the price. I have done projects doing hand drawings, Auto CAD (DOS), Auto CAD (Windows), and BIM. Hands down no question BIM is the most powerful. Hands down Auto CAD is the most simple and universal.

    Great read!

  3. Gene Kniaz

    Great Post Jared! When my old firm started using ArchiCAD in ’06, that was our exact goal – make our ArchiCAD drawings look as close as possible to what we produced in 2D AutoCAD. I remember all the excitement over modeling – but I remember the long faces when we started setting up layouts, and everything looked horrible, even though project looked GREAT in 3D. It was at that moment when the team realized how much more we had to learn, to match the quality of our old flatCAD work. It’s a really clear goal to set – easily understandable to everyone on the project team.

  4. Steve Nickel

    Congratulations Jared on this article…you have exceeded yourself. For what it is worth, here has been our experience and observations with ArchiCAD/BIM.

    1) You are correct, if you want to be in the 21st century of architectural design, a move to BIM is not a question of IF, but WHEN. And, of course, how.

    2) I was a “late comer”, we upgraded to AC12 in 2008, but I really didn’t get into it until 2012. I modeled a fairly complex townhome project as the learning experience…a “real” spec project that I figured we would need to illustrate well to sell. And, why not start with a hard project? I used AC12 even though 15-16 were out by then. After all, if I failed why spend more $$$ than we already had in AC12?

    3) Now I am an ArchiCAD addict. Like your friend from Seattle, I went straight from the drafting board to ArchiCAD. Still, we work initial things out on “the boards”, and I find my previous draftingexperience there invaluable in working out the 3D world in ArchiCAD.

    4) Regarding this transition, there are obstacles…
    a) The above townhouse project took me 500 hours to model: 1/3 learning,
    1/3 setting up our system (favorites, materials, composites, etc.), and 1/3
    actually getting the project modeled. So there is a $$$ and time investment.
    b) There is the major anxiety of diving in and failing.
    c) There is the frustration and panic when something doesn’t work out
    and you have to finally overcome.
    d) As for matching, then exceeding, this is a great point. To us, the
    exceeding comes from the 10 time of impact this has on visualization.
    For us, our clients, and our suppliers/subcontractors. It is hard to
    find any real time savings. In fact, in my opinion, there aren’t any.

    5) As for the BIG DATA advantages, we are still behind here. However, I am
    exceedingly interested in this “point data” stuff. We do some fairly intricate
    site modeling of our Rocky Mountain environment. It would be great to
    import point data of rocks, trees, contours, existing roads, etc. and have
    ArchiCAD magically produce the beginnings of a 3D terrain model.

    Until next time…Thanks

    • Jared Banks

      Steve, thank you. And wonderful additions to the conversation. I think more people should catalog the time it takes to tackle their first projects and share those numbers. Even if it scares people! Do you know how many hours that project would have taken you by hand? So additional thoughts:

      1) Not IF, but WHEN and HOW. That’s my new catch phrase for this! I love it.
      2) Let’s laugh for a moment about feeling like a late comer in 2008, even 2012. Still ahead of the curve!
      4b) yes. HUGE anxiety.
      4c) yes.
      4d) I disagree. I think there’s massive time savings. But also large time traps. That said, I think people moving from hand drafting to BIM will struggle more to find the time benefits as hand drafting, when done by masters is an insanely efficient and streamlined process. But it’s also a less complex process so there’s much missing from it and hard to exactly compare 1 to 1. Maybe a topic for another day.
      5) This is coming as point clouds and other digital mapping gets easier and easier. I think as an industry we are going to see a lot of advancements in this in the coming years. Have you looked at importing Google Earth data? I never have gotten around to doing that. I probably need to put that on the top of my to write list. Actually the entire topic of siting modeling in general needs more attention!

      thanks again for the great comments.

  5. Steve Nickel

    Jared, in response to your comments…

    1) That project would have taken me about 150-200 hours to hand draft…about 17-18 sheets. But then, there would be no 3D or other ways to help the client visualize! Today, I could model that in about 150 hours…probably another 40-50 to do the layout book. And, an order of magnitude result over the hand draft product.

    2) Site Modeling! There seems to be somewhat of a consensus that good site modeling tools are somewhat lacking in general in the BIM world. In my opinion, Graphisoft should add another category to the toolbox similar to the Lamp tool. More than just trees and bushes that are in the Object library. Such as parametric rock outcroppings, flower beds, meadow vegetation pieces, etc., etc. Naturally, I have no idea how to do that. But that’s why they are getting the big bucks!

    • Jared Banks

      Steve, thanks for the follow up. I’m hoping to write more about site modeling soon. Rockery just came up this week for a project of mine. And I’ve got some ideas. I bet there’s a cool Grasshopper->Rhino->ARCHICAD workflow (at least for PC users).

  6. Skip DeHennis

    Great article Jared.

    As you know I’m about to jump back to ArchiCAD after a 12 year hiatus and doing everything by hand. I hope I remember some of what i knew and that after all of this time the program is easier to use and more intuitive. But I’m looking forward to the challenge of learning it again and getting good at utilizing it for design and drawings!

  7. Damian

    How do you get to show section marks on elevations in Archicad?



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