Introduction - August 2012

Before construction I was involved with software and data, and before that I was involved in thinking and teaching about technology and society, I tend to view technological approaches to construction through a perspective some call skeptical, though I prefer “reality-based”. I entered construction 25+ years ago and was astonished at the technical complexity of the materials and of the putting them together to complete a structure. To this day I find that many commentators or thinkers (invariably from the software or design side, not contractors) grossly misunderstand those complexities. How we can assemble, organize, and access the immense body of knowledge that underlies a building is a main interest of mine, and a thread running through these writing.

These writings were done over the past 13 years and are distilled thinking about certain aspects of the process by which we design and build commercial structures. Neither are polished writing; please keep that in mind as you read. I’ve been busy with the day-to-day aspects of the business and so for a long period did virtually no writing (except highly specific memos on why something is a constructive change or why a particular backcharge is bogus). I have continued to think about the processes I observe. I am especially interested in the transition from design intent as expressed by an architect to fabrication and erection drawings and actual fabrication and installation. In that process we go from lines on paper, that despite dimensions and other appearances of detail and precision, are usually just “intent” and rarely could one build (you fill in here with your area of interest: safely/legally/durably/efficiently) with no more than the contract drawings. This process is an information transformation, but it is not a simple data transformation or look up. Going from “intent” drawings to shop drawings, which are instructions to fabricate and to install, requires a huge amount of knowledge. Such knowledge is not embedded in a contemporary contract drawing or in a BIM.

While BIM is undoubtedly helpful, once the low-hanging fruit of collision detection has been harvested, it will become clearer that an architect-designed model needs further input of knowledge of materials and interfaces in order to become a construction model.

Also, I have recently started blogging, mainly on day-to-day events as a specialty supplier/subcontractor, and how they can illuminate larger issues (link below).

In the PowerPoint presentations, I include all the speaking notes in the posted version (without them the slides are not too informative). You may have to adjust your view setting to see the notes.