Tipniques: Does BIM Stand for Building Information: Modeling? Mess? Missing? or All of the Above?

As an architect and educator, this month’s AUGI emphasis on BIM offers an opportunity to look at BIM learners in the classroom.  If teaching classes of 32 Revit students at both community college and university post-graduate levels has taught me anything, BIM students “get it” and are looking for more than is being offered.

Each well-enrolled Revit class brings a new group of students with a variety of expectations from simply acquiring the skills necessary to get a job to needing the advanced knowledge required to move their office to Revit or to advance further into Revit. A cross sample of students includes building material manufacturers, architects, interior designers, landscape architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, facilities managers, contractors, and those studying to join the foregoing professions.  The primary common denominator is the need to acquire BIM linguistic skills.  If adding “Revit spoken here” to their qualifications is the student goal, what is being said in their newly acquired language of BIM and how can the education community contribute more to its cohesive development?

Each entering class wants to know BIM, but for often less than contiguous reasons:

  • Building Product manufacturers – Creating content to promote product selection and successful use and installation
  • Architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design professions – 3D design, visualization, rendering, and change it here and it changes everywhere
  • Engineering design professions – Analysis capabilities
  • Construction – Constructability modeling, alternatives, material takeoffs, and scheduling
  • Facilities Management - Information (Data) organization and continuity

All these disciplines are extremely resistant to change and often only grudgingly acknowledge each other’s contributions. However, through BIM education, they are acquiring a powerful common language and conduit for an integrated cohesive information stream. Yet the current state of the BIM pipeline is one of disconnection and inconsistent or missing content. Disciplines not connected through a well-managed IPD team (and most are not) have few forums outside seminars and the web where the community as a whole can address the BIM pipeline dialog on connections, sizing, and content. 

So let’s re-examine our classrooms and how they can most effectively be used to improve and promote the flow in BIM. The schools where I currently teach initially offer two levels of Revit: beginning and intermediate.  The demand for Advanced Revit is too small to justify creating a class for it.  All Revit students, regardless of discipline, are required to take Revit Architecture as a prerequisite for other Revit classes such as Revit Structure, Revit MEP, and Intermediate Revit. 

Engineering students express frustration at being required to use Revit Architecture prior to gaining classroom access to disciple-specific Revit training.  Complicating the issue is an inordinately small number of engineers enrolled in Revit classes.  The small turnout makes it difficult for schools to offer an engineering-focused Revit curriculum.
Construction students take Revit Architecture in stride, but they wonder why there is no classroom training for creating the construction-related information they need from BIM.  As a further frustration, the Revit Model is created with seemingly little relation to actual construction phasing and components.  

In examining student concerns, it is evident that the first barriers to turning Building Information Mess into Building Information Modeling are the ragged edges and disconnected information pipeline between disciplines. This is in no small part due to changes in the traditional workflow brought about in incorporating BIM, and from all appearances, workflow will continue to change in the future.

Building a fully functional and reliable information pipeline in BIM is far too large an undertaking for academia.  However, schools offer one of the few venues where all of the disciplines gather in one place at the same time without the billable hours meter running.  They gather in the Revit classroom because it offers the basic building blocks in learning the language of BIM.  It has always struck me as odd that curriculum and class dialog never seems to include actually using the language of BIM to develop at least basic interdisciplinary communication between students.

Because the boundaries between disciplines are becoming far more elastic, so must academia adjust curriculum to accommodate and help define it.  BIM education offers the ideal meeting ground for commencing the living dialog our building industry conducts on a day-to-day basis.

Software products such as Autodesk’s Building Design Suite Premium and Ultimate are already currently available and often already installed on classroom computers.  Revit in all flavors offers a solid core for interdisciplinary curriculum development.

If we revisit my classroom and revise current curriculum to include bettering connections in the BIM pipeline things could look something like this:
To teach basic Revit, the curriculum includes the use of all Revit modules (Architecture, Structure, MEP).  I am not suggesting that architects learn mechanical engineering or vice versa.  Some of the exercises are to be on a basic level with each discipline learning the rudiments of each other’s ribbon. By doing this students acquire not only proficiency in their chosen field, but extend their knowledge into some of the bridging elements found in the soft boundary between disciplines.

After learning the initial Revit basic skills, using an integrated BIM textbook, the class could follow Project Based Learning guidelines.  For example, the class works together on a single project involving input from each discipline.  The projects are very basic, involving a simple central file and discipline specific individual files.  Using the cross-discipline vocabulary acquired in the initial class exercises would proceed to flex (test) the boundaries in simulated actual use.

This inclusive approach extends a welcome to all student stakeholders regardless of discipline.  In observing current class behavior, it seems that the non-architect track students are on the periphery or clumped together for mutual protection.  Engineering disciplines are currently lightly represented in the basic Revit courses, in part because of our industry’s general resistance to change (I do calculations, not drawings etc.), but there is also an element of resistance to sitting through an initial class that delivers only a perceived marginal return for non-architects.

Schools cannot effectively address BIM content or content standards to remove answer “3. Missing” from the possible meaning of the M in BIM. Building product manufacturers already have an economic incentive to fill that void.  By working in the classroom on BIM pipeline connections, erasing answer 2. Missing as a possible meaning more easily falls within reach of the industry.  Schools can and should provide a vital initial forum for commencing and enhancing the interdisciplinary dialog made possible through a common language: BIM.

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