Page T2.2 . 09 January 2002                     
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    More Time Designing

    continued

    As a result, the tools that architects use to express their ideas and document their design intentions are no longer in harmony with the creative design process. And a chasm of communication has opened between younger architects who have the time and inclination to master complex computer software and older architects who can't spare the hundreds of hours needed to master tools that don't seem to work very well. The situation is only now beginning to change.

    Intelligent Developments

    Until recently, computer-aided design (CAD) software did not really "aid" the design process at all. Instead, it simply replicated the end-stage of the design process, the drafting of construction documents, because this part of the work could be codified most easily in computer logic.

    New design software applications are introducing "parametric modeling." Parametric design software "understands" and records the architect's intentions not as a collection of lines and arcs, but as objects that are defined by their parameters.

    A wall object has most of the characteristics of a real wall. Through its defining parameters it is solid and has a height, a thickness, and a material composition. Furthermore, parametric objects "understand" their relationships to other objects. An interior wall "knows" that it cannot intersect an exterior wall in the middle of a door or a window. A window "knows" that it has to exist in a wall but allow light to pass through.

    Another inherent characteristic of 3D parametric modeling software is that from the beginning, the application recognizes the building components as three-dimensional. Rather than produce traditional plans, elevations, and sections, the architect constructs a virtual 3D model of the building. The 2D drawings are simply "views" of the model.

    Parametric software applications "think" more like an architect than conventional drafting systems, so they are easier for architects to learn. They support the way architects work, augmenting their intellectual abilities to absorb and evaluate the many factors of a building design, to consider multiple design alternatives rapidly, and to synthesize all of that information into a coherent building.

    Unlike most drafting systems, these applications are actually useful as design tools, which means senior architects are more likely to adopt them.

    A Test Case

    A design team at the Arlington, Virginia office of Daniel, Mann, Johnson, & Mendenhall (DMJM) has been using Revit, a powerful parametric modeling application. When the software was presented to the firm, project design manager Robert Smedley, AIA, who had never mastered a conventional CAD application, realized, "even I can do this."

    Smedley and his design team, Galen Hoeflinger and Mark Woodburn, AIA, decided to put Revit to the test. On their first project using Revit, they began with programming and concept development and moved easily into developing the building massing and schematic plans.

    It quickly became apparent that the design team had found a common tool of expression and communication. "My team appreciates my contributions more," Smedley notes. "As we are studying the design, I can insert my work directly into the documentation process."

    Improved design team communication led to better client communication. "The defining moment for us," says Smedley, "was when we presented the project to the client using the program live. We were able to explore design alternatives in real time, which really enhanced our ability to communicate and collaborate with the client." That session ensured that the design concept ultimately selected was based on strong client guidance and feedback.

    Another revelation occurred as the team began mobilizing for its next project. "We had a tight schedule," says Smedley, "and we realized that we had to use Revit to meet the deadline."

    The DMJM team found Revit's parametric modeling technology particularly useful in the preliminary stages of design. Automatic area tabulation allowed the team to produce floor plans in multiple color-coded schemes to show the space by use, department, or any other classification criteria. Because they could study design concepts in three dimensions, they could quickly analyze the pros and cons of various design alternatives. Says Smedley: "It eliminates the fudge factor, especially when it comes to 3D volume studies."

    Using Revit since mid-2000, the DMJM team has repeatedly enjoyed its enhanced conceptual design and communication benefits. Their design concept for the entrance of a university residence hall included an octagonal lobby supported by an articulated beam structure.

    The design team was able to use their early design studies to communicate their intentions to their structural engineers. "The engineers understood immediately what we were trying to achieve," says team member Woodburn.

    A good parametric modeling application allows architects to spend more time on the task that adds the most value to a project: design. Less time need be spent on tedious documentation. With conventional CAD applications, the design process might have to stop well before a scheduled client meeting so the team can assemble drawings for presentation.

    The DMJM team finds they spend more time designing than presenting because, says team member Hoeflinger, "the presentation drawings are inherent in the work you're doing."

    Michael Tardif, Associate AIA, is the director of the American Institute of Architects Center for Technology and Practice Management.

    This article first appeared in the AIA/DC Magazine, 2001, Volume 4, magazine of the Washington Chapter of the AIA.

     

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    ArchWeek Image

    The Revit parametric model of the James City County Government (JCC) Center developed by Daniel, Mann, Johnson, & Mendenhall.
    Image: Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall

    ArchWeek Image

    Once a software model is built, any number of views can be projected from it.
    Image: Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall

    ArchWeek Image

    A floor plan is just one more view of the 3D model of the JCC.
    Image: Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall

    ArchWeek Image

    A study using Revit for the Christopher Newport University Residence Hall entrance designed by DMJM.
    Image: Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall

    ArchWeek Image

    The Christopher Newport University Residence Hall entrance.
    Image: Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall

     

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