The production of architecture relies on the ability to produce drawings which can be read by others. Architects select their medium, whether it be generated by parametric coding or by wiggly pen drawings. The official doctrine of developing a design through careful examination of plan, section and elevation have however been threatened by the development of technology. As construction projects increasingly demand a wide array of consultants and regulatory checks, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become the contemporary architect’s modus operandi, bringing with it promises of a simplified process.
The importance of the program has fuelled a growing polarisation in the profession between large and small practices. From April last year centrally procured public sector projects required the implementation of BIM at ‘Level 2.’ Since the government made this objective clear in 2011, a new career has spawned informally as architects, technicians and engineers have quietly scoured through BIM training bibles in order to forge new roles within practices. This change has also by default removed smaller offices from the process or forced them to work as subsidiaries of larger firms able to command the resources to invest in BIM.
Consequently smaller practices have countered this, reverting to more humane messages of craft, materials and scale as the antithesis of modern construction.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the emergence of BIM as a necessary product through which a building is managed has generated a situation where licensing costs for computer workstation might exceed the cost of the human labour required to operate it. This tells us much about the future of automation for the building industry and the skills we choose to invest in. Whether or not academic institutions choose to reflect this in the training of its students, this has implications for how we define the role of an architect in practice today.
BIM was created in order to make the production of building information accessible among different disciplines and to some extent standardise building elements, thereby favouring larger manufacturers able to advertise through seamless online resources.
Scepticism remains as to whether BIM produces more inventive or ambitious buildings and tends to follow an attitude to construction centred more on mechanical servicing (and energy consumption) rather than pure design or layout. While its efficiencies in automating many processes such as scheduling are clear, grumbles will remain over hampered creativity.
Perhaps the wider question regarding BIM is the implications in the demand for skills within the industry. If BIM software appears to dominate the professional lives of architects, then this by default requires a large scale reskilling program, made possible currently only through private, out of hours dedication on the part of architects or investment in training by practices. Graduates are in a similar position – BIM remains absent from academic programs yet as individuals they are typically more willing and more flexible in the skills they are able to acquire early on in their careers. It remains to be seen whether or not schools of architecture decide to take up this shift in how we co-ordinate the design of buildings. In an industry where investment in new skills is fraught with danger, it falls upon private practices to make up the shortfall.