How do you knock down the tallest tree? One hack at a time.

I was going to write about the upcoming AEC Hackathon at Facebook HQ, and my new BIMbuddy, Jared,

beat me to it. If you don’t follow Shoegnome, you really should.

AEC Hackathon 1.1

Last week I had coffee with Greg Howes of IDEAbuilder, and one of the AEC Hackathon organizers, and we had great conversations about BIM, digital fabrication, and the shortage of high-quality technical designers and fabricators. There’s such a lack of qualified people, that some firms who have traditionally been super competitive have to turn away work, or don’t bid on as many projects for feat they might win them all. The equipment, and by extension BIM software, doesn’t run itself.

Some well-respected designers in the AEC community have recently been quite outspoken on their belief that firm structures and business decisions are why they have not yet mastered their tools. To them I say, “stop making excuses.” The only way to master a tool is to both want to excel and put the time into doing so. There is no magic pill. I recently attended a great lecture by Andrew Kudless of MATSYS, who also happens to be on the dFab Net (Digital Fabrication Network) board with Greg Howes and other prominent industry leaders. AS he began his talk, he mentioned that while in Japan he learned that in order to be a carpenter’s apprentice, you must first spend a year in studies making your own tools. Only then are you allowed to work on a real project. Here in the USA, despite what some may think, training dollars spent on unwilling participants is wasted time and money. Jumping in with both feet or a project manager throwing bodies at a project with no training, à la ‘trial by fire’, can be equally destructive to the established team’s productivity.

The inefficiencies in the industry have very deep roots. Those roots are paper drawings, orthographic projection of 2D views, lack of understanding from clients, operators, and code officials as to why BIM will never flourish with these things in our way. Rather than save those roots, I say cut down the tree. Together, we can plant a new tree, or an entire forest. Things can be better. So, what can the construction industry do to get it’s groove back? Make everyone an expert in a particular brand of BIM software? No. Good start, and it’s not enough. We must also redefine the process, tools, and deliverables necessary to create a functioning ecosystem. Things are far too out-of-balance.

The industry needs more meet ups like the Hackathon. Did I mention that you should go? It’s not just for architects. You’ll find designers, engineers, contractors, fabricators, and a whole lot of software developers – many not even from our industry. As Jeff Kowalski said during one of the AU2013 keynotes, “the answer is outside.” The hackathon model, a similar event was hosted by Case at AU, is the perfect venue to partner directly with some very smart people in the technology sector to identify opportunities and roll up the sleeves to rapidly prototype solutions – all in the heart of one of the most innovative places on the planet, Silicon Valley.

In a time where there are many industry forces threatening to make the role of the architect less in the center of things, there’s a tremendous opportunity to redefine what it means to design and create buildings. It’s time to change the conversation. Don’t let the narrative that’s all too common out there get you down: “Architects are no longer master builders, and therefore doomed to become extinct.” Failure is inevitable. Well, that’s true if you’ve already thrown your hands in the air. It’s getting old people, and just another excuse. This reframing of the conversation for the AEC industry is critical to increase relevance in an ever more crowded landscape of constraints and competition.

We live and work in a time where we can create anything we want, including creating and reshaping the tools we use everyday. Design Computation might be is now a huge part of this opportunity. As I’ve said on several occasions, the sweet spot is where those tools combine with BIM to create the complete package of Computational BIM.

Are you ready to (really) change the world? Sign up for the AEC Hackathon, and if you need more reasons to attend, read the excellent article, on Shoegnome.

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