Friday, September 11, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

Interns in a BIM World
Lauren Stassi
Associate and ACA BIM Manager
Morris Architects, Orlando, Florida

BIM is quickly the changing atmosphere of many architectural firms. BIM can affect every facet of architectural work, from design through construction, when used to its full advantage. Architectural interns have a much different set of skills to develop early in their career when working in BIM instead of only 2D drafting. There is great opportunity to use BIM to teach interns and young architects to think in 3D. BIM however is only a tool; in order to complete an accurate model, interns need guidance in building design and construction (as well as the software) from the day they begin.

The typical role for an architectural intern on a project team producing documents in 2D starts with a manager passing down simple ‘red line’ tasks for the intern to complete with basic guidance. Often these tasks will not involve much knowledge of design or construction. At the beginning, an intern only needs to understand how to change the 2D line work to match the ‘red lines’. As an intern continues their development by learning the software and increasing their understanding of building design, documentation and construction, they will complete involved tasks like coordinating changes between plan section and elevation and developing details. During the construction phase, an intern will see how their 2D drawings apply to the 3D world and will often uncover issues that were never resolved in the 2D drawings.

BIM gives an intern access to see the coordination of a project far sooner than they would in a 2D world. By working in plan, section, and elevation simultaneously, an intern, and the entire project team, is able to understand how to put together a building. Since the intern is generally the team member who will become the most skilled in 3D modeling, they are also the most likely to discover unresolved issues as they build the model. The great benefit of BIM is that this discovery can happen as soon as modeling starts, instead of lingering until the construction phase. BIM allows an intern the opportunity to see these issues and learn how to resolve them much earlier in their career than 2D drafting did. The greater the intern’s knowledge of building systems the better equipped the intern will be for this new responsibility.

BIM is only a tool; it cannot make decisions or choices, it does not know correct from incorrect, it can defy gravity and constructability, and it does not have a 'Finish Construction Documents' button. It is important for the success of a project that an intern has direct communication with team members with technical design and construction experience to guide them to model pragmatically in order to complete accurate usable documentation.

In 2D, an intern could pick up changes with a basic understanding of the software and without much supervision. In BIM, an intern has a much longer learning curve before they can complete tasks on their own because redlines are not a simple task of moving or trimming a line anymore. An intern needs to understand the software to determine if they need to adjust an object's location or type in order to ‘delete a line.’ They need to ask themselves and their team members - what are the impacts of editing an object- did every object of that type in the entire project just change? If the object is adjusted, will there be a gap in the model? Is it necessary for that object to be modeled in that location, but the display in plan needs to be adjusted? Because so much of the documentation is tied to what is built in the model, an intern needs to develop not only their software and building technical design skills at a much quicker rate in order to complete what were once simple 'red line' tasks.

Interns need a team that will assist them in learning how to use the software and how to build the model accurately as soon as they are on a project. There needs to be a team member who has construction experience that is also familiar enough with the software tools to guide the intern to make appropriate decisions and choices on how to model accurately. Without timely communication between the modeling team and the manager, the model can quickly get far off course. It will be too late if the manager waits until the week before the deadline to look at a check set.

Interns can use BIM to further their own education about building design and documentation at a much faster pace than ever before. To use this tool, interns also need to accept responsibility for modeling and documenting accurately. BIM cannot make decisions, and if an inexperienced intern makes decisions beyond their level of knowledge, the domino effects can be considerable. The ease to change object types globally for a project has great efficiency, but it becomes the intern's responsibility to understand all of the impacts of that change to a project. If a door size is changed globally, will the design still meet code? Are all of the clearances and required widths still met? As an intern learns to think through these impacts, they will quickly become an indispensible asset to the project team. Interns need to learn what can be modeled, but more importantly, they need to learn how and what should be modeled. An integral part of BIM's success will be the dedication that interns put towards learning the responsibilities of building design and construction, and not only focusing on the complex objects that can be modeled.

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