Post written by Nicolas Catellier, founder of Revit Pure. Nicolas is an architect and BIM Manager based in Quebec City. Follow his brand new personal twitter account at @nicocatellier.
BILT is a conference about the use of BIM and other emerging technologies in the AEC industry. For a few days, architects, engineers, contractors, software developers, coders and nerds regroup and talk about Revit and the future of the construction industry. I recently had the chance to attend the BILT North America 2019 event in Seattle.
It was my first time attending the conference, but also speaking at such an event. I’ve spoken a few times in the past at local events for 20-30 minutes. This time, I had to speak for 75 minutes in front of 160 people. How did it go? Keep reading to find out. Meanwhile, here are some highlights, thoughts and cool facts I learned at the conference.
1- Architecture Is An Elitist Profession
There was a fierce debate at one of the panels I attended when somebody suggested that architects were only working for the elite. The person was arguing that software and apps can affect 90% of the world population, but only a tiny fraction will ever hire an architect. The counterpoint was made: maybe most people won’t hire an architect, but everyone spends most of their time in buildings. Counterpoint: most of these buildings are not even created by an architect anyway.
Indeed, houses designed by an architect are usually reserved for the upper class of society. Meanwhile, you don’t have to be rich to enjoy most technological innovations from the last 20 years.
Is there a way architecture can be democratized so it is not reserved for the elite? Should architects forget about their obsession with the “uniqueness” of buildings and find better ways to standardize?
Obviously, there is a lot of “democratized” architecture out there, but the bold statement still got me thinking.
2- “HAVING A GREAT BIM PRODUCT IS LIKE PUTTING A TESLA BATTERY IN A MODEL T FORD”
In a discussion with live podcast host Devon Tilly, construction consultant Steve Burrows explained how inefficient the BIM processes currently are. We produce all these fancy models with a lot of data, but contractors end up using sheets of paper anyway. In the USA, productivity in construction has plunged by half since the late 1960s. Despite all technological innovations, there is an average of 30% material waste on site.
Steve compared construction to building a car: “Having a great BIM product is like putting a Tesla battery in a model T Ford. It’s like if Tesla delivered a car to your home in 10 000 parts with no instructions and you had to build it in the rain, in your backyard. You would think they are crazy, but that’s how we do buildings.”
Even with these major challenges, Steve was optimistic about the future of the AEC industry. He thinks we are on the verge of a new construction revolution, but all of us need to push and innovate. Listen to the full podcast conversation here:
3- SEATTLE’S ARCHITECTURE IS AMAZING
One of my favorite sessions at the conference was called Emerald City Jewels. It featured Philip Bergsieker and Dale Stenning from Hoffman Construction talking about their experience as “BIM Managers” on multiple Seattle projects, including the MoPOP museum by architect Frank Gehry and Seattle Central Library by Rem Koolhas. Both of these buildings are absolutely insane. They were built in 2000 and 2003, when the idea of a BIM manager was still in its infancy and most architects didn’t even know what Revit was. Learning about the process of construction was a delight.
A few cool random facts:
MoPOP purple panels are made from titanium drenched in an acid bath.
The original budget was $30M but it blew up to $130M. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen paid the bill.
Every main steel structural element is unique and had to be manually welded.
A monorail goes through the building so construction had to be adapted to match the schedule of the train.
Software used were AutoCAD 1998 (!) and Catia, which is usually used to model jets.
The Central Library is a public project, meaning everything had to go through public bidding. That made coordination complicated.
The architects didn’t share a single 3D model of the projects. Everything was made from paper deliverables.
The biggest challenge was to keep the structure intact during construction, especially with these nasty cantilevers.
4- “BIM” IS BECOMING A MEANINGLESS LABEL
I’ve always thought that the BIM acronym was problematic. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what BIM even means. It feels to me that some “experts” are throwing the label around to impress clients. Maybe the acronym was needed a few years ago so people could understand the idea of intelligent 3D modeling, but the industry jargon has to become more specific.
Phil Bernstein (from Yale architecture school) is one of the founding fathers of the BIM movement and is the former VP of Autodesk. In the opening keynote session, he stated that “drawing-based deliverables should be dead.” He also thinks that BIM is just the tip of the iceberg and that architects will need to update their business model and embrace coding. We’re moving way beyond BIM. Make sure to check out Phil’s great new book, which is called Architecture - Design - Data by clicking here.
5- DISGRUNTLED EMPLOYEES ARE FLEEING AEC COMPANIES TO JOIN SOFTWARE STARTUPS
One of the panels I attended was called “Joined the Dark Side: Switching from abusing tools-to making them”. It was hosted by Kelly Cone and featured people who were formerly employed in the service AEC industry and decided to make the switch to startups, either as founders or as employees.
Technological talents are being smuggled from AEC companies to startups, where they get more freedom to experiment and a better paycheck. Profit margins from service based business are usually pretty thin (especially for architects) but there is no limit if you have a software business.
This panel got me thinking. Should architects and other firms in the AEC industry develop their own software? How can these companies move from service to product?
If you are interested in the subject, make sure to check out the book Super-Users by Randy Deutsch. He talks about the new generation of coder-designers and how they can integrate in the AEC business.
6- USE A RAILING PLACEHOLDER ON ALL REVIT STAIRS
Most of these highlights so far are deep philosophical questions about the future of the AEC industry. But meanwhile, you still need to learn cool Revit tricks.
I’ve attended a few sessions by BIM consultant Brian Mackey at Autodesk University in the past. I know how good his sessions are so that’s why I immediately subscribed to his course about Railings at BILT.
Brian is an absolute Revit wizard. One of the highlights from his class was about the use of placeholder railings in all stairs. The placeholder is a super-small railing (3mm x 3mm) stuck in the stringer that nobody can see. This railing is used to copy/paste in the stairs so you don’t have to draw the railing profile each time stairs are modified.
7- 25% OF DUBAÏ’S BUILDINGS WILL BE 3D PRINTED BY 2025
One of the highlights of the conference was hearing everyone say how terrible, wasteful, backward and inefficient our building processes currently are, but also how quickly that could change. Daniel Doherty from PCL Construction talked about the future of construction companies. He tackled the topic of AI, quantum computing and 5G. But a random stat caught my attention: 25% of Dubaï’s new buildings will be 3D printed by year 2025. I thought that 3D printed buildings were kind of a meme, but apparently I was wrong.
8- pyREVIT IS A GREAT HYBRID BETWEEN DYNAMO AND CODING IN C#
When automating in Revit, you usually have the choice between Dynamo (easy-ish) and C# (hard). PyRevit is a plugin for Revit that allows you to use the Python programming language, which is considered to be much easier to learn than C#.
Dan Boghean from OZ Architecture taught a lab that showcased the power of PyRevit. What I liked is that by default, PyRevit includes a bunch of useful tools. Did you ever struggle to create a pattern in Revit? It includes a tool that converts a bunch of detail lines to a pattern.
The whole thing is free. Download it here.
9- BILT IS LIKE A FAMILY
I’ve attended a few Autodesk University events before. While I’ve enjoyed the events, I appreciated that BILT feels a little smaller, less corporate and more intimate. The BILT community cherish their parties. A popular tradition at the closing reception is to take a popular song and modify the lyrics with “BIM” related words for karaoke. In the image below, you’ve got “BIMemian Rhapsody.”
10- MY SESSION ON REVIT COORDINATES WAS AN APPARENT SUCCESS
In June 2018, I released an exhaustive blog post about coordinates. It became one of the most visited blog posts on this website. It also became one of the most controversial, as I’ve received a lot of emails and comments telling me how wrong some of my tips were. I realized this was a pretty substantial topic and decided to expand my research and submit a session for BILT. It was accepted.
A few days before the conference, the BILT committee sent the speakers a spreadsheet with the number of attendees for each session. My session had 160 people subscribed, the highest amount ever reached on any BILT conference, only equaled by Brian Mackey’s session on Revit families.
This was my first time speaking at BILT, in a foreign language (I’m French-Canadian), for 75 minutes in front of a record crowd of 160 people for the very last session of the conference. So how did it go?
Pretty well! I’d spent so much time researching the topic that things went kind of smoothly, although I won’t deny I was feeling slightly tense at first. I hope to be back next year!
More blog posts about coordinates will be released in the coming months so stay tuned.
While you are pondering about the wild future of architecture and construction, you still need to learn Revit. Check out our fun, simple and popular BASICS learning package.