Proto-Building: To BIM is to Build

In this article, John Tobin, an architect and Principal at EYP Architecture & Engineering who spearheads the BIM implementation for EYP’s five A/E offices, suggests that even though many designers continue to use BIM to produce drawings, we would be better served by looking beyond using BIM merely as a more powerful representation tool, and instead to treat the models we create as “proto-buildings,” as in the word “prototype.” He also presents the current state and the likely future trajectory of BIM by looking at it as three different generations, which he calls BIM 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.


12 thoughts on “Proto-Building: To BIM is to Build

  1. I think John’s vision for BIM 3.0 is valid and exciting and provides a useful roadmap for future efforts in the AEC field. The implications are significant both in terms of technology and business practice. Clearly, the model needs to move to a server environment rather than being deskbound by any individual member of the building team. More significantly, the knowledge needed to build such a proto-building requires that the team be assembled at the start of a project, rather than waiting until the architectural effort is completed. This early integration will ensure that the model captures all the requirements for the design and construction process. Detail can be added as appropriate and simulation of building performance can take place simultaneous with its design. This is an ambitious goal that is approapriate for the AEC industry.

  2. We are at a Nexus in Architectural Services taking back the Capomaestro of the Renaissance role. The “Architect-in Chief” who controls the process of concept to reality. Check out the book “Brunelleschi’s Dome” by Ross King. — “Who ever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome of the Cathedral under construction by the Opera del Duomo – for armature, scaffold or other thing, or lifting device pertaining to the construction…..If the model be used he shall be entitled to a payment of 200 gold Florins.”

  3. John, you nailed it. For all of this to work, a true change in attitude is what is needed. In my view, the technology is actually already there to do more then we can even think about today, but what’s holding us back is our current view of the process. In the future, companies and individuals will become more and more specialized and they will contribute to a “proto-model” by only modeling or influencing the model with information that’s uniquely theirs. I see a time when designers will model to a point where the model intent is fully developed and then they will allow the contractors to work with the end installers and fabricators to detail the model for construction. It’s all just a matter of using the training we all currently have to its best advantage and remembering not to overstep when somebody else might be the true expert in the matter.

    Great job putting these thoughts down and it’s really comforting to see, as a contractor, a designer that’s truly willing to leave the Egos outside the door and come together for the best interests of the project.

  4. I have to disagree, at least a little, with the statement…”One of the reasons the Architect’s BIM model is being viewed as a throwaway may be related to current software shortcomings where BIM applications cannot yet deconstruct an assembly into the trade-by-trade subcontracting tasks that contractors need.” I would look at Vico’s Construction 2008 suite. Though not an Autodesk product, this is a real good look at what John is calling BIM 3.0.

    I also see that John is from the educational side of AEC. I have found that construction technology is years behind in terms of Building Systems. When the educational systems start moving into the 21st century, we will see actual movement on the ground and at the site.

  5. Thanks so much for the responses above.

    This article has been circulating in my mind for a while. Much of it is simply reacting to excellent topics I had heard in other presentations, and particularly architect-contractor BIM groups. I just was finding it hard to point people to a source when I was trying to explain how BIM changes everything, so I needed to write it down.

    The article didn’t start out as ‘Proto-building,’ it was originally called Beyond Representation, but as I wrote it, it transformed into this other realization (proving the quote “I write so I may know what I’m thinking”; Dideon?). I feel that BIM is one of those forces that will shift a lot of the established identities and roles that we’ve grown comfortable with, so the best thing to do is to focus on the model’s value and to get ready for some shifts in job titles.

    One point I want to clarify: I may have over-condensed my resume a little at the end of the article.
    I haven’t been an academic for 12 years, and even then I was very rooted in construction technology, so I’m not expressing a current academic viewpoint. I’m a very nuts-and-bolts kind of person, and to me computers was the obvious next step in the nuts-and-bolts process. That was in 1992, so of course I didn’t exactly anticipate the scale of disruption we’re now seeing – but I welcome it as part of staying ‘modern’.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  6. One more point, if I may, as I forgot to respond fully to Harry’s post above:

    It was actually during a presentation on Vico that I heard the concept of throwing the architect’s models away voiced most forcefully. It was not framed as software to develop the architect’s model into a construction model; it was seen as a wholly different task that, while it referenced the architect’s model, simply re-created the building in different software.

    Vico is a great software for contractors looking to do Virtual Construction – I just don’t want to see us using 2 different pieces of software for what should be a continuum of intent and realization. The reason I see it as a shortcoming is that architects tend to think in terms of whole assemblies, and contractors in terms of discrete trades, so I’m looking for software that promotes a smoother workflow. We use a lot of different software in design, and they should all aspire to some method for disassembly for downstream use.

    Thanks again for responding.

  7. John, thumbs up for an excellent article! I’ve recently been trying to finish reading a book called “BIG BIM, little bim” (see link at end of comments) and the author discusses how we are doing BIM right now and where we want to be, which is quite similar to your premise about 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.

    In the last few weeks, in an effort to seriously start training our users in “BIM capable software”, we held sessions and discussed the why of BIM and tried to define it; not an easy task by any yardstick. We also tried hard to disassociate BIM (as a process) from the software we use. There is no way you can “BIM”, regardless of platform, if you don’t understand the philosphy behind the “why”, which you have expressed extremely well.

    Needless to say, this article will become recommended (required?!) reading for our studio. Thanks!

  8. When Vico was still a part of Graphisoft, I was indeed surprised to hear them explain that the ArchiCAD model (“Virtual Building”) from the architect was recreated as a “Virtual Construction” model and was, in fact, not reused, even though Vico uses ArchiCAD as BIM platform. It replaces the library objects with dedicated construction-capable objects, having information about the full construction process, though.

    I currently teach ArchiCAD to students of architecture (in an engineering faculty) and have to remind them again and again that they should model according to how the building is constructed. This was true even with BIM 1.0, if you want to call it like that. For that reason, we introduce BIM only in the third year of the 5 year curriculum, at a point they have at least some insight into how a building is constructed.

    I certainly hope that the realisation of BIM 3.0 could become independent of software, maybe using IFC as the core, when it is rich enough to cover the full design intent. And let the designer be free to choose any “compliant” application.

  9. Think “Proto-Building” and BIM 3.0 is far away? Think again.

    Great perspective John!

    In our collaboration with Design, GC’s and Design-Build firms, we de-facto preach the “Proto-Building” method so that real BIM 3.0 construction analysis benefits can be achieved rapidly. It is absolutely refreshing to see that there do exist firms out there that are forward thinking and are using BIM design for its original intent which is at the core of what “Automation in Construction” is all about.

    Many questions can be raised with respect to “…we try to mimic construction…” Here is one: Does your firm model slabs as though they would be poured? If so, would there be significant sub-contractor input in doing so?

    Here is another reason why you should be designing a Revit model in the same manner as it will be constructed: Along with an Autodesk Revit ‘model-based’ cost estimating platform, our company (Building Explorer) has developed the industry’s first “geometry-based scheduling simulation” engine which automatically produces project schedules based on the model components in Autodesk Revit. Applying neural networks to geometrical algorithms, our engine successfully allows you to create an environment where production process logic is stored; as a result, multiple 5D construction scenarios can be defined and analyzed instantaneously. Moreover, utilizing spatial information of model objects, location based schedule production is achieved automatically.

    Dr. Kunz of CIFE said it best: “…latency is the key…”

    John, I would love explore BIM 3.0 possibilities with your Autodesk Revit models further.

  10. I’d disagree with some of the authors conclusions (shown in quotes below).

    “Separate design and construction models would be disastrous for many reasons.”  “It is a waste of time to duplicate modeling work.”
    – Not if it saves money during construction – which it often does.

    “We may lose important design intent in the shift from one model to another.”
    – Not necessarily. Architects move from Discussion to Sketches to CAD to 3D (rendering) to AVI in order to express their design intent. Here’s another example: Painting, Sculpture, Music, Theatre. All communicate ideas via very different mediums.

    “It would reinforce the notion that the architect’s design work essentially lacks value.”
    – Geez, the architects have such thin skins. 🙂 Architects don’t want to resolve all of the granular issues of constructability during design iteration. The economic concepts of “Division of Labor” is exactly what makes their ever increasing concepts a reality.

    “It supports the idea that design can proceed separate from construction implication.”
    – This is just another expression of the division between Art and Science which has existed for a very long time. It isn’t going away because of Technology. But I think we’ll be able to better bridge the gap! 🙂


  11. John,

    Any chance you could follow up this article with the “Levels of BIM” Matrix you presented at the ZweigWhite AEC Technology Strategies Conference?

    I’m encouraging our peers to investigate adoption of this concept and it would help if the documentation was available to the general public.

    thanks in advance,

  12. Hi David,

    Good to hear from you again.

    For those who attended the ZweigWhite Conference, the presentation should be available as a download from their site.

    However, we haven’t yet managed to take it public, but I will look into doing it. We’re glad to share it.


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