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Process-ion

04.26.12 / Christopher Angelakis, AIA, LEED AP

I started my path to architecture with a T-Square and a hand-me-down set of Rotring pens, some templates, and a pretty handy compass which I still keep in my desk drawer for some unfathomable reason.  During my five years of architectural school between 1990 and 1995 I was brought along in baby steps from pencil and parallel rule, to pen on Mylar, to AutocadR10 and an ungodly pen plotter, and ultimately to an experimental software called AES that tried to generate architectural drawings based on three dimensional models.

In the professional world, I have learned and mostly forgotten a dozen software platforms.  Along this path I have witnessed the evolution of better and better tools for our profession, however, the quick pace of this technological transformation has come with its own challenges. The biggest challenge for me has been finding a consistent process. It seems that as the speed of progression of our tools has accelerated, integrating them into a clear design process has been hard to come by since we as designers, technicians, and document creators have had to learn, adapt and adjust to new tools every couple of years, which happens about once a project cycle.  I personally cannot think of two projects I have worked on for which the design and documentation tool were the same.

About a year ago, a design team I was leading sat down and had an in-depth conversation about these issues.  We discussed what our design process was going to look like, and then discussed what tools would best support that process.  We understood the importance of developing conceptual models, architectural drawings and documents, but we also needed to understand how to provide presentation drawings at many different project milestones.  A challenge was posed from the most junior staff member of the team: “Why don’t we see what we can do with just ONE tool? Let’s just do everything in Revit.” 

The gauntlet was thrown down and the challenge accepted. I have to be honest, there was a rough patch in the beginning when we lacked the confidence and fell back on old habits of using more comfortable methods including Google Sketchup and Rhino.  However, not long into schematic design we settled into our go-to software platform, Revit. 

While we recognize that this program does not do everything perfectly, we did see some immediate benefits by limiting ourselves to one tool. It would be easy to point to the software and say that it solved all of our issues, but I believe that what really mattered was that we limited the amount of tools we used and set up as a process that supported the flow of ideas.  The tool no longer became a means for simple production, but we learned to use the program as a guide to making informed and efficient design choices.  This process also led us to believe that we could use the “presentation graphics” effort to further inform our design.  Because this process was so integrated into our design effort, the idea of outsourcing renderings seemed to be counterproductive and inhibit the flow of ideas.  In the end, the results were of a high quality, but more importantly they were done as part of a clear design direction.

Since this realization, other design efforts have further refined how we can integrate a single tool into an efficient design process.  For the first time in many years I feel that we have found a marriage of a tool and process that can be used to successfully test and record our design ideas, visualize, document and coordinate within the flow of the design and documentation process.  Not unlike that old set of Rotring pens and my trusty parallel rule.

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