How VDC Is Like "The Lego Movie"

As the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry uses building information modeling (BIM) to move towards a digital workflow, it's important to recognize that other industries also use digital workflows. One example of this is especially relevant to our work – the production of The Lego Movie!

The Lego Movie was a 2014 full-length film produced by Warner Bros. Animation with the entire film environment comprised of Lego blocks (and maybe one lollipop stick). The film succeeded in one important objective: It was nearly impossible to tell whether the movie used real Lego blocks in the filming or some digital effects. In reality, the entire film used digital workflows, which allows us to make a direct comparison to the AEC industry's work in virtual design and construction (VDC) and BIM. Following are three ways The Lego Movie is like the AEC industry's VDC processes.

The BIM Unicorn: Rare Traits of High-Performing 3D Modelers

Consulting companies are people-based organizations and the alignment of skills and projects is critical for successful execution. I ran a building information modeling (BIM) consulting company for several years, and I had a mental model I employed to inform business decisions. Examining this mental model can help provide insight into your own skills, skills of others around you, and skills you will look for when hiring for BIM positions.

The mental model is very simple. To effectively execute on projects, an individual has to have three components: modeling skill, tradecraft, and project experience. The assessment of an individual's abilities would then inform how to approach a given project. Below is a description of each of these components followed by the project approach.

The Study of Clicks

Previously, we spoke about how virtual reality (VR) will be limited to the passive viewing of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) information if we don’t create better tools. Notably, we pointed out that mouse clicks demonstrate how constrained we are to the desktop environment. Clicking the mouse is difficult to do in a VR environment and most of our tools require lots of clicking.

The Debug Analogy in AEC

Let's talk about software debugging in relation to what we do in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC).

Many of us have done a bit of coding as part of our education. When I was at UC Berkeley, engineering students used MATLAB to learn the basics of software in a class that was widely recognized as one of the more difficult undergraduate prerequisites. One of the concepts we had to learn was how to effectively "debug" our work. Syntax errors were pretty simple to deal with because they were highlighted. We'd track variable values through code, write text file logs, and even write code for testing. In addition to actual debugging, we learned how to write functions, subroutines, and compartmentalize our code so the work was less likely to have errors. In one semester, we learned the basics, which merely hinted at the error corrections done by software engineers as they debug.

The Perceived Flexibility of Electrical Systems in BIM

It costs money to use BIM on a project, and it's natural to weigh costs and benefits to get the best outcome. Electrical systems have the reputation for being the most flexible in the practice of BIM, which results in electrical systems receiving the least attention during preconstruction. For example, electrical is most likely to have the lowest level of development (LOD) in BIM execution plans and is most likely not to be modeled by project designers before subcontractors are engaged.

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