Special Subject: Computational Design Lab: Reinventing BIM

Students are expected to be familiar with basic use of BIM for modelling. Knowledge of customization and programming/scripting interface would be an advantage but is not necessary.

"Architects tend to think in terms of forms for which they have tools, and simultaneously, to look for tools to represent forms they have imagined… In general, a designer’s toolkit represents a provisional equilibrium of capability and demand." (William Mitchell, 2009)

Are you satisfied with the current repertoire of digital design tools?

Software for architectural design has evolved dramatically over the last fifty years, from early drafting softwares to sophisticated 3D modeling systems. The recent arrival of Building Information Modeling (BIM) now promises the integration of design intelligence and information beyond just formal or geometric manipulation. The goal of BIM is to support the wide range of work that architects undertake in planning, shaping, visualizing, simulating, constructing, and evaluating buildings. Yet BIM it is still in early development, and a consensus on what BIM is – or what BIM should be – is still being sought in both academia and industry.

This course looks at Revit, one of the most widely used BIM softwares today, in a professional context of architectural design. Students will be asked to examine and question the capabilities of this software (and BIM more generally), and to identify challenges and opportunities within the framework of the software. Students will work in teams to propose exploratory tools that augment or transform existing software capabilities in creative and innovative ways, to develop conceptual prototypes based on their ideas, and then to test their prototypes.

CO Architects
This subject will be sponsored by, and conducted in collaboration with, CO Architects, an LA-based design firm. The firm has been using Revit in their professional practice for the past several years, and has an extensive portfolio of work with use of BIM, including designs for large educational, medical, and research institutions. Architects from the firm will help initiate a discussion on the use of BIM in a professional design context, help student teams to identify substantial problems, participate in reviews, and provide opportunities to test exploratory tools in the context of real-world projects.

The class will receive direct technical support from Autodesk, the manufacturer of Revit. A few intensive tutorial sessions on software customization and SDK (Software Development Kit) tools are planned at the beginning of the semester.

Project Topics and Budget
Topics for exploratory tool development include:
1. Form generation tools (eg. volumetric study automation, lighting fixture layout tool)
2. Catalogue of parametric forms (eg. stylistic stairs, operation room assembly)
3. Visualization (eg. stereographic system, augmented/virtual reality for simulation)
4. Building code and BIM (eg. code observance analyser, code browser/knowledge base)
5. On-site tool (eg. hand-held system to work with BIM)

A variety of explorations are possible within each topic, and students may suggest other topics to explore, subject to instructor approval. Limited funding will be available for hardware, software, or field trips, if necessary, to support the development and testing of prototype tools. At the time that student teams finalize their project proposals, they can submit a small budget for approval to support their work.

Assignments and Grading
Students will work in teams of two. Each team is expected to formulate a proposal for a digital design tool, develop a prototype and test it in a professional context of design. Attendance is required for all classes, tutorials, reviews, and presentations.
Class participation: 15%
Prototype development: 50%
Testing: 20%
Final review: 15%

Overall Schedule
Feb 7-28 Introduction, tutorials (Parametric Components, Revit SDK), and development of project proposal
March 6 Project proposal due
April 10 Mid-term review
May (TBA) Final Review (last day of class, May 15, or during finals week)

“Architectural Transformations via BIM” (A+U, August 2009)
“Closing the Gap: Information Models in Contemporary Design Practice” (Architectural Design, March/April, 2009)