Tag Archives: Architecture

Data and Design

8 May

If you have read any of the posts on this blog, you should know I love data. But what you may not know is that I love architecture, design and a good sketch. I spent five hours getting Study For The War Coffer by Eugene Delacroix tattooed on my chest.


Often these two worlds collide. I came across a tweet today:

Mindlessly drawing with data? How dare she. I once thought it a good idea to write computer code that could read an architectural program and develop the floor plan automatically. While I still favor some of this thinking, I have had to think it through. And slowly I have come out against it, and I have sided with Tara on this issue.

There is something to be said for hand drawing. The lines made by a pen, with their varying weights, show movement in a still image. There is something beautiful about them. About the process of sketching. Freely moving your hand across the canvas. The AIA had a podcast on Didactic Drawing that really brought it all home for me. On a computer, scale can change. You can draw a hundred foot line and based on your zoom level (scale) it could be a millimeter long. On paper, your scale is fixed. The movement of your hand across the page lets you know how long the line is.

I am not against BIM. But without pre-sketching designs, these program make it easy to create boxes, squares and overall bland buildings, to draw without a set scale, to fully understand and feel the building you are creating.  To design with data is an idea I am still deeply attached to. But I think we walk a fine line between letting data inform design- on how people use buildings for example – to creating the design for us – as in my program example earlier.

Applications like Revit or Grasshopper make it east to start with a simple form – a box – and twist, pull, rotate and skew it to come up with a whole host of possible forms. The results are soulless – though some look really cool. I do not see the art in it. If we are just going to feed some data in to a model to generate a form and say “look at this cool form I created from using the coordinates of all tweets that had the word Gehry in it” then we might as well give up – though I find these kinds of experiments interesting.

Data is, of course, valuable for facility maintenance. I also find value in data on movements of individuals within buildings and with modeling designs for things like airflow, heat, sunlight, etc. These are the kinds of data that can inform design – or confirm that a specific design is a functional design.

I do not want to live in a City full of bland buildings, just as much as I do not want to live in a world full of monuments to the architect that are outrageously out of context. There needs to exist a balance of the art and the science, of architecture and data. And each needs to compliment the other.



What Should Revit Be?

2 Nov

I received a comment on my post “Report Revit Unconnected Wall Heights“:

LOL… as long as you don’t mind inaccurate results! If the wall in question has door/window openings then your wall area figure is not that of the entire length of the wall. Autodesk needs to address this now – it’s ridiculous that we even have to have these conversations….. just make the damn paramter accessible!

The comment is correct, of course if there is an opening the formula is off. But it’s algebra and I assume you know that. But, this post gets at an important question: what should Revit be?

I alluded to the answer in “BIM: Split vs Merged Models.” Revit should not be what I think this commenter wants it to be – all things. I hear this a lot – Revit should do this and why can’t it do that? Because, it cannot do everything. What it does is one thing really well – model. AutoDesk has included the tools in Revit for you to make it do anything you want – the Revit API. Can’t program in .NET? Then hire someone who can and build what you want. You need to learn to modify your tools. Look at Ghery, HOK and SHoP Architects, they do. Call Case Inc – they can build it for you. But if you expect an out-of-box application to provide every functionality that only you may want – you’re SOL.

I think Revit should stick to modeling. What I would like is for Revit to allow me to export my model to a database just by clicking R–>Export–>SQL Server. And bring it back – or at least join a DB to Revit. Then I can use the database to handle the data. And I can use Crystal Reports.

We can disagree on what Revit should be, but we should be able to agree that an architect must learn to modify his/her tools and to be able to create their own tools.  If you have a pen that only writes in green – replace the cartridge, don’t cry to the manufacturer to make it in red. Want to use “sf” in Revit schedules but hate that you can’t sum in excel because the field is now text? Write a formula like INT(=LEFT(A2, LEN(A2)-2) ) to strip it. Don’t cry to AutoDesk that when you export it doesn’t export as an integer.

Architects need to learn to use information – it is the I in BIM. To learn, you need to go outside of architecture to the land of information systems, computer programming, and statistics. – they exist but outside your site boundary line. It’s alright to cross it, I promise, it’s safe…

BIM: Split vs. Merged Models

1 Nov

As we move to BIM, architects need to acquire new skills, particularly in the area of information systems. In school, magazines, and competitions, images are what matter – design is king. Design will always be important, but we are in an information age of architecture. BIM, Energy Modeling, and Form Finding using Scripts are the new architecture. Databases have become a tool of the trade and I fear that architects are lacking in their knowledge of them – if you refer to an Excel spreadsheet as a database, you are lacking. I am not advocating that architects become programmers and information systems experts, but I am suggesting that without at least basic skills you will fall behind. AutoCAD has had a LISP environment since 1986 yet the majority of architects I know would tell you that LISP is a speech impediment. How little knowledge we have of our tools. It’s like using a pencil but ignoring the eraser on the end and starting over whenever you make a mistake.


My interest today and the reason for this post is to offer my two cents on the difference between split and merged models.


Simply put, a merged model is a model with geometry and data combined. This would be a Revit model where all the data about the objects – rooms, walls, doors – exist in the model. This is the model type that Revit leads you toward. And what happens when you embed large amounts of data in to Revit? Your file size becomes massive and performance takes a hit. For what? So that you can create a schedule later or to color code a floor plan? What if you need this data for something else? Are you going to export it to CSV every time you need it? What about a client? Are they going to need Revit to update the information about their building?


A split model, on the other hand, is where the geometry and the data are in different systems. The geometry is in your Revit model and the data is in a database – SQL Server or MySQL. A split model is superior to a merged model and this is what we should be aiming for.


There are certain pieces of data that will always be in Revit. The area of a room or a wall should be determined by the geometry, not entered in a database. But the overriding point is that the model should have the geometry and an ID for each object. That is all. You should have a database with tables for Walls and Rooms and these tables should have an ID and the rest of the data – use, type, department, fire rating, load bearing.


So how do we create schedules and create fancy color coded plans without the data? We use a JOIN and connect the tables of data to the geometry based on the ID.


The data about our building will change far more often than the building. Painting walls, replacing doors or carpeting can be updated in a database. The model only needs to be updated when something is added – an addition – or removed – demolition.


Another reason for split models is that we should keep our tools separate. Do you really need a 3D modeling application to also be a full blown database application? No. We only need the ability to connect them. Let Revit do what it does best – model.


Planners use split models in GIS, programmers use a Model-View-Controller framework and web developers have been working to remove the code and logic from the design of web pages for years. This is nothing new. Architects need to look at how other professions have solved this problem and learn from their best practices. I remember a quote from an officer in the Coast Guard that went something like this: “The data about our buildings is worth more than the buildings themselves.”

Architectural Criticism

14 Mar

The last few months have been a busy time for discussions on architectural criticism. On Feb 27th the NY Chapter of the AIA brought together:

  • Julie Iovine, The Architect’s Newspaper (moderator)
  • James Russell, FAIA, Bloomberg
  • Cathleen McGuigan, Architectural Record
  • Justin Davidson, New York Magazine
  • Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker

to discuss “Architectural Criticism Today” as the first discussion in their 4 part series on “Architecture and the Media.” Two days later, Alexandra Lange released her new book, Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities.

Read More at the Urban Times…

Programming For Architects

27 Dec

A recent article in Metropolis Magazine, Digitally Enhanced | Custom Jobs, touched on an issue I had been pondering for some time — computer programming for architects. The article addresses two areas where computer programming have aided architects, in form finding and customizing software.

Programming for form finding has become a field of inquery for some architects. According to Yolande Daniels, in Architect Magazine, students at Columbia “fall into two basic camps: those interested in digital form-making, and those interested in architecture’s environmental and humanitarian possibilities.” While using computers to generate forms seems rather obvious, it is still not a universal practice but rather a niche area of study. With Rhino and grasshopper, as well as Vasari, it is become more widespread. See Buildz for some amazing form creation in Vasari.

Two widely used software programs allow for their own modification – AutoCAD has AutoLISP and Revit has API access. Building plug-ins or modifying software is by no means something architects need to do; however, being able to modify your tools to fit your needs is a valuable skill. An architect should not be limited by the software in front of him.

Where I see programming as a tool for architects is in the management of data. The move to Building Information Modelling (BIM) requires the creation of more information and more sharing of that information. Luckily for us, BIM tools provide better access to that information. In my work, I have found that through the use of PHP, a programming language, I can connect to a database of my building model. With this connection I can read, modify, and analyze this data in ways that the program does not allow. I can reformat the data to other file formats and I can join this data to other files. As buildings move from lines in CAD to objects within a database, those that can manipulate, access, and analyze that data will be the ones that get ahead.