Part IV: Lean, Mean and Green – The Series

Technology and The Lost Art of Drafting

When I first started in the profession, we were still hand drafting and we did some class work on PCs. At that time, the fastest PC available to us was a 286 MHz system. We worked through design issues, alignment of materials, and clarity of drawings by thinking through how all the lines on the paper came together. It forced a certain depth of thinking that CAD has taken away.

Moving into CAD, we forgot why it was important to plan the set of drawings – because you could change the layout or sheet number witha click (or two) of a mouse. We thought we could get more efficient by not having to hand draft – and re-use details, etc. What we learned was that this system allowed us to get a little lazy and not think so much about the project.

During this period, a gap grew in the seasoned principles who did not really pick up on the CAD systems, and the young professionals who embraced it. The job of the seasoned architect then became to teach the younger staff how they arrived at design solutions, and help them figure out how to depict it in CAD. We lost much of the ‘art of drafting’ in this process.

At the same time, contractors started doing less ‘self performed’ work and more subcontracting. And more ‘Project Management,’ less hands-on training. And the further advent of PCs, email and project-based software caused – believe it or not – more paperwork. So the architect started spending more time ‘defending’ the drawings and answering RFI’s from contractors who were getting less field experience and more office time. This effort, coupled with the technology gap that grew between the younger and more experienced architects, caused a shift in the time we saved using CAD being used for more project coordination and administration.

Now we have begun another shift – one that has taken a complete mindset shift, and requires more in-depth thinking of the building systems. Building Information Modeling has given us a tool to actually draw the building. Not a 2-dimensional representation of the building, but the actual building and all it’s sytems and parts. It allows the model to hold intelligent information about material quantities, energy efficiency and conflict detection of various systems.

It also opens the door for subcontractors and material suppliers to be engaged, using their design and fabrication software to ‘contribute’ to the model. This starts the conversation about how we can work together to minimize duplication of design work through engaging the subcontractors and fabricators earlier in the design process.

This sets the stage for the meat of this series, and will lead us into the next installment which will discuss the practice of ‘Getting Lean.’