04
Jun
08

CAD Caveats from a Developer-Contractor

Photoshop and Autodesk Maya

T.K. Garrison, author of Cracks, Sags, and Dimwits – Lessons to Build On, also maintains a website with some great articles on it, for instance this one called “Slaughtered in the Dirt.” Two friends in the industry are swapping tales of professional misery, and the subject of their woes is dirt. On any building site, it’s expensive to handle, especially when you have to do it more than once. One guy advises the other:

You’re usually dollars ahead paying for a topo survey up front and then having your architect check dirt quantities as she designs. Not only does this minimize dirt work, it also helps ensure driveways and lawns aren’t too steep and that the site drains properly.

Like so many other aspects of a project, working the dirt right is the responsibility of humans who can be devastatingly fallible, whether through lack of training or lack of caring. It comes to the same thing in the end — a badly flawed project, in this case a road the engineer put in the wrong place without consulting the dirt.

Though Garrison’s piece is about computer-assisted design (CAD), it applies equally to Building Information Modeling (BIM). It’s funny and, unfortunately, all too true. There’s a strong warning here against the assumption that a lot of pricey software and few buzz words can add up to a technologically competent architectural firm. Training and commitment matter, and so do versatility, and adaptability, and so do machines and programs that can work together harmoniously. As one of Garrison’s characters says,

There are two types of CAD operators… The thinking kind are worth their weight in gold. The I-only-push-buttons-for-a-living-don’t-ask-me-to-think variety are far more common… They can be successful, but only if the boss spends LOTS of time reviewing and correcting their work…. He’s so busy bringing in new jobs, trying to get paid, and training new employees, there’s no time left to manage and maintain the people actually doing his day-to-day workload.

Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition contains a whole chapter on “Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM)” which defines the design technologies associated with the field as ranging from simple two-dimensional drawing programs to the more inclusive and complicated 3D programs that do solid parametric modeling. It’s basically any digital environment where a desired shape is first designed, then interpreted, producing directions that control the actions of a machine tool. While unquestionably unequalled when it comes to laying out and cutting out parts, the further reaches of computer-aided design can create ambivalence in its human users,

As Dan Hanganu points out, the ability to make beautiful pictures alone isn’t enough, and can conceal shortfalls in other areas. He says, “The technology has taken off and there is a generation of people in our offices who know how to manipulate the machine. But the machine has the seductive ability to hide the lack of depth and essential knowledge of the user.” Newly fledged architect Zoe Berman notes in her blog, “For a while, we seemed to forget that the computer can only ever be a tool that we direct, and is not a tool to direct us. CAD creates a veil of perception that can distance us from the realities of a project.” Many voices remind us that technology alone can never replace human intelligence, and even the best tool is only as good as the mind that directs and interprets its activities.

SOURCE: ” Slaughtered In the Dirt – Part 1: Bad CAD” 06/02/08
photo courtesy of ovendelon , used under this Creative Commons license

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