We’ve just published a follow-up to the book 3D Construction Modeling. coverfront865The new book, How a House is Built: with 3D Construction Models is a how-to book on construction modeling using the latest version of SketchUp. The modeling lessons in the book are wrapped in the virtual construction of a small, simple, and sustainable house that covers the step-by-step and day-to-day details of residential construction from surveyed layout to MEP finish.

The book uses the same detailed 3D models, captioned text, short videos, and 3D illustrations we use in all our books, but its final chapter differs from our earlier publications because it begins to explore how a contractor (or designer) might use the web as a visual interface to communicate construction information.

Though all our books come with CDs that act as a window to the Internet, offering links to the models, video downloads, and the web resources used in the book, this is the first time we’ve mounted a chapter on the web in an attempt to explore a fully interactive construction information environment.

A paper-based model for a paperless jobsite

Not to say that the resulting web pages are so great, or that the over all research potential has really even begun to be explored. But what occurred to me as this section of the book was being developed is that the original notion of paperless project documentation on a rapidly moving construction jobsite is, in practice, constrained by a fundamental assumption that paperless information should follow a paper-based model.

In other words, in order to find a paperless environment, early attempts by constructors have been to use paper as a template for electronic translation. Documents are simply posted online as PDFs, text or spreadsheet files, or a collection of JPEGs. Worse yet are the orphaned CAD.dwgs — complete with bundled X-refs and a conglomeration of programmatic references which, of course, only actually work on the computers that originated the graphic files.

Even more challenging is that these electronic files are often emailed or quickly posted and indexed as a list of cryptic titles with no visual references or clue as to what they are or how they might fit together. Over the life of even the smallest project, electronic information becomes as worthless to day-to-day management as the growing pile of printed boilerplate specs crowding the back of a construction trailer.

The resulting indices are handy archives to store and retrieve evidentiary information, but a long way from the visual and dynamic potential of what the web might bring to support real world, real time, construction management.

A construction information environment

What is interesting to me in this new book is the combination of the three-dimensional storyboards used in all our books, mixed with manufacturing links, interactive details, animations, and streaming videos – both from the models that illustrate the book and publicly posted videos on U-Tube and similar websites.

It’s as if the chapter’s six web pages flesh out the construction information I’m trying to convey and expand on the three-dimensional models, not as 4D or nD, but as an information environment that points in a direction that casts a dark shadow over the existing paper-based paradigm. In fact, the resulting chapter could not be printed. A single page of multidimensional information cannot be tied to paper or printer and must remain in its interactive, electronic state.

Readers, or perhaps users, must then be induced (or enticed) into a participatory world. Moving from topic to topic and link to link, taking in the information in response to actions that only they can initiate. The information is therefore layered in relational stacks of visual data, stepping beyond the role of a static construction document and back into the fold of real time, relevant construction communication.

Understanding motion and movement in this graphical information environment is something we’ll continue to test and explore in our next books. But the notion of moving through the data, inferring references from graphical clues, and presenting information in deepening layers of relevance, has the potential to parallel and somehow represent the same controlled chaos we find on almost every jobsite.