August 10, 2010

Egyptian scribes were honored for their skill at producing two-dimensional documents. They were trained through an exacting practice that began with a pictorial language and ended, for a chosen few, as expert draftsmen using rulers and straight edges.  Though they were restricted by their instruments, they prepared and applied ground pigments to parchment in a meticulous effort to represent both existing and proposed constructions with a sacred commitment to detail.

Insitebuilders: Ancient Egyptian Drawing Board

The skills of the scribe were passed from generation to generation, respecting a tradition of practices that continues almost unbroken to the two-dimensional documents we see in construction today.

The values of 2D

The core values of these 2D documents include:

1. Exact specifications of the design for construction,

2. Certified proof of code compliance for public safety,

3. Accurate representation to determine values in competitive bidding, and

4. Evidence as a binding contract between the parties involved in the construction.

At the same time, the very complexity of these post-industrial values overwhelms the production of once simple two-dimensional documents.  In practice, the shear volume of drawings and specifications has made them almost superfluous to their original intent.  This is because the growing density of the documents makes them increasingly prone to errors, and the demands of their production, effectively limits the design team’s interaction during construction.

Hi-tech 2D

If we believe the hype, some might even assume that computer technologies are playing an important role in mitigating the cost of producing traditional 2D construction documents.  But of course, the cost of implementing and maintaining the technology far outweighs any gains these new automations might be able to deliver.  Just ask any designer trying to make a living in the real-world.

Insitebuilders: BIM Promises

As a result of a blinding media blitz, some offices now devote thousands of hours (and dollars) to hardware, software, and training for technologies that deliver the same old 2D specs and drawings.

In fact, if you look past the hype, it’s pretty obvious that we really haven’t come that far.  The documents are still 2D, and though they’re now prone to complexities that only automation can bring, the computer generated output does nothing more than meet the original core values using an ancient two-dimensional format.

Open source opens eyes

While our industry labors myopically on complicated single source drafting programs, a variety of open source and freely available software like SketchUp now make it possible to quickly model, illustrate, and animate the construction process.

Add to this, palm size computers — running 99 cent “aps” — that can annotate and post videos and images of real-world construction to the web, and it’s almost comical to think that we are now attempting to see the same antiquated 2D documents on highly portable, multi-dimensional, full color, interactive, and cloud-sourced, three-dimensional viewers like the IPad and other slate computers.

Somehow we’re missing the real potential of these simple web-based technologies.  Maybe it’s because they’re virtually free.

Insitebuilders: New Slates

Lo-tech 3D

Given the availability of 3D technologies, a visually indexed set of 3D diagrams and specifications could easily replace cumbersome 2D specifications and drawings.  Such a document would improve the delivery of construction information while meeting the original intent of traditional 2D:

1. Specify design details: the exact specifications of the design for construction are better defined in 3D than 2D.  3D construction models are multi-dimensional explanations, showing an assembly from a variety of view points in a single image, from many different angles, as a simulated sequence of events.

2. Protect public safety: code compliance is fast becoming a fiduciary responsibility based on signatures and licenses.  Overburdened permit agencies are increasingly relying on certifications, stamped calculations, and prescriptive solutions rather than drafted details.

3. Competitively determine values: accurate bidding is based on an estimator’s ability to quantitatively simulate time and materials.  Using past project experience, 3D construction modeling easily supports these calculations because they adaptively anticipate the flow of project interactions along a timeline of a standard process.

4. Support binding contracts: annotated images and animations as graphic explanations are the by-products of a 3D construction model.  As dynamic illustrations, they hold a greater potential for interactivity — as adaptive hypermedia — that not only structures the legal contract, but clarify intent and minimize the need for conflict resolution.

Scott Gabriel Professional Work

Old school new school

As a matter of experience, motivation, and training, there are few old school designers interested in modeling the construction process.  Many might argue that this kind of information must be specifically excluded from 2D construction documents because of the liability that it implies.  The very idea of adding process to a construction document is crossing a line that many designers have long been unwilling to accept.

Regardless of these traditions, the availability of new tools is slowly eroding the boundaries of design and construction.  Builders now have the software to not only illustrate and prefabricate solutions; they are able to use these programs to express their own ideas, sometimes completely circumventing the embattled and time consuming production of construction documents.

Mitchell Strangl, Strangl Associates

At the same time, a new generation of designers recognizes process as an integral part of the design. They are able and willing to craft virtual simulations, as hands-on instruction, to carefully guide the production of their projects.  Some even see this trend as the return of the masterbuilder.

Add to these tech-savvy innovators, the work of building system engineers, component fabricators, and construction material manufacturers, and the potential of an integrated 3D process document is clear.  They reduce design errors and omissions, improve construction safety, increase profits, and extend the marketability of both design and construction services.

Simple-3D only remains to be recognized for its real-world potential.


2 Responses to “2D: AN ANCIENT TRADITION”

  1. Edson Mahfuz Says:

    hi dennis et al,

    I have been following your posts with great interest as I am on the verge of moving from traditional 2D construction drawings to Sketchup-based 3D construction docs. I have used Sketchup for 4 years but only recently started to generate construction drawings directly from it using LayOut.

    of course, there is and there will be resistance from clients and contractors but in the end they will see the advantages of moving on.

    although I have read all your books (which are great, by the way) it would be very helpful for me and other people interested in the subject to be able to see a full project documented in the way you have been suggesting in this blog. would you be willing to do that?

    best regards.


    • insitebuilders Says:

      Hi Edson

      We’re finishing a sequel to the book “3D Construction Modeling” that should be out the first of the year, and beginning to outline an eBook titled “Hypergraphic Communications in Construction” that should be out as an open source series beginning in late Spring. Layout and 2D will only be a part of these books however — only an overview, since I focus on the piece based models and sequence and process animations.

      I do know of two other books about using Layout to generating construction docs from 3D models and SkethcUp. I thk they’re still in the works. One is by Mitchel Stangl or Stangl Associates in Amherst MA, and the other by Paul Lee of Aspire Architecture in Ireland. I reviewed the draft of Paul’s book and can send you their contact if you want to chk w/ them directly. There may also be another book on Layout that’s already out there, but I haven’t seen it.

      Re the full set of hypergraphic docs. I have posted some examples on the ePub link of our website and will be posting other work if I get permission from owners. A lot of what we do is proprietary and commissioned for special needs, so it’s usually confidential.

      I’d be interested in seeing what you do tho, so let me know how it goes….

      Thx again.


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