Metal Buildings and Net-Zero Performance, Are You Kidding?

The Friday Special Edition..
Metal Construction News and Net-Zero buildings? I mean metal building and net-zero design, who would have thought. But check this article out "10 Things to Know about Net-Zero." Mark Robins, Senior Editor of Metal Construction News writes about an unlikely topic, how metal buildings can achieve net-zero status. To his credit Mr. Robbins addresses the issues of air leakage and thermal performance as two of the largest issues


Penn State BIM Execution Plan Review

BIM Project Execution Planing Guide - Version 2.0I have to apologize to you, one of my loyal readers for taking so long to get back to the review of the Penn State BIM Execution Plans v 2.0. I'll get to the FM Planning Guide in a couple of weeks.

If you used this product before, you will find just about everything just as you left it, but there are better controls for what goes in and how you manage the elements. If this is new to you, then spend 30 minutes with the documentation and you will find a real gem. I still don't really like the use of a spreadsheet to deliver the working content, but it is easy and approachable for everyone. Most people will find it easy to use and modify if you have just a bit more than the basics in modifying and creating spreadsheets.

I would love to see this as a data-driven java or php app that could be implemented on a Unix LAMP or MSIE web server instead of the spreadsheets. There isn't very much in the sheets that makes a spreadsheet handy other than the all-pervasive tabular format of the process. Being tabular in presentation reduces it to a hierarchical data format which a MySQL data schema would handle very well. Modifying the elements would only be changing the variables and pseudo table headings and names, the linkages would likely stay all the same. If delivered in this format, then we would have a true collaborative environment where more than one person could reliably work on the project information anytime and from anywhere they were given permission. For one of you inventive and courageous programmers out there here's a ready-made project for you.

I really like the initial project information, documentation of goals, rating of the ability of the team members to perform tasks and the associated risks. It does make for the ability to make rational decisions about who will be making decisions about what and who will need help to get through the project without creating undue hazard to the rest of the team.

Communications between the teams, naming conventions for files, components, levels/layers, workgroups, even libraries of components can be defined here so everyone knows where and what can be used. I like the ability to give web addresses or file locations for these elements. If there is a wiki used to hold much of this information, then the url's to the correct pages and tags can be documented here.

Since it is delivered now as a spreadsheet, you can use as much or little of the framework which suits your project. If you have other sources for execution plans such as the one from Indiana, Texas or the Feds, then you can add those as additional sheets or rows within the framework as is needed.

In all, the authors have done a great job of creating a thorough and flexible framework for anyone just getting started or an old hand at BIM authoring a leg-up to better manage an increasingly complex job which has grown to be a central document contributing to the success of any integrated or collaborative BIM project.

In the thumb's up rating scale of 5 I'll have to give it a 5 for thoroughness and content and a 3 on delivery because it doesn't go far enough in my opinion to encourage collaborative participation.


The Disconnection in Learning in a Structured Environment

This is a Friday Bonus Article

For a couple of years now I've been thinking about how learning happens and how it happened and continues to happen for myself. Why would I contemplate such a topic? For the single reason that the amount of knowledge is expanding at a logarithmic rate and I'm fascinated in the discoveries of others. Smattering bits of knowledge from one area seems to spark new ideas in me about what I'm more interested in and a different perspective is often revealing to me. It reveals how very narrow my vision about a singular issue is, when it needs to be more broad in every respect. Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of social anthropology at Kansas State University studies social issues and uses the vast resources on the internet to bring relevance to the study of anthropology to his students in classes with enrollment of over 400 students. A daunting task to find ways to engage students in a way that they activey engage with anthropology.

The following Lecture was delivered in the UK at a conference put on by the Association of Learning Technology in 2009. Professor Wesch delivered this talk as the opening keynote address for the conference. I think you will find plenty in the talk to encourage thought provoking reflection about learning, our current educational environment, the use of the internet for positive change and how the internet shapes our lives and the activities we engage in. Even the idea that the internet may encourage a new level of creativity, not seen in our culture since the days of learning a craft to support yourself. So enjoy the hour of Michael's address and we'll follow up with a few ideas I came away with from the talk.

I'll take a couple of minutes to open a couple of ideas. One is connected with the built environment related to the physical space Michael talks about. First he mentions that the typical 400+ lecture hall just does not encourage participation between students. It is a singular use space, intended to deliver information, not interact with others and information at the same time. The second is that space is not nearly so important to them as the tools they use to build a community of relationships. This is a telling account of the effectiveness of tax and private monies being spent on learning environments which have largely failed to deliver the kind of supportive learning environment which encourages students to engage with the learning they are ostensibly at university to acquire. It's not that they don't like to learn, It is apparently they don't understand what they are supposed to learn. The quintessential conundrum of not knowing what you don't know and not knowing the importance of not knowing the value of what you don't know.

In a later post I'll get to some other interesting points in Michael's address but I wanted to lead with these two points since they probably have the most direct context with previous entries in this String of Connections with the Built Environment. So let's start with the effectiveness of spacial design and the relationships we build into those space and the inherent value, or not we achieve by relying on established norms.

There are several volumes that direct the norms for 'good design' in educational and other environments. They are guides to provide a safe, recognizable solution to educational space. I refer to the Architectural Graphic Standards and the Time Saver Standards. Most architectural design and construction companies have one of both of these tombs in their libraries or they are owned by employees who use them from time to time for various needs. While they are good reference materials, often designers fall back on established formula for solutions. You don't have to think much, just copy and move on. Check off another requirement from the list of needs the client presents you. So lecture halls become the same kind of environment they've been for the past 200 years. A stage for a sage. Come and learn at a particular time and place. Gain knowledge from a recognized sage who holds the keys to knowledge. They talk, you listen, you learn new stuff and eventually there will be a test to see if you did really listen. Perform well and you get a good grade. Such is the design paradigm we are stuck in. I say 'we' since both the educational owner and the designer have colluded to provide the space, thinking it will work, but in reality it isn't working very well at all.

What is so sad about the information being presented in these venues is that an expensive textbook isn't needed at all. All the information presented in most textbooks is available from several sources on the internet. Textbooks have a very tenuous existence in today's electronic age and the didactic delivery of that information is just as perilous. So what is a recognized expert, knowledgeable in an area of study and experience to do? How do they engage the populous coming to learn?

So far the answers are few but the suggestions are many. Open University in the UK is almost entirely online. It is a knowledge delivery environment focused on students engaging in learning at their level and pace, not a pace dictated by an artificial schedule. It seems to work. Open University has been operating since being established in 1969 and the first students enrolled in January 1971. It is a recognized accredited institution in Europe and the US. That's no small feat when you consider a large segment of their enrollment is graduate studies from around the world. While OU, as it is often known, is one of the leaders in distance learning, their experiments in collaborative and open coursework is legendary in educational circles. So what does this mean for the physical edifice of our alma maters? Will they go out of business? Will some of the disappear? Are they stubbornly holding on to an out-dated paradigm to be replaced by something not yet considered?

I'm not sure I have answers to any of the above questions. But one thing is for sure, Universities and Colleges are in the midst of significant change. The large subsidies state sponsored institutions have received in the past are just about gone. Research and public services, patent rights and licensing are the basis for survival of many institutions. Some saw the writing on the wall decades ago and have built reserves which make them financially independent and able to select what they will investigate and build programs that more closely meet the needs of our cultures and economy.

My second point is that the relationships that are built during learning become lifelong relationships. That is nothing new, but under the uber-connectedness of the internet today there is the reality of creating collaboration efforts between interested parties without regard to distance or time. It may not be the most convenient, but is is proving to be effective. No longer are the boundaries of departmental requirements important. The importance is the ability of people to communicate on topics of mutual interest and knowledge. New insights from others with seemingly no prior interest have given several fields of study tremendous breakthroughs in the past 10 years. Neurology and brain science has made great strides through the joint studies of biology, physics, mathematics and even music and the arts. Visualization technologies have made great advances by looking at the arts, biology and chemistry and physics. All with significant cross-fertilization of ideas and viewpoints. University learning centers can and I believe should be centers of encouragement for these associations, not the fragmented departmental and collegiate silos of the past. All should have something of interest to bring to the collective table of learning to assist others to see breakthroughs not realized in the myopic centers of thought of traditional departmental learning.

To me this is what is so engaging about what Michael is doing with his social anthropology students. He opens the possibility for them to see the world in a different way through leveraging what they already know to expose what they don't know. Isn't that what we are all doing with learning? Taking one set of experience and a lens of understanding and then looking around the corner at something we have never seen before and making the leaps of understanding from what we already know. When we have someone come along side to open new ways of looking at an issue, new understanding opens up and the peak around the corner isn't based on what we knew before, it's a completely new vision of reality.

That's why I beg, borrow and steal from others. It refocuses the lens of understanding about new ideas, processes and discoveries I'm interested in, revealing new ways of understanding issues I thought might be impossible to understand. It is a way of collaborating to gain new insights. It is why I always remember "Collaboration is the Glue of Success."

This article is a continuing series of articles which are Connections of Strings which have to do with the Built Environment, social issues, public education and the difficult and wicked problems all of live with every day.


BIM Metrics

The following is an email I wrote to a LinkdIn contact Tim Cole of Causeway Software. Tim had asked me about what I thought about how the Levels of Detail effect the kind of data which can be collected as Key Performance Metrics around BIM models. This is my second reply in the discussion between Tim and I and I thought others might be interested in this particular segment. The issue I'm dealing with is at the the heart of metrics in any form, and that's the data collected and for what purpose that data is intended. My contention that the kind of data some folks want to collect is a direct reflection on the authoring software and purpose of the project's original intention. So here goes. I hope you enjoy the read. And as always remember, "Collaboration is the Glue of Success."

I'm not sure how I came up with the five levels, but they are similar to the US AIA level of detail document. I've modified that level to suit what my experience has taught me and what I've seen more advanced Owners such as General Motors, Ford, Motorolla and Intel use as their increasing tiers of service they ask for. For man of us in the US the first level of use is just assumed to be a 3d model. I know you can have a flat drawing that has data attributes on it, but it really is not a virtual building model, it is just a flat drawing with data attributes. Yes I do know you can do 3d Acad with 3d blocks and attributes, and that could be constructed as a BIM model, but it is pretty crude and rudimentary. Acad never was intended to hold a lot of data attributes, it is a drafting program. Using it in the extended form is a bit cumbersome. Then there's Catia. A premiere 3d mechanical modeling tool Frank Gehry has spent millions on to make it into a building modeling tool. And a very good one, but at a tremendous cost to own and operate.

Then we get to the built for purpose software like Revit, Archicad, Tekla and Datacad. These tools were built to handle data and intended to model space and construction from the beginning. Revit's history comes out of a mechanical modeling history but the guys quickly found that a mechanical parametric modeler just didn't work well to construct buildings, so they started all over and used a completely different mathematical base for the definition of parts. There is only one other program I know of designed like Revit since the 1980's and Tekla owns that original source code now. Tekla and Revit share some common ancestry in the algorithms they use to define elements but Revit has taken that definition and internalized the data store to be almost entirely inside the model. That, I think, is the one weakness of Revit, but eventually they will change this and make most of the data external and accessible to 3rd parties as the projects grow in size and complexity.

The takeaway here is that purpose-built software intends to create a virtual building from the outset and not be a drafting or documentation tool. That is the biggest difference in the two camps or classes of software on the market today. Here in the US most of the users don't think of any 2d documents as BIM. Maybe intelligent drawings, but certainly not a virtual building. So for us starting at Level 1 as a 3d virtual building, although it may be just a very general idea of the design and construction, or maybe no construction technology has been thought of at all. It really just conveys a design intent and not much more. You know that these models are quick and dirty and there are a lot of 3d modeling tools that can be used to get this kind of result, but it's not a BIM model if there isn't any Information component in it to help w/ completing the design. This stage is where Onuma really works well. Their space and utilization tools are really nice for building models at this level. They allow you to use something like Sketchup and then marry that spatial model to data by importing the 3d into Onuma and apply lots of data attributes to the spatial construction. There is a lot of value there to FM and Capital planning folks that don't really care about the construction detail.

The work I've been doing for the last 10 years has been focused on how to leverage the incredible resources of a virtual building process into the overall delivery methods we use. I've found that no matter what level of detail you use in a model there is a much more important story going on along side it which we leave completely out of the picture and that gap creates a lot of confusion and cost. Marrying those conversations with the model in a central storage repository so anyone connected to the project can understand why decisions were made would be a tremendous leap forward. There are so many levels where this 'conversation dialog map' could answer all kinds of questions about what is going on. Paired with a knowledge store of allied information keyed as a semantic network of relationships is what I think is needed to help BIM deliver the meta information which is really where the real value is during the building's lifetime. This goes way beyond the concept of levels of design and gets back more closely to the original questions about BIM metrics.

With a data store as described above you would know about how decisions were made, what the design assumptions and goals were, how they were intended to me met and how they were actually met in the end product. These are the metrics which are most important to Owners, not what level of detail we used in a model. The results of thoughts which turned into action, this is what building owners and investors are interested in. What was the return on investment for a design implemented over time? Did the extra money spent, really result in better service and a longer material service life?  Right now we aren't measuring this kind of performance. In fact, we aren't even actively determining if USGBC certified and rated buildings really perform over time as they were intended. There are some pilot projects going on, but a limited response for now. So do Owners really get any benefit out of a 'green' building? That to me is an important metric which few people are doing any significant work on now.

In the end, all metrics are driven by data. Data that can be reliably gathered and analyzed in a standard format (read an extension of accounting rules). Until the profession matures enough to settle on some data-driven processes, this question of metrics will be one of many words, conferences and papers and a few people who bravely go out and try something, anything to see what works. Those brave few will be the ones that set the pace for the rest of the professions years afterwards.
Andrew Abernathy
 This post is a continuing String of  articles as on the effects of Building Information Modeling and Virtual Design Construction on the Built Environment. As such there are Connections between the worlds of  design, software, economics, finance and Facilities Management.


BIM Without Collaboration Doesn't Measure Up

A couple of weeks ago Ted Garrison of New Construction Strategies interviewed me on one of my favorite topics, collaboration in context of the use of Building Information Modeling. Here's the quick synopsis Ted used when he posted the interview. Just click on the link below to listen. 
“BIM isn’t about drawing lines, it’s about building buildings virtually;” declares Andrew Abernathy. As a principle in Collaboration Consultant, Abernathy provides expertise on project management collaboration. Listen to him explain how BIM can improve your projects.

This  post is a part of a String of posts part of a conversation about design and virtual design and construction and BIM


Low Carbon Renewables as a Function of Area

Many of us have been intrigued by the possibility of alternative power sources to replace the dependence of petro-chemical sources due to their finite limits as opposed to the less finite and potentially more abundant sources from so-called renewables such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass. This past March in Warwick, UK there was a TEDx conference and one of the talks was delivered by Professor David MacKay, a physicist who thinks we should quit shouting at each other about the merits of one solution over another and step back a few minutes and look at the problem of replacing Petro-chemicals with renewables with some arithmetic.

He analyses the issue and creates a data set of consumption as watts/Square meter and then maps that against population density in different countries. A surprising result turns out to be that the UK could be a picture of what might happen to other countries in our world where the areas are small and population density continues to grow.

So, take about 15 minutes and watch the video and then we'll continue the discussion.
TEDx link



7+ Reasons PM's Don't Improve Efficiency or Productivity

Many of you know I subscribe to the art of stealing and transforming ideas to get new results or perspectives around difficult problems. It's just an axiom of our world, 'nothing is new under the sun.' Did you know they had vending machines in Pompeii? Amazing!

In a recent article on Projects@Work there was an article closely titled to this entry, but it related to CEO's. It was written by Mike Beard who is a pro at Project Management. Mike was writing about the folks in the C-Suite, but let's take a minute and step back to take a closer look at the everyday activities of project leaders and managers. I would contend that Mike's seven reasons falls squarely on the shoulders of just about every person who managed a project or held some kind of management responsibility. At sometime all of us have been party to one or more of these seven reasons. It's not an indictment, it's just the way we are as humans. It is also not an excuse for the behavior to continue. I would hope all of us are working to become better practitioners in our chosen fields and have some ability to look at ourselves candidly to measure how well we perform and act. So let's look at Mikes' Seven Reasons quickly and see how we measure up. Oh and I've added a bonus reason at the end for you.

1. We have met the enemy and he is us: (my paraphrase). Yup, I'm my own worst