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In mid-November, I had the pleasure of representing Archilizer at Autodesk University in Las Vegas. The scale of the conference was more than overwhelming at first – just putting together my schedule of classes was intimidating, but once I dove into it, I found there was a sophisticated system of support.

Autodesk University 2018 in Las Vegas had about 11 000 attendees, that could benefit from a full programme of classes for the 4 main days of the conference, and additional Computational Monday classes, and various networking events every evening. Keeping all this in mind this is my – one single human – review of what went down in Vegas – it was too good folks, can’t let it stay there!

My AU2018 review comes to you in three parts. In this part one, I want to share my personal experiences and impressions. Part two will give you my three class recommendations to go and look into recordings and/or materials from. And finally, because you will be itching to go next year by the time you have gotten there, part three will give you my tips for AU2019.

The most nerve-racking thing, of course, was giving my talk – I had the enormous pleasure to speak at the Computational Forum at AU, where we had six speaker slots, 4 of which were entirely taken by women, one was a collection of speakers that also featured a woman, and only one slot was entirely dedicated to a male speaker. This was a first for me, and I was very excited to be a part of this. The entire conference did not feel exactly like this, however, and we are not at all “at the please where we don’t need “Women in …” groups”, however it was great to see that an effort was definitely made to show diversity on the promotional materials and presentations.

Fortunately, the Computational Forum was on the Monday afternoon, and I really got to appreciate that during the full day of classes prior to the Computational Forum where I spoke. I was very happy not to be that distracted for the rest of the conference. The day started with a General Computational Session, opened by Racel Williams, whose energy is always beautifully contagious, and closed off by Michael Krischner, who gave us some valuable general programming theory. Following this, I was in a developer workshop lead by Radu Gidei, whose name may make you feel like you were greeted by an Australian, but is, in fact, someone I know well from the UK Dynamo User Group. Even though I was quite nervous most of the day, he managed to present a class that even my distracted mind could comfortably understand. Radu has been working in using Dynamo to interface with platforms outside of Revit for a while now, and his insight and guidance in the world of actual real-life programming was priceless (because you know “if it’s a bunch of text on a black background it must be programming”).

The day of computation finished with a line of speakers, by whom I feel endlessly privileged to be standing. You can see the full recording, including my input on Everyday use of Dynamo (starts at 08:00) Here.

Lilly Smith hosted the forum, opening with an intro for where Dynamo is at the moment – with 1.3m downloads from the Dynamo package Manager – we can say – a good place. She also closed the evening off talking about the current projects of the AEC generative design group at Autodesk. I took it over from her and spoke about my experience getting into automation, and how easy it is to start saving time with simple data graphs. Then Shwanee Finlayson spoke about the future of automation and generative design and the importance of quality data – it was really interesting to hear about the issues she came across on the route to preparing for machine learning with Dynamo. Efrie Escott then told us about the research she has had the opportunity to do within her office gathering data and learning how to evaluate the quality of the data – something I find so important to consider – how do you make quality data off of a self-assessment comfort survey – is this even possible – well she makes it possible!  We also heard from all of the instructors from the day of computational classes headed by Racell Williams – each class was more exciting than the previous one! The last story came from Luke Church who spoke to us about the issues with machine learning, which was very interesting to hear, he suggested that a way to progress beyond the current hurdles is to implement doubt in machine learning, which I have to say I love as an idea. He also spoke to us about his work implementing machine learning in the facilitation of social dialogue with Africa’s Voices Foundation – a really brilliant spin outside the AEC industry and a truly inspirational talk.

A resounding message from the computational forum that was echoed throughout the entire conference was that the problem with data in the AEC industry is the lack of clean data. The AEC industry is predominantly visual and even though that sounds natural, it is not helpful to BIM or any other smart workflows. Something I consider one of my main priorities is to entice architectural professionals to start considering and really working with non-graphic information more.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, I hear you say. Yes, that is entirely true, however, a picture is worth a thousand, messy, inconsistent, tangled words in all of the languages imaginable. It takes some serious muscle to turn those thousand words in a thousand lines of valuable data. Because a thousand lines of valuable data – well that is worth actual something, from personal experience – refer to the end of my talk – I can tell you that 3,500 lines of valuable data, can be worth 9 working days, and because I love maths, I’ve done the numbers for you –

efficiency for words per day is 3500/9,

then 3500/9=1000/x,

so x=1000*9/3500,

x=2.571 days for 1 untangled picture

I can’t say I have any data to prove a thousand jumbled up words are worth something – if anything, they cost a lot of time to unjumble.

The opening keynote on Tuesday delivered by Andrew Anagnost was a very colourful performance. Indeed the hall and the whole set up made me feel more like at a rave, rather than technology conference, and I must admit, I did not mind that one little bit. Xxx told a narrative that may be expected, promotional and very positive towards Autodesk products and initiatives, and I can be as cynical about it as anyone, but I’d like to jump over the “well, of course, the Autodesk CEO will say that” and the “it’s all a promo for their products” kind of statements and actually take in what was given with a positive spin. “The Opportunity of Better” in letters taller than me graced us from several aggressively sized screens multiple times. And I do believe what those stand for. I have been very alarmed to hear here in the UK about the “fear” and “danger” of technology, and as someone who has the first-hand experience my job becoming better and more exciting because of technology, I don’t feel great about sewing the seeds of that kind of attitude around. Technology being compared to Brexit with its negative impact on our industry, has been something that has been making me very concerned for a while, and while the blind fearmongering is just as bad as the blind positivism, I did need some fuel for my own crusade to prove that automation and technological advancement can be positive, and this is exactly what Andrew was selling – technology making jobs BETTER. As anything non-human, technology really can’t be “Good” or “Bad” – it just is, and the way that we use it – ie the human input colours the result positive or negative. The way that we use it is very much governed by the attitude with which each and every one of us approaches it, so we need to create a positive productive attitude, rather than quoting large theoretical numbers of lost jobs due to automation.

An integral part of the conference and arguably as important as the classes was the networking aspect. I was so excited and inspired by the people I spoke to and met there. The BIM community as a whole in the UK has never disappointed with its openness and welcoming spirit, and I was a delight to witness the same on an international level. Autodesk had gone to admirable lengths to facilitate dialogue between themselves and the attendees of the conference – there were high-level management staff available for chats, idea boards and a video booth to record messages if you feel a bit shy. But all the attendees and speakers were also truly approachable. I did have several moments of “OMG, I want to be friends and work with you please” and felt no barrier to expressing those feelings – I’m looking at you *insert 20 names here*. One very meaningful interaction for me was our little BIM Manager Bootcamp gathering with the legend that is Michael Kilkelly and some of my fellow campers. (Look out for my review of Archsmarter’s BIM Manager Bootcamp in January) Getting a chance to meet my international coursemates was really great – online learning has always been very helpful to me as an audio-learner, however, there is an amplification of confidence and motivation that can only be achieved when spending time with people live. Another BIM celebrity sighting – the brilliant John Pierson was so generous to give me some advice on small BIM business development (“keep at it, not all the work is going to be super exciting, but the good things will come in-between setting up project templates for small businesses”)

As a BIM professional, AU is definitely an experience one wants to have at least once in their lifetime. The quality of the classes, the entire set up and services available were all of brilliant quality, but instead of going in detail about any of this I would like to leave you with this thought – there were DOGS – there were therapy dogs available in the AU2018 hub. If you had had too much of technology and learning, you were able to go to a white picket fence enclosure and cuddle a puppy. Because there is nothing healthier than seeing someone who has kept their cool in front of a huge international professional audience for an hour talking about super complicated things, collapse on their knees and go “ah, who’s a good gal, yes you’re a good gal, you are the GOODEST gal”. In today’s polarised and tensed-up world, this is what we need – balance. Good job Autodesk.

 

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure to visit and participate in the London Build Expo and Digital Construction Week.

Those events can be quite overwhelming with a large number of exhibitors and talks going on. I must admit that I don’t feel that I have seen the entirety of what was on show and I am yet to figure out how to take the most advantage of events like this, but here is my angle on the whole shebang.

One of the most positive things for both events to me was the fact that the digital construction community is active, growing and very welcoming. I have only been really involved since the start of April this year and I am already meeting familiar faces and have a sense of being in the “right room”. As one of the least diverse industries, construction may have built itself a truly accessible door with the development of digital construction. I could only take really part of the Women in BIM breakfast at Digital Design Week and some of the events around the BIM and Digital construction Summit at London Build, it was easy to see that even though a significant proportion of the BIM specialists around have a fairly privileged background, there are a lot of professionals soaring up the ranks truly based on merit and not supported at all by gender, skin or an expensive degree – it is a real joy to see this happening.

DCW was busy colourful and social. There were many interesting platforms and tools ready to fuel the industry with more intelligent processes. At first glance it felt a little exhausting that  there seem to be so many different directions in the effort for digitalisation, but as soon as I managed to strip my bias growing from the fact that I am particularly skilled in one type of workflow, I really think that when we manage to swallow the market growing pains, we will find ourselves with actual functioning choice of tools that can deliver BIM. The most important thing that we all must not forget is to try and keep to a similar language with all those tools, input and output need to be standardised.

Which brings me to the topic of a panel I was part of at London Build and the talk I gave there too – “Fantastic BIM Standards and Where to Find Them”. (I did indulge in some punny graphics there…)

Image – @WomeninBIM

With some inspiration from Jared Banks, I spoke about the importance of standardization for the effectiveness of the BIM process. I see a couple of clear reasons that have been tripping the spectacular promises of up to 50% savings of time and money on construction projects. The first one is the fact that we come from a culture of bespoke products – I remember specifically lectures in University teaching me how each building I will ever be involved in building will be unique, even if it is seemingly the same, the fact that it is not on the exact same position on the planet will make it a different building. So how can we expect professionals to simply embrace the standardization in the processes, it feels entirely contra-intuitive to what they have been told their skills are? As always things like that don’t fit into 140 characters – a well thought through the standardized process will not make any profession obsolete – it will only create more resources to do a better job, or – dare we imagine – prevent hundreds of hours unpaid overtime at work. And the second obstacle is the fact that standardization requires an initial investment and in an industry notorious for late payments, talking about upfront investments is practically laughable.

I avoided giving prescriptive methods of creating office standards for BIM, in my talk, because I wanted to emphasize on two steps that I think are vital following the creation of a BIM Office Procedures Manual and a robust New Project Template. First, in order for those two to be consciously adopted the staff needs to understand why this is happening, so the contractual documents that require and describe the process MUST be available to everyone. And when I say everyone, I do mean it, every draughts person needs to not only be aware of, but they refer to the EIRs and the BEP on, practically daily basis at the start of a project. And secondly, intentionally and purposefully introduce the new standards, with excitement for the process and the technologically advanced tools but also with respect for the talent and experience of your staff. You can’t make this happen via email, you need to bring real-life human energy to the process, and allow time for the information to saturate with that informed and helpful presence around.

Speaking of standards, Stephen Hamil, Director of Research and Innovation – NBS moderated the aforementioned panel about standardization, where we had an excellent opportunity to discuss various different points of view to standardization. We look at it from the point of view of the designers in the face of Patrick King, Associate Director/Head of BIM Technologies – ECD Architects, the manufacturers – Paul Surin, Chair of BIM4M2 and Chair of Digitalization TG of Construction Products Europe, the large-scale BIM Manager – Joel Martineau, Associate – Buildings Digital Practice – Stantec and the smaller scale BIM consultant – myself. We all seemed to agree that some significant reading needs to be done, before embarking on the BIM journey and that it is hard to rely on external content.

II

Image: @Johnad25

Despite about a quarter of LondonBuild dedicated to the BIM and Digital Construction Summit, I was quite disappointed chatting to a couple of facilities management companies and even an on-site health and safety specialists. They did not seem to envision incorporating their own work with the BIM process even in the forseeable future. This only comes to show the huge rift that we have in the industry. There are leaders in the industry that are doing admirable work in their use of technology and information, however, the Construction industry as a whole remains one of the least digitalized industries, only beating Agriculture and Hunting.

I had the pleasure of taking part in a diversity panel chaired by Rebecca Di Cicco, geared toward BIM. Obviously, I have a lot of thoughts about this and some of them you may read here. On the image below from left to right – Emma Rees, BIM Manager – Wates Construction, myself, Vicki Holmes, Learning Partner & Women in BIM core team member – Multiplex Construction Europe Ltd, Rebecca De Cicco, Director – Digital Node, Kirsti Wells, Business Development – Cadcoe, Eva Quevedo Caballero, BIM Manager – Skanska.

Image – @WomeninBIM

But LondonBuild did not disappoint with their approach to diversity, this wasn’t just one “token” diversity event – they seemed committed to the cause. There were several other diversity driven initiatives and I had the pleasure of seeing one of the panels around the Women in Construction breakfast. This panel was made of three women of colour, an immigrant and was chaired by a trans woman – on the photo below from left to right – Aga Hall (Design Manager), Anjali Pindoria (Surveyor), Neesha Gopal (Architect), Srimathi (Priya) Aiyer (Architect) and Christina Riley (Planner). As a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I was moved by this – sometimes when you have been deprived of something for so long, you almost forget about it, and when you are reminded of it, it can become overwhelming. I am enormously grateful to know I can be working in a time and space where people that reflect my own community and the people I love, are visible, proud and confident to be themselves. Very poignantly members of the audience noted that the panel did not include a disabled person or anyone from Afro-Caribbean descent, and while this is more than a valid point, I really wished that kind of comments were more often made towards panels made entirely of middle-aged white men. Nevertheless, for what felt like the first time, most of my identities we represented in the profession that I have been a part of for a while and that allowed me to discover a new way to feel at home on the job.

We ain’t many. I am not planning to shower you in statistics – if you want them, there are resources avalable a google search away, but if you think that the construction and technology industries are gender diverse, this blog may not be your cup of tea.

Feeling alone on a table with an average of 12 angry old white men has been part of my job description for a while. I must admit the technology/IT tables have been a little less white, which is a great thing, but just as or even more deprived of non-male people. The reasons for that seem very simple to me – feminine qualities are not generally celebrated in business. I have a wild theory about BIM however. BIM is a collaborative process that seems to be calling for something that is not exactly the typical values of masculinity – independence, competition, aggressiveness, assertiveness – focus on one goal. No. This process will finally thrive when there is willingness to collaborate, genuine cooperation and openness across construction disciplines and agreement and integration of the whole encompassing process that design and construction of a building is.

Now, what is relevant here is not how gender diversity and feminism as such, concern themselves with physical bodies and whatever genitalia may be attached to however may be identifying person so much, but the traits and values we celebrate. Because the issues of the patriarchy are not penises and vaginas, but, and in the corporate world especially – the ways in which we all consider things “feminine” less than, and even shameful. Because an openly queer soft spoken man, that does not insists on having the last word at a meeting even though he has nothing new to add, and may be even has his make up on fleek, is much more of a gender diversity success story than a successful woman that acts “like a man” and is “one of the boys”.

I understand that I may have lost a lot of you by now, and may have attracted some of you I may not want to attract, but let me reiterate once more – it’s not bad to be a man, it’s just ALSO super great to be feminine.

And back to BIM – the Women in BIM networking event, even with a modest number of participants, came for me with a sparkling silver lining. In this tired patriarchal system of architecture qualification and overall construction industry, BIM as a field seems to be the quenching watering hole, that can allow women to thrive and develop and climb up the ladder in a way we were not able to before.

The event was opened with a short intro by Karen Fugle giving us a bit of context on Women in BIM, talking about the international reach of the group. Then Vicki Holmes spoke about her unconventional career path and how this new field gave her a chance to grow. Her success was inspirational and she spoke with such palpable passion about her work. As someone who often gets excited about schedules and spreadsheets, I really felt she was speaking my language when she shared her love for reading standards. She also emphasised on the outreach of the group and the eagerness they had to get people out there to speak about the representation in our industry – that too excited me very much!
The last speaker was Cristina Savian, who shared her academic research and sparked an excited discussion. Understandably all present were in quite the agreement about the topic of it – the lack of gender diversity in the construction industry, but there were lots of people also wanting to express dismay with academics as a whole. Christina was very honest about her experience and let us on on feeling out of place and not good enough – classic imposter syndrome we all get at least once in a while, but she also shared a brilliant moment after speaking at an event when one of the very few women there approached her to say thank you and “I want to be like you” – a young woman, that seemed like, in Christina’s own words, only shared gender with her. Christina closed the evening on a lovely note: “That really showed me how important just me being there is”

You can find more about Women in BIM here.