As an architect of a certain age I have distant memories of my first assignments in an architectural office, when finally offered a desk and chair (versus running prints and making the twice-daily Coke run). They were almost invariably something connected to the making of working drawings: practicing block lettering, tracing details, starting with rudimentary drawings of small portions of the building (like the toilet partitions), then moving to drawing even larger portions (like the entire toilet plan), to entire plans, and so forth. Learning th discipline of analog architectural drafting—a mostly lost art form—was the spanking machine through which one passed to greater responsibility in the office. At least for me, it was never the other way around: being assigned to help conceptualize a project came much later (although making presentation drawings and building models might punctuate the time spent on those toilet partitions).
Years later, as my drafting instruments sit mouldering in my desk drawer, the age of integrated delivery via BIM is calling into question the very existence of traditional working drawings, and with it some of the methods by which young architects learn the craft of putting together a building. We’ll leave the latter topic to a subsequent post, and consider here some early thinking why working drawings, or “CDs” might be going the way of their audio counterparts.
Before examing the question, first consider exactly what a “working drawing” is supposed to do, and how it might be positioned in the design-to-build continuum. Since designers under Western construction models are responsible for something called “design intent” (a general description, with discontinuous levels of detail, of what the building should be when finished) and builders for “means and methods” (figuring out the coordinated, procured and sequenced means to make the building) there is a natural division of labor and a constant source of tension, controversy and litigation. Before the age of plaintiffs attorneys, super-complex buildings and viciously low-margin bidding, this wasn’t really an issue—architects knew enough about what contractors needed to build to provide sufficient information in CDs and contractors knew enough about how to accomplish those aims that most projects flowed with reasonable smoothness.
In the main, none of that is considered true today, and the oft cited statistic that “92% of owners think architectural working drawings are insufficient for the purpose intended” (CMAA Owner’s Survey 2005) is a symptom of larger pathologies that the integrated delivery movement is designed to address. The principles of BIM-enabled integration, however, suggest that the notion of “final design documents comprise design intent only” is under siege, and perhaps rightly so. Early builder involvement, high resolution parametric model content, integration of shop drawings into CDs, fast tracked packaging, performance specifications—all this stuff will eventually morph what was the “Construction Documents” phase and the “Bidding and Procurement” phase into something else entirely. It might look something like this;
- As sub-contractors are involved earlier in the design process, their insights, translated into what was once known as shop drawing levels of resolution, can replace large swaths of “design intent” information. This is happening today when MEP sub-contractor fabrication information finds its way directly into the final documents, and the single line diagrams and 2D ducting plans of yore disappear.
- Once constructors are more fully integrated into the design process, documentation will be “reverse engineered” from construction outcomes rather than “refactored” from design documents. What was once a set of CDs organized by the originating discipline (architecturals, structurals, electricals, etc.) will change into packaging that supports specific construction strategies and will likely look more like bidding packages (foundations, superstructure, enclosure, finishes, etc.).
- As model-based information replaces traditional 2D documents, everyone can access the database of design information and extract or cross-tabulate whatever information—geometric or otherwise—might be necessary for their particular component of the work. This means the “abstract notations” that have been created to make CD documentation efficient (like wall type indicators) are no longer needed. Whomever is building that wall can find out pretty much anything they need about it by referring to the model. Who needs a drawing?
- As digital fabrication techniques for selected building systems (like for example, curtainwalls) becomes more prominent, interpolating architectural and structural information to “understand” that system so it can be machine manufactured makes little sense. Information willl need to be organized and extracted to drive that process first and foremost.
So these are just a few musing about why what we now know as “CDs” may be something entirely different before my drafting instruments pass along to my children as part of my estate. Perhaps the “CD phase” will give way to something new, like the “Implementation Documents” phase, as certain IPD constructs suggest. In any event, I suspect that the days of making diagrams of toilet partitions as the port of entry to the technical documentation process will very soon disappear completely. And it’s probably about time.