Click, PL. Click, click-click, C. Click, HA. Click… Bang!: FATAL ERROR “Unhandled Access Violation Reading 0x007c Exception at da09dce8h. Click OK to close program”. Once again, an hour’s hard work ruined by a stupid Autocad error. The great daily nightmare of architects in the digital age!
This simple software, which has brought us so much joy and success and which is still one of the most popular, most widely used programs in design studios all over the world, seems to have reached its limit. The new canons governing procedures, building techniques, environmental considerations and budgeting in contemporary projects have pushed this marvellous design program into the background. To the chagrin of many, the technological leap to Building Information Model (BIM) systems is now the new reality for professional architects.
I say “technological leap”, but in actual fact it could just as well be referred to as a technological tug. While many professionals comfortably plodded on using old-school instruments, for years big engineering companies and pioneering studios have gradually been dragging the whole industry into a new age of architectural design. The tendency towards self-flagellation so typical of us Spaniards might lead us to assume that we are the last to jump on the BIM bandwagon, but that’s not entirely the case. Although it’s true that our universities have fallen behind their European counterparts in implementing BIM, obliging several generations of young Spanish architects to learn how to use it by themselves, the situation in small and medium-sized companies in Europe is very similar to that in Spain: a slow, lazy transition, a last minute effort and a minimum amount of investment to ensure business survival in the labour market.
The advantages of having all the different aspects of a building – its construction, structure, design and facilities – in one single file are evident. And yet there are still studios which are reluctant to relinquish the design program par excellence that they’ve been using for decades. Why is it so difficult for us to give up our beloved Autocad?
Firstly, Autocad’s success stems from the fact that it represents a natural evolution1 from manual draughtsmanship on paper; it’s simply the digitalisation of a drawing, a mere change of support from paper to computer. This gives the programme great freedom and versatility for all kinds of designs, while also providing a fairly easy, intuitive interface. In contrast, the straitjacketed BIM programmes initially appear much more constrained, more protocolary and more methodological. They lack the immediacy of pencil-on-paper – or mouse-and-screen – draughtsmanship.
Secondly, Autocad has been universal since 1997. With just a handful of exceptions, practically every company in the sector has worked in the programme’s DWG format. Autocad has run rings around its smaller rivals MicroStation, Vectorworks and BricsCAD. With BIM, however, everything is much more fragmented: ArchiCAD, Revit, Allplan, AECOsim… the possibilities are endless. But interoperability2 options using the common IFC format still don’t work as well as they should.
As if young architects didn’t have enough on their plate learning how to use Autocad and satellite programmes like 3dmax, Rhinoceros, Adobe and Sketch Up, we’re now going to have to spend even more time swotting up on BIM to keep our business competitive. An architect may think that mastery of ArchiCAD is all that’s needed to ensure professional success, but in reality that will barely open half the doors in today’s highly competitive labour market: a market where architects are expected to be fully conversant with ArchiCAD, Revit, Grasshopper… and, as Raúl García said in another post, must also love dogs.3 It’s hardly surprising that many are already beginning to miss that hated click, click-click, bang! FATAL ERROR