Is BIM as good as it looks ? What Deleuze can teach us about BIM

In the Building Information Modelling (BIM) utopia representations of time are linear and easily progresses into a future where BIM enables seamless collaboration across the full gamut of design orientated disciplines. The viewpoint presented in the various BIM representations and advertising that litter the internet is often that of an eagle, or angel, freed of all earthly constraints and propelled towards a future BIM revolution. But unlike the critical theorist Walter Benjamin’s iconic image of an angel looking back on the wreckage of progress these images of BIM do not indicate a reflexivity that recognises that not every technical innovation succeeds or that technology has a social-technical dimension.

In theory, BIM project models paired with collaboration tools offer a number of significant improvements and benefits over traditional design, delivery and supply chain processes. Proponents of the BIM utopia claim that the BIM will change and be linked to augmented reality, enhance lean construction, scheduling, safety management, trade scheduling, progress measurement, design visualization and even architectural design studios.

But as some researchers have noted the BIM dream is not all it seems to be. For example the IFC’s, which are at the heart of BIM collaboration often “fails to provide complete interoperability.” 

BIM careerists, proponents and evangelicals claim that BIM is a new mode of visualization. Someone once said to me you can tell a BIM building because of the limitations of form that seem to be built into BIM software. Nonetheless, emerging from and circulating in BIM research discourse and the public domain the above claims are supported by a plethora of BIM representations. These often include strategic and operational diagrams, screenshot images and animations available in research papers, publications, reports, various how to do BIM manuals and numerous animations across the internet.

As the BIM industry has arisen as numerous, and in some ways glamorous, case studies and screenshot images are published and promoted as examples of successful BIM operation. The colours employed are seductive and colour is the key feature in numerous BIM screenshots. For example, a shimmering green is a often contrasted with yellows for services and purple. The viewpoint is often from a point looking above or below and is positioned to emphasise the layering of different systems and suggests a layered complexity constituted by the overlapping of many different small scale construction elements. With these highly seductive images it is argued that BIM can improve workflows through clash detection and management, better two dimensional drawing extraction, automated quantity take-offs, supply chain integration and facilities management integration.

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The French Philosopher Gille Deleuze’s encounter with cinema is a useful, although to some it might seem surprising, critical framework in the BIM context. Deleuze wrote two philosophical books about cinema. Deleuze saw cinema as a “new practice of images and signs, whose theory philosophy must produce as conceptual practice.” Deleuze’s concern is not a philosophical investigation of cinema’s essential nature. Unlike the proponents of BIM Deleuze did not simply proclaim cinema as a technological revolution. Rather, he was interested in interrogating the cinema for its possibilities about what it might become. Deleuze argues that cinema establishes the problems of traditional subject orientated epistemologies. Deleuze cites Henri Bergson as a philosopher who opposed a view of the world that is predicated on a static and centred viewpoint or subject. Deleuze sees in Bergson a philosophy that accounts for the early technological advances of cinema as well as anticipating its later developments. But, Deleuze also saw the cinema as constituting a language of images. Deleuze’s conception of image is something which is neither representation, secondary copy, imitation or mimesis.

These perspectives suggest that BIM research R&D should oppose a concept of BIM that privilidges linear sequences, singular perspectives and robotic notions of construction that ignore the randomness of craft.

The above considerations suggest that new methodological approaches are needed in the area of architecture and BIM R&D. If BIM is to reach it’s full potential as a tool which saves resources and allows better architectural design outcomes. Future BIM research needs recognise the power of different representational modes, stochatsic and random events, social milieu and avoid seeing a building as a simplistic digital-technical object or diagram linked to a database.

Stochastic processes which are random and are capable of using agents and swarms to predict what will happen within BIM models may reveal more than the static and mechanical models which seem to plague BIM research today. Notions of time should be seen as being multi-layered and interdependent of sequential BIM animations and screenshots. BIM models should be seen as entities which develop over time from the beginning of the design process where there is a iterative transfer of information between designers, teams, and 3D representations of buildings built in computers.

In BIM research critical theory should be employed to ensure that the architects of the future do not relinquish their canon of knowledge regarding the craft of building to mindless databases.

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