On Architects Being “Good at Math”

I see the back and forth of “you have to be good at math to be an architect” and “no you don’t need to be good at math to be an architect” on a regular basis. The former is stated by someone outside of the profession, and the latter is issued as a correction by an architect — not me, I wouldn’t say that — but there’s always an architect who will jump in and make that statement.

I was originally going to write about all the different math I use as an architect and ponder what exactly is meant by the phase “good at math” — is that a mathematical genius or just someone who turns around addition/subtraction/multiplication/division in their head quickly or something else? Who knows. But the vagueness of it is probably the biggest problem I have with the whole architects being “good at math” thing. This is what I want to focus on: I don’t really have a stance on “good at math” and I think (?) I want to have one. Let’s explore…

Architects come in a variety of flavors as our complex, modern times bring out the specialists in all of us. I would guess that the hands-on middle management type architects at small and mid-sized firms maybe use the most math as they have to deal with all aspects of project delivery and coordination. I’m also thinking that the techie programmer-type architects use a lot of math to help make stuff for their teams. Business-y architects who lead firms need to use business math. Geometry is foundational to designing all three dimensions of our built world, so design architects are using math regularly too. Of course, you need to do some math in order to pass a licensing exam to become an architect as well. So we’re all using math, which leads me to think that architects who say you don’t need to be “good at math” can’t possibly mean you don’t need to know any math. Next.

Am I “good” at math? I wouldn’t say “good” — maybe average or ordinary. I took math every year of high school and college and my grades were meh, so I think my teachers and instructors would agree with my self-assessment. But I know math, and if anything, using it like my job depends on it out in the real world has probably made me a bit better at it than I was in school. The most important thing about math is that the education system slowly eases you into a calculator. They like to make you figure it out the long way on paper for each type/level of math and then you’ve earned the right to do that particular math on a calculator going forward. This is an important point, because even the “you don’t need to be good at math” architects would say that being “good at math” is important for engineers. But engineers use calculators and software that does the calculating for them — and it’s this software in particular that has gotten so good over the years that a lot of math is taken out of the hands of engineers. Maybe you don’t need to be “good at math” to be an engineer anymore? I mean, have you seen how much work the computer does on a structural analytical model? It’s nuts. Of course, with BIMs, there’s math that happens automatically for architects too. Over time all this tech has had a big, positive impact on our accuracy and our ability to get the right answers.

Is being “good at math” implying that you get the correct answers to math problems? That makes the most sense, and it’s kind of important to be right for the whole health/safety/welfare part of what we do. But then why would any architect say you don’t need to be “good at math” if this were the case? Are they designing shit that’s gonna maim or kill? Damn.

This reminds me that a big, important kind of math that architects need comes from the area calculation and justification parts of building codes (actually, there’s a lot of math all over building codes, but this area stuff has maybe the widest impact over all types of architecture). The area math isn’t difficult though, I’d say it’s like junior high level algebra at worst. Here too, technology is quickly learning how to do this math for us so that someday we won’t need those mad algebra skills from 7th grade to be architects.

Perhaps this is how the “good at math” conversation will end. No one will need to know any math because technology will do it all for us. I feel like one- and two-point perspectives have essentially already gone this route since software can just let us look at any perspective of our design we want now with a click of the mouse. Even though I did know the geometry necessary for making those perspectives by hand at one time, I’d need to do a quick YouTube tutorial to get those skills out from the archives of my brain.

Where does all this pondering leave me in terms of an official stance on the architects needing to be “good at math” thing? I don’t know, except to say that I’m average at math and I’m a good architect, whatever that means.

Introducing the ALL CAPS “Will I Get Paid?” Index

I’m on a roll with the economic indicators here, so…

I thought about this out loud on Twitter a while back and now I’m ready to introduce this novel(ty) index that tells us how likely active clients are to start defaulting on our invoices, an important tool to have in “these challenging times” for sure.

Here’s how it works: I’ll take the AIA’s current ABI and CCF numbers, have shot of Stolli, and then I’ll put on an album from Yello and dance for a few minutes. From there, information pops out that tells us something about the likelihood of getting stiffed on an invoice. Pretty magical, huh!?

And Now, The Inaugural “Will I Get Paid?” Index

Index Readings

The Index uses a five-point scale:

  • 5 – 🤑 Hell, invoice the next 12 months — it’s ALL GREAT!
  • 4 – 😁 The accounting staff have never had it so easy!
  • 3 – 🙂 Normal times, no worries.
  • 2 – 😦 Better wrap up invoicing quick, it’s not looking good out there…
  • 1 – 🤕 Oh, shit — emails to client bounce and their phone is disconnected!

The ALL CAPS White Claw ABI – July, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as White Claw cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers. As the industry continues to struggle, we’re stuck in the low-brow aisle of the liquor store. Hopefully the ABI will be back at or above 50 soon so we can use some classier cans.

If you have a preferred (canned) beverage, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Wisdom From the Restroom

I want to take a moment to address the small, humble single-occupant public restroom. Two of these “single-holers” as they are lovingly referred to out on the job site are standard fare for smaller spaces with low occupant loads like offices, retail shops, and restaurants. Architects who regularly design these kinds of small uses are quite adept at making their single-occupant restrooms spatially efficient while making sure they still comply with accessibility codes (especially the clear space requirements within those accessibility codes). You’ll still get the occasional client bemoaning “all that space” in those restrooms and how it costs them space elsewhere. You’ll still reassure them it’s as tight as it can be in there, and you might even demonstrate that by showing the clear space requirements of the accessibility codes as dashed lines or shaded polygons. We’re thirty years into the ADA’s Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and this kind of universal design is just something we do now, it’s the default. That’s a beautiful thing.

The reason that ADAAG in particular has largely been a success in altering our built world is that building codes have adopted the ADAAG either verbatim, through incorporation of adopted standards referenced by it, or by using it as the takeoff point for their own accessibility guidelines that meet/exceed those of ADAAG. When law makes its way into building codes it becomes something easily enforced by building officials in their plan reviews and subsequent inspections. Building codes also directly drive architectural knowledge and practice, so whatever’s in them becomes integrated into architectural design. Even the tradespeople building these “single-holers” tend to memorize some of the basic accessibility requirements when they start showing up in inspection reports.

It’s a welcome change that we’re starting to recognize the shortcomings of having gender-based restrooms. The low-hanging fruit of positive change in this area of design is the single-occupant restroom. Why the hell do we even separate these kinds of facilities into men’s and women’s anyway? What difference does it make? If anything, it’s less convenient every time one of these restrooms is occupied and you’re doing the bulging bladder boogie, but the available one doesn’t match your gender or identity. Lots of building operators are already doing away with gender-based single-occupant restrooms, which is great, it’s the start of a movement. But to make it universal like we did with accessible design, we do need legislation to push forward a common sense change that actually benefits everybody, but also makes a positive difference in the lives of people who identify outside of the gender binary.

This brings me back to that whole integration thing between the law and building codes. I’ve now seen multiple instances of well-meaning municipalities pushing through gender neutral single-occupant restroom ordinances, but not updating their building codes to reflect that. A gender-neutral restroom policy will be in the municipal code alongside stuff like licensing requirements for barbers, noise ordinances, and garbage collection rules instead of being in the building code. It probably needs to be in both places, so that existing businesses retroactively comply too. But as it’s set up, many (most?) architects, especially those who aren’t based in the municipality, but get hired to do work there, will miss it. This leaves enforcement in the hands of citizens instead of plan reviewers and inspectors. Major fail.

Push your local lawmakers to get a gender-neutral single-occupant restroom ordinance on the books AND update the building code accordingly. OR, if your jurisdiction already has such an ordinance, make sure it makes the jump into the building code too. AND, just start defaulting to making those two single-occupant restrooms gender neutral in your room schedules from now on. Thanks, I’m stepping down from the soap box now.

The Software Obituaries of an Architect’s Practice

All those lists that well-meaning architects make of their favorite software become outdated quickly. I thought this would be a more interesting way to talk about personal software preferences than the usual “what I use” software lists out there. These obits will be limited to software I actually used on real projects. Software that never made it out of my testing phase was dead to me before it ever really got going — plus any list I make of software I’ve merely tested would be long as hell!

Before you dig into these, be sure to open this song in another tab and leave it playing in the background as you read. Have a tissue handy, this is going to be emotional. Deep breath…here we go…

🖥 Desktop/Laptop


  • Revit 2009-2015
    • Man oh man were you a dysfunctional piece of shit when I met you. I stuck with you though, and you got better with each version. One thing that never improved though was the TurboGrafx16-like graphics of your 3D window…or your ridiculous cost of ownership…or your inability to work well with others…or how slow you were in handling larger BIMs…you know what!? You’re still a dysfunctional piece of shit.
    • Survived By: Archicad


  • AutoCAD 1993-2006
    • A mainstay of my architecture practice for many years. I invested time and energy mastering its programming language and managing its deployments. It rewarded that investment with limited functionality and inexplicable crashes and network license errors (it was really the only reason to ever reboot an NT server). You won’t be missed.🖕🏻
    • Survived By: AutoCAD’s web version and DraftSight (the only reason anything replaced it is so I can validate DWG and DXF exports from Archicad)
  • Architectural Desktop 1997-1998
    • You were a bloated version of AutoCAD that thought it could do something resembling BIM, but without the reliability or lowered effort. Good riddance.
    • Survived By: No next of kin…


  • 3D Studio MAX 1998-2006
    • I won’t miss how slow this software was nor how unpredictable its output could be sometimes. It tied up endless hours of processing time with its renders that I look back on and laugh. Like its late cousin, AutoCAD, network reliability was horrible as well.
    • Survived By: Lightworks (Archicad)
  • SketchUp 2000-2006
    • It came on the scene like a breath of three-dimensional fresh air and swept us all off our feet with its beautiful, simple, intuitive interface…but then you had to edit/revise what you just modeled. The rest, I’m afraid, is ancient history.
    • Survived By: Archicad
  • Piranesi 1998-2001
    • Piranesi was a revelation. Its EPix technology was (and still kind of is) a very cool way to edit depth in 2D imagery. You were quick and easy for making renderings, but maybe a little too specialized for your own good.
    • Survived By: Lightworks
  • Illustrator & Photoshop 1998-2018
    • When architects need these two capable titles, they really need them. I relied on Illustrator and Photoshop for all sorts of tasks that helped make me and my work look good over the years. I want them to remember (up in heaven) that it was never about them, it was about their creator, Adobe, who’s a total asshole that I hate.
    • Survived By: Affinity’s Designer & Photo
  • Lightworks 2006-2014
    • I only liked you because you were built into Archicad. Everything else about you was clunky and unintuitive.
    • Survived By: CineRender
  • CineRender 2014-2019
    • Ditto what I said for Lightworks, but at least your were slightly faster.
    • Survived By: Twinmotion


  • GoLive 1997-2007
    • I loved you and you were the best WYSIWYG web tool ever…and then Adobe bought Macromedia and was like, “Hey, everybody! Use this bloated piece of shit instead!” You are missed.
    • Survived By: WordPress
  • WordPerfect 1994-1999
    • I doubt any word processor will ever be able to handle templates as slick as you. Alas, the age of email made me adopt Office (and Word along with it). You will always be remembered and loved though.
    • Survived By: Word
  • Fusion 2013-2015
    • No one emulated a beige box PC as fast as you, and the best part was I could just shut you down and make that beige box disappear.
    • Survived By: No next of kin (I just avoid Wintel software nowadays)
  • Wind2 1999-2010
    • You were certainly reliable, if not attractive. Updating your database was an epic undertaking that consumed hours of my life.
    • Survived By: ArchiOffice
  • ArchiOffice 2009-2015
    • ArchiOffice was a breath of fresh air relative to the dinosaur that was Wind2. It was built upon FileMaker’s database technology…then its developer migrated to MySQL…and sadly ArchiOffice succumbed to its injuries.
    • Survived By: Toggl
  • Acrobat 2000-2016
    • I never liked you, but you knew that. I was all too happy to send you packing.
    • Survived By: Revu
  • Revu 2016-2020
    • I liked what you were capable of on a good day, but you became even slower than Acrobat, and that’s really saying something.
    • Survived By: TBD (still testing my options)

📱 Tablet/Smartphone

I definitely tested a lot more software on these portable devices than I ever did on the desktop. Very few apps ever make it out of testing and into my tablet/smartphone workflows though.

  • ZipCAD 1999-2009
    • Still the 🐐 CAD app for smartphones. I managed to keep this old beauty running on Visors and Treos well into the iPhone era. No one to this day could interface with a Leica DISTO like you, my beloved. Always remembered. Always loved. Let’s pour one out for ZipCAD.
    • Survived By: DISTO Sketch
  • DocumentsToGo 1998-2009
    • You were kind of helpful at a time when being able to open Office files on a mobile device was groundbreaking. Viewing was your specialty, editing was your downfall.
    • Survived By: Word, Excel, PowerPoint (iOS versions)
  • SketchBook 2012-2018
    • I thought you were really great, but then I realized I needed something much simpler. Goodbye.
    • Survived By: Linea Sketch

🔗 Web/SaaS

It’s funny how much in this realm is absolute garbage.

  • Lucernix 2009-2012
    • Your interface looked like web 0.1 technology and you were slow af.
    • Survived By: Accruent
  • Accruent 2012-2015
    • While far from perfect, I generally admired IBM’s efforts…until I met you, that is.
    • Survived By: Smartsheet
  • Buzzsaw 2009-2015
    • I always wondered how you were so much slower than all the other cloud services using Amazon S3, then I remembered Autodesk made you.
    • Survived By: Smartsheet

What have I learned from all of this software death over the decades? Don’t get seduced by software that promises to work miracles, as very, very few miracle-workers ever live up to their potential and several even end up making more work for you. Most software is simply okay, and as long as its reasonably priced and reliable, you should rely more on your own imagination and creativity with that software to make it work miracles for you. (also, this statement is not to be misconstrued by Luddites who think it’s okay to still use CAD, it’s not, get help)

The Month in Buildings: July, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly (and sometimes late) occurring series, I bring you the best of architecture pics and drawings from the wonderful world of tumblr.

You don’t see a lot of seafoam green these days…


Lots of gray things…

Lonely and Abandoned Places…

Red Room…

A Quick How-To on Data Transfer Between Archicad and Smartsheet

In my twopart series on distributing design criteria via Smartsheet I explained how the heart of the process was a direct pipeline of information between Smartsheet and the architects’ and engineers’ BIM authoring tools. In my example of this I used Archicad and I wanted to share some more detail about how to make Archicad’s property import/export functionality work with Smartsheet.

Archicad has been able to import and export property data via Excel spreadsheets for several versions now and it’s a very slick way to use information to drive your BIM workflows with external vendors, subcontractors, and anyone else who communicates product and design specifications via spreadsheets. Since Smartsheet is spreadsheet-based and can import/export Excel files (among other file types), it too can be used to communicate property data with Archicad with just a couple extra steps to help all the data make the journey.

If you haven’t already used this feature of Archicad, read about it here in the Help Center before you dig into the Smartsheet workflow.

Now, here’s how property information transfer between Archicad and Smartsheet works:

  1. Just like you normally would, set up your properties and schedules in Archicad and then export them from each schedule you want to share with Smartsheet. This will give you XLSX files for each export.
  2. You can open the exported XLSX file and notice that row 1 in the spreadsheet is collapsed by Archicad. This row contains the GUIDs, which are the Midi-Chlorians of Archicad, who in this case are working behind the scenes to make things from outside of Archicad match up with things inside. You shouldn’t alter row 1 or do anything with it, so close the file without saving. It’s just important to know for later on that row 1 is there, and to note that row 2 is the headers from your Archicad schedule.
  3. Next launch Smartsheet and import the XLSX file. When you do that you’re prompted to select a row from the XLSX file to make the Column Headers in Smartsheet. You want to select row 2 here. In Smartsheet the header row doesn’t have a row number, which is different from Excel. This difference means the old Excel row 1 with all those GUIDs is row 1 in your newly imported sheet in Smartsheet.
  4. During the import process you’re also prompted by Smartsheet for which column to make the Primary Column in Smartsheet (Primary Columns have special functions that we don’t need here, but you’ll need to select one nonetheless). Select column 1 from the Excel spreadsheet, which is the column containing the GUIDs for each row in the schedule.
  5. Lock the Primary Column and row 1 in your new sheet in Smartsheet so no one messes with those while working on the rest of the schedule. Then go about filling out or changing cells as needed.
  6. When you’re ready to export the sheet from Smartsheet back into an XLSX file, do so like you normally would from Smartsheet’s File pull-down menu.
  7. Open the exported XLSX file in Excel. Here, we’ll need to move that GUID row that we made the Column Headers in Smartsheet from row 2 in the XLSX file back to row 1. Once we do that, the XLSX file is ready to be used by Archicad.

These are some images of the steps in the process noted above that may be helpful in understanding the workflow.

That’s it! A switcheroo of row 1 as it goes from the XLSX file into Smartsheet and then back into an XLSX file again is the key to this workflow. Hopefully we see a Smartsheet plug-in for Archicad someday that just does this for us automatically, but until then, this is how it’s done. Happy data-transferring!

Fun with Design Budget Austerity

Here’s the design challenge: You’ll use the exact same palette of building materials that everyone else working on a design in this particular building typology is using. Your only variables are the color/pattern selections you make for these materials and the way you work with the materials in the space.

The building type is a restaurant, and this challenge explains why so many restaurant concepts in the fast food and fast casual market segments look similar (if not identical). It’s primarily driven by money (shocking, I know), because no matter where a given restaurant chain is at relative to their average unit volume (AUV, or revenue generated per location on an annual basis), the calculus used to determine the amount of money to invest in a new location essentially backs the design and construction teams into a budget number that’s identical to the number reached by every other concept with the same AUV. That AUV is the determining factor of the investment amount. From there, you get a lot of follow-the-leader in terms of design cues, which exacerbates the sameness of it all, so do try to avoid the cliches with your design proposal…if you can.

I find it a welcome challenge to work within these confines and sometimes wonder what architects and firms accustomed to much larger budgets would do with these kinds of constraints.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the material palettes relative to AUV so you can think about how you’d use them for our challenge — remember, everything is a design opportunity…

Note: Though everything I’ve discussed thus far affects exteriors too, we’ll focus on interiors for this exercise. I’m excluding the kitchen and restrooms to really zero in on the dining rooms. Also excluded are construction methods to help us focus on finishes. Know that these exclusions do vary by AUV too, and I may cover them in another article.

💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $700K

  • Flooring = Vinyl (sheet, tile, and/or plank) or Quarry Tile
  • Wall Base = Vinyl or Quarry Tile
  • Walls = Paint
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting made from Plastic Paneling or Vinyl Wall Covering
  • Ceiling = Lay-in Gypsum Acoustical Ceiling Panel in Steel “T” Grid, up to 20% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $2.50/square-foot

💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $1M

all finishes from $700K range available plus…

  • Flooring = Polished Concrete, Porcelain Tile, Epoxy
  • Wall Base = Metal, Porcelain Tile, Wood
  • Walls = Wood Planks or Ceramic Tile
  • Wall Protection = Wainscoting from Metal, Wood, Porcelain Tile
  • Ceiling = Exposed Structure, Architectural Lay-In Ceiling Panels in Atypical Sizes with Steel Reveal Grid, up to 50% Painted Gypsum Board Hard Lid
  • Lighting Budget = $5.50/square-foot

💰💰💰 Low-End of AUV Range = $2M

Who cares! It’s so luxurious that it’s not a challenge to be different and cool.

The Labor Factor

No matter what the budget, labor is of course a major factor to be considered by the designer. There’s often a desire to express these limited material palettes in unconventional ways as a means of differentiating a design; but that too is limited, particularly at the lowest budget tier where labor is the driving force behind the selection of particular materials. So keeping the installations inline with industry standards is key. Sorry.

Global Economic Forces Will Screw Up Everything

Stuff like labor disputes, natural disasters, global pandemics (ahem), recessions, trade disputes, and corporate bankruptcies can screw up supply chains for all projects, but wreak a unique havoc on chains as they look to maintain consistency of cost, lead time, and appearance. So designing a backup plan for your look is mandatory in this challenge, since you can guarantee you’ll have to alter something in your material palette as soon as you debut your masterpiece. These are the forces that further limit the available materials too, so even if you find a unique material not listed here that fits the price point, it has to be widely available with reasonable lead times from a stable supplier with a good reputation since you’ll be going back to them over and over for more orders over time.

You’ve Got the Kit, Design Your Space

We’ll skip them for the purposes of this challenge, but there’s even more variables that can impact these budgets. For example, the amount a concept chooses to spend on equipment, food, and labor can take a restaurant with a higher AUV and shift its budget for building materials into one from a lower AUV (or vise versa). Another variable is material quantities — commit to a big enough order and expensive materials suddenly get more affordable. I tried my best to be very middle-of-the-road here. So go forth and see if you’ve got what it takes to stand out despite the constraints. Tough challenge, right?

Searching the Soul of Your Software Developer

The juiciest story in the BIM community at this moment is the open letter to Autodesk complaining about how shitty Revit is in terms of cost, licensing, feature set, interoperability, and day-to-day use. The letter came from a bunch of British architecture firms and was published in AEC Magazine. If you haven’t read it, you should. Autodesk is a (consistently) poorly-led company that uses acquisitions, restrictive proprietary technology, and marketing to return shareholder value instead of innovation and keeping customers happy. This is an important reminder that when looking for a new software solution, we should look at the companies behind the software first — why do they do what they do? Why do they exist? Who’s running the show? Then, we can look at the software itself, which is a lesson I learned very early in my career.

The BIM wars are tired because they focus on comparing features and functions of one BIM authoring tool against another — and rarely do they involve architects who have used both of the software titles being compared. In 2020 it’s safe to say that any BIM authoring tool out there is probably quite capable. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, they all have their blind spots that will shock and appall those who use different software. They all do stupid shit from time to time that will have architects ready to throw their BIMs out the window. No one of them is perfect, but they’re all capable. From there it’s more subjective in terms of UI and the intuitiveness of the experience, so whatever floats your boat.

It’s more interesting to look past the software itself and into the company that develops and sells that software. I’ve always thought this was an important thing to do when it comes to software that drives your practice (obviously it’s not as important for software that plays a bit part in your workflows). In school, I learned AutoCAD, which in the early 1990s ran on DOS or System 7. I liked it and it was exciting to be learning CAD. When I started working, I continued using AutoCAD on DOS. Version 12 was current at that time with version 13 coming out soon. My coworkers were excited about that new version, which made me excited as well. Then AutoCAD 13 came out. I still remember the firm’s IT consultant deploying its multi-diskette installation and changing out digitizer pad templates. AutoCAD 13’s UI looked noticeably different and ran on DOS or Windows only. Those were dark days for Apple and I wasn’t surprised that Autodesk dropped support for the Mac, but it still sucked: strike one. Anyone who’s used AutoCAD 13 remembers that it was a notoriously horrible version full of bugs, incomplete or missing features, and it was a frequent crasher at a time when recovery of lost work was overtime hours instead of restoring a recent past file. This was still in the first half of the ‘90s and it took the piss right out of everyone who was so excited about CAD technology in architecture. From then forward, getting excited about new releases of AutoCAD was strictly the realm of the CAD managers and tech nerds — the average production person at an architecture firm was just going to use whatever version of AutoCAD the firm had to get their job done and that was, more or less, it — no passion or excitement about CAD anymore.

AutoCAD 13 changed the way I looked at software in general and at Autodesk. I went from loving AutoCAD to hating it in rapid succession. I would read the CAD industry magazines and see Autodesk staff brush over the troubles they brought with AutoCAD 13 (though they did fix some things with AutoCAD 14, which took years to finish and release after the 13 debacle) and make promises about new versions. When it came out a while later, I tried AutoCAD Architectural Desktop and felt like blah-blah-whatever — it was too cumbersome for its own good. During this time, our Autodesk reseller hosted some training sessions to help expand people’s knowledge of AutoCAD’s feature set — they were mostly awful, and the last of these sessions was so bad we got a refund. By this time, the Autodesk promises were coming out hot and heavy, but with no substance and little in the way of delivered product. I began looking to get away from Autodesk. I was met with doubts and resistance, as people were scared that we wouldn’t be able to work with engineers, or be able to open DWGs from clients.

It was the late ‘90s when I heard about Graphisoft Archicad and its “virtual building” concept, which seemed really intriguing. But at the same time I was researching Graphisoft, I got a CD-R of a 3D drawing tool called SketchUp dropped on my desk. SketchUp was fast and easy; and even though it was dumb and disconnected from AutoCAD, just bringing 2D work to life in 3D so quickly without having to deal with AutoCAD’s clunky 3D bullshit was exhilarating for us AutoCAD users. I look back on those SketchUp years as a complete waste of time though. SketchUp was an enabler of Autodesk dependency in a weird way, as it was really just a shortcut to 3D from AutoCAD (for the record, I thought the people of @Last Software, who made SketchUp, were great and very, un-Autodesk-y).

It was 2006 when I got back on track and purchased licenses of Archicad for the firm to try out. This was after Graphisoft sent an actual architect to show us their software instead of some slimy Autodesk reseller. They offered training coupled with template and content development provided by an architect as well. The experience with the company behind the software was noticeably different from the Autodesk racket. Not to start pitching Graphisoft here either, as the point I’m trying to make is that your experience with the developer of your software is vitally important and it tells you something about their motivations. What I got from Graphisoft was a community of architects who were passionate about virtual building, which was quickly being rebranded as BIM…

…Long side-story short, I used Autodesk Revit at the same time that I was rolling out Archicad. I got to work with some talented Revit users and we learned and grew our BIM knowledge together. In retrospect it was nice to be able to use these two tools side-by-side. Revit made good progress during the early aughts and got more stable and useable. But for me at least, it was not nearly as nice to use as Archicad…and of course there was still Autodesk behind Revit being unbelievably shitty about support, licensing…everything…

…I was young and still learning the industry during Autodesk’s rise to a billion dollar company in the 1990s, but I could clearly see that their CEO at the time, Carol Bartz, was more interested in pushing new versions out the door and charging us for them even if they didn’t work well, than she was about making sure we were happy customers. Now, the shareholders on the other hand, were very happy during this time and made Autodesk a superstar on Wall Street. It took me a while and I got distracted along the way, but even in the early years of my architecture career, I eventually made the change away from Autodesk. This is why I’m always amazed that people still use Autodesk’s crapware and tolerate the abuse of this company’s licensing practices. Nothing — not one single thing — has changed since Carol Bartz set the tone back in the ‘90s. So, if you started a firm since that time and still got into bed with Autodesk when it came time to buy software, it’s hard for me not to laugh after reading the open letter in AEC Magazine. Those firms aren’t even contemplating leaving as they try to fix an unfixable relationship. There’s plenty of other great choices out there and no one will die if your firm no longer uses Autodesk software to get the job done, we “outsiders” all manage to grow beautiful designs in our own little plots of heaven-on-earth outside of Autodesk’s walled garden.

As for the software developers that didn’t just get written up by an angry mob of users? Remember what brought us to you in the first place: the fact that you weren’t Autodesk and didn’t act like Autodesk. Keep it that way or your next.

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at how Smartsheet can serve as a tool to help organize and disseminate design criteria for companies doing rollout development of their concept. We discussed how vitally important it is for the design criteria being referenced by external consultants like architects and engineers to be current and accurate.

In Part 2 we’ll cover how to build a pipeline of current and accurate design criteria between Smartsheet and the BIM authoring tool used by the architects and engineers. This pipeline of information is the automated magic that makes this workflow superior to everything that came before.

You’ll recall from Part 1 that we loaded up sheets with specifications in a schedule format where each row represented an individual fixture, furnishing, or piece of equipment. BIM content corresponding to each row was attached to that row. Smartsheet’s push notifications let external consultants and vendors know that changes have been made and are ready for download and export. With this functionality in mind, we’ll establish the information pipeline to the BIM. In the example of this workflow, we’ll use the architect as the external consultant and Archicad as the BIM authoring tool, but the workflow is essentially the same for other consultants and other BIM authoring tools.

The Workflow

Step 1: Notifications & Downloads

Once the organization makes changes (including additions and/or deletions) on a given schedule sheet, the architect receives an email notification highlighting the change from Smartsheet. The architect then opens the sheet and goes to the changes (if desired, the company can even have Smartsheet highlight the changed cells in the sheet itself for ease of identification) to download the new BIM content if applicable. If the change is to the specifications, the architect exports an XLS file of the schedule from Smartsheet as well.

In this example, we see a simple schedule entry with an Archicad Object attachment to download
Next, we can export the Smartsheet schedule to an XLS file, now we have model geometry and scheduling data for our Archicad PLN

Step 2: Updating the BIM with Changed BIM Content

The architect will add the BIM content to the library for their BIM, retiring old content if applicable. The updated library is reloaded and the new content gets verified in the BIM, including aligning the new content’s ID and classification with the corresponding schedule in the BIM. Next, the architect can then begin updating the scheduled specifications for this new BIM content.

Here, the architect brings the new Object into their PLN file and prepares it for receiving scheduling data automatically

Step 3: Updating the BIM with Changed Specifications

The architect imports the data from XLS file from Smartsheet into the BIM to update the properties of the BIM content with the changed scheduling information. Schedules in the BIM then automatically update with the changes, with no manual data entry required

This image shows the XLS file’s data being imported by Archicad to automatically update the corresponding Object and schedule in the BIM
Here’s the schedule in Archicad, all matched up with the original from Smartsheet and ready for CDs

This workflow is the same whether the architect is updating their template or a live project. The three step process can be completed in just a few minutes as well.

Another great feature of this workflow is that the company can allow the vendors who provide the stuff in the Smartsheet schedules to update those schedules and their attachments directly which effectively extends the information pipeline from the architect directly to the source of the information, further reducing opportunities for errors and omissions.

All Done!

Let’s be brutally honest here, no one likes doing prototypical updates — it’s boring af — so the more of it that we can leave to technology like we see in this workflow, the better off we all are. Having it be more accurate and timely is an added bonus. Distribution of a chain company’s design criteria is just one use of this workflow, so I’m hopeful that as more jump on board with it, we can begin leveraging Smartsheet APIs to have the workflow be even more automated than what’s shown here — like a plug-in for the BIM authoring tool that grabs all the content and data straight from Smartsheet. Bring it on!

Grab a drink! Let’s peruse Architecture’s PPP Data!

The federal PPP bailout program’s loan data from the first round of stimulus has been made public by the SBA and conveniently compiled into a searchable database by ProPublica here.

In my nerdy opinion, this is as much (if not more) fun during these boring times when everything is shut down as a good Netflix binge. I started late one night and stayed up way too late because it was so fascinating. Here’s some quick highlights:

  • The great news is that our beloved profession was likely able to preserve thousands of jobs because of PPP 👏🏻
  • I’m guessing there’s a lot of paperwork errors in this data — there was a rush to get applications filed and you can see some stuff that just has to be wrong like big firms with hundreds of staff saying zero jobs retained or roofing companies categorized as “architectural services”

Juicy Tidbits

Here’s a link to ProPublica’s database that takes you straight to all of the architecture firms who took more than $150K in PPP moolah.

Information-Driven Design: Distributing Design Criteria via Smartsheet – Part 1

For companies doing rollout development of their concepts, a big part of making sure buildings and spaces get designed right is making sure all of their external consultants are working off the latest and greatest design criteria. Having been on both sides of this important knowledge transfer, I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than ever to do this well thanks to technology.

I love this topic. It’s all about implementation. You can have the coolest design with the best content for your architects and engineers, but if you can’t organize all that information in a way that makes it easy for those outside of your organization to use, you lost.

To make sure we don’t take an L, we’re leveraging information-driven design workflows to take the design criteria for a concept from the organization’s design department out to their consulting architects and engineers. The heart of this workflow will be Smartsheet, a web-based database centered around powerful interactive spreadsheets.

Step 1: Organize the Content into Schedules

The first step is for the company doing the rollout development to organize their BIM content (Families, Objects, whatever you want to call them) into categories related to how that content would be scheduled in construction documents. Depending on the content, you’ll want to organize it by vendor, procurement or installation responsibilities, purpose, or something else. This exercise should allow you to identify common scheduling characteristics (manufacturer, model, finish, utility connection types, etc.) which will become the columns of the schedule chart. The rows of the schedule chart will be each individual piece of content. Now you’ll know how many schedules you need, what’s in each schedule, and how each schedule charts out its information.

Step 2: Build the Schedules

Next, we’ll begin building the schedules from Step 1 in Smartsheet. Each schedule will be its own sheet. The sheets can be organized within Smartsheet into folders which will come in handy for assigning access privileges later on. First, set up columns based on the scheduling characteristics determined in Step 1 then begin adding each piece of content in the rows.

Your vendors can help populate these schedules accurately with current information if you want to give them access to the sheets. This is key to making all of the information accurate, especially once everything is up and running as we’ll see later on.

The individual files for the BIM content as well as any product data get attached to the row in the schedule to which they belong. Smartsheet has version tracking so if the BIM content needs to be updated later on just upload a new file with the same filename to preserve history. This version tracking also applies to the contents of the cells in the schedule. Having a history to look back on is super helpful to both the organization and the external consultants once everything has been up and running for a while.

A completed schedule might look something like this…

This is what schedules look like in Smartsheet

Step 3: Grant Access

Once completed and populated with the initial content, each schedule will also leverage Smartsheet’s push notifications. You’ll set up the sheets to push notify everyone who needs to be made aware each time there’s a change made. Those people will get automated emails from Smartsheet highlighting the changes so they can take action and update their BIMs, and in turn the documentation created from those BIMs.

To make notifications work, you’ll first step up all of the users who need access to the sheets of schedules and BIM content. These are your external consultants and vendors. People can have read and/or write access to the sheets depending on who they are and what their needs may be. You can further organize users into groups based on their companies and/or level of access to make it easier to assign people and update them later on as people come and go from these external companies. As you set up users, Smartsheet pushes out email invitations to get set up in your company’s Smartsheet workspace.

Step 4: Set Up Sheets for Other Design Criteria

Smartsheet is useful for other types of design criteria that aren’t necessarily schedule-based. For example, prototypical details for construction documents can be disseminated through sheets with version-tracking and push notifications as well. Here’s an example of that…

You can organize prototypical detail content in Smartsheet too

Another type sheet you can make is instructional, where you explain to external consultants how to handle the design criteria. Here’s an example of an instructional sheet explaining distribution of deliverables created from the design criteria. Again, push notifications allow people to be made aware of changes in an automated fashion.

Using Smartsheet to explain distribution requirements for design deliverables

These non-schedule sheets won’t interact with the consultants’ BIM authoring tools in the ways we’ll cover in Part 2, but they are still a great way to leverage technology to distribute design criteria.

End Users Download & Create

With everything up and running in Smartsheet, your external consultants can visit the sheets to begin downloading BIM content, product data, and exporting sheets. In Part 2, we’ll look at how these downloads and exports from Smartsheet drive information in the BIM and eliminate the coordination headaches common to every other method of distributing design criteria.

The Restaurant Dining Room Design Dilemma – Part 2

In Part 1 I explained why I think using restaurant dining rooms for their intended purpose during a pandemic is a bad idea. For restaurant operators stuck without a dining room full of customers, making up for all of that lost revenue is an unbelievably tough challenge. Some restaurants just won’t be able to find an alternate revenue stream. Others will eke out a meager existence on reduced revenues from take-out and delivery.

The idea we’ll look at today requires an investment of capital up front to make it a reality, and I know that’s not going to be a good fit for every operator out there, but for those with access to capital, or who can team up with others in the business to pull together funding on a partnership, this might be worth considering.

💡I’ve Got an Idea…

Food kiosks of the kind you find at malls, airports, and campuses make a good hack for our purposes here because they’re like tiny kitchens for churning out food and/or beverages. Sometimes the items being served are prepared in a commissary and shipped to the kiosk to be finished and served, while other times very simple meals can be prepared entirely within the kiosk. Kiosks are designed to be safe and sanitary food prep areas that drop into larger spaces which may or may not have been originally intended to be safe and sanitary food prep spaces.

I think an emptied out dining room makes a great host for one or more food kiosks. The alterations needed for the kiosk can be done while the existing kitchen is still up and running. These kiosks can expand an existing menu or take off in entirely new directions with different cuisines and offerings for customers. The kiosks could be rented out to chefs for doing pop-up take-out or delivery shops, or even act as in-house ghost kitchens for delivery concepts that exist only online (and only during the pandemic). For spaces that can accommodate more than one kiosk, there’s even the possibility of dressing up the kiosks with branding and creating miniature food halls where customers could schedule a visit (to control distancing) and peruse the different offerings at each kiosk. The restaurant’s existing kitchen keeps pumping out food too, or it could shift to act as a commissary for the kiosk(s).

The existing kitchen can also handle ware washing for the kiosk(s), or, depending on the food and/or beverage that the kiosks would be churning out, act as additional storage space.

I think that the dining room offers an opportunity to provide storage space too with rolling shelving units and refrigerator units. If the local health officials require it, a smaller, empty kiosk could be provided to house the added storage and provide sanitary surrounding surfaces for the stored goods.

Keeping it Cheap

Obviously, this needs to be quick and cheap to ROI for a restaurant that’s lost some/all of its revenue. As discussed in Part 1, we should be looking at a minimum of two years in this setup. Here’s how I see it working on the cheap:

  • Plan, Plan, Plan: The less money you have to spend, the more carefully you must plan. The restauranteur and architect get together to map out what fits in the dining room and what kinds of food and beverage that would support. This planning informs the scope of work for the dining room (what needs to be moved, changed, etc.). Placement of the kiosk(s) in the dining room has significant impact on their final cost (see utilities section below). Also, everything that goes into this effort needs to be able to fit through the front door, so no large equipment or parts either.
  • Get Your AHJ to Work with You: This is the one time in recent history that building and health officials are going to be extra flexible and understanding, which is a great incentive to meet with them early and often about your kiosk ideas and use their flexibility to make these temporary arrangements an affordable reality for your restaurant.
  • (Very) Selective Demolition: It’s time to pull crap out of the dining room so we can start making it into a revenue generator.
    • Freestanding furniture is easy, just move it out. It can come back when the pandemic is over.
    • Fixed furniture and low walls can be removed by a finish carpenter or even a GC’s laborer quick and easy. It took can go right back where it was after all this is done.
    • Hanging light fixtures can be taken down with their wiring capped so that they can go back up when the dining room is a dining room again.
  • Do You Want a Pickup Window? These can be a good way to make pickup easy for the general public and the delivery services. It also helps reduce the number of people in your space, which can reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Restaurants with storefront systems can easily modify an existing pane with an operable window for not too much moolah. If the restaurant has a vestibule, that could be repurposed during business hours as a sort of pickup window too. A third option is to tack on a temporary vestibule of aluminum and canvas outside of the front door and handle pickups there.
  • Get Utilities Ready: Part of planning your kiosk concept needs to be keeping its equipment lineup as simple as possible. Not only does this save money on the cost of the equipment, but it saves on modifying your existing utilities (water, sewer, natural gas, electricity, and telecom). Keep the focus on small, countertop appliances that run on 120V electricity if you can.
    • Electricity is quick and easy to extend into the dining room overhead (you may even be able to use an abandoned light fixture’s junction box in some cases.
    • The most challenging part for the utilities is going to be hand sink coverage for your kiosk(s). In some layouts, it may be possible to share a nearby hand sink with the existing kitchen. But when you have to add one, be smart about placement (this alone should drive placement of the kiosk to help save money). Water can be brought in overhead easily. The sewer will likely need to be trenched in the floor (unless there’s a floor below the restaurant) from a nearby sewer line to the kiosk — this is why it’s important to place the kiosk in the dining room based on proximity to the existing sewer line. Patching floor finishes (tile, carpet, etc.) can be dealt with now if budget permits or later when the dining room goes back to normal.
  • Bring in the Kiosk(s): Depending on where you are in the country, it may be cheaper to build the kiosk on site or it may cost less to have it prefabricated in a millwork shop and then brought onto the site, so investigate early in your planning for the cheapest option. Another consideration is whether it’s cheaper for the kiosk to have its own ceiling supported by posts in the kiosk walls or to suspend a ceiling over it from the existing dining room’s ceiling. The kiosk will need its own floor, which can be simple plywood decking with foodservice-grade sheet vinyl flooring adhered to the top. If you brace the kiosk’s side walls properly, you’ll need minimal anchorage into the existing floor. If you’re not going the food hall route mentioned above, the kiosk construction can be really simple and cheap, it doesn’t have to be anything pretty, this is about adding foodservice preparation areas to expand menu offerings.

There’s my two cents on rejiggering restaurant dining rooms during the pandemic. If people are interested, I’ll model this solution in a mocked up dining room so we can visualize the madness.

The Month in Buildings: June, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly (and sometimes late) occurring series, I bring you the best of architecture pics and drawings from the wonderful world of tumblr.

Colorful German design.


Guggenheim recall.

Enthusiastic towers…

Persian portals.

Parisian pissers.