More haste, less speed

Behind the veil of the artist lie advanced simulations and spreadsheets

Gone are the days when skilled master craftsman could build ­cathedrals from little more than an architectural sketch. Our diverse materials palette ­demands greater detail and accuracy from ­architects, engineers and craftsmen.

In 40 years our profession has undergone a tremendous shift from analogue to digital production, enabling rapid creation of complex models with thousands of 3D components and embedded specifications. Yet many practices are missing the true potential of BIM. 

A friend once conveyed frustration after spending 10 days placing seat components in a stadium model only to repeat the task a month later with a new bowl design. A little custom code could have done it in minutes.

Not everyone is cut out to be a coding ­specialist. Most of us model far better with graphical buttons (nodes) and geometry in 3D space than with lines of code. Node based workflows are packaged with a friendly graphical interface to harness the iterative power of code based modelling – for example Maya’s node editor, Rhino’s Grasshopper, Blender, and Dynamo for Revit. The most widely used BIM software lacks a sophisticated, fully integrated node based workflow, so we need to use multiple software like Rhino and Grasshopper with Revit and Revit API. 

A single node contains information for a specific geometric or mathematical design task, like subdividing a curve or finding a midpoint. A node based workflow links nodes together to perform multiple design tasks in one iteration. With careful rigging, our designs can become highly reactive. Minute alterations to a node early in the workflow propagate changes across a model, producing a new solution in minutes rather than weeks.

Individual BIM components are controlled and updated by a set of relationships determined through the node workflow. Using the stadium as an example, we know each seat in the stadium has a common width and spacing which can be iterated along a curve that is linked to the bowl geometry. Owing to its highly detailed liquid state, when the 3D bowl ­geometry updates so too does the curve and the position of all seating. This alters ­traditional production assumptions. Time spent in the early phases to understand the nodes and relationships, means execution documents and alterations can be produced at phenomenal speed. 

Node based workflows aid communi­cation, helping consultants create highly accurate, cohesive working models and production sets. With a few custom nodes embedded with common languages like vb, c# and python, data can be shared and geometry tested, analysed and amended from all angles. 

We are on the cusp of integrated node based workflows entering mainstream firms. I look forward to touch screen capabilities with an ‘Ironman’ like interface.

Alan McLean is an architect at Ron Arad Associates