Positions - Amelyn Ng - OOTB
Positions
August 29, 2019
Positions

OOTB

Opening Autodesk Revit’s Basic Sample Project. All Autodesk screen shots reprinted courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

This building has never been built, nor does it ever plan to be. Yet this mythic edifice has been scrupulously documented, updated, circulated, and stored in in the contemporary architect/technician’s peripheral memory. It inhabits office start-up screens around the world, yet can never be occupied. Autodesk Revit’s Basic Sample Project is a Building Information Model in multiple senses—it is an information-rich simulation, a how-to manual, and a technical exemplar of software capabilities.1 What does Revit disclose in its start-up narrative, and what else might be found by wandering the parametric property uninvited? Through a close “user” reading of the generic yet hyper-codified out-of-the-box (OOTB) house, we can speculate on its aesthetic assumptions, its performance and performativity, and its genealogy and ontological status, ultimately asking: what does it mean to think through a simulation in our technologically hegemonic now?2 In order to think beyond BIM’s virtual space, one must still reckon with/in its fictions. In OOTB fashion, I begin by opening up the .rvt file.

The snappy Revit portal summons forth not the sample house itself, but a skeuomorphic title sheet emblazoned with raster-images of the sample house. Frames within frames: we are in the model, but not yet in it.3 A “How Do I” directory takes the place of the drawing register. Already, Revit has put the contemporary architect in her place: at the paperless desktop, issuing virtual orders a thousand miles away from any real site. The sheet’s guise has subjectivating power: Wendy Chun remarks that through the “simulated visibility” of our interfaces, “software produces ‘users’.”4 After a few false starts, clicking blindly on unlinked images (not everything in BIM’s lifeworld is parametric),5 I enter the 3D model-space via the Project Browser sidebar. As we shall discover, Revit’s paratextual marginalia and nondiegetic displays prove to be far more useful in negotiating the model than the actual viewports.6 Taking the de facto position of a drone, I aerially survey the landscape: a square slab of digital earth floating like Laputa in Gulliver's Travels.7 The most practical way to “approach”8 the floating site—one whose single point-of-entry is an abrupt driveway-to-nowhere—is from the air. On the geopolitics of satellite viewing technologies, Ryan Bishop likens Laputa to the aerial military gaze, highlighting recent US military efforts to make the earth’s surface visually penetrable from above.9

The ability to see depth is certainly apropos to the Revit world-view, which alleges to make all components informationally, and literally, transparent: one renders solid objects see-though simply by clicking on them. Clicking Revit’s ground-plane reveals it as a Hollow Earth. Orbiting beneath the shell of an island, I find the house’s footings dangling into void. Bishop remarks that the autoscopic instrumentality of eye-in-the-sky surveillance constructs a solipsistic “perceiving and hovering self,”10 not unlike our sovereign, astral perceiving selves gliding through Revit model-space. This user-friendly scopic regime is furnished by an interactive ViewCube presiding over the viewport, a nifty heads-up display diagramming one’s live orientation without having to look away from the model-view.11 As unnecessary as this proxy Cube is for users with a middle mouse button, there is nonetheless something causally pleasurable about revolving an icon with real-time consequence.12 With the nondiegetic (World)ViewCube, one can be simultaneously immanent and transcendent—the 3D modeler, indeed, plays God.

As it turns out, it is incredibly difficult for a first-time visitor, no matter how Godlike her default disposition may be, to enter the house through the front door. Unlike SketchUp, where one penetrates walls by zooming into them, the glazed entry of Revit’s house remains impervious. It seems the house is not made to entertain one-off guests, but welcomes technical visitors and novices intent on learning. It is a machine for self-disciplining, where budding users go to familiarize themselves with the rhythms and flows of Revit technicity. This closed open-house could be emblematic of unpaid upskilling labors in an entrepreneurial world, where practicing architects, BIM managers, draftspersons, interns, students, and unemployed professionals must keep proactive pace with the relentless advance of software skills—typically on their own clock—to remain potentially employable.

But I have not come to seek instruction, and have most certainly not come to seek architectural insight either. Formally speaking, this house is a rather crude amalgam of vaguely architectural tropes. Squinting, we see Herzog & de Meuron's VitraHaus perched atop Johnson's Glass House, appended with some box-with-a-view of a thousand Pinterest hillside homes. Sustainability souvenirs—3 wind-turbines and 12 photovoltaics—stud this hill. After panning, zooming, and orbiting the perimeter several times like a stalker—capitulating momentarily to an unsuccessful Google-search on how to open doors using a Revit Walkthrough—I decide it is best to break-and-enter.13

More accurately, I Hide-a-Wall-and-Enter, only to step into the eerie mise-en-scène of a vacated dinner-party. The set dining-table bears no food—only a bottle of wine and eerily filled glasses of water. The general plan of the kitchen, too, exhibits an unconventional level of detail: plates, table-leg positions, an Aalto vase… Fitted with parametric Miele appliances,14 the well-appointed Revit kitchen becomes an advertising-space for BIM-capable suppliers to showcase their downloadable wares. The bedrooms upstairs, by contrast, are empty—this is no place for rest. So, who is the host?15

Clumsily wielding Revit’s 3D Camera function, I move upstairs only to double-take at the shadowy human figure standing against the full-height balcony window. Perturbed, my mouse instinctively hovers over to identify her: “Entourage: RPC Female: YinYin.”16 According to Revit community trivia, Revit 4.0’s web-launch of 2001 featured Parametro, a fictional city in which YinYin, Alex, and other default Family members lived. The public relations narrative was elaborated so much as to include “a special section introducing the residents of Parametro and a little bio about each of them.”17 What of this benign sales stunt? Foucault once identified two forces that could disrupt emplacement: “contemporary engineering,” and “demography.”18 That is, media and human population management both disrupt the localization of objects/subjects through modes of information storage, tagging, distribution, classification, and preferential retention of (human or nonhuman) elements in an ensemble. The BIM human library—an epistemic technology Foucault may not have foreseen—plays easily into both categories without disruption, inviting a revised postulation that Revit “people” in their infinitely migratory, technically reproducible status are not simply scattered bits to be managed, but active assemblages of management. Revit humans are emplacements. Made for global network sharing, YinYin and Friends are engineered bundles of demographic preferences that are on the one hand ethnically “diversifying,” and on the other, increasingly gendered, racially typed, and “realistic.” Racialized render realism turned deployable action-figure.

What is particularly troubling about Revit’s entourage biopolitics is that this default cast of characters is enshrined as the “Imperial family library”—with youthful RPC: Male Alex at its head.19 In The Interface Effect, Alexander Galloway posits that “race is ‘unplayable’ in any conventional sense… to play with race and to play with race are two entirely different things.”20 The fact that Families are editable means that YinYin’s parametric DNA can be “played with.” When does YinYin stop becoming YinYin? Today, real people can also become (com)modifiable RPC Families.21 Given the AEC industry’s recent interest in using Virtual Reality (VR) technologies for BIM-model walkthroughs with clients and consultants, would YinYin’s subjectivity soon be first-person “playable” in Galloway’s second sense? With the sunlight turned off in the model’s default Shaded mode, this living-room encounter could be a scene out of an animated thriller, or a live game of Cluedo.22 The yet-unrendered shadowy “others” in this working model (two YinYins and one Alex) look just like gameboard tokens; even the trees outside are cut-and-slot pieces on model stands. “It was Yin Yin with the Aalto Vase in the Dining Room!”

Of course, this home-that-is-not-a-house is, ultimately, not a gaming environment but an architectural model. Graphic conventions betray the model’s toy realism; dimensions, grid-lines, concrete speckling, and earth hatches relieve us from the uncanny. However, in a bid to deliver both legibility and realism to the screen, BIM models occasionally produce the impossible. In the North Elevation View, the silhouette cast by a solar panel spills over the section cut-line and onto the earth-hatch: a diagrammatic space that no sunlight can reach. This clash between sciography and section remains undetected, as it does not interfere with the fundamental operations of the building model. Revit’s uncalculated shadow suggests a prioritization of object fidelity and performance over visual apprehension, or real physics. And metaphysics: Revit’s “live” sectional views, detailed and true-to-object as they are, depart from the other famous architectural sections of CAD history, such as the enlivened anatomical sections of Atelier Bow-Wow.23 It seems that the more interactive and automatically mutable a model’s section-cut becomes, the more graphically dampened its drawing spirit…

I am starting to experience simulation fatigue. Where am I, really? Happening upon a globe icon in the Management tab, I summon the Location Weather and Site dialog. An innocuous “home” location marker (another universal red-pitched vernacular) marks the spot on an embedded map. Location: Boston, MA. Zooming in, we can read the map label: Blue Hill Cemetary. Wait, what? Corroborating the coordinates with Google Earth (another military-derived aerial vision), sure enough, neat rows of gravestones cover the hillside where our Revit residence is geolocated.24 Flicking back to the open Revit file, I stare at the suspended necropolis.

Twenty-four years ago, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte declared: “Computing is not about computers anymore. It is about living.”25 He is better known for another techno-optimistic adage: “demo or die.” Capturing the pre-millennium start-up ethos of proving-by-doing, “demo or die” was Media Lab’s response to academia’s “publish or perish,” and remains the refrain of many techpreneurs today.26 If technological innovation is a matter of life or death, the Revit house’s uncanny geolocation on a cemetery and crematory in Braintree, Massachusetts, presents a potentially grave site upon which to ruminate where we might be going with the politics of architectural modeling, and the heterotopias they co-produce. In “Demoing unto Death,” Orit Halpern and Gökçe Günel see this aggressively optimistic impulse of “preemptive hope” unfold at the scale of mega-urban development. New “smart” cities such as Songdo, South Korea, and Masdar, Abu Dhabi, they posit, are test-beds of environmental, security, and financial opportunity which unremittingly defer the imminent threat of future disaster.27 Reading Songdo as an unending, processual “technical product,” Halpern and Günel level urbanism with software—specifically, demo software—a parallelism that today seems more literal than literary device.28 Today, BIM technologies are poised as an innovation spearhead for developments in “7D” building life-cycle management, sensor-embedded infrastructures, digital twins, lean construction (LC), virtual design and construction (VDC), automated construction manufacturing, cyber-physical construction, GIS-enabled City Information Modeling (CIM), and “the Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR or “Industry 4.0”).29

If, as Halpern and Günel argue, that “the demo is a form of temporal management,” then BIM is a biopolitical technology, with the ability to regulate digital and real populations, and its demo, a beginner’s initiation into its virtuous circle of employable skills and subscribing users.30 But a key difference between smart city prototypes and the Revit house is that the latter is not for sale; the simulation does not possess real estate value nor capitalize on real disaster conditions. It is, more simply, a default demonstration space for technical proficiency at a moment in which BIM capability is a key measure of architectural employability. Today, the demo is used to showcase BIM expertise and third-party software features: a demo for demos. Render software vendor Chaos Group has used it to explain workflows and announce V-Ray launches.31 Lumion has used it in hero renders and GIFs to substantiate their plug-in’s LiveSync render feature.32 Across the internet, the red-roofed house is grafted into myriad tropical, coastal, and wintry environs. By demonstrating technical aptitude, the house is a proof-of-concept vehicle performed by entrepreneurial subjects to increase the potential purchase value of one’s immaterial labor. It is an entangled actor in what Michel Feher in Rated Agency calls the investor-investee relation.33

Lumion's LiveSync render feature. Image: Lumion.

In a 2014 TED Talk, MIT Media Lab’s current director, Joichi Ito, declared the Negropontian mandate for the research group be superseded. His override: “deploy or die.”34 This would mean that no longer is the demo about showing—a performative mode where planning, persuasion, and negotiation are still operational forces—but a direct, in-the-now doing.35 The fully integrated BIM model, too, makes a case for consequential, real-time creditworthiness. Recently, start-up construction companies like Katerra have applied BIM to vertically integrated, “end-to-end building services” (dare I say, cradle-to-grave).36 The deployable demonstration has gone from TED-talk dictum to actionable business directive. It might come as no surprise to see further collapses between Revit sample software and urban software, between user and citizen, such as object-oriented architectural licensure, mortgage scoring via digital properties, performance-based wagers on architectural labor,37 Family libraries of photo-registered citizens… Beset by the increasing smartness of our heterotopias, one can only preemptively hope (and I reserve some genuine optimism) that there is more than one possible version for this increasingly information-rich, beta-tested future.

With that, I close the file without saving.

×

Positions is an independent initiative of e-flux Architecture.

Amelyn Ng is an Australian architect, writer, and cartoonist currently working on issues in graphics, epistemology, and theories of information-richness. She is a 2019 Wortham Fellow at the Rice School of Architecture, and a graduate of the Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices (CCCP) program at Columbia GSAPP.

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Notes - OOTB
1

This review engages with the Revit Basic Sample Project, “rac_basic_sample_project.rvt,” using Autodesk Revit Architecture 2018. The latest version of the house at the time of writing is downloadable from “Revit Sample Project Files,” Autodesk, March 29, 2017, . Building Information Modeling (BIM), the prevailing industry standard for architectural modeling today, is a “process of creating information models containing both graphical and non-graphical information in a Common Data Environment.” Used widely by architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry professionals globally, Distinct from 2D drafting or 3D geometric models, Building Information Model refers to an information-rich, “intelligent” digital model that can also detect clashes, organize parametric object data, automate schedules and drawing updates, visualize cost implications, coordinate global teams, and, in theory, manage entire building life-cycles. See Richard McPartland, “BIM dimensions - 3D, 4D, 5D, 6D BIM explained,” National Building Specification, July 10, 2017, , and “What is BIM?,” Autodesk, .

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2

Full disclosure: I am a newcomer to Revit, having used MicroStation and ARCHICAD for most of my practising life (and even then, I’m no specialist). This “house visit” will simultaneously be a test in user-friendliness for the unskilled critic.

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3

Anne Friedberg once declared: “Perspective may have met its end on the desktop.” More specifically, the “window” may have met its traditional metaphoric end on the desktop, shifting “from the singular frame of perspective to the multiplicity of windows within windows, frames within frames, screens within screens.” That is, the graphical user interface allows frames of any number, type, and order to coexist non-relationally: a dynamic “multiple view” that upends our classical relationship to perspectival space as pictorially composed or serialized. See Anne Friedberg, “Introduction: The Virtual Window,” in The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009). 1–2.

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4

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge,” Grey Room 18 (Winter 2004): 43.

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5

For distinctions between “dumb graphics” and “intelligent” objects, see Rick Rundell, “1-2-3 Revit: Not All BIM is Parametric,” Cadalyst, February 15, 2005, .

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6

Alexander Galloway has theorized the overtaking importance of the nondiegetic display in games such as the World of Warcraft. Through toolbar icons, gauges, and other skeuomorphic overlays, it “deploys an entirely different mode of signification, reliant more on letter and number”—a fair characterization of the BIM workspace whose very predicate is the dynamic manipulation of non-graphical data beyond mere model geometry. See Alexander R. Galloway, “The Unworkable Interface,” in The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 41–42.

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7

Laputa is a flying, levitating chunk of island described in Jonathan Swift's 1726 classic, Gulliver's Travels. Much like a Revit model, Laputa is monarchically governed and maneuverable in any direction using powers of magnetic levitation. See Jonathan Swift, “Part III. A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan,” in Gulliver's Travels: Into Several Remote Nations of the World (Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008), 230–238. On a more political register, Félix Guattari has also theorized the city as a “totalizing structure of equipments” that can exist “outside of the city (the flotilla of Athens, for example)... {which} carry political power that can re-enter the machines of the socius.” This speaks to the logic of the BIM model and its technophilic corollary, the “digital twin,” which appear outside the world (virtual and offsite) yet carry restructuring power. See Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, “Equipments of Power: Towns, Territories, and Collective Equipments,” in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984 (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989): 108–109.

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8

“Approach” is the default name of this hovering 3D View.

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9

See Ryan Bishop, “Project ‘Transparent Earth’ and the Autoscopy of Aerial Targeting: The Visual Geopolitics of the Underground,” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 7–8 (2011): 270–286.

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10

Ibid, 284.

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11

See “About the ViewCube,” Autodesk, February 8, 2017, .

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12

“Causal pleasure” is a term used by Wendy Chun to describe the pleasure programmers derive from seeing their code produce visible and predictable results; this is said to imbue feelings of absolute power and control over a fully “micro-world”. This might describe the gratification of a user-amplified BIM model: to see all your drawings automatically update to your one command, or to visually see what you do to the ViewCube directly affect your model view. See Chun, “On Software,” 38–43.

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13

It is not so easy to open a closed Revit door in the first-person view. I am not alone. For examples of unresolved frustrations aired in a CAD troubleshooting forum (another emblematic site of unpaid self-improvement, social capital, and collective emotional labor), see bkappler, “How do I open doors during a walkthrough?,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, May 4, 2005, . Paradoxically, in order to simulate a walk through a Revit model, a camera must first be created along a path. Every stroll is premeditated and guided by machine vision. See also Autodesk Help, “About Walkthroughs,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, April 10, 2018, .

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14

The Revit model kitchen comes stocked with (not-so-)Generic Models such as a Miele Oven, Washing Machine, Tumble Dryer, MasterCool KF 1911 Fridge and Freezer, Miele Built-under Dishwasher G 4101 U CS… On free Miele Revit Families, see Luke Johnston, “New Miele ‘Residential’ Revit Content Library - Now Available,” The BIM Hub, December 7, 2016, , and .

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15

The technically correct answer to this question is “the Revit Server Host,” a central server network where a common model is stored, enabling synchronized worksharing across a project team or organization. See Autodesk Help, “How Revit Server Works,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, April 9, 2018, .

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16

The abovementioned property “RPC Female” refers to Rich Photorealistic Content, meaning these human tokens can render to look like specified real people. (The formal parameter for this is “Render Appearance: Third Party.”) For now, ontologically underperforming YinYin must remain faceless for the purposes of quick model processing.

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17

See czoog, “And the Winners are.........,” Autodesk User Group International, May 5, 2004, . The original Parametro webpage, like most unarchived software marketing campaigns, is no longer available.

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18

See Michel Foucault, “Different Spaces,” trans. Robert Hurley, in Michael Foucault: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, vol. 2 of Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. James D. Faubion (New York: New Press, 1998), 176–177.

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19

It is worth noting that gender is totally binary; here one only finds RPC Males and Females. Ableism and ageism abound. After Alex, Revit’s Imperial family is listed, in this order: RPC Male: Dwayne, RPC Male: Jay, and RPC Male: LaRon. A suite of RPC: Females follow, ending with our protagonist, YinYin. See Autodesk Support, “RPC People library,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, September 24, 2013, .

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20

Alexander R. Galloway, “We Are the Gold Famers,” in The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 132.

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21

For uncanny images of vampire-white BIM human content packs for sale, and for step-by-step illustrations on how to turn yourself into a (disturbingly detailed) custom RPC object, see Dan Stine, “Best Practices for Custom RPC Content,” Enscape, December 8, 2017, . A quote from the author to illustrate: “I love the detail {of my Revit avatar}, with the pattern in my shirt, the wrinkles in my pants and even the wrinkles next to my closed eye.”

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22

Cluedo is a British murder mystery board game, created in 1949. On the original gameboard, the plan view of each room is shown empty and depicts no objects or furnishings—the game is enlivened instead by players’ moveable object-tokens. Clue, the North American version, developed perspectival house-plan backgrounds of increasing detail, populating rooms with the eerie minutiae of a recently lived life: colored carpets and floorboards, a lit fireplace, a half-played billiard-table, untouched dinner-table settings (sounds like our Revit house)… It could be said that Clue is analogous to the Revit sample project: in this object-oriented puzzle of who-did-what-where-and-how, players see everything-at-once, yet can know nothing of the game unless inquiries are made about specific things. In both “houses,” the domestic scene has been (pre)set, awaiting latent action by the intruder (you).

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23

In Revit, section markers in plan are “smart” annotations that reference “live” section cuts. This means that, unlike the painstaking 2D geometric constructions of earlier CAD section drawings, a detailed section drawing can be generated instantly from the 3D model, and automatically updated by simply moving its section marker in plan. The adjustable section-cut is also a hallmark of other 3D visualization tools such as Rhino and SketchUp, though they tend to entail the manipulation of an actual cutting plane surface in 3D view, rather than via planimetric annotations per a (more documentation-oriented) BIM model.

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24

In Close Up at a Distance, Laura Kurgan explains how the apparently singular, confident zoom of Google Earth is actually a “patchwork of archived aerial and satellite images of varying origins, sources, motivations, and resolutions” that are not even generated by Google. I am acutely aware of the irony of using one virtual model (Google Earth cartography) to corroborate another (Revit sample project). See Laura Kurgan, “Introduction,” in Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (New York: Zone Books, 2013), 20.

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25

Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995), 6.

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26

See, for example, Rakesh Ranjan, “Demo or die!,” IBM Cloud Computing News, September 10, 2014, , and Danah Boyd, “How ‘Demo-or-Die’ Helped My Career,” Data & Society, August 1, 2017, . Both authors are MIT graduates.

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27

See Orit Halpern and Gökçe Günel, “Demoing unto Death: Smart Cities, Environment, and Preemptive Hope,” The Fibreculture Journal 29 (2017): 2, 5.

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28

“Songdo, like any major technical product today, is not an object, it is a process. It is a beta version for urban life.” Ibid, 6.

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29

Google searches of any of these phenomena quickly call up a trove of aggressively techno-optimistic prophesies for the future of the construction industry, in which BIM adoption is a central tenet. Deeper trawls may lead you to other unsettling concepts such as Digital Taylorism and Single Source of Truth (SSOT). Most articles have been released in the last few years, signifying the currency of these discussions.

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30

Halpern and Günel, “Demoing unto Death,” 2.

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31

See ChaosGroupTV, “V-Ray for Revit — Getting started,” YouTube, November 16, 2016, , and ChaosGroupTV, “V-Ray for Revit – Now Available!,” YouTube, November 15, 2016, .

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32

See Lumion’s balmy renders and GIFs at “All-Improved in Lumion 8.3: LiveSync for Revit,” Lumion, March 26, 2018, .

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33

See Michel Feher, “Introduction: Journeys of Political Despondency,” in Rated Agency (New York: Zone Books, 2018), 7-16.

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34

“today, with the ability of to deploy things into the real world at such low cost, I’m changing the motto now. And this is an official public statement… ‘deploy or die.’” See Joichi Ito, “Want to innovate? Become a ‘now-ist,’” TED, March 2014, Vancouver, Canada, , 5:20. See also Nancy Duvergne Smith, “Deploy or Die—Media Lab Director’s New Motto,” Slice of MIT, July 29, 2014, .

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35

“You have to get the stuff into the real world for it to really count.” See Ito, “Want to innovate?,” Quote at 5:22.

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36

From Katerra’s vision statement: “A technology company at heart, we're applying tested systems approaches from other industries to design and construction.” The rapidly accelerating start-up was founded in 2015, just a year after Ito’s “deploy or die” pronouncement. See “Our Vision,” Katerra, .

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37

A wager-not-wages schema has actually been posed by former Autodesk Vice President Philip Bernstein, in his recent book on BIM for current and future professional practice. The BIM model is regarded as a behaviorally accurate instrument for predicting building performance, which architects can effectively use to bet the costs of their services. This risk-embracing proposal to empower the architect through outcomes-based fees and technologically mediated entrepreneurialization may be said to take a “demo or die” approach to the profession. See Philip G. Bernstein, Architecture Design Data: Practice Competency in the Era of Computation (Basel, Switzerland: Birkhäuser, 2018), 145–147, 157, and 177–178.

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This review engages with the Revit Basic Sample Project, “rac_basic_sample_project.rvt,” using Autodesk Revit Architecture 2018. The latest version of the house at the time of writing is downloadable from “Revit Sample Project Files,” Autodesk, March 29, 2017, . Building Information Modeling (BIM), the prevailing industry standard for architectural modeling today, is a “process of creating information models containing both graphical and non-graphical information in a Common Data Environment.” Used widely by architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry professionals globally, Distinct from 2D drafting or 3D geometric models, Building Information Model refers to an information-rich, “intelligent” digital model that can also detect clashes, organize parametric object data, automate schedules and drawing updates, visualize cost implications, coordinate global teams, and, in theory, manage entire building life-cycles. See Richard McPartland, “BIM dimensions - 3D, 4D, 5D, 6D BIM explained,” National Building Specification, July 10, 2017, , and “What is BIM?,” Autodesk, .

Full disclosure: I am a newcomer to Revit, having used MicroStation and ARCHICAD for most of my practising life (and even then, I’m no specialist). This “house visit” will simultaneously be a test in user-friendliness for the unskilled critic.

Anne Friedberg once declared: “Perspective may have met its end on the desktop.” More specifically, the “window” may have met its traditional metaphoric end on the desktop, shifting “from the singular frame of perspective to the multiplicity of windows within windows, frames within frames, screens within screens.” That is, the graphical user interface allows frames of any number, type, and order to coexist non-relationally: a dynamic “multiple view” that upends our classical relationship to perspectival space as pictorially composed or serialized. See Anne Friedberg, “Introduction: The Virtual Window,” in The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009). 1–2.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge,” Grey Room 18 (Winter 2004): 43.

For distinctions between “dumb graphics” and “intelligent” objects, see Rick Rundell, “1-2-3 Revit: Not All BIM is Parametric,” Cadalyst, February 15, 2005, .

Alexander Galloway has theorized the overtaking importance of the nondiegetic display in games such as the World of Warcraft. Through toolbar icons, gauges, and other skeuomorphic overlays, it “deploys an entirely different mode of signification, reliant more on letter and number”—a fair characterization of the BIM workspace whose very predicate is the dynamic manipulation of non-graphical data beyond mere model geometry. See Alexander R. Galloway, “The Unworkable Interface,” in The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 41–42.

Laputa is a flying, levitating chunk of island described in Jonathan Swift's 1726 classic, Gulliver's Travels. Much like a Revit model, Laputa is monarchically governed and maneuverable in any direction using powers of magnetic levitation. See Jonathan Swift, “Part III. A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan,” in Gulliver's Travels: Into Several Remote Nations of the World (Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008), 230–238. On a more political register, Félix Guattari has also theorized the city as a “totalizing structure of equipments” that can exist “outside of the city (the flotilla of Athens, for example)... {which} carry political power that can re-enter the machines of the socius.” This speaks to the logic of the BIM model and its technophilic corollary, the “digital twin,” which appear outside the world (virtual and offsite) yet carry restructuring power. See Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, “Equipments of Power: Towns, Territories, and Collective Equipments,” in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984 (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989): 108–109.

“Approach” is the default name of this hovering 3D View.

See Ryan Bishop, “Project ‘Transparent Earth’ and the Autoscopy of Aerial Targeting: The Visual Geopolitics of the Underground,” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 7–8 (2011): 270–286.

Ibid, 284.

See “About the ViewCube,” Autodesk, February 8, 2017, .

“Causal pleasure” is a term used by Wendy Chun to describe the pleasure programmers derive from seeing their code produce visible and predictable results; this is said to imbue feelings of absolute power and control over a fully “micro-world”. This might describe the gratification of a user-amplified BIM model: to see all your drawings automatically update to your one command, or to visually see what you do to the ViewCube directly affect your model view. See Chun, “On Software,” 38–43.

It is not so easy to open a closed Revit door in the first-person view. I am not alone. For examples of unresolved frustrations aired in a CAD troubleshooting forum (another emblematic site of unpaid self-improvement, social capital, and collective emotional labor), see bkappler, “How do I open doors during a walkthrough?,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, May 4, 2005, . Paradoxically, in order to simulate a walk through a Revit model, a camera must first be created along a path. Every stroll is premeditated and guided by machine vision. See also Autodesk Help, “About Walkthroughs,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, April 10, 2018, .

The Revit model kitchen comes stocked with (not-so-)Generic Models such as a Miele Oven, Washing Machine, Tumble Dryer, MasterCool KF 1911 Fridge and Freezer, Miele Built-under Dishwasher G 4101 U CS… On free Miele Revit Families, see Luke Johnston, “New Miele ‘Residential’ Revit Content Library - Now Available,” The BIM Hub, December 7, 2016, , and .

The technically correct answer to this question is “the Revit Server Host,” a central server network where a common model is stored, enabling synchronized worksharing across a project team or organization. See Autodesk Help, “How Revit Server Works,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, April 9, 2018, .

The abovementioned property “RPC Female” refers to Rich Photorealistic Content, meaning these human tokens can render to look like specified real people. (The formal parameter for this is “Render Appearance: Third Party.”) For now, ontologically underperforming YinYin must remain faceless for the purposes of quick model processing.

See czoog, “And the Winners are.........,” Autodesk User Group International, May 5, 2004, . The original Parametro webpage, like most unarchived software marketing campaigns, is no longer available.

See Michel Foucault, “Different Spaces,” trans. Robert Hurley, in Michael Foucault: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, vol. 2 of Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. James D. Faubion (New York: New Press, 1998), 176–177.

It is worth noting that gender is totally binary; here one only finds RPC Males and Females. Ableism and ageism abound. After Alex, Revit’s Imperial family is listed, in this order: RPC Male: Dwayne, RPC Male: Jay, and RPC Male: LaRon. A suite of RPC: Females follow, ending with our protagonist, YinYin. See Autodesk Support, “RPC People library,” Autodesk Knowledge Network, September 24, 2013, .

Alexander R. Galloway, “We Are the Gold Famers,” in The Interface Effect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 132.

For uncanny images of vampire-white BIM human content packs for sale, and for step-by-step illustrations on how to turn yourself into a (disturbingly detailed) custom RPC object, see Dan Stine, “Best Practices for Custom RPC Content,” Enscape, December 8, 2017, . A quote from the author to illustrate: “I love the detail {of my Revit avatar}, with the pattern in my shirt, the wrinkles in my pants and even the wrinkles next to my closed eye.”

Cluedo is a British murder mystery board game, created in 1949. On the original gameboard, the plan view of each room is shown empty and depicts no objects or furnishings—the game is enlivened instead by players’ moveable object-tokens. Clue, the North American version, developed perspectival house-plan backgrounds of increasing detail, populating rooms with the eerie minutiae of a recently lived life: colored carpets and floorboards, a lit fireplace, a half-played billiard-table, untouched dinner-table settings (sounds like our Revit house)… It could be said that Clue is analogous to the Revit sample project: in this object-oriented puzzle of who-did-what-where-and-how, players see everything-at-once, yet can know nothing of the game unless inquiries are made about specific things. In both “houses,” the domestic scene has been (pre)set, awaiting latent action by the intruder (you).

In Revit, section markers in plan are “smart” annotations that reference “live” section cuts. This means that, unlike the painstaking 2D geometric constructions of earlier CAD section drawings, a detailed section drawing can be generated instantly from the 3D model, and automatically updated by simply moving its section marker in plan. The adjustable section-cut is also a hallmark of other 3D visualization tools such as Rhino and SketchUp, though they tend to entail the manipulation of an actual cutting plane surface in 3D view, rather than via planimetric annotations per a (more documentation-oriented) BIM model.

In Close Up at a Distance, Laura Kurgan explains how the apparently singular, confident zoom of Google Earth is actually a “patchwork of archived aerial and satellite images of varying origins, sources, motivations, and resolutions” that are not even generated by Google. I am acutely aware of the irony of using one virtual model (Google Earth cartography) to corroborate another (Revit sample project). See Laura Kurgan, “Introduction,” in Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (New York: Zone Books, 2013), 20.

Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995), 6.

See, for example, Rakesh Ranjan, “Demo or die!,” IBM Cloud Computing News, September 10, 2014, , and Danah Boyd, “How ‘Demo-or-Die’ Helped My Career,” Data & Society, August 1, 2017, . Both authors are MIT graduates.

See Orit Halpern and Gökçe Günel, “Demoing unto Death: Smart Cities, Environment, and Preemptive Hope,” The Fibreculture Journal 29 (2017): 2, 5.

“Songdo, like any major technical product today, is not an object, it is a process. It is a beta version for urban life.” Ibid, 6.

Google searches of any of these phenomena quickly call up a trove of aggressively techno-optimistic prophesies for the future of the construction industry, in which BIM adoption is a central tenet. Deeper trawls may lead you to other unsettling concepts such as Digital Taylorism and Single Source of Truth (SSOT). Most articles have been released in the last few years, signifying the currency of these discussions.

Halpern and Günel, “Demoing unto Death,” 2.

See ChaosGroupTV, “V-Ray for Revit — Getting started,” YouTube, November 16, 2016, , and ChaosGroupTV, “V-Ray for Revit – Now Available!,” YouTube, November 15, 2016, .

See Lumion’s balmy renders and GIFs at “All-Improved in Lumion 8.3: LiveSync for Revit,” Lumion, March 26, 2018, .

See Michel Feher, “Introduction: Journeys of Political Despondency,” in Rated Agency (New York: Zone Books, 2018), 7-16.

“today, with the ability of to deploy things into the real world at such low cost, I’m changing the motto now. And this is an official public statement… ‘deploy or die.’” See Joichi Ito, “Want to innovate? Become a ‘now-ist,’” TED, March 2014, Vancouver, Canada, , 5:20. See also Nancy Duvergne Smith, “Deploy or Die—Media Lab Director’s New Motto,” Slice of MIT, July 29, 2014, .

“You have to get the stuff into the real world for it to really count.” See Ito, “Want to innovate?,” Quote at 5:22.

From Katerra’s vision statement: “A technology company at heart, we're applying tested systems approaches from other industries to design and construction.” The rapidly accelerating start-up was founded in 2015, just a year after Ito’s “deploy or die” pronouncement. See “Our Vision,” Katerra, .

A wager-not-wages schema has actually been posed by former Autodesk Vice President Philip Bernstein, in his recent book on BIM for current and future professional practice. The BIM model is regarded as a behaviorally accurate instrument for predicting building performance, which architects can effectively use to bet the costs of their services. This risk-embracing proposal to empower the architect through outcomes-based fees and technologically mediated entrepreneurialization may be said to take a “demo or die” approach to the profession. See Philip G. Bernstein, Architecture Design Data: Practice Competency in the Era of Computation (Basel, Switzerland: Birkhäuser, 2018), 145–147, 157, and 177–178.

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