Category: Architectural metaphor

BIM – A New Hope?

BIM – A New Hope?



“A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…. “ BIM was invented.

To be more specific, approaching forty years ago, in a different constellation of stars (Holywood), the production design team of Star Wars needed a futuristic representation of the plans of the Death Star, Darth Vader’s menacing space station. These “plans” had been stolen by Princess Leia, and the safe transfer of these plans into the rebel hands, and their analysis to identify weaknesses in the death star’s defences, became the central story arc of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New hope”. BIM was the eponymous hero, since a BIM model was the new hope.

As the opening scenes were critical for the success of the film, the plot would have stuttered to a halt, if Leia was caught stuffing a roll of dye-line blueprints inside R2D2. Therefore what the production team conceived, was a digital model, which could be transferred electronically on a solid state drive, and visualised in an embryonic wireframe Virtual reality. This was the inadvertent birth of BIM and planted the seed for the future of computer graphical output and visual representation, in the minds of a generation.

BIM is an acronym of Building Information Management or Building Information Model, and this visual database of construction information, is currently revolutionising the construction industry. However back in 1977 this vision was remarkable, as it was years before 2D Computer Aided Design or even floppy disks were mainstream, let alone any software as intelligent as BIM.

In the 1970’s Computer Aided Design (CAD) was a nascent industry which had evolved from the computational developments in the aerospace sector. In the construction industry it was a niche specialism, used more for infrastructure and engineering projects than architecture, where the scale and costs could support the investment, with little emphasis on graphical rendering and output, due to the limitations of computer processing power. Pioneers were building databases with graphical interfaces, such as Charles Eastman, who in 1977 launched GLIDE (Graphical Language for Interactive Design) whilst at Carnegie Mellon University, and early take-up of the software was for purposes such as terrain modelling for flight simulators.

To put it in context, 1977 was the year that Apple launched the Apple II, the first colour home computer, powered by 1MHz CPU and a hefty 4K of RAM (for reference current iphones have a chip that runs at 1.85GHz with 2GB of RAM). The first commercial BIM software, developed behind the Iron Curtain by Gabor Bojar, called Radar CH (a precursor of ArchiCad) wasn’t to be released until 1984, with Revit following in 2000.

To appreciate the quality of Computer graphics and processing in 1977, you need to revisit the scene in Episode IV where the rebels present their analysis of the Death Star’s weaknesses to the assembled rebel fighters. This expository scene is revealing as it could be cited as the first BIM presentation, complete with VR flythrough.

“An analysis of the plans provided by Princes Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the Battle Station- the approach will not be easy…”


“The target area is only 2m wide, it is a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port, the shaft leads directly to the reactor system, a precise hit will start a chain reaction, which should destroy the station.”

For those not indoctrinated in the virtues of BIM, this scene succinctly explains its potential. The BIM model of the Death Star, is a visual representation of all the data for its design, construction and maintenance, which can be analysed and studied to educate all parties about the project. This whole scene (and the plot of the film) was enabled by a paper published by Eastman in 1974 which predicted the potential of an “automated model review, to “check for design regularity”.

BIM is now commonly used for innovations such as clash detection, or thermal analysis, to identify weaknesses in the construction, in the film this was exploited to dramatic effect.

The possession of the model, and its ability to be interpreted and exploited, not just by collaborators who have been invited to access the data, but also by others with more nefarious motives, has triggered a significant contractual revolution in the construction industry. These are some of the fundamental issues now widely debated, as the world has finally caught up with this technological innovation, and BIM is becoming more mainstream- indeed projects at BIM Level 2 are becoming increasingly mandated.

Standards are now being developed to enhance cyber-security and in particular the access and management of this data in a common data environment (potentially stored on the cloud). We will need to wait for the release of the BIM back-story “Rogue one: A Star Wars Story” to see how Holywood has dramatized the theft of this data.


These Star Wars films emphasise the truism, that knowledge is power, and those in possession of that knowledge will have the upper hand. As all parties involved are on a steep learning curve, new standards and processes are currently being written, trying desperately to catch up with the pace of the development of the technology.

However for designers and clients the challenge is to be able to step back and consider this in a measured way. Not to fetishize and obsess about BIM as the final product… it needs to be firmly remembered that it is a tool, the assist in the design and to streamline the construction of a complex structure.

BIM is the journey, not the destination.

Star Wars Identities – ‘The Force’ as an allegory for good design!

Star Wars Identities – ‘The Force’ as an allegory for good design!


Star Wars is not simply a film franchise, or as a cynic might state an effective marketing machine for a merchandise industry (which is doubtlessly why the rights were acquired by Disney), it is a phenomena that has left a deep impression in the cultural landscape. It is inaccurate to simply dismiss it as a cult for geeks, although I accept it is a stretch too far to classify “Jedi” as a new religion.

I must confess that I was a massive fan as a child, and the story, themes, ideas and characters, were a source of happy memories and points of reference, which I have since been able to indulge with my own children. So where did this source of inspiration come from?

This is attributable to the ideas, of George Lucas (Director), Ralph McQuarrie & Joe Johnson (the visual artists) and John Barry (production designer), working with a large team of visual and effects artists, that executed this vision through their attention to craft and detail, right down to the special effects team of model makers and film technicians.

It is no accident that this shared vision, led not only to industry plaudits, huge box office returns and fantastic commercial spin-off’s but also led to commercial offshoots such as Lucas’ company “Industrial Light and Magic” who pioneered film effects and indeed computer technology for years (more of which in future posts).

My greatest fascination however lies in the extraordinary achievements that Star Wars created in the field of design- not only in costumes, technology, structures, transport and urban design, but in the design of new environments and even genetic species.


I was transfixed by the considered attention to detail in every aspect of the concept. To support the plot and drama, rounded characters had to be developed with not only a personality and interesting back story, but often from a whole new species and planet.  This is where the designers flourished, developing an entire fictional natural history, evolving the new species in response to their environment, showing a consideration of how the natural selection in that eco-system would “design”  not only the physical characteristics of the species, but also their behaviours and traits.


img_8031It is perhaps telling that the richness of detail that led to the creation of this alternative organic world, continues to be an exceedingly valuable intellectual property, which is still being mined for new commercial opportunities. This is where the inspiration of the exhibition “Star Wars: Identities” at the O2 begins. They have an enviable collection of the usual memorabilia, from costumes, props and numerous models of the spacecraft, which are supplemented with concept art and development sketches for different planets or characters. What is unusual is that they have constructed an interactive exhibition, where the subject matter is broken down into thematic exhibits, to provide an inspiration for creating your own character. You interact with the exhibits to input data such as background, genetic and evolutionary traits, environmental influences even personality types into your smart wristband, to generate your own character’s identity.

Through this interaction, there is a quasi-educational process which runs parallel to the investigation and learning experience, gained through close examination of the artefacts.

Star Wars had been a massive influence on not only the pop-cultural reference points, but I believe the design approach and design philosophy of generations. It has taught us how to create, how to use our imagination and craft ideas into a vision for how things should be.

Star Wars has taught us how to use this force of creativity for good.

‘The Force’ is an allegory for good design. 

Star Wars Identities- The Exhibition- What forces shape you?

At the O2 until November 2017. @swidentities


Have you been to Sleep yet? Bedtime stories from the Design Industry.


Hotel design is a specialism that has a short shelf life and is driven by fashion and the media. It is a cyclical process, with interior designers, branding and marketing executives, spurring each other on to find some form of novelty, resulting in a rapid turnover of concepts and ideas. Typically they need something firm as a departure point for their flights of fancy, and this often takes the form of a narrative or story behind the idea. Accordingly they are desperate for some data or facts to trigger their imagination, around which they can shape their concepts, where the holy grail is to capture the imagination of their target audience. As a consequence they are eager for any new analysis of the market, to help them understand the personalities and potential decision making of their prospective customers.

A new Hotel will be competing for the potentially unknown guest, against established competition in the marketplace, so the business needs to generate its own USP. To help determine the USP, one needs to identify the potential customer base, define what will attract them, and start to design for this unknown group of individuals. Therefore the USP has to appeal to the optimum demographic niche, hence the obsession with categorising socio-economic groups (a social science) and ascribing to them hypothetical tastes, personalities and foibles (an artistic interpretation). It is in effect a form of mass psychological profiling, with a large measure of fiction thrown in.

The idea is if you can find a new way to define a demographic, and ascribe to them some exciting and dynamic qualities, you hope that you’ve identified an untapped market, and then the whole business plan can fall into place. You can develop an aspirational design product that relates to this fictional group, and build your whole PR and Marketing strategy around targeting them. At this year’s Sleep Conference, billed as “ Europe’s Hotel and Design Event”, the curators have commissioned 5 design firms to envisage a prototype hotel bedroom. Each room is to cater for one of the five new demographic typologies, the so called “Tribes”, devised by the Sinus Institute:

  • Established
  • Intellectual
  • Performer
  • Digital Avant-garde
  • Sensory Oriented .

In some instances fictional characters were created with their own personalities and stories. More melodramatic than Anita Brookner’s ‘Hotel Du Lac’, the short character studies provide the designers with an individual client (albeit fictional) for whom they can craft and create a room design. The hope is that if this fictional personality is representative of the whole group, then the style and functionality of the room could appeal to a wide consumer base. The results of this are intriguing, and definitely experimental – it is in effect a taste laboratory and therefore an opportunity to ditch all aspects of practicality and to shock and excite.

Ideas included a WC in a library, a bed on the ceiling, a shower in a small cubicle that you couldn’t reach without a ladder, a bed in a small pod that you had to crouch in, and an elegant room designed around a large bath with a small Zen garden.

This is in essence the difficulty of hotel design, to create something novel with care and quality, which will be inspirational and stimulating to each individual on a personal level, whilst appealing to as wide a group as possible, oh and not forgetting practicality!

However considering the focus of the whole exhibition for the upper end of the market, one could perhaps have more fun trying to define the personalities and characteristics of the untapped sectors, seeking ways to lure them into the hotel for a night.

  • The Caravan –clubber: Doesn’t frequent hotels for leisure as they own a mobile caravan, so they can bring the comforts of home with them wherever they roam. Only uses a hotel or B&B. when they get a flat tyre on the Autoroute Du Soleil and miss the ferry from Dunkerque. Looking for an inexpensive place that has ample parking, and vacancies after 11:00pm.
  • The Stingy-uncle: Will occasionally book a hotel when obliged to attend an unwanted family function or bitter re-union- the whole weekend is hoped to be quickly forgotten, so they don’t want an expensive reminder when the credit card bill arrives the following month. Doesn’t have a high disposable income, so will go to Booking dot com to find the cheapest last minute deal, and may then follow up on trip advisor, to make sure that there are no horror stories of bed-bugs or legionella.
  • The style-vacuum: Thinks Donald Trump is the arbiter of taste and excellence, therefore will expect everything to be gilded and glowing like Trump Tower. Presumably likes golf, not for the scenery and fresh air, but for the fashion. Will loyally follow a brand where they like the breakfast menu or the free cookie. Knows and cares little about the general location, as they will arrive and depart by taxi, they expect the experience to be identical from one hotel to the next.

The end of the professional Politician? The writing’s on that damned Wall.


Much has been written about the shock result of the US election and fear about the ideas of Donald Trump becoming reality. I was stunned that he could overturn conventional wisdom, but on reflection the biggest shock was that I, along with most commentators, experts, and pollsters, were so obviously out of touch with the zeitgeist.

The period of reflection and introspection that began with Brexit has become more intense, as many struggle to comprehend the reality. In the cold light of the following day, my first realisation is that if you can look beyond the bile, Donald Trump actually deserves a huge amount of respect for what he has achieved! He was roundly and savagely criticised in the media, but there is shock and incredulity that his outrageous and obscene actions didn’t damage his reputation and electability, in the way that they would for any other politician. This is the paradox, Donald Trump is not a politician.

Donald Trump will be recorded in history as perhaps one of the most successful businessmen and definitely the best salesman in history, as he identified a customer base (the US electorate) who were unimpressed with the choice on offer, and he constructed a finely tuned product offering to fill the gap in the market, himself.

Remember that he took on and defeated both the Republican and Democrat parties, because like any great entrepreneur he saw an opportunity and he ignored the collective wisdom, to do things his way.

Trump was criticised for not having held office, for being a political lightweight, and in the traditional frames of reference of the establishment, these would be insurmountable. But Trump worked in a different context, turning every negative into a positive, this made him the outsider. He identified that the electorate was fed up with both parties, and so he presented himself as the challenger to the status quo, thereby inexperience and lack of the political campaign infrastructure became positives. That Trump spent vast sums on hats to give away, rather than campaign adds, shows he applied the lessons of all those years of market research in selling his Trump brand, honed in the firmament of The Apprentice, to politics.

Depending on whether the next four years are a catastrophic disaster or not, the ability of Trump to bluster his way to the top via reality TV, could spell the end of the road for the professional political classes. The CV or resume of the individual outside of politics may well be more significant in tapping into the public’s psyche. Our future leaders could already be right in front of our eyes on the X-factor, daytime tv or a soap opera, but if they are to learn anything from Trump, they are definitely already building brand awareness through social media.

As an optimist I am trying to look for the positives, and there are some. We need to constantly remind ourselves that Trump is a businessman and not a politician, and so everything must be reevaluated at face value. Remember, he has already achieved his objective, to sell himself to the electorate and get voted as President. In much the same way that he has had businesses succeed and fail, those campaign pledges will be treated as soundbites whose only goal was to get him elected (mission accomplished) and they will now be discarded if there is no real value in pursuing them.

Every outrageous pre-election proclamation was made with that sole purpose, to lead to his election, and beyond that they are dispensable. Trump identified that for every idea presented during campaigning there are three possible reactions from the press and electorate: favourable; hostile or indifferent.

Trump identified which electoral strings to manipulate on each issue, and thus for every group he alienated, there was a commensurate group who would cheer him on, but most significantly he was gradually converting enough of the indifferent, who were persuaded by the vision of a strong leader.

Those who were not traditional voters, who were not interested in politics, could be won over by the snake-oil salesman, whose outrageous proclamations bought free airtime and brand recognition to Trump. This reinforced his most simple soundbite and campaign slogan, the inspired “Make America Great Again”, and not even Hilary Clinton (with her unforgettable slogan) could argue against that. This was where it was won, he had the simplest message, with the clearest goal to appeal to the vast pool of the disenfranchised and undecided voters, who felt they had little to loose in trying the first real political alternative in generations. From his years as a businessman he knew that everyone will try something new once, even if it leaves an unappealing taste in the mouth (Trump steaks anyone?)

Now that he is in office, I hope many of the wilder ideas will be expediently discarded, as he focuses on his core message, of shaking up Washington and trying to make America more competitive internationally.

This is why I think the ideas like locking up Hillary or the Mexican border wall, were always Trojan horses, devices to get inside the White House, irrelevant now that he’s won. There is evidence of this already with him backtracking on pledges to repeal Obamacare.

I think the majority of Americans don’t have so much to fear, but sadly that’s not the case for the rest of the world, where he will probably wreak the most carnage as he throws away the old world order, in his and America’s self interest.

So with regards to pulling off an amazing coup, it’s hats off to Trump, particularly those naff red baseball caps, (made in China).

However if anyone else wants cheering up with an optimistic new initiative, we could crowd-source the funding for an alternative wall, perhaps just a mile or so long, with construction starting on 20th January 2017?