I’m sorry to announce (but am going to take credit for) the demise of the sheet. It was killed in a train wreck headed to a digital project delivery meeting on the outskirts of town. Also lost in the conflagration was the CAD standard, widely known for enabling the sheet to be a pain in the butt for owners and designers in the AEC community alike, but greatly respected for keeping layers in line. While their careers were developed in good intentions, they became a financial burden on their parents, costing companies time and money figuring out how to make sure the right font is used so it can be read on a rain-soaked sheet of tree debris in the field. It did enable their offspring (the CAD managers) to create and form a career path we didn’t really know we needed but like today’s social media, fall into the trap of believing we couldn’t live without them. Some of us followed that career path like lemmings, but the Church of Holy BIM Stuff came to the rescue a few decades ago.
I had that poster hanging in my room during my formative high school years, and it still makes me laugh…but it’s still a sheet. Long lost in moves, it’s a relic of the past but still a great memory. I'm sure there are a few business owners and government agencies saying this now as they read this article.
After 36 years of dancing with architects, engineers, owners and municipal managers, I propose a life change. The drawing sheet, a long vestige of AEC design documents for more than a century, has become a drag on projects everywhere, causing project teams to spend untold amounts of time focusing on document appearance more than the quality and content of the design itself.
Why have I taken this drastic step and opinion? Because it’s time. My generation is moving on, and it’s time for the next generation to step up and own the foundation we have built to take design and construction to the next level.
A few years ago, we had a “life-changing” moment that occurred when we replaced our IT leadership that was bound and committed to the technology and tools of the past, with new leadership that would challenge us to do more, better and take risks where we had been unwilling to do so before. Fear of change is real – while change just for the sake of change can be bad, change made to improve workflows, deliverables and overall quality of life and project are always welcome.
Christian Birch, our Senior Engineering Technology Manager, has been a great example of leadership in managing change in an AEC firm. He’s been able to maintain a good sense of IT integrity while salvaging a relationship with our business lines that had been damaged by years of silos and poor communication. In an early meeting our new IT leadership team, when discussing a content and standards management application (“DDesign” for the Gannett Fleming folks) we had been using for decades that lived in our network that was damaged in a cyberattack last year, we were challenged to use the “Five Why’s” to understand why we needed the tool. It was critical for us to look objectively at what we use and understand its role as well as when it’s time to let it go.
The exercise goes like this – in order to pass the smell test, you should be able to get through 5 “why” questions to understand the need for the tool. All of these started with question, “Why do we need DDesign?”...
My responses went like this:
Because it gives us a local storage solution for our standard content
Because it helps us work when the network is offline
Because Norb and I could push the content to a location where the guy who wrote and managed it…damn, he’s gone and left. Anybody else know how to make that tool work?
Because we can keep it…on our network…and push it across the WAN to the regional LAN servers…damn again. Malware shut the whole network down, and we don't even know where the app is...need to recover projects first...wheels continue to turn...
I never made it to 5, since one of the foundations of the argument was one of the greatest weaknesses we had – our dependency on local and wide area networks that were completely disabled in a cyberattack. While this meant the current state of the content was still available, it couldn’t be updated – and all of our project CAD standards, such as CTB, plot styles and more were also stored there.
At this point we realized that we needed to stop and take an objective look at what we were doing, and research whether there were other solutions available that could solve the problem. But the more I looked at, the more I realized that maintaining standards for every single client we have – into the hundreds – is an incredible labor drag for us and the clients as well. No one client has the exact same standards, even in the age where the AIA National CAD standard that’s been around for decades is uniformly followed and applied…sorry, choked a little on that one.
Let me clarify something for everyone – there’s a huge difference between CAD standards and Drafting standards. CAD standards address software features such as layers, levels, linetypes, fonts, sheet appearance and more. They don’t address what is be presented – like using two lines to represent the inside and outside of the wall, when the complexity of that object is light years beyond that standard.
But the Drafting standard has been around for nearly a century, where I learned how to create the plan, section and elevation views in such a way that all users, regardless of their standard, could interpret what was placed on the sheet. Born out of the AIA’s Architectural Graphics Standards that were originally published in 1932 (see this link), the series of books explain how to create the views needed to build the structure. Over time, the newer standards for Level of Development have helped the transition from a drafting standard to a modeling standard – which is the key element that makes all of this work. Model LOD is the new lynchpin and key to true digital twin creation.
In the AEC industry, BIM tools and workflows changed all of this by forcing a true 3D representation of the entire object. Even if it still doesn’t consider all of the studs and components used in the framing, it could be included based on the client Level of Development requirements. But the vertical aspects of the wall previously were a result of the designer’s ability to translate manually from the two lines to an elevation everything that’s going on (and keep it current as the plan changed). In BIM and the 3D modeling world, that’s gone – what you place in the model is used for all types of presentation to explain how to build that wall.
My premise boils down to a couple of simple things. The focus of our tasks has been and always will be the ability to communicate clearly to those that build and manage the structures we live in, work in, and use to provide a better quality of life to all. It’s what should be done to create them in a safe, affordable way, with resiliency and quality. With that being said, the evolution of design authoring tools, such as Revit, Civil 3D, Inventor, OpenRoads, Infraworks, ArchiCAD, and so many more software products we use are taking us further away from the need for a sheet or CAD standard to provide clear and organized documentation…beyond an archaic contract obligation that rests its dependency on paper deliverables…or for pretty linework and text that everyone can read…
The next time you work on a project, put a number on the amount of time you spend adding and organizing sheets, and applying common standards to meet the annotation and appearance requirements of a project. Substitute that number with time spent developing and improving the content used in the model to more clearly indicate design intent and reduce errors, rework and changes on project. Use it to develop more design options and alternatives that could result in a more efficient structure.
So, it’s time to put into place our "5 why’s" on the sheets and the standards. Do this exercise back at your office or with your colleagues and see what you come up with – I’m really curious to hear how it goes on your end. Here are the questions you need to start with, and we’ll review the answers in the next article.
What role does the sheet play in the design process when the outcome is a digital twin?
Why do you need to use sheets on a design project?
What role does the CAD standard play in the design process in the production of 3D modeling-based documentation?
Why is the CAD standard an essential part of the design process?
I challenge every single design firm, contractor and owner to ask themselves these questions. At one point do you walk away from “we’ve always done it this way” and look at new workflows, methods and tools to accomplish the same goal. The cost of not doing it is high – lost time, wasted money and lost opportunity are bits of it. Stagnation and regret are what lets your competition win and you lose every time. But the lost opportunity is the greatest cost of all…so how do you take all of the great progress we have made in technology over my generation, and take it to the next level?