Apple is credited for creating the first graphical interface for usability. Previously, to interact with Microsoft you had to navigate the text-based user interface of MS-DOS. At the time, technology devotees often reacted negatively to Apple’s interface, as they claimed they had a better understanding and relationship to technology through the key commands of MS-DOS – without a graphic façade, and skeuomorphic icons, masking the intrinsic design.
Architects have the skills to understand the MS-DOS interface, yet would rather interact with the graphical facade of Apple’s desktop interface. Construction Documents, or blueprints, are the MS-DOS text – the “code” that allows the contractor to construct the building. The technology used to achieve this “code” is almost always either AutoCAD or now Revit. But neither program can be leveraged as a schematic design tool superior to the architect’s pencil.
The pencil2 is the still the greatest design tool for architects. Perhaps this is why architects are often reluctant to change. The pencil is still the fastest tool to for design. AutoCAD created greater accuracy, but it is still much slower to draw a line in AutoCAD than a line on paper. Then Revit came along – pretending to have a good graphical interface – but makes drawing a line even slower; every line now is a component with data variables that need to be input to declare what the line stands for, its thickness, and its relationship in 3D space to other “lines”.
The end goal, the “code” is achieved, but Revit fails to be a program that facilitates beautiful designs. Tech geeks who love the MS-DOS, the end result, may find Revit to be terrific, but the intuitive affection – the beautifully designed Apple interface is devoid. Apple made interacting easy, and provided beautiful fonts. Revit provides an unintuitive, cumbersome graphical template, and default Arial fonts – plus you can’t even stack dimensions.
Architects are not reluctant to change because they are unable to innovate,3 they are reluctant to change (or at least in our office) because the end result looks worse.
Construction documents are the original infographic – a beautiful drawing representing detailed information. Therefore, the aesthetic qualities of the entire document set should reflect the time and dedication it took to produce the set, and further uphold the aesthetic qualities that the firm harbors.
Our office is currently attempting to transition to Revit from AutoCAD, but the default graphical quality of Revit becomes more of a time-consuming burden that requires “tricks” to make a construction document set look as beautiful as AutoCAD. Yes, that AutoCAD. The program that forces you to see depth, shading, and thickness not by the printed product, but by arbitrarily assigned colors. In our office, if you draw a cyan line – you know you are drawing a bold, impactful element.
This is why our firm, and probably many other firms, struggle to embrace changing technologies in the architectural profession. Not because Revit, BIM, and other software programs are difficult, but because architects are passionate about all aspects of design – not just the house or building, but about what they put on paper.
For the same reasons, I have spent probably too many hours modifying the graphical layout of this blog. Any default web design would allow me to post the same content; but I care deeply about the type of font, the overall colour scheme, the colour of the hyperlinks, making the graphics SVG vector-based, scalability on mobile devices – and the list is continually evolving into infinitude.
I am fairly proficient at Revit, and would consider myself an expert capable of teaching classes on the vast majority of software programs any architect would ever use; however, I am still hesitant to endorse the services of Revit.
Pencil drawn documents looked beautiful. AutoCAD was a little basic but lines could be manipulated to create visually stimulating drawings. However, Revit (by default) makes documents look like a Lascaux Cave drawing – a rudimentary design requiring extra lines (and masking regions) to be drawn just to achieve the same graphic quality as its “predecessor” – AutoCAD.
Architects are trained to problem solve. To design better environments. And to create lasting beauty for future aspirational endeavors. While architects were once sought out to provide visionary directions for our future, we are now viewed as mere draftspersons who provide blueprints of house plans designed in the 1970’s. Revit may allow for the re-creation of these blueprints, but they don’t foster impassioned architects, nor do they endorse aspirational designs.
The Revit lovers seem to constantly make excuses, instead of better arguments, when defending their beloved software program. “Yeah, Revit just can’t do that, but it does other things.” Or, “Yeah, we’ll just have to get used to the fact that Revit won’t ever look as good AutoCAD.” And my favorite, “This will be a good project for Revit, because it’s a really simple design.”
I often question, if Revit is more appropriate for simpler designs, won’t architects become inherently inclined to create simpler projects?
Revit allows for easier consultant coordination on 6-year public works projects with value-engineered designs, but also facilitates designing simpler, more boring, and often uninspiring structures. These expansive projects (with 5’ dropped ceilings and simple rectilinear volumes), would sadly become more desirable, and over-built, in our increasingly energy-conscious world.
Revit is passionless. The only people enthused by Revit, are not the same architects enthused with the finish of concrete floors; they are the people who geek out over how you can modify the mechanical system duct tools to create a three-dimensional raingutter with 45 degree elbows.
Perhaps I should just be grateful RevitCity isn’t an actual geographical location – comprised solely of highly-detailed office furniture, yet highly-undetailed buildings. Ultimately, I would like to think that Frank Gehry created his own software company because he was frustrated with Revit’s inability to stack dimensions, or use Postscript fonts. In all likelihood it was probably deeper issues – such as an inability to create curved floors. Revit needs to channel the ghost of Steve Jobs (and not the ghost of Bill Gates4) if they ever want to become a touted software embraced by high-caliber designers.
Technology mavens are designing our futures. Traffic Engineers are designing our cities. Architects should be leading design change initiatives to improve our futures, not merely using Revit to become better Consultant Coordinators identifying sprinkler pipe conflicts.
Our firm will most likely migrate to Revit to observe a project in three-dimensional space – without stopping production on the construction documents. But in the meantime, I’m secretly hoping the ghosts of Steve Jobs & Bill Gates will set aside past feuds, join forces, overthrow the leaders at Autodesk, and create a magical pencil seamlessly joining Rhino3D, AutoCAD, & BIM technology.
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1 With added leggings and crimped hair extensions.
2 Especially the ITO-YA HB wood pencils my brother bought for me.
3 Architects are often on the forefront of seeking new technologies. (This is not a fact, but is based upon anecdotal statements from every architect, ever.)
4 OK. He might not be deceased. But the former CEO, former Chief Software Architect, and former Chairman of Microsoft – is now a “ghost” at the company he originally founded.