You won't believe what happened! - Sheldon Wolf

    In "Absolute nonsense" (1), I talked about the lack of precision used in daily conversation, and the need for precision in construction documents. Nothing so serious this time; in fact, I'm not going to say much about construction documents, except for an interesting penalty paid by Lowe's to five California counties. Instead, I'm going to have a little fun and talk about some of my favorite social media peeves.

    There are so many links from so many sources that it can be difficult to decide which to follow. In an effort to entice readers to follow the links, thereby increasing their value to advertisers, many updates and social media posts use headlines designed to suck you in. For me, these clever headlines are a red flag, but apparently they work. 

    Does anyone really believe headlines or links with phrases like "what happens next will shock you", "this will blow you away", "you won't believe what happens next", "this will make you cry", "she never expected…", "left me stunned", "changes everything", "will never be the same", "jaw-dropping", "profound", "epic", or "mind blowing"? My experience has been that the article, video, or whatever rarely justifies the sensationalized headline.

    Similar are the e-mails with too-good- or too-bad-to-be-true claims, and just about anything related to politics. There's something about them - the format, the writing, perhaps the astounding claims -  that raises the red flag, sets off the alarm, pegs the BS meter, and sends me immediately to Snopes(2). And nearly every time, it turns out the e-mail is a fabrication. The thing I don't understand is why people would do that sort of thing, when there are so many truly amazing things to talk about.

    And then there are the ways words are used and misused. As noted in "Absolute nonsense", we have a great many words that allow us to communicate specific ideas with shades of meaning. I realize ours is a living language, changing continually to accommodate new concepts, new activities, and new products, but it's hard to accept casually-made changes, which often are driven by lack of understanding or careless use. Some of my favorites: 

    • Literally has been incorrectly used so often that it has been accepted to mean figuratively or virtually.

    • A large increase is not necessarily exponential. 

    • Until recently, a business that went out of business was closed. Now it's shuttered.

    • I have respect for curators, who spent a lot of time and do a great deal of research to reach their special positions. Today, anyone who chooses a few of the multitude of tweets or links is said to curate them. 

    • Why is it necessary to start a statement with "Honestly…" or "To be honest…"? Does that mean I can't believe anything else you say? 

    • In most cases, "use" should be used instead of "utilize". 

    • Needless redundancies and padding, such as "each and every", "every single one", and "any way, shape, or form". 

    • Why is every change now "disruptive"? Disruptive does not mean clever, innovative, or beneficial; "dis-" is a negative prefix. Why is it that disruptive changes are seen as positive, and so many companies want to be known as disruptive(3)? There is such a thing as "disruptive innovation"(4), but many things described as such are not; some are more accurately described as "sustaining innovation." 

    • "Price point" also has a specific meaning, but every time I have heard it used, it meant simply "price".

    How important is correct use of words and terms? In casual use, not much; we are remarkably adept at interpreting new uses of old words. As noted in "Absolute nonsense", we must use words correctly in contract documents to avoid misunderstanding. 

    Precision also is required in informal documents if those documents imply terms of a contract. Michael Chusid (5), a building product consultant, blogged about an interesting legal decision, in which Lowe's was required to correct "false, misleading, deceptive or inaccurate product descriptions." Even though Lowe's used common industry terms, often repeating manufacturers' information, the settlement required Lowe's to pay nearly $1.5 million. 

    What horrible transgression did Lowe's commit? They were selling 2x4s without stating the actual dimensions(6). Apparently, the issue wasn't raised by consumers, who seem to be able to cope with nominal dimensions; instead, the suit was brought by the local weights and measures department. I wonder what will happen when they discover the fact that wood changes dimension. And where does the money go? Not to the consumers who supposedly were harmed, but into the government coffers. 
    Isn't that just mind-blowing?

    © 2014, Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC

    Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments at

    1 "Absolute nonsense"
    2 Snopes.
    3 "Let's All Stop Saying 'Disrupt' This Instant.
    4 Disruptive innovation.
    5 Michael Chusid's blog,
    6 "California Municipality Declares War on Lowe's"

    BIM and the Built Environment - John H Spain

    John H Spain

    The majority of projects I have worked on over the last few years have been modeled using Autodesk’s Revit.  I thought of them as BIM projects.  Naturally, I found the suggestion to write an article examining whether BIM is helping us design better buildings intriguing.  My own initial, pat, answer was that BIM is essentially another pencil in the box; that architectural and engineering design was an act of the mind – a way of thinking.  BIM, I thought, was a choice among methods to document that process.

    But a conversation with Megan Johnson – Director of BIM at Odell Architects has convinced me that I profoundly misunderstood BIM, and have never really worked on a BIM project.  I need to rephrase the question “is BIM helping us design better” to “is BIM helping improve the built environment and its management.

    I worked with Megan several years ago at Glavé & Holmes Architecture while she was also teaching a course to design students at VCU on Revit modeling.  She then went on to Baskervill where she trained other architects to use Revit.  There she began working with Bruce Brooks – who was doing BIM for healthcare clients.  Since then, she has been working primarily doing BIM – “not doing architecture,” moving on to Odell where she directs a BIM division independent of the design side of the firm.

    Megan agreed that as far as A&E design of buildings went, BIM platforms were largely just another pencil in the box.  Initially, until the tool is mastered, BIM platforms can hinder as much as help the design process.  After she rephrased the question, however, Megan responds with a –qualified- yes, BIM is helping improve the built environment and its management.

    As far as quality of A&E design  - the abilities of the designer will be evident independent of the tools used to document the design (once the tools are mastered.) The strongest benefits of BIM are really in the purview of facility ownership and maintenance.  At its core, a BIM needs to be the graphical backgrounds and the essential data that an owner needs to manage a facility - the backgrounds can be understood as plans, and the essential data can be understood as an Excel spreadsheet.  These should be organized according to a protocol that will be reusable over the lifespan of a facility.  That standard can both inform future projects at the facility, and guide in its maintenance.  She describes BIM not as a tool, but a lifecycle process, one that is most beneficial to facilities which are prone to renovation or have complex maintenance requirements.  This is why healthcare facilities have been early adopters of this process.  Creating such a reusable standard or guide promises greater efficiency and lower costs over the facility’s lifecycle.

    On the AEC, the design and construction side, at least currently, BIM could possibly impose costs which come at the expense of either profitability, schedule or quality.  This is for several reasons.  Firstly, as Megan puts it, the software the AEC community uses comes “half-baked” out of the box.  Secondly, and long term more importantly is a misunderstanding the BIM process and of who should be guiding it (similar to my own misunderstanding that because I was using a BIM platform, I was ‘doing BIM.”)

    First: the half-baked software.  The BIM process is object based, as Megan describes it.  Traditionally, designers work with lines, first on the drafting table, more recently through CAD on the computer screen.  BIM and BIM software essentially does away with the drafting (you can still draw line work, but this is secondary to the process.)  Objects which contain data are placed in relationships in the BIM model, to track their location and the information contained. Also, traditionally, at substantial completion of a project, the contractor would turn over stacks and stacks of manuals – the data for the objects above, and the architect would turn over sets of line drawings indicating the location of the objects – the record drawings.  Storage and use of all this stuff is inherently cumbersome.  In a complex facility (or even a simple one) these manuals or drawings can easily be misplaced.  Frequently a person was hired to log all this stuff in to some useable form for the facility.  BIM replaces all that with a spatial database of all these objects, ideally with the data entered as design decisions are made.  (It may also put the person above out of a job – but maybe there is a more useful point in the process for them.)

    BIM platforms such as Revit come with the ability to create the objects, but the objects it comes with are not likely to be complete, which means they will have to be made.  This costs time and labor.  Typically, the architects & engineers make their own objects to facilitate their own uses (graphic representation, calculations, seductive renderings, etc.)  Then the construction team layers on another set of objects required for fabrication, which is often delegate to the sub-contractors.  The pressure through all of this is to “git er done” – to make the objects what they need to be to get the project out the door, rather than to make the objects what they would need to be further down the line, for another, perhaps undefined purpose.

    Despite all that, as Megan describes it, the industry is on the precipice of realizing the benefits of BIM.  Many savvy firms have been building libraries of re-useable objects (families in Revit-speak,) which will begin to make the process profitable to the AEC side.  Also, facility owners and managers are beginning to understand that they need to be leading the process, to establish the standards and protocols that BIM models will need to meet to be useful over the lifecycle of the building, as well as across larger facilities, such as campuses. This is an up-front cost to the owner, and the owner must have on their team a party who knows how to set up these standards and protocols.

    Megan’s current works is a process she refers to as BIM Commissioning.  As a consultant to the owner, Megan works to set up the facility’s standards.  She works to align these with the nascent, industry-wide standard the Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange, or COBie. An article on the Whole Building Design Guide describes the intent of COBie to be similar to ASCE-2 – a cross platform language that allows communication between platforms, and that works “in the background” – in other words, most users will not need to understand it to have it work for them (Bill East, 2014).  This will allow the information needed for facility operation and maintenance to be compiled during the design and construction processes – as it is generated.  The BIM model will no longer be a hodgepodge of data forced by the particular needs and pressures of design and construction.

    This work is done independently of any particular construction project (although a project may be what prompts the start of the project.) Either in house Odell, when the firm wins a contract for design of a BIM project, or as a consultant to other design or construction firms, or directly for an owner, Megan and her team will work with project teams to ensure that their files (the data-containing objects) meet the BIM standards of the client.  As information is added to the design – through the specification and submittal process, etc. it will be added in a format that keeps it useful going forward – avoiding a truckload of manuals and documents that will all need to be logged in and then stored; or lost.

    So the quality of the BIM process can really be good or bad independently of the quality of the design or construction of a project.  The potential benefits of BIM platforms to designers – 3D visualization, quick presentations generated directly from the same model used to document the design, and the capability to work on-site – and to constructors -3D coordination, scheduling, sequencing and cost-estimating capabilities – are all parallel to the BIM process for facilities.  Small to medium design firms will begin to reap the benefits of BIM more strongly as the libraries of objects are created per facility, as owners begin to control the standards, and as these start to become more "baked in" to the platform.  And, according to Megan, this appears to be starting to happen, allowing owners and managers to operate more efficient, less costly and burdensome facilities – which in turn leads to a more efficient, less costly (in terms of information storage, labor and energy consumed,) built environment.


    Bill East, P. P. (2014, 08 04). Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie). Retrieved from Whole Building Design Guide:


    Bill East, P. P. (2014, 08 04). Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie). Retrieved from Whole Building Design Guide: