Modeling Software and Evolving Collaborative Design Practices in Architecture and Design

Contemporary design practice is in flux. It continues to become increasingly collaborative and dependent on a proliferation of software-driven modeling systems. The advent of more affordable and ubiquitous modeling software, especially 3D CAD, in design fields such as Architecture is causing massive ripple effects on design practice. Each modeling system favors different concerns and ways of working. Engineering friendly Building Information Model (BIM) software has taken many design fields by storm yet recent research has called in to question its effectiveness for supporting conceptual design. In contrast, more accessible modeling systems such as Rhino, designed to be more similar to drawing and their related practices, have also become ubiquitous. Some larger firms find not only both, but multiple systems, in one project. Adding to the collaborative complexity is that traditional, analog modes (e.g. paper sketches, printouts, and scale models) continue to be necessary and useful.
Whereas design for the built environment has customary milestones where responsibility is handed off from one stakeholder to another, modeling software is aggressively changing how and by who work is carried out. While the ability of modeling systems to support collaboration is often touted, it is unclear that software development efforts are taking into account both the particular social and technical needs of collaborative conceptual design and how those outputs will be used by fabricators/builders. More research is needed to holistically study how designers talk around, disagree, negotiate, and work together to mix and match traditional and analog artifacts, 2D and 3D models and modeling systems through the first two stages of the architecture design process: conceptual design and design development.

Using observations, semi-structured interviews, and artifact analysis to study architects, product designers, infrastructure developers, fabricators, and members of an architecture software firm, this work proposes a three-year ethnographic study to document and analyze how stakeholder groups communicate and collaborate around different types of iterative analog and digital models to first do conceptual design, move to development/fabrication, and then iterate. We will study the ecosystem of computational and material artifacts and the practices that they support, enable, or restrict. We examine design collaboration using an infrastructural perspective (tracing overlapping and embedded relationships between people, technologies, and analog artifacts).

This study will:
• Investigate when and how stakeholder participation changes during and shortly after schematic design
• How and when different modeling software is brought to bear for different design activities
• How and when analog artifacts are used in relation to process, modeling software, and collaborators
• Inform the design of systems that can more purposefully and appropriately support a variety of collaborative design situations and practices including tools for managing how collaboration unfolds

This research offers broader impacts for education and scholarship in multiple communities. Our study will contribute to a corpus of research on the role of software in collaborative architectural design, HCI/CSCW, engineering, and advance education in architecture and design by providing ways to reflect upon and change practice.


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