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It’s time to join the participatory culture

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Serious games, visualisations and social apps combined with BIM have the power to tear down the silos in the AEC industry, say Steven Rowland, BIM manager, and Nina Borgström, director of digital design & BIM at architecture firm White.

The concept of “participatory culture” has emerged in the last decade as a manifestation of the digital revolution. In a nutshell, a participatory culture allows lower barriers to engagement, expression of ideas, and inclusion in decisions that matter.

It is a platform for a shared economy, where the flow of things and ideas goes back and forth, blurring the lines between producers and consumers. Examples can be found in social apps such as Instagram, spontaneous meeting apps such as Meetup, or work-centered social platforms such as Slack.

In Scandinavia, we have a long history of consensus-based decision making in building projects. In the past, the desire for consensus has been restrained by being organised in specialist-oriented silos. Sometimes this has had a negative effect on the built environment, where bold architectural follies can wither under the weight of group decision making.

More often than not, however, broad public participation in decision making has created the open, livable urban environments that Scandinavia is known for. It can be said that Scandinavia is particularly fertile ground for social, participatory technologies that bridge organisational silos.

With regards to BIM, as with all complex technologies, there has long been a black box problem. If you are not one of the initiated BIM users, it can seem very difficult to penetrate the model. For novices, BIM requires a series of expert gatekeepers and special software that tend to create insurmountable barriers. Even 2D drawings have been a hieroglyph for AEC, and certainly convey much more information to building professionals than the general public.

Therefore BIM is an especially good candidate for turning into a more transparent box through social, participatory technologies and techniques. With participatory culture rising throughout so many other industries, it is time for the AEC world to open up. What technologies have helped us make BIM more participatory?

Visualisation: We have known for a long time that BIM is all about data. AEC professionals are generally good at creating reports and excel spreadsheets, but these formats are deadly boring and unengaging. But there has been a flowering of cheap, easy data visualisation platforms. For example, Tableau, PowerBI, Looker and many visualisation dashboards are under the rubric of business intelligence. With these types of platforms, it is very possible to make our BIM data into something both beautiful and approachable.

Serious games: Games are a serious business, and serious games brings the advantages of the gaming paradigm to BIM. We can, with great platforms such as Revizto, Clever or others, allow ourselves and our clients to play BIM. We have had enormous success in turning our BIM models into games, share them with all participants, and iterate the games throughout the design and construction process. BIM games have become a standard deliverable that our clients love to interact with.

Social: Apps and platforms for social interaction are the essence of participatory culture. In BIM we now have a number of social platforms, for example Autodesk 360C4R, or project management apps such as Slack or the innovative Dreamler. Transparency of process and integration of viewpoints have smashed the black box problem. Let’s chat about it!

It has been said that BIM is 90% social and 10% technical, but we in the AEC industry have paid much more attention to solving the 10%. Let’s turn that equation around, tear down the silos and join the participatory culture.

Steven Rowland and Nina Börgstrom of White architecture will be talking more on this subject at a workshop taking place on 26 May.