Committee Confessions – Chapter Five: The Beef and Content Allegory

’The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42’, was a phrase coined by the late Douglas Adams, author of ’The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and the ‘42’ joke is probably more famous than the actual novel. Maybe its coincidence; maybe there is a deeper meaning to it; but last week I found myself revising the number of parameters I could include to adequately describe a vertical in-line pump with an integrated frequency drive -you guessed it, I ended on 42 parameters. Stunned at this revelation it got me thinking over a discussion that keeps popping up, that a project often starts out with generic components; and it is not until after the design stage(s) that it gets swapped or enriched with manufacturer specific data.

The argument I often hear is that this is to keep the specifications open and not show preference to a given brand of components – and for legal compliance reasons during tender (or that non-generic content does not schedule very well). I’ll argue that in this ‘in this day and age’ this is not really moving us towards the best experience for the client and users of a building. I feel sorry for the engineers that have to dump down their designs to comply with regulations (when those regulations are in desperate need of being brought up to speed) – and the occupants that will end up with an inferior experience. To put in another way; imagine going for a steak at Peter Lugers in Brooklyn and being served a McDonalds beef patty; because technically they are ‘beef’ and have nearly the same ratio between protein and fat. I’m sure the chef at the steakhouse can come up with 42 parameters to describe his ‘beef’ – and like when I was flipping burgers back in the ’90s it still says ‘100% Beef’ on the box.

Right now, I imagine you are asking the question ‘Did he just compare BIM content with the remains of a dead animal? What the ****!’

Yes I did, and I assure you that little to no passion went into the Quarter Pounders I ‘created’ more than 20 years ago; but as long as you were looking for an easy calorie fix it got the job done; where as a proper steakhouse should give me a different experience. If we truly want to ‘model’ our buildings and deliver on the promise of BIM, we need to squeeze the optimum performance out of the holistic sum of the parts we are using; and sometimes that means that branded component X together with branded component Y yields a better solution that taken random component A and smack it together with random component K.

Before we can push for a change in the regulations that that binds our limbs to the pillars of bureaucracy,  we must demonstrate the increased benefits for all stakeholders in the process; which should yield better buildings, faster and cheaper. And if we do not chose to embrace content and logic with ’42’ parameters I believe we will fail.  Exploring the new technologies, platforms and practices that are being demonstrated at BILT and BCS will help us make that move. I am personally looking forward to discuss and learn with you – and see our ideas come closer to materialization with each conference.

Please challenge me – maybe I’ll buy you steak :-)

Till next time,




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