The BIM Sweatshop

BIM doesn’t work without models. Without content, we got nothing. As I watch governments and clients push towards digitising their cities and assets, it’s clear that there will be a lot of modelling to do.

Last week I had a pair of interesting experiences.  First I visited a company that was taking large point cloud data sets of an urban  environment and converting them into 3D models.  The company had around a dozen computers and 2 shifts of workers running 16 hours a day.  It wasn’t “Smart Modelling”, just plain vanilla surface modelling. Most of the modellers were trained at a nearby technical university in CAD  Modelling.  Not architects.  Not engineers.  These guys were at the bottom of the BIM food chain and I wondered what the future held for them.

The second experience I had was in the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai.  We had taken a walking tour and one of the places we saw was a garment shop. These were some of the highest paid workers in the slum because sewing skills were rare. These guys worked 14 hour days alone… no shifts. They worked in the shop, they slept in the shop, sending the money home to their families in villages around northern India. Once their eye sight and fingers had finally had enough and they could no longer do the work, they went back home, their children coming to Mumbai to earn money to support the family…and the cycle continued.


There were obvious parallels in these two situations, but the one that stands out most to me is concept of commoditization.  As I look around, and I see our passion become more pervasive in the buildings industry, the models themselves become commodities, and that scares me. Under those conditions, it’s never intelligent modelling. It’s not a value add.  It’s just content.  It’s context.  It’s just as disposable as a worn out 2 dollar ladies’ house dress. What does that mean for us and our careers?

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