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Virtual building.

Real buildings do not really exist.

This may sound more New Age than "Brave New World," but there is a quiet revelation at hand. Buildings are no longer, at base, physical entities. Rather, they also exist electronically.

In a world in which building design, construction, and management are both individually and collectively influenced by the all-powerful computer, the "soul" of a building is now to be found in its information systems, in its data, in its electronic documentation.

Enter the Age of Virtual Building.

The evolution has been quick and quiet. Building professionals may be yet unaware of the creation of new forms of thinking (and new thinking on forms), but radical new assumptions and abilities now lie just under the surface.

Allow me to break the Fourth Wall for a moment: Sitting here, composing at a computer keyboard, occasionally pointing here and clicking there, I create word structures much differently than I would were I still armed with a canary pad and No. 2 pencil. I literally - pun intended - do not write the same using this tool.

The computer has both subtly and radically changed the building process as well, from conception to construction to management. The Boeing 777 project, for example, was never prototyped. Rather, the aircraft's design and testing took place in cyberspace. Similarly, our architecture now takes to the sky having been launched directly from Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems.

Kenneth Champlin is in the business of creating high-tech architectural models - achieving the first physical realization of buildings that start as nothing more than electronic impulses. Architectural model building at Kenneth M. Champlin & Associates, New Haven, CT, it seems, is light-years beyond the traditional ship-in-the-bottle riggings - computer-guided laser-cutters now create models out of polymer, not balsa wood. Some assembly required.

And the computer drives ends as well as means. "As architects and designers are becoming more aware of the computer, they are developing more complex geometries for us to solve," Champlin observed in Metropolis magazine recently.

From CAD drawings and into the physical world, a facility grows and evolves electronically. To capitalize upon this new reality, facilities managers can themselves evolve into "facilities information managers," by title as well as by function.

Robert Verdun of Computerized Facility Integration Inc., Southfield, MI, says facilities managers can often collapse redundant data collection and maintenance efforts in an organization. "A misconception is that it is one system," he says of integrating computer systems. "The reality is that it's many different systems that interact and share data to eliminate redundant work."

Why should the finance, maintenance, and security departments, for example, each maintain independent floorplan information, when that "core" data can be centralized and made available to everyone electronically?

The hospital receptionist generates a way-finding map for a patient's family from his workstation. The building engineer calls up digitally stored photographs on her computer, looking through walls layer by electronic layer to troubleshoot a plumbing problem. The media relations specialist copies the artist's rendering of the new wing for use in the hospital's new brochure.

Taking facilities information to the next level means managers must:

* Organize: Find out what information is currently collected, and what departments actually need.

* Standardize: Departments must agree on common definitions of data fields. Department-specific calculations or fields must be addressed along with this core information.

* Distribute: Data must be easily available, reliable, and secure. "The central source of information has to be a button-click away, and give you the right information every time," Verdun says.

The essence of a building now exists more electronically than physically. In more fully realizing the electronic identity of a physical structure, buildings professionals can help foster new forms of structure, new forms of management, and new forms of thinking. Whether by crashing wave, or drop by drop, technology has fundamentally changed our buildings and ourselves ...

Virtually overnight.
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Title Annotation:computerized building design, construction and management
Author:Brown, Randy
Date:Mar 1, 1996
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