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2D vs 3D vs BIM - Where are we going?

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I was reading another post (LINK HERE) and it starting veering into an interesting territory, so rather than clogging up the bottom pages of that feed, I thought I would start another with the subject matter more clearly defined. 


2D vs. 3D vs. BIM?

It seems to me that the potential of BIM and digital technologies is taking us away from traditional project documentation and delivery methods. 2d plans, sections, details, elevations, etc. are still the currency that we deal with on a day-to-day, and I have noticed that many of the posts and troubleshooting that is happening on this forum are dealing with ways of translating often complex 3d digital design work and details into traditional 2d plans or visa versa, taking 2d linework and starting the process of taking that to the 3d level. VW tries to make this easy, but at the end of the day, I often feel I spend more time trying to make 3d read in 2d than if I just drew it in 2d to begin with. 



The real reason for this post is to float out the idea and to see if people have any experience or are looking to start...digital delivery. What I mean by this is, rather than delivering traditional plan set full of 2-dimensional drawings, are we heading to a world where we communicate with 3d models? With the advent of 3D PDFs and augmented reality/immersion as means of sharing design, is it possible that we will be entering a world without paper where everything is decided and built from a digital 3d model?



I'm interested to hear what people's experiences are with BIM and digital delivery. What are the things holding this up? What will the standards be? Getting cities and jurisdictions on board seems like the largest hurdle since paper plans have always been the media of record. 








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Eric for what it's worth, here are my thoughts on the subject:


2D vs 3D

This seems to be an issue that is best answered based on the size of the project & the payback in time for 3D and how well the PIO's work. For some items one must still model in 3D so one must weigh what's the best use of time. Many detail items now are better added in 2D in the Annotation Layer 3D is a waste of time. Take a handrail as an example. Modelled in 3D or using a PIO (the results are poor) take far longer to both accomplish & to render; then there's the increase to file size. As the PIO's get better, adding graphics in Annotation will reduce in importance.  


3D Digital Delivery

I see this as the way of the future. Someone will still need to curate the process & this will mean presenting some kind of documentation.   


Where are we going with this?

Once OPENBIM or some other format is accepted as the lingua franca then I can see Cities adopting it & doing so quickly as it saves time & thus operation costs. For example,  the City of Toronto for about 2 years, has ONLY  accepted digital applications & digital documents. The challenge will be archiving for the public record and data security. 

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Agree completely with your first paragraph. 


As a designer,I cant help but let myself get sucked into the 3D world--usually modeling more than I actually need for documentation. Unfortunately, VW has a way of providing tools that *almost* do what you want, but not quite. This has meant that we usually end up using vw as an additional tool rather than a replacement for the ubiquitous autocad/sketchup workflow.


As far as 3D delivery. I'd guess we're not that far from being able to share models with contractors sophisticated enough to view the model. We're almost doing that now. However, for various municipalities, agencies,committees standard documentation (2D pdf's/printed sheets)will prevail for some time. I think the mostlikely scenario is providing both for some time to come.


My personal experience with BIM is that the interoperability needs improvement and standardization. I understand this is where IFC is headed, but there is still a lot of information loss and bugs from what I can tell.

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13 hours ago, nca777 said:

As a designer,I cant help but let myself get sucked into the 3D world--usually modeling more than I actually need for documentation. Unfortunately, VW has a way of providing tools that *almost* do what you want, but not quite.


Thanks for the input...I almost completely agree. 


I know that the traditional methods aren't going to disappear anytime soon. We work with jurisdictions that seem like they will be the last to ever try anything new, but I do think the concept is interesting and I also think that the technology has picked up momentum towards actually achieving something like this.


I am also interested to see how the proprietary race affects the standardization efforts. It seems that there is a great deal of money to be made in getting there first, but no one platform can truly claim that they are there yet. OPENBIM is an interesting idea, but as mentioned above, it currently relies on IFC, which I agree is currently lossy and buggy.

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In general, from what I can gather from discussion here on these boards, my experience speaking with support staff, and project needs is that there is a gaping divide between the software engineering and 'real-world' demands. I think our little practice would be a poster-child for Site-BIM if given the right tools. However, there seems to be some reluctance, denial, or perhaps shortage of resources dedicated to the tools, workflows, and learning resources we really need. It is unfortunate that the 'packaging' is so sleek and refined, but the content and tool sin some instances so crude or partially developed. The Landmark platform is certainly poised to absolutely dominate a growing market of landscape architects, urban designers, planners, but man the tools need work. 


As I type, I'm killing time, burned out on trying to pull a pretty simple site and grading plan out of landmark to 2d cad for another consultant working in 2D. I am getting widely varying results, losing geometry inexplicably, massive file sizes, errors, etc...this is a really simple task on a really simple site. I just did the same export on a much larger, more complex site without issue...argh...is anyone testing this stuff?

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Eric's original point is well made and I would concur that we are a way off on moving to all digital not to mention all 3D digital. We can't even get municipalities to stop requiring paper copies for review. Some are moving this direction but the vast majority of your smaller jurisdictions are requiring prints!


As for the workflow of 3D in vectorworks there are some limitations that I an my clients have encountered and one of them still uses Sketchup for 3D design then imports that into VW just to be redrawn. I have made some progress with using the BIM (walls, stairs, ramps and furniture) in our Landscape Architecture practice to provide a background with sections and then drafting over those 2D representations to get the visual qualities that we expect as designers. I'm old enough to remember the similar dismay and talk with the advent of CAD from hand drawn. The subtle defects and free hand additions to sections and details gave the drawings a certain artistic quality that I still lament to this day.


With the advent of GPS guided earth movers we can see the future, though it will be some time before we have the accuracy to layout walls or paving patterns to this level of accuracy and efficiency. I hope we can move past the limitations of paper and get more into Augmented Reality for project design and presentation. I don't see a point where a project superintendent or foreperson is not going to be looking at a 2D representation on either a tablet or paper for the foreseeable future.

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eric, i agree with your topic.


this is what i have learned from a large project.

1. as a single operator i could generate a lot of model using open GL. everyone was impressed.

2. however, i could not keep up with the requests for 2d pdfs. once i got out of open GL & into sheets, everything crawled

3. i resorted to making dwg exports for others. one day a week became import export day for the team. this was a headache 

4. vw viewer was recommended to the team but the facts are that learning to navigate 3d is a skill in its self & and how does a team member get the info they need?

5. in the end everyone just plowed past me & sent me their 2d dwg & i became the virtual builder, assembling and finding conflicts.

6. then i made videos to alert the team members to conflicts.


what i would do different:

1. me as modeler/assemblier and someone else to help create 3d content

2. have a dedicated export team. once a week they export dwg & they manage pdf sheets (they would ref my model & not have any control of it)

3. all team members would work in 2d and use my 2d dwgs exports as a skeleton for their work to make pdfs


my wish:

1. browser based vw, (stripped down to bare bones) speed/stability over anything else (was moving around a file size of 3GB) 

2. harvesters can access the browser model & harvest 

3. pdf sheets & their history, are directly made & managed by Bluebeam Review 




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6 minutes ago, digitalcarbon said:

4. vw viewer was recommended to the team but the facts are that learning to navigate 3d is a skill in its self & and how does a team member get the info they need?


And what about the viewer's lack of textures in OpenGL? Or is that not crucial to the things you model?

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Andy, the viewer was a disaster in that regard.  the point i was trying to make was that even if the viewer was perfect,  people sill could not navigate 3d because they were all coming from a ACAD 2d world.  


and even if they did spend the time to learn to nav... they could not get anything for the effort put into leaning to nav...except to look around

Edited by digitalcarbon
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also, one more lesson learned.  a large 3d model, as with anything i suppose of that size, needs constant maintenance.


i found myself spending some time reworking some of my layers and how files were referenced 


there was a lot of work just keeping things clean


below were all the referenced files



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3D has really helped with verifying design feasibility while catching errors and issues.  I run a team of 7 draftsman and 2 engineers doing 700-800 single family homes a year for a developer and each home is BIM modeled, with the engineers collaborating and notating directly in the model file.  My experience has been for every extra min. added for modeling in 3D, there is a equal time savings provided in another area where 2D alone would have addded more time otherwise.


That said, our office found for residential BIM Vectorworks just didn't have the specific tools we needed.  I do use VW for my commercial work and presentation drawings, but trying to find a good workflow.

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An anecdote that it's all moving digital, at least 2d, but not quite there yet:


I'm just a public artist, not an architect or LA, but I exchange drawings and interface with them, and engineers, and the various client agencies hosting the public art.  A recent project required me to obtain a separate building permit for the artwork.  My client, a small city, has joined several other cities in the region to share an online portal for permit applications - goal is all paperless and less human interaction.  Worked OK actually, with 2 snags:

•1st application question was Project Type (residential, commercial, sign, etc). Public art was not included in the project type menu, so a human phone interaction was required.

•Construction docs are uploaded by applicant for review in pdf format. Document guidelines require that pdf page ids match the sheet numbers.  I have no software to alter the pdf page ids.  Bluebeam was suggested, but no one seemed to know whether the MacOS version has page ID controls.  More human interaction resolved that it's only a 2 page Construction Doc with about 8 drawings on each page. The reviewer decided he could probably manage viewing and marking up the pdf without getting lost between 2 pages. Approval was denoted by digital signature and the approved plan set was loaded back into the portal for my retrieval (and online payment of the fees).


Soo, online paperless at the application stage works pretty well.  Unfortunately, they still want paper copies on site for all the inspections. Inspection sign-offs and notes are hand written on the paper copy and with initials on the paper inspection "ticket".





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Luis just did a webinar on how to get a rendering from a BIM model.  


3d models allow for the generation of almost an infinite amount of work. (I'm not saying this is bad, I'm just saying)


it works like this "well we do have a 3d model so lets get this or that out of it"


so high end rendering, (like Luis) called for a master renderer.

then we have animation like Cinema 4D, so a specialist is needed for that also.

people flow (how crowds move through our bldgs) a specialist for that 

that energy tool just added to VW, a specialist for this 


the point?  its more about creating a 4d universe that people can sign into and do their thing without the master modeler getting sidetracked. 




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56 minutes ago, digitalcarbon said:

its more about creating a 4d universe that people can sign into and do their thing without the master modeler getting sidetracked. 


In our office, I call this the "Ideal Linear Workflow" knowing that ideal isn't yet achievable. If there is a master model, it the deliverables can all be chained to it. That way you just spend time designing and building the model, not creating one-off products that have to be redone every time the model changes. This is BIM, but even beyond that...Ideal BIM.


It is nice to hear people's experiences with this. I guess another question that this raised for me is...what, if anything, can we as practitioners, help shape the mold we are adhering to? What can we do to influence or educate stakeholders, Cities, agencies, contractors, and any of those other entities that are holding us back?

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it seem like we need to really be working with products/materials vs parametrics (i know "here he goes again")


products/material will have attributes assigned to them for different viewing options


so the person who wants to view the model in "what is it?" mode "puts on" the "what it is? goggles" and sees the model as the image that was posted above.


the other person who wants to see the model in high quality render "puts on" the "high quality render goggles" and sees something in high quality


this way the modeler is not bogged down by all these different output (harvesting) options and can keep modeling (creation & quality)

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"design intent" (I'm not trying to be difficult but)

how does one show "design intent" around custom stairs?

please see attached pdfs below  (granted, i have done similar by way of 2d projections)

we cannot cheat the universe. somewhere we need to do the work.

it was after i did these stairs that i discovered the power of direct modeling over 2d projection drawings & stair tool chaos

(i still used the wall, window & door tools in the model) 




and i had to make sure it fit it into the building...






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a bit more (sorry, the project is coming back to memory)


the treads, trim & railing set the location of the stair framing.


the stair framing set the location of the stair headers (we had a framing plan)


the stair headers set the location of the columns (we had a structural plan)


the columns set the location of the footings (we had a foundation plan)


so the look of the stairs in the interior elevations "drove the car"


that was how the architect that designed it worked


my job was to figure everything else out by working backwards

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On 5/18/2017 at 3:08 PM, ericjhberg said:


I'm interested to hear what people's experiences are with BIM and digital delivery. What are the things holding this up? What will the standards be? Getting cities and jurisdictions on board seems like the largest hurdle since paper plans have always been the media of record. 










I think it will actually be the other way around.  I think cities and governments along with contractors are leading the charge here.  There are several examples, most notably Great Britain, which requires BIM delivery for all government funded projects. Contractors love it because it cuts down on coordination error and increases accuracy in take-offs.  OMs loves it because it makes it easier to keep track of building components and maintenance.  Really - I think it is the architecture community that has been slow to adopt.  It's a large expense for a firm of any size to completely retool, but really you have a generational issue. The older generation, who are mainly the ones running firms now, barely understand the current CAD delivery method.  BIM is not an evolutionary change like CAD was to hand drafting - it is a revolutionary change - where the very product of delivery is shifting - that is difficult and expensive for firms to wrap their heads around.   There is no stopping it, and no firm that is not strategizing right now how to transition their workflow has a right to survive.

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18 minutes ago, Tom Klaber said:

 I think cities and governments along with contractors are leading the charge here.


Interesting? Though this is not my experience here in California, it is nice to hear that some people are starting to experience the benefits of this "revolutionary change". Is anyone dealing with this in the States?


I agree with all the benefits, and to the extent that we consider ourselves a "cutting-edge" firm, we definitely get caught up, from time to time, in the old ways.

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19 hours ago, digitalcarbon said:

"design intent" (I'm not trying to be difficult but)

how does one show "design intent" around custom stairs?


You point out in some notes in your file that at the beginning of the scheme you used the stair tool parametric object. So maybe I'm getting the wrong end of the stick? I've been thinking you're arguing for doing away with parametric objects, as you do here ("browser based vw, (stripped down to bare bones)").


Edited by Christiaan
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Christiaan, yes, at that time i used the stair tool.  


this was several years ago (7?) and i was just transitioning into using the 3d features of vw.


it was before the 3d space navigator and the new graphics Open GL feature of vw.


the office was not convinced of the value of 3d & i would use the parametrics as place holders, then 2d clean up work over VPs


however, on this project & without telling anyone i took a chance & direct modeled the stairs


it was scary & i was not sure how much i could harvest for the amount of effort put in.


as it turned out i could use my 3d efforts to make section vp & elevations as shown above.


(that is when i made the above pdfs to show others & remind myself the value of what was done)  


after that project my confidence level in direct modeling when up greatly 


when i left the office & went on my own in the fall of 2014 i started to move into experimental direct modeling for all my projects.


i got better and more comfortable with it & am now completely free of parametrics (except for the DTM tool which i love)


i have a large 3d symbol library (no hybrid symbols just 3d) and it has paid off in that i do a lot of assembly vs modeling from scratch


so, with the above experience i realized that modeling directly is now very fast and easy & i don't have to fight with parametrics.


the problem I'm facing now is how to share my model with others w/o having to make tons of sheets to communicate

(& yes i still do not have any way to show door swing & such if i direct model a door.  i would still use the door tool)


hence the IM universe in a browser, direct modeling only idea

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