Digital Modeling Throwdown

Throwing Down the Digital Modeling Gauntlet

Blogger: Dan Williamson, Digital Design Leader, Computation | Minneapolis, MN, USA
February 15, 2017

It’s a Wednesday in the downtown Minneapolis architecture studio and it starts like any other day. I get to work, hang up my coat and set up my computer at my unassigned workstation. Firing up Outlook, Slack, Trello, Rhino and Spotify, in that order, I dive instantly into my day, pulling out my headphones and shuffle-playing my “electric concentration” playlist. As I’m drowning out the early morning quiet, nothing is out of the ordinary until Kyle, my friend and co-worker sits down next to me. We make small talk and then Jim our managing principal, meanders over. It’s at that particular moment that Kyle remembers a challenge proposed between Jim and me almost a year ago: A digital modeling throwdown! 

It’s important to note that Kyle enjoys razzing me (and Jim) about the software platforms we prefer to work within on a daily basis. Rhinoceros 3D (Rhino) is my platform of choice. Jim, however would always choose my software nemesis, Sketchup, over Rhino. While both platforms allow designers to produce geometry and visualizations, and much more, they each offer their own significant advantages. This difference is a hotly contested debate, not only between Jim and me, but within the entire architecture industry.

Kyle wastes no time in throwing down the gauntlet and declaring ’lunch hour, THIS Friday.’ It seems that Jim and I are finally going to compete in this so called throwdown. I agree, though a bit skeptically, since this competition has blown over several times. This time, Jim, Kyle, and Mike, our design principal, ensure it will happen—by offering lunch and inviting the entire office to attend. 

Office Smack Talk
Shortly after the declaration of the competition, the office smack talk begins:

“Dan, you better improve your response time if you want to have any chance at beating Jim on Friday.” – all office email ‘reply’ from  a coworker in the Minneapolis Studio.

“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance,” (Sun Tzu, Art of War) – all office email ‘reply’ from Jim (yes - that Jim!)

Day of

As lunch hour approaches on the day of the competition, I’m a bit nervous, anticipating what this very ambiguous throwdown will even cover. It was imperative to both Kyle and Mike, who organized the event, that Jim and I have no advance knowledge about what we were to model. The competition was intended to be spontaneous and display modeling choice and decision making.

A table has been placed in the center of our “Big Think” presentation space where we would both sit, while the rest of the office would observe us as we work. Two projectors were set up one to project what I would model, and one to project what Jim would model.

“Model as much of a future drone transit hub as you can in 40 minutes at a given site in downtown Rochester, Minnesota. There needs to be an entrance, office space, and the capacity to house at least 20 drones…GO!”

Throwdown Challenge Competition

Those instructions and a digital model of the site were the only things we were given to create a solution. From there we each took off on our own to develop as much of a conceptual design as possible in the allotted time. As expected, we both chose our platform of choice to use in the competition. Throughout the 40 minutes of modeling, our entire office ate lunch, watched and compared how we attacked the design problem. We had our share of hecklers, a designated commentator, and questions that we fielded to help the audience understand why we chose our different approaches.

Results Reinforce Office Culture

While  no clear winner was declared (and not really the point of the throwdown anyway) there was an important conversation that followed about the pros and cons of the decisions Jim and I made throughout the competition. We spent some quality time after the event explaining why we chose to model the way we did. It was an amazing way to learn and helped to shed light on techniques, outcomes, expectations, and possibilities, in a fun way. 

I think this competition reinforced several important things: 1. Some tools are built for certain tasks;  2. there are multiple tools built for the same tasks; 3. one platform or another does not need to be the “silver bullet” and; 4. creating an open, positive dialogue within your studio allows these types of conversations to occur regularly. The most important thing we learned is that people need to share what they know with each other. This knowledge-sharing helps create a culture of teaching, mentoring and learning, and improves the skills of everyone involved. Equally as important, is being able to accept that there are multiple ways to be creative, attack a problem, and find solutions, and when we work together, we can achieve the best results.  

Image courtesy of Dan Williamson.