A BIM Lesson Learnt

I can remember now clearly the embarrassment of my first day at my year-out placement at a design build company in Bridgwater, Somerset. I was handed a tracing paper, ‘Rotring’ hand drawn A1, and a bit of thin sketch tracing with a new partition and door indicated. My task: to update the drawing and issue it.

I scratched away with my razor blade until I had removed what was needed but as there had been a correction before I was nearly through the paper. I tried to draw the new partition but the ink then smudged everywhere. I went to see my new boss with my tail between my legs having cocked up my first job. ‘Why didn’t you take a copy neg?’ he asked. ‘What’s a copy neg?’ I replied. ‘Don’t they teach you anything in Architecture School nowadays? – Here I’ll show you!’ An hour or so later I returned to him with my nicely altered copyneg.’You haven’t revised the drawing number’ he exclaimed. ‘What…?’ – and so we carried on. The practicalities of doing the most day-to-day tasks in an Architectural practice were all completely new to me. That week I learnt about fire door labels, door and window schedules, drawing issues sheets, drawing numbering systems, drawing tanks, project files, day files, architects instructions, how to use a Dyeline copier and how to fold a drawing correctly… All that when I was still in shock at what time I had to get up at to go to work…


12 weeks later my yeargroup at the WSA returned to Cardiff for a professional practice lecture week. We all had the same stories but some far worse, including having to learn a CAD package from scratch (that was the one thing I could do before I got there!) We all complained to our lecturers as we had all been given a hard time by our new employers about not having the practical skills needed to do the job.


‘That’s what a year-out placement is all about,’ was the reply. There seemed at that time a total disconnect between Architectural Education and what Architectural practices needed from their new year-out staff, particularly at a time when practices were transitioning away from the hand drawn world. My wife is a doctor and was training at the same time, can you imagine the same arguments being applied to a Junior House officer in their first job – I think not!


As I left the WSA the argument against giving AutoCAD lessons was still raging, that the school was software agnostic and would not teach it. Eventually they offered some out of curriculum sessions due the pressure coming from the students. I understand that there were license and workstation pressures, I understand that they needed to ensure that not just AutoCAD was available but also Microstation, MiniCAD (now vectorworks) and ArchiCAD etc. But the trouble was they didn’t even teach the processes workflows and theory behind 2D CAD usage that were universal.


Lets move on 20 years, as believe it or not that was only 1994 #ukvetsbimcrew… But we still have the same problem now… Most Architectural students are coming out with great sketchup skills and able to design an arts centre or museum that future systems would of been proud of, which is fine and has probably driven the explosion of sketchup usage and poor levels of detailed design skills in practices, but they do not know how to work in a structured office environment using CAD, 2D or 3D to produce the bread and butter drawings and schedules that get a building through planning and on to site. Those basic skills are still mostly missing from the curriculum.


With the acceleration of BIM adoption, yes it would be great for Pozzoni, if they all came out with Revit skills but unfortunately for us the same argument correctly applies about being software agnostic, however students urgently need to be taught the workflows, processes and theory of BIM common to all platforms with the practices picking up the button clicking training when they hit the office if needed.




Rotring: a manufacturer of technical drawing pens that came in different widths. ( I preferred Steadtler pens myself).

Copyneg: a way of taking a copy of an existing tracing using an ammonia Dyeline copier that you could then alter.

Razor blade: used to scratch away ink to do corrections.

Dyeline copier: stinking of ammonia these two stage copiers used line sensitive paper that was then fixed to produce paper blue prints and copy negs of tracing paper drawings.