/ Paul Sutton / Arts & Culture

In parallel with human progress runs the evolution of our tools. Stretching the analogy, each generation of tools is generated from the previous one, developing at a remarkable rate. Go onto any building site today and you will be amazed at the tools available that make it easier and safer for individuals to work on the one hand and at the bigger scale achieve remarkable things, inconceivable in the past without huge risk. At the same time the alignment between what is constructed and what is imagined in design offices is getting closer in so many ways. Our tools are crucial to how we model projects, how we think about their safe construction and how we create images to show what is in our imagination; tools for drawing, tools as processes, tools as contemporary paint brushes.

The key is drawing in three dimensions - an ever greater influence on our work. One important tool we use is Revit. Gradually we see the benefits emerging as we become more skilled with its building information modelling capabilities. What is surprising is how versatile it is, whether on new projects with complex geometry such as the proposed facility in Paisley for the Scottish War Blinded or our conservation project for the Glasgow School of Art. The former, as it has a curving and twisting roof form is being drawn as a mass to define the geometry which is then used to shape standard building elements, whilst the latter is being made as an aggregated assembly of families of detail components, viewed and presented in many different ways to aid communication, despite having been drawn only once.

Thinking in three dimensions helps with another most important process; that of ensuring we give detailed attention to safety. Designing in two dimensions, used to involve a certain abstraction of reality and of how components were put together. Now in three dimensions the assembly of pieces as we design becomes a much closer model of the actual building process. Our responsibilities here are enshrined in the latest Health and Safety legislation with the definition of the Principal Designer role. The direct link the tool gives us between imagination and the process of building, makes it easier to embed practicality and safety into our procedures. As you place a component into a three dimensional model it seems to ask, “how am I to be assembled?”

Design must be both imagined and communicated. For a long time we have felt that the ability of our rendering software to capture the spirit of our proposals fell short. Here again improvements in our digital tools are enabling more realistic rendering of what we imagine. While this has the obvious benefit of assisting us to communicate with others, there is also a more subtle but equally valuable advantage. It helps us to identify with the materiality of what we draw, the tangibility of making and therefore the engagement of our minds in responsible and safe construction.