Engineering and architectural design research has studied the uses of various kinds of artefacts and visual representations like sketches, drawings and design plans. The implementation of Building Information Modelling (BIM) creates a new constellation of instruments and calls for further reconceptualising of the collaborative design process. The paper presents analysis of BIM models as co-developed intermediary objects in the design. They function both as objects of joint problem solving and as a concrete but dynamic means for collaboration both virtually and in face-to-face meetings. We suggest that BIM models provide novel forms of ‘virtual materiality’: in design meetings BIM models provide a tangible means for designers’ collaboration. Versatile indexical use of 3D BIM models dominates discussion and problem solving in design meetings.
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Indexicality has been emphasized by many researchers close to distributed cognition or situated cognition by pointing out that human beings, even when dealing with conceptual issues are using resources from the material, social and cultural surrounding as an essential part of their activities (see e.g. Goodwin 2000; Hindmarsh and Heath 2000; Hutchins 2005; Clark 2005)
‘Virtual materiality’ (the latter term referring to tangibility or concreteness) might sound like a contradiction in terms. One of our reviewers pointed this out: “if we accept that it [the BIM model] really is virtual, how can it provide a “novel kind of concreteness”? What do “virtual,” and “concrete” and “concreteness” mean in this context?”. Our argument is, however, that the uses of BIM models do not follow this kind of a dichotomy but are virtual and concrete at the same time.
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This article has been written through several stages and with several intermediary objects. The first draft of the paper was presented at the EGOS conference in Montreal, Canada in 2013 (in a session convened by Jannis Kallinikos, Paul Leonardi and Bonnie Nardi). Thank you to all of them, and especially to Aleksi Aaltonen, Jannis Kallinikos, Eugenia Cacciatori, Carole Groleau, Jennifer Whyte, our colleagues at CRADLE, and reviewers of the paper, for useful comments on versions of the paper.
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Paavola, S., Miettinen, R. Dynamics of Design Collaboration: BIM Models as Intermediary Digital Objects. Comput Supported Coop Work 28, 1–23 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-018-9306-4
- Building Information Modelling (BIM)
- Design collaboration
- Intermediary object
- Digital object
- Virtual materiality