Advancing the Power of Play with BIM

Profiled Firm: Architecture Is Fun |  Location: Chicago, Illinois (USA)
Mom playing with child at the Young At Art Museum

For award-winning architecture and design team Peter and Sharon Exley, fun elevates the everyday. This husband and wife team’s approach taps the limitless possibilities of a child’s wide-open way of thinking. “We fail to remember play in our busy adult lives,” Peter says, “and that childhood experience shapes who we become and is therefore a critical touchstone. There is levity and wit in our work to make it more accessible, and we wish there were more of this in the built environment.” Their Chicago-based firm, Architecture Is Fun, makes this its mission.

Fun Design with BIM

Peter is a huge advocate for his design tool of choice, Vectorworks® Architect software. He praises Vectorworks for its BIM capabilities, explaining that BIM is how architects can provide immeasurable, lifetime value to their projects. 

“We’d be foolish not to use BIM,” he says. “It’s an amazing opportunity, because rather than handing over the keys when a project is done, building information models allow architects to have life-long relationships with their projects, maintaining and leveraging value with owners for a building’s lifecycle, supporting changes, and driving efficiencies. BIM has the opportunity to generate more revenue streams, make buildings more cost-effective, reduce the cost of the buildings, reduce waste in a project, and drive more collaboration.”

BIM has the opportunity to generate more revenue streams, make buildings more cost-effective, reduce the cost of the buildings, reduce waste in a project, and drive more collaboration.

Peter Exley, Architecture is Fun

Castle room inside Young at Art Musem

Serious Art for All

Executive Director Mindy Shrago at the Young At Art Museum appreciates Architecture Is Fun’s participatory approach. The team recently revolutionized the children’s museum world when Shrago introduced art usually reserved for serious adult museums and then bravely removed the word “children’s” from the Davie, Florida facility’s previous moniker.

Shrago and Architecture Is Fun commissioned 75 acclaimed artists to enliven 22,000 square feet. Four core galleries anchor the museum. For this complex and varied project, Peter notes that generating data-rich models enabled exemplary coordination with the building architect and consultant’s BIM models.

Often, the exhibit concept was in development before the interior space, so having a comprehensive model informed the architectural design. Architecture Is Fun’s Vectorworks files integrated seamlessly with those from other software platforms, Peter explains. By using IFC to transfer important BIM data, or using DXF/DWG/DWF to transfer 2D information, Architecture is Fun was able to share 2D, 3D, and important semantic data with its design partners and clients.

Frost Art Museum perspective drawing

A Thoughtful Rebirth

After achieving success with the Young At Art Museum, Architecture Is Fun was approached by the esteemed Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University with a request to upgrade its family gallery, located on the main floor of the art museum. 

The Vectorworks model for this project was used to prototype scale models of furniture and millwork using a MakerBot® Replicator® 2 desktop 3D printer, and digital files went straight to millwork fabrication with only minimal need for shop drawings. Increasingly, Architecture Is Fun leverages embedded data to generate efficiencies and accuracies in design and documentation phases; it makes for a more accurate, profitable process and brings value to clients and the architect/owner relationship. This is especially useful for furnishings and equipment, as Architecture Is Fun can attach relevant data during the design process to select, order, track, and install furniture and manufactured and custom casework by project stakeholders using other technology solutions. Sharing this data via linked databases can even accommodate partner workflows that are not model-centric.

children interacting with the exhibits at the Frost Art Museum

BIM as a Sea Change

When the team isn’t working on projects or teaching, as Peter does as a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, they’re active on the speaking circuit, imploring the need for more fun and creating it using a BIM workflow. As past president of AIA Chicago and through his industry involvement today, Peter emphasizes the importance of BIM, urging architects to seize its opportunities. He views BIM as a sea change, enabling architects to remain “design-focused, sustainably minded stewards of the designed environment.” 

The firm also wants to see more play for adults at their homes and places of work, with value placed on play in public spaces. “The 4D experiences we work on help people have moments where they can take a breath and enjoy, and I think it’s important that we enrich and elevate those experiences,” says Sharon. Peter agrees, noting, “We’ve got to be in spaces that reflect our values, our personalities, and the cultures that we aspire to, and they all intersect out of design.”

Images courtesy of Florida International University, © Doug Snower Photography