A Conversation With Karen Kensek, Assistant Professor and Organizer of USC’s Annual BIM Symposium

School News

A Conversation With Karen Kensek, Assistant Professor and Organizer of USC’s Annual BIM Symposium

September 25, 2015

This year’s BIM symposium, held on August 7, was titled BIM 2015:  Visual Programming for the Building Industry. It attracted over 200 building industry professionals, as well as a number of students and software representatives.


For the past 25 years Professor Karen Kensek has been a leading advocate of the critical role technology and digital tools play in architectural pedagogy and in professional practice. She has also played a prominent role in shaping the USC School of Architecture’s Building Science program. For the past nine years, she has been organizing the School’s BIM Symposium. Over that time, the event has grown to become one of the leading BIM events of the year, drawing professionals and academics from around the country and abroad.


Kensek is also the author of two recent books on BIM: Technical Design Series: Building Information Modeling (Routledge, 2014) and Building Information Modeling: BIM in Current and Future Practice (Wiley, 2014).



What was the original idea behind the symposium and what are its goals?


KK: When we first started nine years ago, BIM was a relatively new concept.  Every year since then, we choose speakers who are on the forefront and are doing exciting, breakthrough work.  We try to balance topics and speakers so that the conference speaks to architects, engineers, and contractors; those new to BIM and those technologically savvy; large firms and small offices.  We want everyone to walk away having learned something that they can use to push the work and processes of their office.  This year, the person who travelled the farthest was from India. He came just for the symposium. I met several others from around the US who make it a point to put the BIM symposium on their calendar each year.


What was the theme this year?


KK: This year, the theme was visual programming for the building industry.


Recently, there has been a trend towards visual user interfaces for programming that allow users to create customized, flexible, and powerful form-generating algorithms without having to first learn how to write code. Visual programming is a type of computer programming where users graphically interact with program elements instead of typing lines of text code. Nodes are created; they can be numbers, sliders for adjusting values, operators and functions, list manipulation tools, graphic creators, scripts, notes, “watch” nodes, customizable nodes, and other types depending on the tool. They are virtually wired together, and the program is resolved from left to right.


Both software companies and enthusiastic programmers have been developing a suite of components that enhance these innovative graphic tools, including components for complex form generation; thermal, daylight, solar radiation, and glare simulations; optimization; structural calculations and live physics; analyzing and designing urban configurations, etc.  Users from beginners to advanced can find utility in these tools.


What kind of research gets presented, or is it all workshops?


KK: That depends on the year.  One year, we had a day of papers where university faculty presented research focused on BIM.  This year, there were 6 in-depth presentations from professionals in the morning and workshops in the afternoon.


How does the symposium reflect the curriculum at the School and larger trends in BIM in general?


KK: The main goal of the symposium is to present cutting edge professional work about building information modeling in all of its aspects.  My courses and research on BIM (e.g. BIM analytics for sustainable design) prepare students to became actively engaged and create leaders in this field. For example, with this year’s topic, visual programming, I think that you will see a major upsurge in this area. We caught it at the beginning swell and are helping to push it out to the overall profession.


What was the biggest take-away this year?


KK: The biggest take-away from this year's conference is that software users should not feel restricted by the tools that software representatives have written.  The creation of plug-ins, scripting, and visual programming provides opportunities to explore new ideas and make the workflow in an office more efficient by enhancing the features provided.


Where do you want this to go in the future?


KK: It’s my hope that professionals will keep coming away with new ideas about how to implement BIM in their firms and that the symposium will help to push the boundaries and exceed their expectations about what this technology and process can do. ♦



USC School of Architecture BIM Symposium Chronology


2007: BIM SYM

2008: BIM BOP : BIM + Sustainable Design

2009: BIM FAB!CON: Building Information Modeling + Construction and Fabrication

2010: BIM ANALYTICS: Building Information Modeling + Evidence Based Design

2011: Extreme BIM: Parameters and Customization

2012: Practical BIM:  Management, Implementation, Coordination, and Evaluation

2013: BIM Futures

2014: BIM GAP + BIM EDGE: Overcoming Impediments and Realizing the Full Potential of BIM

2015: BIM 2015: Visual Programming for the Building Industry