Chuck Eastman looking at the camera, overlaid on a diagram of his work.

The ‘Father of BIM’
Also Raised Generations of Digitally-Minded Architects

The ‘Father of BIM’ Also Raised Generations of Digitally-Minded Architects

It’s a rare chance, indeed, to study with a professor who changed the landscape of an entire industry. Charles “Chuck” Eastman was that professor for Georgia Tech architecture and computing students.

Eastman, Professor Emeritus for the School of Architecture and the founder of the Digital Building Lab (DBL), passed away peacefully at his home on November 9, 2020. As his former students and colleagues learned the news, Eastman’s profound influence on digital design was evident in their reactions.

The College of Design honors Eastman not only through the recounting of his achievements but through classes we teach that explore and build upon the legacy of his work.

Passion for Architecture Research Leads to Invention

“If you look at Chuck’s career through the lens of his scholarly work, you can follow the parallel maturation of his own thinking and the development of CAD and BIM as tools that revolutionized the AEC industry,” said Russell Gentry, a professor in the Schools of Architecture and Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the current director of the DBL. 

Eastman was well known in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry as one of the originators of computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM). He is often called “The Father of BIM,” and he wrote the BIM handbook.

“His earliest work focused on design cognition,” Gentry said, “how designers think, make mental models, and propose solutions. In his early career he participated in fundamental research involving digital representation of physical objects in 2D and 3D space, and the requirements for computer-aided design.”

“As the development of commercial CAD systems exploded and matured, Chuck turned his research back to design and construction.”

Eastman considered how the semantics of building objects and systems could be imbued within otherwise generic modeling environments, Gentry said. As a result, Eastman was a key contributor to the development of Building Product Modeling, which later became Building Information Modeling. BIM representations and workflows in structural steel, precast concrete, and cast-in-place concrete shaped the way AEC professionals use the computing system today.

Eastman researched computing methods and programs that helped practitioners do better work, Gentry said, but he also implemented that research.

“He was not afraid of the fundamental need to understand and develop standards for computer graphics and engineering databases as foundational technology for more advanced representation tools,” Gentry said.   

“In his later career, Chuck was an advocate for open BIM standards such as IFC, and he and his students published widely on the types of design, analysis, and construction processes that could be represented within BIM environments.”

Showing Students The Way to Find New Design Territory

“Professor Emeritus Charles Eastman was one of our most distinguished and respected faculty members,” said Scott Marble, the William H. Harrison Chair of the School of Architecture. “Chuck was a beloved colleague who had a lasting impact on our faculty, staff, and students over his 20-year career at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture.

Eastman joined Georgia Tech in 1996 and was a professor in the Schools of Architecture and Interactive Computing until he retired in 2018. He began his teaching career at the University of Wisconsin (1966 – 1967), then taught at Carnegie-Mellon University (1967 – 1982), and UCLA (1987 – 1995).

Eastman was also a founding member of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), serving as the international network’s first president in 1981. In 1982, Eastman founded Formtek, a CAD company, which was sold to Lockheed Martin in 1987. Formtek is now a leading metal forming and fabrication solutions company.

Eastman was an architect through educational background and a computer engineer by trade. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons he found a home at Georgia Tech, Marble said. “Chuck’s work had a broad following that included communities from architectural design, computer science, building construction, design and building technology, among others.”

While at Georgia Tech, Eastman taught topics including design cognition, BIM, solid and parametric modeling, engineering databases, product models, and interoperability (understanding interfaces in information technology and systems engineering.)

He directed the Ph.D. in Architecture program from 2000 – 2008, which Marble sees as one of Eastman’s greatest legacies.

“Even with the magnitude of his research accomplishments and international reputation, Chuck was a modest and caring person who was deeply dedicated to the people he worked with, especially his students,” Marble said.

“These students were consistently the most sought-after hires in both industry and academia. Many have gone on to reach distinguished positions and are a lasting legacy of Chuck’s life.” The hundreds of students Eastman mentored are now leaders in the industry and at universities around the world, Marble said.

Eastman’s Legacy at Georgia Tech

“I remember when Chuck joined our College in 1996,” said Steven P. French, the Dean and John Portman Chair of the College of Design.

“He was already a well-respected scholar with an international reputation. His hire was a clear statement that Georgia Tech was going to become a leader in design computing.”

While French was the Associate Dean of Research for the College of Architecture (later renamed the College of Design), Eastman founded the Digital Building Lab. It was the first research center in the College that attracted paid memberships from industry partners. 

“Rather than funding his own research, Chuck used those funds to seed grants for junior faculty in the College and beyond. The success of many of our junior faculty can be traced to those seed grants,” French said. “He was an incredible mentor.”

When the School of Architecture incorporated Eastman’s work into their academic programs, they were taught by the people Eastman mentored.

Among the classes offered in the recent past and lined up for future semesters are: “Building Information Modelling, Design Cognition,” “Building Product Models and Interoperability,” “Design Scripting: Advanced Programming,” “Research Colloquium,” and “Building Physics Modeling.” 

DBL faculty also lead research seminars for students, on such topics as “Design Computing,” “Geometric and Solid Modeling Software Development,” “Databases for Engineering and Design,” and “Design of Electronic Design Environments.”

Eastman’s work on next-generation design tools has become a signature part of the School’s identity. 

“With a new generation of architectural and building industry design tools, especially based on parametric design and rule-based design, there is a need for critical assessment, improved specification, and the development of advanced prototypes,” Eastman wrote on the subject in his CV.