Professor Chuck Eastman Retires

Professor Chuck Eastman works at his desk at Georgia Tech.

By Malrey Head and Isra Hassan Atlanta, GA

After more than 20 years at Georgia Tech, Professor Chuck Eastman has retired and left the classroom.

Eastman is the founder and former director of the Digital Building Lab (DBL). He also held professorships in the School of Architecture the School of Interactive Computing.

A pioneer of computer-aided design (CAD) and one of the originators of building information modeling (BIM), he said in his retirement he plans to continue his research and writing and maybe attend a few conferences.

He will be honored at a reception on Friday, March 9, on the Georgia Tech campus.

College of Design Dean Steven French noted that Eastman has “established Georgia Tech as the leader in the development and application of building information modeling (BIM). Chuck is widely known as the ‘Father of BIM.’ ”

BIM is a computer-based process for the generation and representations of physical and functional characteristics of places/facilities. BIM files can be extracted, exchanged, or shared during the planning and construction process.

The development of BIM “has unfolded over the last quarter century to move the building design and construction professions from paper-based drawings and processes to modern data-driven practices using three-dimensional building representations,” said Dennis Shelden, current director of the DBL.

Students Among His Legacy

Asked what he enjoyed most about his time at Georgia Tech, Eastman said working with the Ph.D. students. Over the years he has taught or advised hundreds of students.

That legacy with students was noted by Dean French, who has known Eastman since 1996 when Eastman came to Georgia Tech.

“Chuck Eastman has created an incredible legacy in the students he has mentored. They are in leadership positions in industry and academia across the world,” he said.

One of those students is Taysheng Jeng (Ph.D. ARCH ‘99), now a professor in the Department of Architecture NCKU (National Cheng Kung University) in Taiwan. He recently returned to Georgia Tech as a J1 Visiting Scholar for the School of Architecture under Eastman.

He also studied under Eastman in the 1990s at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He came to Georgia Tech in 1996 with Eastman.

Jeng was one of Eastman’s Ph.D. students at UCLA. He had already studied for 5 years and finished his Ph.D. qualifying exams. But one day Jeng said, Eastman said to him, “I am going to be going to Georgia Tech. Are you coming with me?”

He was shocked and didn’t reply right away. He needed to think about it, he said. After three days, he thought, I have no choice.

Jeng said Eastman’s biggest influence on him was the way he thought -- to the point. He is a man who knows everything, but he always uses simple words and gets to the point to explain complex concepts, Jeng explains.

Jeng tells this story: Before he graduated he was always fascinated by fancy technology, but Eastman would always challenge him to think about the fundamental research problem. Jeng said Eastman didn’t care about the fancy technology, he was open and easy to accept the advancements in technology, but always wanted to get to the fundamental research problem.

That is what Jeng means when he says that Eastman’s thoughts were always to the point. Eastman would point out that we became distracted by the technology because it’s fancier, has an easier to use interface.

Jeng said Eastman has influenced him as an advisor and professor. He remembers that as a professor and advisor it is very important to know the new technologies, but always know the fundamental questions and be critical.

He said, Eastman “made me push myself by being rigorous in research which, made me come back to get the spirit of the fundamental research after being a professor and chairman in his department in Taiwan. You can learn from him so much.”

Nearly 20 years later, he is still looking to Eastman for inspiration.

Donghoon Yang, a current research scientist in the DBL, also came to Georgia Tech to work with Eastman.
He said he first got to know Eastman in 1992 when he was in an engineering master’s student in Korea. In 2002, he met Eastman in his class, and later became his Ph.D. student.

He said he was influenced by a paper Eastman wrote in 1992. “When I read Chuck’s ‘bathroom’ paper in 1992, I set my direction of research. And I have been trying to follow his track ever since,” he said.

Eastman’s work with his Ph.D. students has been recognized in an award named for him. The Charles Eastman Top PhD Paper Award has been presented for several years at the CIB W078 annual conference. It “recognizes the importance of developing top young researchers in the core field of W078, the application of integrated IT throughout the lifecycle of the design, construction and occupancy of buildings and related facilities.”

In describing the award, the organization states, "The award is named after a seminal researcher in this field who has, over his illustrious career, supervised and mentored many of the top researchers found across the world. Chuck Eastman's involvement in W078 dates back to 1988 with a keynote presentation and since then he and his students have been strong supporters of the annual series”

A Large Legacy in Architecture

Eastman’s legacy extends well beyond his students to his work in the architecture and academic fields. He is considered a pioneer in computer-aided design and one of the originators of building information modeling (BIM).

“His work in this area is seminal and something we will carry forward at Georgia Tech,” French said.

Scott Marble, chair of the School of Architect at Georgia Tech, agrees.

Eastman “has been a key figure in establishing the School of Architecture's international reputation as a leading research center around AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) technology. … It is not an exaggeration to say that his pioneering work in building information modeling has been a key factor in the industry transformation that we are seeing today.”

Eastman co-wrote several BIM focused research publications and the BIM Handbook. The book is used all over the world as the essential text when teaching the concepts about BIM.

Eastman considers his development of BIM concepts -- which he said was most publicized in a 1975 article in AIA Architect magazine – and his early work in computing as his most significant contributions.

“In architecture Chuck is recognized as a pioneer in introducing computers into design. He built the bridges between computer science and architectural design. He is widely recognized as a giant in the field of design computing. He has enriched Georgia Tech and the profession of architecture through his teaching and research,” French said.

BIM Hanbook written by Chuck Eastman.

He Began His Career in California

A California native, Eastman attended school and began his career there as an architect in the mid-1960s. He later worked at the University of Wisconsin and Carnegie–Mellon in Pittsburgh.

In 1982, he founded a venture capital-backed company in the CAD and engineering data management area. Five years later he sold the company after realizing that his interest in 3D parametric modeling in construction was not yet marketable. He returned to academia at UCLA.

Eastman came to Georgia Tech in 1996 as a professor in the College of Architecture (now College of Design) and the College of Computing. There were no schools in the then-College of Architecture, just departments. In 2000, he became director of the Ph.D. programs in the College of Architecture.

He resigned that position in 2008 and in 2009 started the Digital Building Lab. He had run labs at his previous schools and said he felt the time was right to as BIM was a hot area.

In its nearly 10-year history, the DBL has become one of the industry’s foremost institutions in building information practices, leading the development of industry standards, and educating a generation of technology development and professional practice leaders, according to its website.

Under Eastman’s tenure the lab was awarded more than $800,000 in research grants and secured memberships totaling more than $240,000, according to the College’s finance office.

Eastman stepped down from leading the DBL in 2016.

He was succeeded by Shelden, who said he has known Eastman for more than 20 years.

Shelden noted Eastman’s profound impact in the field of design computing. “He is one of the founders of multiple epochs in the field, from his early work at the beginnings of computer aided design to his work in developing the concepts behind building information modeling, his involvement in starting communities like ACADIA, and his writings in related fields from computer graphics to design cognition,” he said.

“It has been a great honor and joy to work with Chuck throughout my career, especially during the last two years as the DBL’s new director, and I look forward to continue to working with him during this next chapter to continue the important work of the DBL,” he said.

His Peers Have Recognized His Work

Eastman’s stature in the field has led to him being asked to give keynotes to conferences and professional societies across the United States and around the world. Most recently he attended a BIM conference in Tel Aviv, where he was the keynote speaker.

Over the course of his career Eastman has been honored many times.

In more recent years he has received the 2016 Society Award of Excellence presented by the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA). He was a founding member of the organization in 1981.

In bestowing the award, ACADIA noted on its website: “This award honors Professor Eastman’s seminal role in founding and leading ACADIA in its earliest years, his pioneering work in the area of Building Information Modeling, Parametric Design, Collaborative Design, Visualization and Fabrication, and many other achievements. His influence in the field of digital design is second to none.”

The Architectural Research Centers Consortium (ARCC) selected Eastman as the 2016-17 recipient of its highest honor, the ARCC James Haecker Award for Distinguished Leadership in Architectural Research.

And the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) honored Eastman with its “2017 Computing in Civil Engineering Award for his extraordinary leadership in the advancement of computing in civil engineering through academic research, project application, and Society service.”

Despite his lengthy academic and professional career, Eastman is not ready to stop completely.

Asked what he would be doing in retirement, he jokingly replied, “retiring.”

But in reality he will continue his research and writing, which includes finishing the new release of the BIM Handbook, 3rd edition.

He said he is just retiring from teaching, not from research.