The Sagrada Familia and Software Development

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History of Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Having visited several times, i’m always amazed by its beauty, size and story.

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Work started on the building on 19th March 1882 and at the end of 1883 Antoni Gaudi was commissioned  to carry on the work, a task he did not abandon until his death in 1926 [1]. The death of Gaudi didn’t stop the construction of this masterpiece. Since then many well known architects have continued to help in making Gaudi’s designs a reality. It is currently estimated that construction should finish 2026 , 144 years after it originally started. I’m sure there will be quite a celebration once it’s complete!

Over the duration of construction on the Sagrada Familia the team have suffered several set backs. In particular many of the original blueprints were destroyed during the spanish civil war and most of the remaining blueprints are incomplete. As you can imagine, adding and upgrading such an old building is a time consuming and costly exercise. Any mistakes or rework only puts the planned completion date of 2026 at risk.

The Importance of Prototypes

Modelling and Prototyping have always been used as part of the construction process even when Antoni Gaudi was working on the building. However, building models by hand, usually carved from wood can be a time consuming and error prone process. Since 2001 the Sagrada Familia team have been using 3D Printing to support the protoyping process.

Making prototypes in 3D allows architects to work in a more detailed way and at a scale the human hand cannot produce. It helps the architects create various complex prototypes, thus guiding decisions about the cathedral’s design, while staying true to Gaudi’s style. [2]

The BBC Click programme recently did a feature on the process. You can check it out here:

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So what about Software Development?

Many of the problems faced by those working on Sagrada Familia are similar those faced in Software Development:

Lack of Requirements (Just like the missing Blueprints)

Building on top of legacy software (Just like building on top of old bricks)

We build something that doesn’t match the vision of the original designer (Such as Antoni Gaudi)

Mistakes and errors are costly 

How the Sagrada Familia team have approached these problems can also be applied to Software Development. Many teams are now using Prototypes as a central part of their development process. In a Lean Startup context, prototypes are an effective way of obtaining quick feedback from your customers on your initial designs. 3D Printing might not be a viable option for all types of software development but in the book “Lean Enterprise” by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reily talk about different prototyping techniques:

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In many Enterprise organisations teams are working with legacy code on a daily basis. Prototypes in this context can be incredibly effective too. Just like in the Sagrada Familia making changes to legacy software can be very time consuming and error prone. It is in these cases that prototyping to get feedback on the likely effect of the changes can be invaluable information. It will enable you to identify the best solution and in some cases help you avoid making those risky legacy code changes at all.

If you thought your Software Development project has been running a long time, just imagine working on something for 144 years! Luckily time didn’t really concern Antoni Gaudi, in response to questions of how long was left he was famously quoted as saying:

“My client is in no hurry. God has all the time in the world.”

Next time you are in Barcelona head along to the Sagrada Familia where they hold workshops on the construction process and tour of the 3D Printing process.

I’ll be booking my tickets for 2026.

Plan your visit here: http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/

[1] – http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/docs_instit/historia.php

[2] – http://i.materialise.com/blog/entry/how-3d-printing-is-changing-architecture-learning-from-the-sagrada-familia-team-in-barcelona

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