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B is for BIM

by on May 22, 2013

The second in our series of alphabetically themed discussion topics is ‘B’ for BIM.

I could have chosen bats, builders or Building Regulations – all worthy topics that I’m sure we’ll return to – but for now I’d welcome your views on the subject of BIM (Building Information Modeling).

I am particularly interested in your thoughts on the implications of BIM for the Planning Portal and the services we provide, but I’m happy to share any relevant comments.

For starters here are a few prompts:

  • Is BIM relevant to you at all?
  • Is just for larger schemes?
  • Is it the future of all efficient building?

Or none of the above?

  1. We are unconvinced on its merits from a design perspective…

    Does BIM devalue the role of architects? BIM promotes more contractor collaboration with architects and, as a result, is there a fear that the art of design could be lost to the supposed virtues of the ‘whole life assessment’ concepts integral to Design and Build and BIM? Does Design flair have its place in BIM?

    • agree with your comment regarding design. unless your trying to build an incredibly efficient box like structure, BIM requires to much information early on making it not worth while as a design tool. I’m in my mid 20s so not one of the older generations of architects stuck in their ways, but I can quickly produce sketches in less time to see if concepts work. Or if 3D is required sketchup/3DSmax is useful enough to quickly produce a building shape on a known topography (sketchup can import google earth topography quickly enough) which is alot quicker than having to use the more intricate features of Revit. I see it more as a building reg tool rather than a design tool.

      • the problem with drawing concept designs in Google Sketchup or 3D Studio, is that at the next stage somebody has to redraw the whole thing into a CAD program. So before the project has started, repetiveness has crept into the process.
        Archicad or Revit can be used quickly/efficiently to do the concept drawings, and then carry on working them up in the same program for Building Regs and/or construction.
        A common way that design offices work is that one or two workstations have Sketchup or 3DS where the concepts begin, and the rest of the CAD users only have Revit or Archicad (so this means the concept designs are kept isolated from the rest of the design team).
        Also another problem with mixing packages along the route, is that at some stage an Architect will pass the job to a CAD monkey so work it up – and this is where the problems really begin. Whats wrong with the architect drawing the project properly from the beginning and seeing it through in one BIM package, they get paid enough (rather than just pick and choose which bits of the design they want to be involved with, and picking the easiest quickest tools which will cost much more time in the long run), and most clients genuinely beleive they are paying for a senior designer to work through the process.

    • Hi Phil, thats the way I’ve seen it often done in the past. one team for design, then when it gets to the detail another using BIM programs. Again though there is the issue of redrawing. Which can be a minor frustration and a teadicous task. As a design tool on its own though I still find BIM programs require to much information straight away. If I just want to see quickly if a single gable end would look better than 2 gables on elevation there’s a lot more quicker ways to check this than having to go through the whole process in revit in my experience.

      • it depends if you are clicking on “new” when you use Revit every time you do a new scheme, or do you use a cad template with everything already set up?
        i use Archicad, and it is very quick/easy for me to open up a previous similar model or building, and copy the properties of whatever walls/roofs i need.
        this means its very quick to knock something up quickly, and avoids the re-drawing.
        Timescales, deadlines, fees and cashflow are so tight where in my office, so we do not have the luxury of repeating drawings that have already been done. Fees or profit levels could be adjusted if this habit wasn’t so widespread. Its like in the old days when an old non-PC-user architect would do his felt pen sketches, and pass it to a technician to draw up properly on the board. Now that architects are computerised, is this still really necessary? Is it because delegation and repeating tasks gets bashed into architects as university?
        And I am always scared stiff of a job being passed to a “cad tracer” from an architect because as jobs get passed downwards the errors creep in.

    • agree with what your saying for ArchiCAD. it was made by architects for architects so there is alot more benefits in that system. Shame ArchiCAD isn’t as well known as Revit though. everyone in Australia seems to use it but this corner of the world we seem to only know of Autodesk products.

      I don’t click on new every time with Revit though. I think its more to do with the way we built our models at the last firm. On high rises every thing was allocated with a floor. external walls included rather than making one large wall that goes up through all the levels. So to change the external appearance radically involves a change on every floor (very time consuming). The reason we did it this way though was because it was easyier to have several people working on different floors then put them all together at the end. Also if a someone who purchased a floor of office space wants to make some changes its was easier to bring in a changed floor quickly. Before this we used to do this in microstation with several people working on different areas. Even more of a nightmare.

      • Revit made it bigger than Archicad in UK because so many people were already on Autodesk subscriptions from the days when most offices had numerous licenses of Autocad LT.

        Teamwork in BIM models only works well with the right personalites, collaboration, and the right management.

        Another big benefit of modelling projects in BIM is that if the client or Planners change the design, it is much easier and quicker to change (provided it has been modelled well). As time goes on, clients and planners seem to want more and more changes.

        A few years ago we had to reduce the size of a large new school building model (value engineering budget costs) and only had 2 days to do it in, this we achieved between 2 of us. If it had been done all in 2D it would have easily took 2 – 3 weeks to do (at this point we would have missed the Planning and funding deadlines, so the project would have been ditched altogether).

        Admittedly on smaller residential projects it did take me quite a few years to be able to do them as quickly/efficiently using BIM/3D, as I could have drawn them up in 2D.

        3D Images of proposals are far more useful for clients/laypeople than 2D drawings, apart from the fact they always hone in on the colour choices and not the design!!!

    • aeron stubbs permalink

      I agree with Andy m…also its a true money spinner for the revit generation as us smaller consultancies won’t be in a position to purchase relevant programmes and compete or even bid for some local authority work. Surely these information modules need only apply fo the lager srojects, why would a block of Flats, which to be honest are fairly simpe structures , need such detailed input from all and sundry. I have ny doubts in general on why we need such a scheme. Needless to say it will cost us all time and money for a limited reward.

  2. BIM is relevant for all size of schemes and is the most efficient way of doing the job professionally. It works particularly well for co-ordination of M&E and Structures.

    However, I have worked with an Architectural team in the past who all had full BIM software, but they chose not to implement it properly, they were using it as a 2D tool and fudging their CAD Models very badly. There is a lazy/inefficient element in CAD teams nationwide who will cut corners and draw using the easiest outdated methods, not realising that some extra work and thought ‘up front’ will pay dividends further down the design development process (despite plenty of training and encouragement).

    Also I am aware of many design consultancy employers who will not pay out the etxra for BIM software, there are alot of dinosaurs around who will just plump for the cheapest option available. This is partly because the software developers are pricing the software and its support far too high.

    Clients should be looking out for consultants who use BIM, but there are very few clients who do. Again, clients tend to go for the consultant who gives the cheapest quote, or the consultant who has the best personality, because of their poor understanding of the design process.

  3. Joe Oksien permalink

    I believe strongly that design flair DOES have a place in BIM! As an architect who has used BIM in a variety of projects at various scales, I find that the tools associated with BIM processes actually liberate the creative process.

    Being able to observe accurate 3D representations at an early stage encourage better communication and collaboration with contractors and consultants, meaning the building gets design in a more holistic way – everyone contributes as the design becomes more resolved.

    Far from devaluing the role of architects, I think it enables us to design better buildings, which is what we all want, right?

  4. That’s a great topical question.

    Although there is quite a learning curve and requires an initial investment (e.g. hardware/software, training), I believe BIM offers great promise for most design and construction companies, even the small ones. Our experience so far is that, outside civil engineering, very few small companies (e.g. small builders) are aware of BIM and its potential.

    We’re a small architectural and planning consultancy practice and we’ve been using some of its components for about 5 years (please see our blog dated 25-Jan-13 on this topic on our website:

    We’ve used it mostly in work involving remodeling or extension of residential and light commercial buildings (using 3D modeling). It helps our clients and planners to visualize the proposals more easily and makes our life much easier in communicating our message to them and our partners. We intend to take it to the next level by working more closely with our suppliers (e.g. builders, structural engineers) who are like-minded and are able to adapt to new digital technologies more easily.

  5. Thanks for the comments guys, keep ’em coming and if you feel it useful link up to me on LinkedIn.
    My email should you need it is I’m happy to link to all my readers.

  6. I think on large builds BIM software is extremely useful. schedules, calculating areas, quantity of materials required etc etc. It does all the maths for you. On smaller one of domestic builds for example, there isn’t much need for it. Its quicker to count the doors/windows for schedules for example. But I agree with the above comment. From a design perspective it forces you to go into too much detail from early inception. You can do quite a large amount of work before you can see that the design doesn’t work aesthetically, wasting a large amount of time.

    As a result I think BIM software’s primary purpose is on a larger project, once you’ve got a design produced and approved in the planning permission stages, you redraw the design in Revit/ArchiCAD for building reg stages. As a result of this though it makes the 3D modelling aspect of these software irrelevant. These things are normally to wow the client or convey a design proposal but when your at building reg stages this is no longer a concern. The design has already been approved. .

  7. i agree that BIM does increase design and artistic flair, particularly when it comes to rendered 3D models for presentation (although it does need some graphics expertise and experience to get alot out of the rendering).

    i got pushed into using BIM way back in 2001, and then changed to another software package (with a different employer) in 2006. Both times I was apprehensive (mainly about having to learn such involved software) but it was for the best and I am so glad I got ahead of the game.
    I am surprised that more than 10 years on, so many other consultancies and contractors are still on 2D!

    On a large project i worked on, the structural engineers (who were under our remit) did everything in 2D (they were chosen because they were cheap), and the site had very complicated levels. So I modelled their drawings into the 3D site and building models and found many many serious clashes (foundations above ground, steelwork going through doors and windows, roof levels all wrong etc etc). If it wasnt for the 3D modelling checking excersise that I did, we could have been kicked off the job and it probably would have resulted in a large dispute and P.I. claim against us.

    I am also surprised to see construction drawing packages (produced by others) on large projects that have been produced using BIM software, that have not been drawn, modelled or detailed properly. Again this is because of the CAD users “tickling around the edges” and not getting right into the bones of the software.
    Employers are partly to blaim for this, using staff with poor skills and motivation levels (just check out the pathetic salary levels offered for BIM Architects, Technicians, Visualisers and Managers on the main Design job sites….)

  8. Edward McGill RIBA permalink

    BIM is very much a follow on from overlay drafting in its many forms which has been with us for many years on large projects. Now we are seeing BIM outputs overlaid with a mass of information which overlays in such a way as to make parts of the output impossible to read.

    Site layout plans overlaid on survey plans overlaid with structural details all blocking out some other line of information is a nightmare. If you use BIM it needs careful in house configuration otherwise it turns into a useless mess of conflicting outputs parts of which which are very often unreadable.

    A planning application does not need structural or mechanical engineering or building regulation/ details/layers of BIM to confuse the planning administrator/development manager looking at the application. The days of qualified town planners able to read or understand even basic information is passing rapidly as government cut backs start to bite. The new “planning development managers” replacing qualified planners with little training or ability to “read drawings” will struggle with non relevant BIM outputs on planning applications. It would be entirely reasonable for planning administrators to refuse to accept planning applications which were not clearly presented due to excess overlays of non relevant BIM.

    • I had experienced Planners and Administrators not being able to read drawings, long before the government cutbacks kicked in, so in my opinion the cuts cannot be blamed for that. I remember having a debate with a 21 year old female Planner who swore blind that the rear elevation drawing was the front elevation of a (simple) house – she was wrong, and it was so easy to tell which was which! We were stood in front of the house at the time.
      Overlays of non-relevant BIM are not a problem because the layers of those elements would be turned off anyway.
      It is highly unlikely that anybody would leave all the structural and M&E layers turned on, publish the drawings, and issue them for planning! Having said that, there are plenty of CAD numpties around, but I still feel it would be farfetched for it to happen.

  9. I’m with Joe Oksien on this one, CAD software, whether you use the BIM function or not and whether you design buildings, gardens, kitchens, furniture etc, it really liberates the designer as it’s easy to model up structures and then take various perspective viewpoints. It’s interesting that no one seems to have mentioned Vectorworks yet, but it’s one of the easiest and quickest 2D/3D programmes available, unlike others you can design in both 2D and 3D at the same time so no need to do a 2D design then take into a 3D stage which is how I understand that ACAD works. The BIM part can be as simple or as complex as you want and doesn’t interfere with designing at all. Even for small house extensions it’s perfectly relevant

    • Agree with cadarch on taking various perspective viewpoints. Our 3D software allows us to take sections anywhere at the click of a button which saves hell of a time and identifies any anomalies very quickly compared to 2D !

  10. Tahir permalink

    BIM is not just a piece of software, but rather it is an activity and process. It is a managed approach to the collection and exploitation of information across a project. It is a rich information model, consisting of potentially multiple data sources, elements of which can be shared across all stakeholders and be maintained across the life of a building from inception to recycling. BIM is an activity in terms of Building Information Modelling rather than an object in terms of a Model. It is not a thing or a type of software but a human activity that ultimately involves broad process changes in design, construction and facility management.

    This is the definition of BIM that I came to when I wrote my BSc Architectural Design, Technology & Production dissertation last year titled “The implications of using Building Information Modelling (BIM) for public sector projects”.

  11. permalink

    I could give the planning department a concept drawing or working drawings but the cost of producing working drawings is much higher.
    BIM can be used to produce working drawings at a cheaper rate but comes at the cost of creating standard parts and standard building types so the quality of design will drop to a basic standard.
    Getting planning is generally a risk, mite get mite not. Planning has in the past been on concept drawings for that reason, if planners want working drawings then the planning department should pay for them instead to putting the risk and cost on the client.

  12. I’m all for the whole BIM process, as another ArchiCAD user, we have been doing it years before REVIT came on the scene. So I would be concerned if the planning portal decided that the only format acceptable were to be REVIT and not the supposed industry standard of IFC.

    However, apart from seeing the models in 3D, what are the benefits to the planners and the consultation process as a whole. BIMx is brilliant for producing nice simple interactive walk throughs, but this is limited to being produced by ArchiCAD users, but viewable by anyone.

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