Sharing BIM knowledge

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Back from season of Building Information Modelling (BIM) conferences, Greg Corke highlights two practices, Space Group and Zaha Hadid Architects, which shared their BIM expertise from very different perspectives.

Autumn was crazy season for Building Information Modelling (BIM) conferences. Architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers and contractors all gathered to find out exactly what the government requires from them following the publication of its UK Construction Strategy in May 2011.

AEC Magazine counted close to ten events that were specifically hosted to help educate the construction industry on how to plan for the government’s target of ‘fully collaborative BIM level 2’ on all government projects by 2016.

David Philp, head of BIM implementation, at the UK Cabinet Office, challenged the audience in his keynote at London’s BIM Show Live in November: “Do we continue to build live full-scale mockups on site or start going down this BIM journey?”

Model co-ordination with Dassault Systèmes CATIA based Digital Project on the Galaxy Soho, a new office, retail entertainment complex in Beijing, China. Image courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

He explained how the government’s strategy has been to ‘keep it simple’; referring to its only requirement for deliverables being a COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) dataset.

Simon Rawlinson, partner, EC Harris LP and member of the government task group for BIM, called for industry to deliver some of the push, in terms of how that strategy is shaped. “We are not just some passive recipients of government telling us what they want to do. We have been given a few very simple rules and it is up to us to then develop the solutions that deliver the value to the client.”

This view was echoed by James Austin, BIM Technologies (, who played a key role in forming the BIM Show Live conference programme. “If we try to put in place a series of protocols that define how the industry works then they are not going to work for everyone and they are not going to be adopted.”


Being flexible enables the supply chain to organise itself in any way it chooses, but Rob Charlton, chief executive officer of Space Group (, argued that the government needs to be more specific in what it wants. “I do not think the government is actually saying you need to use BIM. It is saying that one of the deliverables has to be a BIM model.”

Mr Austin, who was also responsible for BIM implementation at Space Group, shares this view. “If all you [the client] are after at the end of the job is a COBie spreadsheet, why would you need to work in anything other than Excel for the entire duration of the project?” adding that Space chooses to use Revit to produce the data, while others use ArchiCad.

The importance of data was a common theme throughout the day. In the future, practitioners could be judged on the quality of their data, said Mr Philp.

“We all need to shift to our businesses to react to that,” confirmed Mr Austin. “I am a passionate believer that what is key to all of this, and the reason the government are interested in it, is because there is value in data, real true value.”

Mr Charlton explained the importance of sharing data. He admitted there was still a problem between disciplines, both in terms of interoperability and trust, but sharing data from design all the way to operation is where he sees the real value of BIM.

“Ultimately, we will have a big bucket of information, ‘design and validate’ information, ‘design and prototype’, ‘manufacture and assemble’, all of your operation information will all go into one place.

“If we think how we work now, when we finish a project, we have a big box of drawings, a big box of specifications and we give it to a client and it sits in the corner and it is dead.

“What will be happening in the future is we will be giving clients access to an iPad or similar device.

“They will be able to view it, update it — client information on buildings, asset data will be kept dynamic, it will be constantly updated — and very importantly you will be able to do reports, to see how well your building is performing.”

Another key theme was people. Mr Austin hammered home the importance of culture within an organisation and getting ‘buy in’ at all levels, from the top down. “If your decision-makers on policy and budget don’t ‘get’ BIM, don’t understand the value of it, I would not even bother implementing it.

“If there is not support throughout the whole business for the implementation for the changing of process, that whole change management, then you are going to struggle to get it to work at your business. Because it is such a big change, it presents a lot of problems.”

In Mr Austin’s ‘warts and all’ presentation on managing change during BIM implementation he also gave advice about how training should reflect the needs of the business. “You can spend an awful lot of money on training and it can be completely useless,” referring to the many one size fits all training courses there are on offer, later adding how Space had benefited from a flexible training programme through Excitech.

“We have got guys that focus on component creation,” he said. “They need very different training from some architects who are going to be leading the conceptual master planning.”

At Space, Mr Austin backed a tier of champion users to spread knowledge throughout the team. However, he warned of the challenges of keeping them as a resource and the danger of them becoming an overhead. “Our most productive workers were getting dragged away to deal with questions and it started to affect delivery [of projects].”

Mr Austin advised that careful planning of a BIM adoption strategy is key, particularly in the current economic climate, and firms need to think long and hard about what it is going to do to their business delivery.

“It is pretty easy for them [the government,] to say we want BIM. They have got five years to work out what that means for them. We have got to carry on staying in business. That is hard enough without all the extra stuff that comes along.”

Another key point in Mr Austin’s presentation was on hardware, giving a different opinion to David Light, associate BIM manager, HOK, who had explained earlier in the day how HOK needs powerful 24GB workstations to run Revit. “We are very careful about how we manage our models, so that a 4GB machine will not fall over while running a Revit model. It happens that our projects are an appropriate size for that and we fit our business to match. A two and half grand workstation [with 24GB RAM] for 70 people is not affordable to our business.”

James Austin, BIM Technologies, sharing his thoughts on how to manage change when implementing BIM. Image courtesy of Darryl Store, BIM Specialist

At BIM Show Live there was a big emphasis on Revit, purporting the myth in some areas of industry that ‘BIM is Revit’. However, Mr Philp made it clear that the government was completely technology neutral in its construction strategy, rebuffing a suggestion from the audience that Revit should be taught in schools to help with the skills shortage. He also made the clear point BIM was not about technology, it was about process.

Zaha Hadid Architects

One firm that certainly does not believe ‘BIM is Revit’ is Zaha Hadid Architects. At BIM Show Live the break out room was completely full and AEC Magazine was thwarted entry at the last minute. However, the signature architectural practice also put in an appearance at another BIM conference in London in September, organised by Océ, the document management and printing specialist, which we were able to attend.

As one of the world’s leading architectural practices, Zaha Hadid is big on technology. It uses all the latest software, beta tests releases, and chooses the most appropriate technology on a project-by-project basis. All of its architects are modellers and scripters, and many can code in Visual Basic or C#.

“We are not an AutoCAD house or a MicroStation house,” explained Simon Johns, head of IT. “We design in Maya and Rhino, and Alias. We take the drawings through to MicroStation or AutoCAD or AutoCAD Architecture. We use Gehry Technologies Digital Project, we use Revit.

“Our tool palette is as broad as it needs to be. It gives our architects complete freedom in their design.

“It gives very interesting pipelines where we try and melt Maya models with Revit and take it through to Digital Project.”

Zaha Hadid’s project technology consultant, Shaun Farrell, gave a frank presentation about the importance of how clients perceive BIM, starting off by expressing his dislike for the term, likening it to something that came out of the ‘back of an in-flight manual’.

Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) is his preferred terminology for a co-ordinated workflow. Here he emphasised the importance of the ongoing involvement of all project participants throughout construction documentation.

“That is everybody,” he said. “Not just engaging with the engineers, the mechanicals, the MEPs, but QSs, estimators, climate organisations, FM.”

Zaha Hadid Architects is renowned for its complex buildings, and is heavily reliant on 3D. For some buildings Mr Farrell said there is literally no way to describe the design in two dimensions.

“In our practice, the way design usually starts, is people do hand sketches for about the first half an hour or day, and then they reach literally for their sketchbook, which is Rhino or Maya.

“They go straight into that, there is no 2D drawings; it is sketchbook straight into 3D. We do not like doing 2D to tell you the truth. We much prefer to work in 3D because it is a much more natural thing.”

Despite these well-tuned 3D workflows, clients still ask for 2D drawings — PDFs and DGN files, for example — to be the contractual deliverables. They do not always see the benefits of having a 3D model, he said.

Mr Farrell then explained that it is not uncommon for contractors to take those 2D drawings from the design team — architects, mechanical and structural — and build a brand new 3D model prior to construction to check everything is buildable and correct.

Mr Farrell talked of the ‘lightbulb’ moment when clients suddenly realise the benefits of hybrid deliverables — 2D drawings, together with a 3D model to understand exactly what is going on.

“We will deliver 2D information for the things that are easy to do in 2D — like room schedules — but for complicated things like curving roofs, or any area where there could be contention due to the fact that 2D drawings only show plan, elevation and section, we will deliver some 3D information.”

He referenced a recent project where he collaborated with M&E engineers who worked completely in 2D. Mr Farrell explained how his team took these 2D plans, extruded them and stuck them in a 3D model only to find that there were severe clashes between the services and the building envelope. “The client immediately signed off on everyone working in 3D,” he said. “It was a simple as that, one demonstration to the client.”

While Mr Farrell admitted that there is sometimes a fear in sharing 3D models, he made the valid point that any data is better than none. “You can leverage any model at any time as long as you state what purpose it is fit for use for.

“You could hand a model over to an M&E and say, this model is only fit for X, Y, and Z. It is fine for putting into your analysis and saying it has got this much surface area, therefore it is going to need this much cooling.” But when it comes to design co-ordination you would need to share a much more accurate model.

Galaxy Soho, a new office, retail entertainment complex in Beijing, China, under construction and under control with Digital Project. Image courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects

He also emphasised the importance of co-ordination during construction. Here a central BIM model integrates all shop drawings, and construction docs, which is continually checked against as-built information from site.

Laser scanning can be used to feed as-built information back into the 3D BIM construction co-ordination model. “That loop is often missed out,” he said. “Check what has been built on site and alter the model to suit.”

But established processes do not need to change. “There are processes that work, they have been proven, they work and they are streamlined — do not try and change them, but you can improve them,” he said, in reference to a 2D drawing which had been marked up on site. “That is to say, capture the information and make sure it’s communicated back to the 3D model efficiently, rapidly and accurately.”

Looking to the future, Mr Farrell would love to fully embrace VDC. “One of the things we are trying to do in a fully 3D process is do away with 2D altogether, because it actually can cause more confusion than it solves.

“Rather than deliver 2D information, wouldn’t it be nice and easy to say ‘here is a 3D model of everything. If you want to know how it’s made, you do the slice and make your own drawing.’”


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