Saturday, 5 October 2013

Adding value to BIM

BIM (building information modelling) is taking over the way we work as architects.  It is an inevitable progression in the working methods of architects, engineers, designers, and the building industry, especially now the RIBA has revised its Job Book, and most government projects will require it.  The advantages of BIM are well documented and regularly appear in the architectural press, but as with any innovation, there are potential disadvantages.  It is worth taking a quick look at some of these short-falls and give a thought to how they might be turned in our favour.

Andrew Barraclough discusses the advantages of BIM in the RIBA-J October 2013

When BIM is discussed in relation to the improvements in service and product for the Client, I get the impression that these advantages equate more to the values of a QA system rather than an architect's instinctive interpretation of good practice, which is to achieve the best design possible.  A QA system focuses on the efficient and proficient running of the project backed by the focused, forward thinking management of the practice which oversees it.  By contrast, architects often consider their primary goal as achieving the most exquisite piece of design, using any process necessary to reach this target.  (Some of the most fantastic buildings have emerged out of apparent chaos).  To me this begs a number of questions:

On design, is BIM too structured and regimented?  Does it allow enough freedom for designers to experiment with creativity?  Is there a risk that the building products of the BIM process will be safe, predictable designs with safe, predictable detailing?  If this is a possibility, could BIM slow down the the development of architectural ingenuity?  Especially when considering the advantages BIM brings to programme, will designers have the chance to take stock and think about what they are producing as much as before.  On a some projects I've seen carried out in BIM, teams of architects have been working to very quick work-stage deadlines, producing information to very exact deliverable requirements, not to mention wrestling with the learning curves of the BIM management system.  Although design is a priority (and a passion) for architects, in these cases the BIM process did not appear to hold it with the same level of importance.

Time is an important resource for good design.  The Renaissance Architect, Filatete wrote about the importance of the gestation period to achieve successful design.  In the twenty-first century we have learnt to work speedily, with less time but with more resources, including paper for drawings (which was a luxury in the Renaissance), models, material samples, mockups, visualisations, as well as CAD models, but surely to reach the optimum design solution, the necessary dialogues need to be held with the Client, which often requires time.

Models thrown out by Lasdun during design for the National Theatre, London.
Looking at this you get the impression that the creative design process dictated programme, not visa-versa.

Would it therefore be advantageous for everyone involved with BIM projects if we drew on some other innovations entering the architectural profession and building industry, to help maximise the potential of BIM innovations, and minimise the draw-backs?

Combining the BIM model with the ability to 3D print is an obvious link.  Streamlined information from the BIM model can be quickly transformed in to working models for design or Client reviews, and help to maintain a swift programme.  The technology is evolving quickly and prices for the machinery falling and becoming more available.

One of the 3D printers used at UCL's Institute of Making

On working relationships between consultants, there has been some discussion about where the lines of responsibility lie, if everyone is working on the same model.  The ideal situation would result in a working method which promotes greater integration (not just coordination).  With Revit being the prime BIM software package, it should be possible to use other Autodesk software, such as Inventor,  to run analysis on the BIM model to optimise its design performance.  The advantage would be that instead of architects and engineers working on their own areas of work and coordinating to eliminate clashes, the architecturally led areas could contribute to structural performance.  Structural elements could contribute to the operation of the services etc.  Traditionally, structural engineers don't consider the added effects of bracing and stiffness which might be offered from architectural items like wall panels for example, but with this approach, buildings might become leaner in their use of materials, potentially saving costs and material resources.

On working relationships with the building industry, it would be very advantageous to bring in specialist suppliers in to the design process and BIM process as early as possible.  The benefit to the design team would be the added assurance that the proposals will work, will fit, are buildable and can be qualified with the backing of the actual organisations which will produce them.  With BIM being such a prescriptive system, it might prove difficult to introduce new materials and details in to the process any other way.  For example, it is easy to specify a wall as timber stud and plasterboard, but what if the design architect wanted it to be dichroic acrylic panels bonded on to a clear acrylic frame?  As if you ever would, but one-off specialist fabrications like this, or exploring lots of "off the wall" design options might add headaches to the design team's tight schedule.  Introducing specialist suppliers in to the process at moments like these could help relieve this pressure and add to the integrity of the BIM model.  Also, as noted in the previous post, specialist components can add further to the integration of the design process especially where they can perform multiple roles, such as primary structure, enclosure, and carry services all in one.

The Insulshell panel system used at the Rogers (RSH+P) Homeshell project demonstrates that primary steelwork can be eliminated from design if timber wall, floor and roof panels are designed to take all the structural loads and bracing.  This is an economy on the performance of the building with potential cost advantages, but it requires a closer integrated working relationship between architects, engineers and specialist manufacturers. 

BIM might appear a daunting system to become involved in, but when the learning curve is over, combining it with other innovations going on in the building industry and world of design, could potentially push innovation in design further than ever before.  Lets use it to our best advantage.


1 comment:

  1. More articles from Andrew Barraclough on the advantages of BIM -
    http://sustainmagazine.com/bim-occupational-advantages/
    And preparing to upgrade to BIM
    http://www.cnplus.co.uk/Journals/2012/11/14/w/x/u/How-to-introduce-BIM.pdf

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