Each year, the NBS National BIM Report presents the findings, across the UK construction industry, regarding BIM attitudes and adoption. However, looking a little deeper at the findings, we can see that there is a split in results between those from small practices (five employees or less) and the rest.
An example of this can be seen by looking at the questions on BIM awareness and BIM experience. In small practices, 35% were using BIM, compared to 61% usage in larger practices. With respect to BIM maturity, of those small practices which have adopted BIM, 35% have worked on a Level 2 project, compared to 55% in larger practices.
The analogy ‘Is it easier for a speedboat to change direction or an ocean liner?’ is often used here ...
So, why is this the case? Speculating on the reasons behind these findings, it may be that it is more difficult for smaller practices to find the funds to invest in technology and training; it may be that there is less client demand or that the central UK Government mandate is less relevant; or it may be that collaboration is less important on projects of a less complex nature.
However, there is evidence to the contrary, indicating that adopting BIM should actually be easier for a smaller practice. Smaller organisations often have agility, whereas larger organisations often do not. The analogy ‘Is it easier for a speedboat to change direction or an ocean liner?’ is often used here. In addition, it is argued that BIM offers the opportunity for a smaller number of people working on a project to offer greater value.
Eight short opinion pieces are included here from those working in small or medium practices who have adopted a BIM process. They provide good insights into what is possible for those who embrace new technology and processes to put together more coordinated designs.
Small practice case studies
Director, Jonathan Reeves Architecture
Some architects tend to think that BIM is only suitable for larger projects involving lots of coordination, with the entire design team all using the same software. However, the fact that smaller architects are not just one-stop house designers any more, and that they need to adhere to Building Regulations, environmental standards, and to satisfy local planning offices, clients and any other parties interested in local development, means that they need to call on experts in each particular area to support their work. This has been made easier, of course, by the ability
to create coordinated 3D models of their designs and to share these with other people or companies drawn into the project, so that they can either view and comment on the plans, analyse the model to see if it meets local sustainable targets, or further the design by adding their own components – structural elements, MEP and so on.
Owner, Poulter Architects
One of my first investments when I established the practice in 2011 was BIM software. In spite of its expense, the benefits we have gained through its use have more than paid for this initial investment. It has allowed us to produce better quality information at every stage of the design process and has saved considerable time compared with my previous experiences of 2D CAD. From a basic 3D model as an underlay for an initial sketch design to coloured and shaded drawings for planning, from rendered images to fully coordinated working drawings and schedules, all can be generated from a single model file. The comfort you gain from knowing that information is consistent in plan, section and elevation and that updates are reflected through all of the project information is invaluable. Small practices should invest in BIM or risk being left behind.
It has changed our business environment because we can now work collaboratively with our consultants on a single model in the cloud...
BIM Manager, Niven Architects
From our Practice’s perspective, BIM ensures that we give ourselves a competitive ‘edge’. It has enabled us to win and deliver larger projects with more efficient ‘in-house’ resources, as well as providing improved clarity of design for clients.
We have learned that staff now prefer to work on projects utilising BIM protocols as they find it more engaging, and the technology inspires confidence in the work they produce. However, an SME considering changing to a BIM-based procurement and delivery process needs to be aware that the change impacts not only on their business but on that of all the consultants, contractors and suppliers in the project team. Based on our experience, once you are established, working collaboratively with other SMEs enables you to compete with the UK’s largest consultant and construction organisations.
All of our projects since 2007 have been designed using BIM. We were able to get up and running very quickly (within a few weeks) by using online tutorials. This was vital to us as a small practice with limited resources. With the ability to work faster and with a reliably coordinated output, it soon became apparent to us that there was no turning back from working in 3D. It has changed our business environment because we can now work collaboratively with our consultants on a single model in the cloud. We are passionate BIM champions, having experienced the efficiency and resultant cost reduction of working in 3D. It has revolutionised our process and project outputs.
Director, JHD Architects
Creating a virtual building has become nearly as easy as sketching, and far easier than physical model building. Imagine a pencil that could draw a wall construction, tell you the quantity and cost, how well it performs thermally, and give you every conceivable 3D and 2D view of it.
The drawback is that you need to work on your 3D design skills in the same way that you once worked on your sketching skills. To become fluent takes time, but it pays off quickly.
Clients love the idea of viewing a 3D model so that they can be involved in the design at an early stage. They understand the concept and value of BIM because it helps them visualise the building much better than with 2D drawings. However, they do not always see the value of the ‘I’ in BIM: embedded information.
Every practice should get involved and enjoy working in BIM.
Director and RIBA Client Advisor, Metz Architects
With the Government’s target for the adoption of Level 2 BIM now just two years away and counting, the uptake and implementation of BIM has now reached critical mass. BIM is unstoppable, and those consultants who are not en route are likely to suffer significantly with their inability to gain and service not only Government contracts but those of the ever-increasing number of informed commercial clients as well.
BIM opens up a whole new world of opportunity, and it’s not just for the big guys; smaller practices need to get in on the journey. They are more nimble to adapt, will find the costs of implementation easier to bear, and can improve productivity and workflows with some of the fantastic new tools out there without spending a fortune.
Do your research well to find the best tools for you, talk to early adopters about the pros and cons of different solutions, and don’t necessarily follow the crowd or your first instinct!
As our confidence grew, we were able to provide new types of information and experiences as a standard part of our service ...
Architect, Axis Design Architects
Since adopting BIM within our office, we have been able to improve the service we provide to clients across all aspects of our work. In difficult economic times for the profession, we have provided greater value by raising our game rather than cutting our fees. Value created from better service begets value across the whole discipline.
Initially the benefits to our investment in BIM were predominantly felt internally, with modest changes to our clients’ experience. As our confidence grew, we were able to provide new types of information and experiences as a standard part of our service, and this in turn assisted us in winning more work and sustaining our ability to provide a service in all work stages, against competition from larger offices with more staff. This, in turn, has allowed us to push the boundaries of our BIM usage and find new ways for the whole construction team to benefit.
Design Director, Constructive Thinking
As a means of communication, Building Information Modelling (BIM) offers new working methods, whereby the information that leaves the office can be three-dimensional and ‘live’ rather than two-dimensional and static. This surely enhances the quality of design and production information and thereby presents a streamlined approach to communication. Each member of the practice can work smarter, travel less and be better informed, freeing up all-important design time.
BIM is not the preserve of large practices. For the small practice, BIM holds a number of advantages, offering a medium to lead and manage teams that deliver larger projects, or to interact with larger partner organisations. Moreover, BIM augments the opportunities for collaboration with a wider design team, blurring the edges between the domains of different consultants and allowing for real-time communication, rather than a stratified design process with limited space for design improvements.
This means that we can work towards building hand-picked, multi-disciplinary (and international) teams for individual projects. In the longer-term, this might give rise to a leaner working method that has more in common with the ‘agile’ software design methods, with iterative and incremental time-boxed approaches through self-organising cross-functional teams.
In the interim, we can look forward to enhancing our internal workflow through smart scheduling, specification, coordination, clash detection and information control – and small practices can most readily embrace these opportunities as they are easily adaptable.
All of the contributors here have case studies in the book, BIM in Small Practices: Illustrated Case Studies, edited by Robert Klaschka.
BIM in Small Practices: Illustrated Case Studies
by Robert Klaschka
As more and more practices are realizing the benefits it brings to design, sustainability and construction, BIM is revolutionising architecture and construction. However, there is a perception that BIM is a process best left to large practices – requiring significant resources and the ability to invest heavily in IT. This book overturns that misconception: introducing a selection of inspirational BIM-enabled projects by small architectural practices.
Full of practical tips and hard-won experience, BIM in Small Practices: Illustrated Case Studies includes contributions from industry experts who identify and explore the important issues for small practices. This landmark publication will motivate small practices who are considering taking those first steps towards implementing BIM.