Since Studio Klaschka was formed in 2001 most practices have started to consider or are already beginning to use one of the various flavours of BIM software that are now available. When Studio Klaschka (then Markland Klaschka) began I had been working for David Morley Architects for three years and had become interested in the use of 3D models for design, but was aware that in an already established practice there were cultural and training issues to overcome. It seemed natural that starting from afresh we should choose a more advanced option. We've used Bentley Architecture since that point and with the exception of one trial 2D project three years ago, to check we weren't missing a trick, we have produced all of our information between feasibility and assembly level of detail for construction from 3D models.
I forget when the acronym BIM first found its way into the language of construction. It must be five years or more ago. Whilst this had the benefit of branding the process it doesn't do it justice. BIM has the status that the term sustainability had ten years ago, it could mean anything you wanted, it looked great in your marketing material and clients were so confused about it that you could offer it without the risk of having to worry too much about delivering it. This is starting to change, but its frustrating to see the very low level of understanding higher up the food chain from architects.
BIM is now hot property for the CAD vendors and with improvements in hardware handling large models with good performance is a reality. However the costs are still high. Our basic workstation is a Win7/64 quad core xeon with 12GB of RAM and a professional graphics card; throw in a couple of good 20" multisync monitors and there is no change from £3K. You also still have to buy the software and that will be at least as much as the machine.
Finding the right staff is another interesting proposition. There are increasing numbers of young designers who have had some experience of working with BIM software. I have spoken to people from widely varying backgrounds which includes some graduates, but have also found architectural visualisers, surveyors and technicians switching to BIM operations.
Over the last nine years I have seen that the knowledge that architects or architectural technicians have after five years or more of work gives them the greatest ability to understand the BIM work-flow. Without this level of knowledge it is too easy for the software to lead people to do things that you wouldn't normally do. I'd set this in the context of CAWS (the Common Arrangement of Work Sections) which in 2D we all use successfully to build up an appropriate level of detail for each stage of a project. The delivered datasets that come with each of the software products lead you to start drawing a construction grain of model from the point you start working. This doesn't reflect the way that the design of a project goes through the transition from feasibility through development and finally crystallizes into construction documentation. Whilst it is possible to build a dataset that acknowledges this it is not embodied in any of the available software at present. I believe this is why architects have struggled more with implementation for design and construction while main contractors have found it easier, because they generally model at a stage where the design layout is more fixed and modelling is focussed on a completed package of information.
This leaves a great deal of work to do on the day that the software arrives box fresh, the investment of time required is considerable but worthwhile. Perhaps this is the reason for the profusion of a new profession that has sprung up – the BIM manager or BIM co-ordinator. I'd encourage any design practice wanting to develop an in-house system that suits their work-flow to look for someone who has worked throughout the whole design process for at least five years, with a technical ordered mind.
So what are we doing as a practice? Where is the business of BIM taking us?
We generally work on projects, and these are too small (£1M-15M contract value) for the client to have a particular interest in specifying that a project model should be used. This means that financially the BIM work-flow has to stack up in its own right because we are not paid a premium to use it. We're in a good position on the 7th generation of our system and the pace of software development makes getting the most out of new features and potential work-flows a constant challenge.
Increasingly though the work we do is turnkey with contractors as part of the team from the earliest stage. An integrated designer and contractor team is ideally suited to getting the most out of a project model. We have developed our dataset to allow us to provide as much outline information as possible during the early stages of the design producing models, drawings, schedules, quantities and high quality visualisations incrementally as the design develops.
Of these the most contentious has to be quantification. Should designers even be doing this? The raw output from a model has much to offer but doesn't look like a conventional bill of quantities. I see great potential benefit in early measurements where conventional teams would be using metre rates. Whilst there isn't scope to fully measure at the early stages the incremental outputs can be used as modifiers. As the model increases in complexity the scope for more measurement also increases. However integration of measurement at the design stages where a scheme goes through rapid change and development has the scope to increase understanding of the consequences of different approaches to a much greater degree than conventional cost assessments at a very low risk.
Working with contractors has revealed that they are much more focussed on exerting business pressure over their competitors, and as a result a great deal more secretive about how they are benefiting from BIM. Compared to the generally open dialogue that has been going on in consultants' circles for a long time this has been quite an eye-opener for me. Having been very open with what we have been doing as a practice for nearly ten years I'm now seriously considering whether it would actually be better to stay quiet and push hard.
This may seem a negative note to end on, but for me the major factor standing in the way of the market penetration of BIM is making it pay. Until a team of consultants can work more profitably than their counterparts working with conventional CAD it will continue to hang in the balance.