In the 1980s, the construction industry disposed with typewriters and drawing boards and adopted computer software to produce construction documentation. Now, another revolution is happening in the industry that is producing a step change in efficiency and accuracy. This revolution is called Building Information Modelling (BIM). In this article, NBS Head of BIM, Dr Stephen Hamil, discusses what this will mean for design fees.

At our 2010 NBS BIM conference, the Head of BIM for a large UK commercial client told the audience of 200+ architects that, through the adoption of BIM, they anticipated that they could reduce the design fees they pay. This wasn't particularly well received. Who knows exactly how BIM will change the industry, but my personal view is that those designers who adopt BIM may actually see their fees increase.

Who benefits most from quality digital information being transferred through the construction timeline from briefing, through design and construction and then ultimately to the owner-operator of the building? The general consensus is that the owner-operator will benefit most. Consider the following:

Energy in use

The amount of energy that is consumed each year by a building accounts for the majority of the running costs. Through BIM, building design and thermal calculations can be analysed and energy-use can be significantly reduced; for example, through improved design of the building fabric and services, use of renewable energy and even through simple decisions such as the building's position with respect to its environment. Other less obvious opportunities here include the easier interrelation of services that react to the presence of occupiers and intelligently learn from the actual use of the facility.


No longer will clients be provided with a big box of paper following the construction of their buildings. They will be provided with high quality digital information that they can use to help with the maintenance of the facility. For example, how often the carpets need to be cleaned and when they need replaced, how often the intruder alarm needs testing, how many chairs of a particular type should exist in a particular space. Having this information digitally will ensure that maintenance happens to an optimal schedule. It will also allow clients to have maintenance staff that can work in any of their building and not simply rely on a single staff member who mentally stores the operating knowledge.

Informed decisions

Through modelling the building at design time clients may make informed decisions about the quality of the products that get installed in their facility. The old saying "Buy cheap, buy twice" can be numerated. Is it better to spend £10,000 on a floor covering system that will need replacement after five years, or £15,000 on a system, that will need replacement after ten years?

What makes these savings even greater is the fact that a building may be in use for hundreds of years. Any annual savings are multiplied many times.

The construction team also benefits from an integrated BIM provided by the designers.

For example:


A list of all construction products in a digital, automatically generated report allows contractors to purchase in bulk and quickly select products that comply with proprietary, prescriptive or performance specifications.

Clash detection

The cost of correcting a clash between the structure and the services on the construction site can be significant. Research into this indicates this could cost as much as £3,000 per clash 1 ; in the situation where there are multiple clashes per storey on a multiple-storey building then these costs quickly escalate. However, the cost of detecting and fixing a clash between structural elements and services at design-time is insignificant.

Reduced requests for information

Incomplete or badly co-ordinated construction documentation results in inevitable requests for further information by the construction team. This, in turn, has a cost − any rework to design once construction has started has a greater expense. The use of BIM allows the building to, in effect, be constructed twice, once digitally at design time and a second time as the physical building.

So, is the suggestion of reduced design fees unfair? Can clients demand a construction process that will: (a) give them and the construction team significant cost savings; (b) be a more holistic service - and yet (c) provide less remuneration to the design team? I think the answer to this is a comprehensive 'no'. For the design of a building which will deliver all of these benefits, the design team must receive an increased fee for their extra effort and their openness in delivering quality design in the format of transferable digital information.

I have attended a number of BIM conferences in the last few years, and one of the finest illustrations of the benefits of BIM is "the BIM, BAM, BOOM" benefit from buildingSMART presentations. This shows that $1 (or pound as we say in the UK) extra spent on design is the equivalent to $20 savings in construction and then $60 savings in operation 2.

However, (and there is a big 'however'), clients are entitled to reduce their design fees where they build a similar building multiple times. For repeat work, lessons must be learnt and savings must be made. A common quote when it comes to BIM is Albert Einstein's "insanity is doing the same thing, again and again, and expecting different results". With BIM, it is very easy to create digital templates and to standardise common elements of a building, such as the specification and geometric components. For similar repeat buildings the BIM template can be continuously refined − the lessons learnt from a previous building can feed into a detailed brief for the next building. Through the use of standardised digital construction templates, savings can be made and designs can be improved. This is true at different levels, whether it is national standard content that is maintained and updated centrally, or specialist knowledge specific to a particular client, contractor or design company. Some may say that we have always been able to do this, but with BIM we can now do this smarter.

So, in conclusion, designers that adapt and adopt BIM may see their design fees rise – the value they add to the construction process is significant and they should be rewarded for this. However, where designers get repeat business off clients for similar projects, then fees will reduce but, through the use of BIM, these projects will be produced efficiently and the margin for all members of the construction team will be raised. Ultimately, the fees a professional can charge are a reflection of the value that they add to the project; by building BIM models, running simulations, designing out clashes and waste, and handing over usable asset data, designers are offering significantly more value to their clients than they can by traditional design methods. It is up to the architects and engineers to demonstrate this to clients and receive fees in proportion to the value they add.


1. Laura Handler, Tocci Building Corporation
2. Francois Grobler, Chair buildingSMART ITM