BIM in a Small Architecture Practice / by Taylan Tahir

3D cutaway view of Melville Avenue used to check for coordination issues during detailed design.

What is BIM?

Within the construction industry awareness of the term BIM (Building Information Modelling) is near-universal and a term becoming ubiquitous with the collaborative procurement of buildings.

BIM is a collaborative process to create and manage all of the information on a construction project across the project lifecycle. A key component of this is the Building Information Model, a three-dimensional, digital description of all of the information within a building project. This digital model develops as a project evolves to coordinate architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical detail, allowing architects, consultants and contractors to work using the same information.

The BIM model can then be used to create architectural drawing packages such as plans sections, elevations, details and schedules as well as 3D external and internal views. It is responsive – as the design and model are updated, so are the views and drawings. The information and data embedded within the model in specified materials and products, such as u-values, dimensions, cost per sq.m, can be all scheduled, analysed and leveraged at different stages of the project.

 Tay working on the detailed design package for our Holloway Road project using Revit.

Tay working on the detailed design package for our Holloway Road project using Revit.

Why have we adopted BIM?

For us, the use of BIM allows us to punch above our weight. Using these tools we are able to take on the design and management of larger projects with smaller teams where previously we would have been unable to compete. 

In 2011, a UK Government mandate required that as a minimum, all centrally-procured public projects by April 2016 would require fully collaborative 3D BIM (BIM level 2) to include all project and asset information, documentation and data to be electronic.

Although it may take 5 or 10 years for the construction industry to fully adopt these more advanced digital working practices, we are keen to be on the front end of this and realise the benefits for our clients and ourselves.

Contractual BIM vs. Collaborative BIM:

While our projects do not presently fall under the centrally-procured public category of contractual BIM (where we would be obligated to comply with BIM level 2) the UK BIM mandate has added a huge impetus to the industry to adopt this new practice. Currently, over 60% of practices are now using established BIM standards and this is expected to rise to 95% within 3 years. [1]

Despite being a smaller practice and not benefiting from the infrastructure and IT support systems of a larger company, we made the financial and time investment and adopted Revit (a type of BIM software) in early 2017.

Fast forward to present day and construction on our first BIM project on Holloway Road is due to start on site in the coming months. We have already received very positive feedback from contractors during the tender process on the quality of information we were able to produce, including traditional and 3D design details. We have since adopted BIM for another new-build project in Croydon. Through the development of each project we are becoming faster and more efficient with these new tools and processes. We hope to continue reaping these benefits for our clients and ourselves into the future.

[1] National BIM Report 2017. P.3

Benefits?

Quality Control - Much more of the production process is automated therefore there is a degree of embedded quality control. For example, automatically creating revisions and issuing drawings reduces the risk of human error on repetitive tasks as well as freeing up time to be spent on improving the design.

Coordination Accuracy - As the entire building is modelled in 3D and shared, assessed and fully coordinated between all members of the design team during Stage 3-4 there is great accuracy and consistency in co-ordination and output. This results in a reduction of the risk of design changes or coordination issues when a project moves to the construction phase.

On-time - Traditional CAD workflow uses 2D drafting tools that are not responsive to design changes. This means when changes need to be made to a drawing set, the architect must check each individual drawing to make updates. This is both time consuming and increases the risk of human error. Making the switch to BIM allows us to make design changes in 3D and see all drawings updated simultaneously to reflect this, allowing our focus to be kept on more important design issues and ensure project deadlines are met. As this process becomes more streamlined there are huge time efficiencies, ultimately reducing the time from inception to completion.

On-budget - BIM has allowed us to create more precise and accurate construction documentation and therefore allowing a more accurate prediction of costs at earlier stages of the project. This ensures transparency of costs and helps the project remain on-budget until completion.

Compete with larger firms - Despite our smaller size, by leveraging efficiencies of the BIM process we are able to compete with larger firms on the sophistication of the information we can produce in-house and in smaller teams.

Challenges?

Financial and time investment - Proportionately, for us, the monetary and time investment in adopting new software and working methods is much more demanding than that of a larger practice with more resources. We embraced this wholeheartedly and everybody in our practice attended external Revit training, gaining an understanding of the software. Moving forward, one person within the practice has taken responsibility for championing it’s use, ensuring consistency in the production of information using our own standards and templates over different projects.

Culture change - Utilising BIM, especially to it’s full potential, requires changes to a traditional workflow and procedures. There can often be a lot more embedded information than is required at early stages of the project and it is important to understand how to filter this, accessing and communicating it at the appropriate point during the project lifecycle.

Future of BIM in small practices

Virtual Reality - The use of innovative VR in architecture practices remains is still uncommon. The use of a headset allows clients, consultants and contractors to experience the inside of a building prior to it’s construction. This is an extension of our working methods we would like to explore in the future as software and hardware becomes more accessible for smaller practices.

Hypermodel - The BIM model can be accessed and explore remotely on screen-based devices aiding with accuracy and clarity in presentations to client and conversations with consultants and contractors on site.

Asset Management – Certainly less glamourous than technology-led opportunities, using the 3D model as an asset management tool at the end of the project extracts the complete value from the information embodied in BIM even after the building is complete. The model itself can be passed on to the client for use in the building management strategy. For example, the maintenance strategy for the building can be tested and implemented to capitalise on cost and energy savings during its use in the longer term.

It is clear that the use of BIM is playing a key part in the future development of our industry and as a growing and ambitious practice we are embracing these changes.

If you want to know more about the way we utilise BIM as an architecture practice please get in touch here.