Category Archives: collaboration

Should BIM time savings be invested in design time?


I’m writing this blog after one of those fierce debates that occasionally flare up on Twitter where 140 characters just doesn’t seem sufficient to express a point. This time it stemmed from a talk I gave at EcoBuild last week where I expressed a preference to spend time saved internally by automation through BIM on refining the design or investing it in our technology strategy and implementation.

Claire Thirlwall of @ThirlwallAssoc, who many of you will know from landscape BIM, tweeted her approval of BIM enabling more design time. The ensuing debate quickly polarized into camps who agreed and those that felt any time saved should be used to shorten the design period instead of allowing more design development in the project programme. This second position seems short sighted and demonstrates a lack of understanding about design process and the merits of quality in design. Why would it be desirable to relentlessly shorten the planning and design of a project by weeks or months when a building may stand for 50 years or more? Process needs to be appreciated, ideas tested and design allowed to develop even on the most commercial of jobs. Design quality is an aspect of sustainability that is too easily forgotten in favour of all things green and fluffy.

Design time may be often limited on projects but some of us still hope to be hired because at least in part we are known for paying attention to detail at every level of a project. This comes through in so many ways in a piece of architecture that has been well thought out. Good design can look effortless, even obvious, after you’ve seen the solution to a complex problem and it is rarely the result of anything other other than hard work and long hours. Is it that people don’t understand what designers mean when they use the phrase ‘high quality design’? Do some people mistake it perhaps for simple aesthetic over indulgence? Perhaps, but let’s think about the big issues that make a project work well or fail dismally. Take for example the spatial planning of a project with a complex brief on a constrained urban site that has a huge number of varied end users, such as a hospital or University. Without even too much consideration of what things will look like there are immediately a host of complex relationships that need exploring, structuring and communicating to kick start the design development and without time there can not be proper testing and proper feedback from stakeholders. Much of this is really the development of a detailed brief, the foundation of any successful design must be the briefing, imagine how wrong the building could be if this is rushed. Sure it may look glossy and expensive but does it work for the users? Sure we want things to look great and we enjoy the process of testing that out too, but without time there is no process.

For me this is why design consultants should defend strongly their right to spend the time they save internally on producing a better quality building, because these will surely be longer lived, longer used and longer loved buildings.

We must deliver BIM Level 2 before moving on

We need to start treating the government’s 2016 deadline with the urgency it requires

A couple of weeks ago I attended a very positive session at the UK chapter of BuildingSmart. At the event a review was presented of the latest round of testing COBie output from IFC files, which was a broadly successful exercise.

One of the presentations was a short piece by Mark Bew, where he made a very pertinent comment about the behaviour of the industry. He observed that if we are to get funding for the next phase of the development of the UK’s BIM strategy after 2016, we must demonstrate that we can deliver maturity Level 2 before that i.e. before we move on to the next phase, Level 3 and beyond.

This comment embodies a great many of the problems that surround the success of BIM in the industry and perhaps with the news that the government may scrap the Task Group last week we should all realise that we need to start treating 2016 with the urgency it requires instead of complaining about the difficulties of implementing it.

In recent months we’ve seen the headline that “The government will miss the key 2016 BIM target”, published after a survey of the industry by Pinsent Mason. As an industry we need to be honest about this. It is industry failing to deliver, not the government. We have a clearly defined process that for their own reasons institutions and corporations feel they need to change but are never able to explain convincingly why.

In the future the value and profit in construction may be generated by companies like Google, Oracle and SAP

Industry must stop playing the culture argument too. How can teams be “culturally” unaware when we have been talking about the need to modernise for at least the last five years and when all the design, construction, management and FM journals have dedicated areas on their websites for BIM articles and information.

I’m still amazed at how few people have read anything of the resources on the BIM Task Group website, but have a detailed, presumably second or third hand opinion of why the 1192 suite can’t work for the industry. We have to break out of the two polarised groups of those either too afraid or sceptical to engage with BIM, or those who are convinced they know better and stubbornly assert that they’ll do it in their own arbitrarily different but incompatible way.

While personally I hope that the future of the construction industry will be shaped by the people I work with now, I can’t help but think that we are currently on a path where the next big players in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings will come from outside the companies that we currently know in the industry. While the board will not be swept clean, the names we know the industry for will become the blue collar end of construction while the value and profit are generated by companies we don’t currently associate with the industry, companies like Google, Oracle and SAP.

If we don’t act now then there will come a point where we have lost the opportunity, where contracts start going abroad

You may have detected frustration in the tone of this article, and you’re right. As a small practitioner I have invested a great deal in BIM over the lifetime of my company, but ultimately the success or failure of BIM in the UK is not in my hands. As a designer of buildings and provider of existing building BIM I’m too low in the decision-making process to affect the set-up of projects, and once they are under way I have no power to enforce protocols, standards or programmes. I may be capable of working in a Level 2 environment, but without clients agents establishing projects on Level 2 principles my preparation goes to waste. Level 2 maturity is fundamentally project based, and cannot be achieved by an individual company.

If we don’t act now then there will come a point where we have lost the opportunity, where contracts start going abroad to the countries that are implementing our own 1192 suite of standards without all the squabbling and excuses. At that point we will have failed to deliver level two BIM, and if we do we will only have ourselves to blame.

First published on 27 May 2014 on

Sleepwalking into the next generation of BIM silos


We need to make a deliberate decision to store BIM information in open, free formats – not lock it away in corporate vaults

The government’s objectives for level 2 BIM on all contracts by 2016 is a great target – but how will we ensure the information flowing from these projects remains as accessible and re-usable as the authors of the 1192 suite intended? With the release of the first draft of the PAS1192:3, which concerns the operating phase of a project, this has never been more relevant.

Throughout this year I have seen several presentations by larger contractors demonstrating new information systems designed for managing the BIM and beyond into facilities management. To some extent these large construction and facilities management companies can’t be blamed for creating these new vaults to lock away publicly procured information. The information must be stored somewhere after all, and as such it could reasonably be argued that such systems are what the market requires.

Does the client own the model if it is locked in a proprietary vault? Quite simply the answer is no

The problem is that without leadership from the government departments who’s assets these are the result will not be data stored in an open format, it will disappear and with it the potential for services as yet unthought of that could perhaps improve efficiency, reduce waste or aid monitoring. One of the foundations of the BIM Taskgroup’s work that Paul Morrell put in black and white terms was that ‘The client owns the model’ – but do they, if it is locked in a proprietary vault? Quite simply the answer is no.

The consequences remind me of a observation my late father made about his experience as a district counsellor. He expressed some sympathy for the opposition, explaining that civil servants had a tendency to ignore or de-prioritise requests from the party who were not in power, and that this deficit of access made sound policy making much more difficult and in turn easier for the party in power to rubbish proposed policy ideas.

Someone out there will be imagining just what would be possible if the whole of a government estate could be interrogated and analysed

If publicly procured information is stored in open, documented, free formats such as IFC2x3 then the scope for new innovative services, ideas to make public buildings better, is also open. If the same information is stored in multiple proprietary corporate vaults this opportunity ceases to exist. Inevitably the reason that people will argue this is unnecessary is because they can’t imagine what one might do with the data, but that is exactly my point, someone out there will be imagining just what would be possible if the whole of a government estate could be interrogated and analysed. The analogies with data mining, the internet of things, big data and beyond which trip off the tongue so easily in slick BIM presentations should be evidence enough that we’ve not worked out everything we can do with building data yet.

There are obvious exceptions, such as secure facilities, but these must remain the exceptions rather than the inevitable cover all that will give the new equivalent to the various attempts at vendor lock in from BIM software platforms. Commercial confidentiality can’t be justified in a process conceived with open data in mind, where to get through the first gateway in PAS1192 sharing information is a requirement. I wonder how long will it be before I have to make my first freedom of information request for public building data?

First published on 29 November 2013 on

Nobody wants my quantities

I’ve been frustrated at the QS profession’s lack of interest in new technology, which he says if embraced could free it to spend more time offering high-end services.

I am baffled by the total lack of interest from the cost control community in Building Information Modelling (BIM) – a technology I feel offers real benefits to the industry. My experience has been that the community has ignored, rubbished or treated the benefits of BIM with open hostility. None of them wants my quantities, because there is a nervousness that if we’re allowed to get a hand into the measuring process then we’ll be taking their work. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Before setting up our practice, I had become increasingly frustrated by the amount of time I spent working late at night doing repetitive no-brain tasks, cross-referencing between drawings and door schedules or identifying which drawings were affected by the changes I’d made on the general arrangements. I got into architecture because I enjoy design – it wasn’t that I didn’t have access to design work, it was more that I spent so much time doing the repetitive tasks and so little doing design. I knew computers were ideal for this sort of work but wasn’t empowered to implement anything other than a few hacks and fixes to my own workflow.

It has been roughly five years since my practice started and we made the decision to see whether BIMs worked or not. Three and a half years later we successfully and economically completed a £10m contract value building (The London Muslim Centre) using the BIM workflow and now every project in the office is being managed this way (see across).

If I have produced a BIM, I can quantify it. To some extent the quantities are a by-product of the model. Yet like the legions of architects who find refuge transposing from CAD to spreadsheet there are also battalions of surveyors out there wielding scale rulers or the CAD equivalent.

The take-up of BIM by those in the industry has been varied. The nature of the structural engineer’s workflow means they have been further ahead of the game than architects. M&E consultants are further behind because in design terms their schematic approach has meant there is more scope for them to work in 3D and traditionally they have partially passed the responsibility for coordination on to the main contractor.

Copying door numbers into a spreadsheet, or references from a specification into a drawing annotation is hardly a professional activity, yet so many members of our profession seem to spend the bulk of their working lives doing this. Do you really think that our clients would prefer to pay skilled professionals to copy information from one location to another? Would they not prefer us to spend our time improving the building’s layout, function, aesthetics and performance?

The bigger the job the worse it gets, as large projects require large teams. Only a small component managing the design, but backed up by an army transposing and re-transposing information from one place to another. This brute force approach is unintelligent, soul-destroying and laced with multiplying opportunities for human error.

The cost control community has ignored, rubbished or treated the benefits of BIM with open hostility

It certainly does not deliver value to our clients. Set in the context of the major projects that our collected professions are being asked to deliver, this situation will only worsen.

Furthermore, does all this work with a scale rule really qualify as professional work? I would say no; what I really value in a good surveyor is what they do with the information once they have it, their feel for cost. The design of a building’s cost, the concepts, the approach – this is where both the value and interesting work lie. It is also a route back into the design team for surveyors who have increasingly marginalised themselves into the role of the client’s prefect.

Cost control has an important part to play in the design of good buildings, as many architects have found to their detriment. If the client can’t afford it, it doesn’t get built or worse still it gets badly built.

Working together with the QS as a part of the design team using BIM to coordinate and inform all the members will free us to concentrate on our professional roles to the full once again.

First published in QS Week in 13th January 2006.