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.