BIM has finally become established. Could architects take stewardship of the tool?

Designing and building
Designing and building

For the first time, BIM has been used on at least one project by a majority of those in the design team

For the last four years, NBS has been running the UK National BIM survey. The findings have mapped the rise of Building Information Modelling from a niche activity by a handful of practices to a widespread technique for design and delivery. Headline figures from this year suggest that awareness of the tool is now near universal and that, for the first time, it has been used on at least one project by a majority (54%) of those in the design team.

A range of professions completed the survey, but what do architects think?

In the UK BIM has an importance beyond its intrinsic value. In 2016, the government will mandate its use on publicly-funded work. So practices have two years to get ‘BIM ready’ if they are to win these commissions. As we would expect, most architects now use BIM. 

The survey gives credence to the government strategy. With 50% of architects thinking ‘The government is on the right track’, they expect BIM use to become near universal: 82 % expect to be using it in one year’s time, and over 90% within three. But what is the BIM that people expect to adopt? 

BIM maturity is described by its different levels – from 0, the use of CAD, to 3, integrated and interoperable information provision. The government is mandating level 2 for 2016. Three-quarters of architects are aware of these levels with 59% having reached the required government standard.

As BIM maturity grows, and brings with it greater collaboration among and beyond the design team, so too does the need for standardised ways of sharing information.

Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) is a platform-neutral, open file format, that allows models to be shared among the design team, irrespective of software choices. IFC is used by 47% of the architects surveyed, so nearly a half use a data structure that is, in principle, software agnostic.

Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) allows the design team to use BIM to embed and deliver the information that supports the use and maintenance of a building. Given the emphasis on soft landings, it is perhaps here as much as anywhere that cost savings for the client can be realised. But it’s also here that most work needs to be done, with only 16% of architects providing information in this way. Whether that’s because so few want to produce COBie drops, or because there are so few clients demanding it, the data doesn’t tell us.

The survey also looked architects’ attitudes towards BIM. Comparing the views of those who have adopted it with those who haven’t, we are able to see how expectation compares to experience. Just 6% of architects who have adopted the tool wish they hadn’t. But of those who haven’t nearly a third say they’d rather not. 

There is a need for dispassionate expertise about the tool. Across all disciplines, only a quarter told us that they ‘trust what I hear’ and nearly three-quarters agree that ‘The industry is not clear enough on what BIM is yet’. Are architects its experts? Well, we asked people how confident they were in their knowledge and skills in the subject. Across the professions, 46% were confident, and for architects this rises to 50%. Other professions are slightly ahead, notably structural engineers and architectural technologists. Only a third of contractors were. This may offer architects an opportunity to become the trusted source for BIM knowledge.

There are design advantages for practices who have adopted the tool with a majority saying it improves visualisation, information retrieval and delivery time. It looks to make good business sense too, despite the high outlay for tools and training. Most think the tool brings cost efficiencies and 48% that it increases profitability (37% were neutral, 31% disagreed). Most strikingly, 71% felt it gave their practice a competitive advantage. 

Those who have adopted BIM are more likely to be positive about it than those who haven’t. More than two-thirds say they have adopted BIM successfully. Experience betters expectation. BIM adoption may be less onerous, and more beneficial, than it looks. 

The full report is available at
Adrian Malleson is head of research, analysis  and forecasting at NBS

External Management
External Management