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Ahead of the game

Adrian Malleson

With the government’s mandate for BIM fast approaching, the second NBS RIBA BIM panel came together in October. Here we give a flavour of the wide ranging discussion.

Adrian Malleson, RIBA Enterprises: The government mandate, which requires the use of collaborative 3D BIM for all centrally procured buildings by 2016, is only a few months away. What is your assessment of BIM at the moment, and the standing of the mandate? Are we confident the government and industry are ready?

Sarah Davidson, Gleeds Property & Construction Consultancy: I think the mandate has been issued with the best of intentions, but my concern is that the industry is not yet clear on how it will be implemented.

David Miller, David Miller Architects:  Whatever happens next year, the mandate has given a real emphasis to BIM in the UK. Whether on 6 April they will ask for it specifically, I don’t know.

Mick Goode, Croft Goode Architects: There’s real ambiguity. ‘Centrally procured’? What does that mean – you could drive a horse and cart through it. With the range of funding mechanisms for buildings, and the blurring of the distinction between private and public sectors, it’s hard to know when something is publicly funded. If there’s no stick to enforce the mandate, we could be losing a real opportunity.

Steve Lockley, Northumbria University: If contractors refuse to adhere to the mandate, what then? What would change – the contractors or the mandate?

DM Yes, the mandate is unclear. Take the Ministry of Justice, and Defence. These carry out some of the biggest centrally procured projects. But they are necessarily bound by secrecy and confidentiality. We can’t talk about their projects, and they can’t have a common data environment.

MG What I’m seeing is clients doing it because of the benefits they see, not just because of the mandate.

DM Yes, clients are choosing what they need for their projects – and that’s increasingly BIM

SL It’s because the market is seeing the value of collaborative BIM.

David Shepherd, author of the BIM Management Handbook: Where a disruptive technology emerges – and BIM is a disruptive technology – its effects on the mainstream is not always clear. What we might be seeing is the early stages of disruption, and in those early stages it’s very difficult to know what the effects will be. We don’t have the breadth of vision to see where, and for whom, the benefits of BIM will emerge.

AM: That brings us on to Level 3 BIM. While it's not yet clearly described, do people see the current mandate as just a point on the way to Level 3? And what will Level 3 BIM mean?

DM Well, to get to Level 3, we first have to get to Level 2, but putting that aside…

DS For us to move up the BIM levels we need to start thinking about what the advantages of sharing information are for each party.

Elizabeth Kavanagh, Stride Treglown: Knowledge is power, but with Level 3 BIM, power will lie in the ability to effectively share information, not in the ability to hoard it. Level 3 BIM will be about sharing the gain in a project, not allocating blame.

DS  It’s early days, of course. The in-use model needs to improve over a number of years. A designer needs to be accountable – and held accountable – for the design. This could be in energy performance, for example, but the performance requirements will vary significantly by building type.

EK Yes, with Soft Landings we’ll be able to learn more about the consequences of our design decisions.

DM At the moment design decisions are all about reputation. A design that is seen as ‘good’ will enhance your reputation as a designer. In the future designs will be measured against performance. And that performance has a very direct effect on the financial reward you can expect from good design, from commissioning a good designer.

SD Better buildings, those whose lifetime performance is better, will be worth more. Level 3 BIM will give the audit trail of how a building actually performs.

DM Could Soft Landings become another stick to beat the industry with?

EK Well, it could, but it should be a showcase for best practice

DM We might need to change our business model; designers charging for improving the performance of buildings, not for their time.

DS So Level 3 won’t be about being paid to produce a co-ordinated model, it will be about demonstrating the payback, the bottom line value, of a design. This could be about performance of the building over its life, but it could be about the time it takes to create a building too.

SL This may be something architects have to adapt to. Level 3 BIM may bring about the industrialisation of design. Doing the same thing again and again but making incremental improvements each time; that’s industry, but that’s anathema to architecture.

AM: We’ll need the involvement those managing buildings in BIM – how’s that going?

EK COBie might not turn out to be the way this information is delivered. There will be something that supersedes it.

Anne Dye: RIBA clients don’t want spreadsheets – the format, as it stands, is unusable by clients.

DS Yes, but it goes deeper than that. There’s a cost to the data collection for asset management. But clients aren’t asking for a fully costed asset database at the early stages of the design process.

SL Too often we see three different information requirements: BIM, handover information and asset data. And these sets of information are not linked by a common identifier, so it’s very difficult for them to be harmonised.

EK This isn’t just process, it’s people too. There’s a need for ongoing dialog and conversation between those who produce and those who use data.

SL The design team rarely sees data being used downstream.

SD Facilities management (FM) tends to be reactive maintenance, but through BIM we will be able to provide a strategic approach to asset management – including FM.

EK Yes, we have ‘intelligent clients’ whose FM team is looking at asset information – COBie- to manage a large portfolio of buildings.

SL Moving to new ways of managing assets isn’t easy. They continually need managing. So while you move from one way of doing things to another, there’s no pause button. Moving to any new system is very risky, even when it’s going to be better in the long run.

MG People are ignited by the NBS BIM Toolkit. We are using it to brief building maintenance. Together, we can populate the data to a greater level. And this is for smaller projects. For kitchens, for example, we use it to help work out the costs for future maintenance and replacement, depending on the choices we make in design.

DS Part of overcoming these challenges we’re speaking about is getting links between all the different data. But you have to bear in mind that it’s a human thing too. People have to communicate with each other.

AM: How do we see the changes BIM brings affecting architects?

SL New technology tends to be disruptive. One disruptor for the industry will be standardised descriptions of products that allow easy like for like replacement.

MG So if we get to ‘plug and play’ design choice, where does that leave the architect?

DM We may increasingly be involved in just early stage design, with contractors developing the construction model from our early stage work. But a standardised, ‘plug and play’ model of describing and modelling buildings, their systems and components may be just what we all need. It allows for the best people, those with a particular expertise, to do their specialist work at the right stage.

I can see two models coming from this. The first is where large a contractor owns a project and brings on specialists, as needed, during a project. BIM will allow standardised information to be shared through the project as specialists come and go. The second, more interesting, model is where teams of SMEs come together on a project by project basis, with no overarching company owning the project. It’s only through BIM that we can foresee this highly collaborative future.

SL  Level 3 is a new process model. That needs a big cultural change, but the question is: who is going to bring that about?

SD It could be international companies demanding new ways of working.

MG Or it could be regional. With devolution and the Northern Powerhouse, perhaps cities will be the engines of change. Will one or more cities become BIM cities – Manchester BIM?

SL It looks like the genie is out of the bottle. BIM will happen. It might not be because of the mandate coming into force. But having had the mandate coming means we have become world leaders in BIM.

SD Yes, it’s created an idea of progression that we’ve not had before. The idea has been that with BIM the UK will do things differently, and better. But it’s been us, on the ground, who have worked out how we’re going to do it, against the backdrop of the mandate. We have had the freedom to develop BIM in ways we can see real value in.

MG Those who will really be doing it won’t be us. The post post-millennials, generation Z will really be driving the change. It’s them we need to listen to.

The experts who shared their views were:

  • Sarah Davidson: Gleeds Property & Construction Consultancy
  • Elizabeth Kavanagh: Stride Treglown
  • Mick Goode: Croft Goode Architects
  • David Shepherd: author of the BIM Management Handbook
  • David Miller: David Miller Architects
  • Anne Dye: RIBA
  • Steve Lockley: Northumbria University
  • Adrian Malleson, RIBA Enterprises

Lynda Thompson from RIBA Enterprises and Lucy Carmichael from the RIBA attended as observers


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