Too clever by half

How are you getting on with BIM? My guess is that you are either revelling in it or, struggling mightily. If you’re really lucky, your answer was ‘What’s BIM?’

The premise is simple, an integrated 3D model and database that shares all the information generated by the design team from which all production information can be generated. The QS can use it for costing, the main contractor can build from it, the client can use it as a facilities management tool and, at the end of a building’s life, it can help in its re-use, disassembly or recycling. All good, however, the road to hell is paved with simple premises!

At my university there was only one PC in the whole department. It was kept under lock and key and no undergraduate ever got to see it. However, I have used CAD since my first job in an architect’s practice. As the youngest person, it was assumed I would know how to use a computer. I didn’t of course, but I could read the manual. The practice had a state-of-the-art system that went under the splendid name of the Really Universal Computer Aided Production System, or RUCAPS. There was no mouse, you had to enter data by typing in x and y co-ordinates for every line that a pen would later follow on a plotter. It was so clever, clients came in to watch plots emerge from this wondrous machine.

Since those heady days, CAD has continued to play a big part in my working practice. When we set up White Design, 15 years ago, we went digital throughout. Shocking then, not so now. Our first project for Velux was generated entirely in 3D with planning drawings pulled from the model. We issued all the production information as hyperlinked PDFs so you could navigate from GAs to details, to specification and back again all with a click of a mouse. All very leading edge. Or so we liked to think.

So I’m no luddite. I can push a 3D model around, get funky with Photoshop, poke about in html and tweet like a sparrow and I’m certain that BIM will work, one day. My only problem with all things digital is when you’re standing in the rain, on a site, up a scaffold, looking at a detail that worked in BIM but doesn’t in reality, with a subcontractor who needs an answer – now! On these occasions, I very rarely slip out my iPad to consult the BIM. Instead, I ask to borrow a pencil and scratch some analogue graphite on the nearest bit of non-virtual wall. 

Craig White is a founder director of White Design