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Design tool could put architects back in the driving seat

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Prototype from research into BIM-compatible support software gives real-time data on building performance to influence critical early design decisions

A prototype 7D BIM plug-in designed to accurately predict the whole life cost and whole life carbon of buildings could give architects significant power during the early stages of design, one of its lead developers has claimed.

The decision support tool is being created by a cross-industry team of researchers, led by Cartwright Pickard Architects and The Mackintosh School of Architecture, to test out the long term viability of alternative designs using real data from in-service buildings, instead of historical datasets.

Comparison of predicted and actual performance at RIBA Stage 7: In Use
Comparison of predicted and actual performance at RIBA Stage 7: In Use Credit: Cartwright Pickard Architects

A live demonstration on a 7D model of a Quintain residential block in Wembley Park, north-west London last month saw the conclusion of the two-year first phase of development, which was backed by a £100,000 grant from Innovate UK and more than match-funded by the project partners.

Other partners on the project are: BLP Insurance, Morgan Sindall Construction, Galliford Try Partnerships, Prosperity Capital, Etex, Hoare Lea, Stanhope and Elliott Wood.

An ability to test and reconfigure designs at concept stage could significantly reduce the long term cost and/or carbon of projects. Research has shown that 80% of operation, maintenance and replacement costs can be influenced in the first 20% of the design process.

James Pickard, director of Cartwright Pickard, told RIBAJ: ‘Architects and other design professionals have traditionally lacked the proper tools and consistent whole life data required to measure long term cost and carbon impacts, so when projects go in for planning, the die is already cast. The building height, shape, volume, and the external materials are already fixed and contractors and supply chain can really only tinker around the edges … We believe designers hold the key to save vast amounts of carbon and cost and this tool can help them do it.’

  • Assessment of different building types at RIBA Stage 2: concept design.
    Assessment of different building types at RIBA Stage 2: concept design. Credit: Cartwright Pickard Architects
  • The prototype was linked to a BIM model of the Quintain project at Wembley Park.
    The prototype was linked to a BIM model of the Quintain project at Wembley Park. Credit: Cartwright Pickard Architects
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The demo of the software allowed users to quantify the impact of specifying different products and materials on whole life cost and carbon. The fully featured system, slated for launch after a second phase of research, will be compatible with any BIM authoring tool and extract whole life data from a separate cloud-based database.

It will allow users to measure cost and carbon impacts of different designs from RIBA Stage 0 through to RIBA stage 7, with more granular data available as the design progresses. For example, at RIBA Stage 2 users can compare the net to gross internal efficiency of the building, or the wall to floor ratio, and get back data on energy consumption, maintenance, or the overall carbon footprint for 50 years.

All cloud data will be anonymized and structured and formatted for use in BIM. Building owners and developers will be encouraged to submit their in-use operational data over time to make the predictions more accurate. The database is currently populated with data supplied by industry partners in the project.

‘The architectural profession has been sidelined and lost a huge amount of influence in the construction industry over the last 30-40 years,’ said Cartwright. ‘BIM is a fantastic opportunity for architects to take back control and lead the process more, because we're the ones in charge of that first 20% of design.’

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