BIM stands for Building Information Model. A lot of architects use the term wrongly to refer to 3D software, but this is just a small part of what BIM is. It is also about managing the information contained within every project, in a way that improves the design and helps everyone involved in the project work in a better way together.
We have been committed to BIM for a long time. In fact way back in 1998 we started working on our first BIM projects. Back then architects using Microstation talked about ‘Integrated Project Models’ and ArchiCAD users thought of the ‘Virtual Building’. Most architects had only just come off the drawing boards and started to use 2D CAD so it has taken a long time for BIM to make it to the average architect’s practice.
Chart to show the number of UK architects using BIM based on the National NBS BIM Report data
The Reasons We Use BIM
We use BIM on every single project we do, right from the start. As a result it’s built in to all the work that we do, so in fact we don’t need to spend a lot of time looking at the reasons we use it. But if we take a step back and look at how we benefit from our use of BIM, then these are 7 of the main reasons that we use it and the ways in which this approach helps every project we work on.
1 Concept Design
Sketches on the back of a napkin are OK. But they’re less good if you’ve sketched the site to the wrong scale, got the size of the building wrong, or mis-drawn the basics. We will happily sketch all day long, but when we’re done sketching we bring them in to BIM. Really easy. We often just snap a pic of the sketch on our phone and save it to a dropbox app. Then we can grab the sketch, set up a new worksheet in the BIM file and overlay the sketch on real-world accurate data of the site. Just to check, and because it’s nice for our clients to know that our concept design ideas and feasibility studies are accurate and will work.
2 Clients Get 3D
Using BIM means we can give all our clients a 3D model that they can open on their phone, tablet or computer. We share the 3D file with our clients in a dropbox folder, and then all our client needs to do is download a free BIM app and they can open up their project and explore. We keep the BIMx file updated with any design changes, and our clients get to see their design in 3D any time they like. 2D drawings in the BIMx are linked to the model, so you can cut and move a section, elevation or plan in real time. Clients that enjoy the tech can even press one button and turn the project to VR, place their phone in to a free VR headset and walk around the design.
3 Tracking Ideas
There are always a lot of ideas bouncing around at the early design stages, including things we talk about at design meetings, and stuff which our client might have email to us or pinned online for us to see what they like. We compile all of these ideas and use our BIM project folder as a shared space that we keep up to date with our clients. Then we overlay the information from this folder with our BIM model, so for example if we are designing a bathroom we will set up a worksheet in our BIM software that contains overlays of the sanitary products that our client likes. It might seem simple, but in 2D CAD changes can quickly become hard to manage among the mass of drawings and files – using a single BIM file and a clear shared folder is so much better.
4 Quick Design Changes
It is inevitable on any project that some design changes will be required. This is just part of the iterative design process. But BIM helps us make these changes quickly. For example if we are about to go to tender on a project but our client decides that they might like a few more roof lights, in the old days updating all the drawings individually would take a long time, maybe half a day or so. But in BIM we make the changes once to the 3D model and then simply regenerate all of the drawings, so we could be sending these to the client in 30 minutes. If our client is happy with the change then we will automatically update the drawing revisions and register in the shared BIM folder so that everyone has up to date information.
As architects part of our job is to lead the design team so that everyone works together well. Using BIM software we can work across teamwork servers which means everyone involved in the project can actually work on a shared BIM model at the same time. Or if using a shared server is impractical, for example on small projects where the only other consultant involved is a structural engineer, then we can share a simplified BIM model with the engineer by email or dropbox. This makes it much easier to handle at their end, and can easily output to 2D drawings. We will then X-ref the engineers info and update the BIM model with their structural design work to make sure everything is coordinated.
6 Better Quality
The speed and efficiency that we get from working in BIM means that each of our projects can benefit from, more time to develop the design, more freedom to make changes quickly, consistent information with less mistakes on site, buildings delivered sooner, and costs kept down. These are really significant benefits that add up to a better quality of project. This is why the UK Government require BIM level 2 to be achieved on all public sector projects – but private clients including homeowners should be equally demanding and require BIM to be used to deliver better quality projects for them too.
7 Access Drawings Anywhere
Being able to pick up a phone or tablet wherever we are and access any of our drawings is great. We can also check any part of the specification and even get the 3D model open. This is fantastic on site when checking a detail; great when meeting a new client and showing them what we can do; and pretty good in the pub to show off the portfolio (we don’t do that!). The whole concept of BIM and the idea of organising the information in a way that is accessible and provides the right information for each project depends on setting up this shared space so every file is in sync on every device. Our BIM software will then publish all of the drawings to the right folder automatically, so they are always easily to find.