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Architects need BIM to catch up with Fosters on global stage

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Richard Saxon has said UK architects need to catch up with Foster and Partners whose overseas fee income makes up half of all the nation’s international turnover

Speaking at the AJ100 breakfast club this morning, the former BDP chair said Norman Foster’s practice, which brings in £150million of the £300 million billed by British practices internationally, was the only UK company holding its own on the global stage against a raft of huge US practices.

According to Saxon, the top ten US firms including AECOM and Jacobs – who racked up nearly $600million in architectural work between them last year – had thrown all their efforts overseas during the recession and that the UK had to come up with a new BIM-savvy offer  to compete.

Saxon, who was appointed to the government’s BIM Steering Group last year, said that, though there was a predicted 70 per cent growth in the worldwide construction market by 2025, much of the future workload would be outside Western Europe – specifically in China, India and the US.

He said that to regain ground on the leading US practices – most of whom have more than three quarters of their work abroad – UK’s firms needed a unique offer and that could be the ability to use BIM level 2 and to be paid to teach it to others.

He said: ‘We are 25 years behind the car industry in terms of [full computer design]. But our advances in BIM level 2 – what I call EasyBIM – could be a strategic advantage for the UK.’

‘In 2007 at a RIBA conference in Paris, one member of council asked why we were wasting time talking about BIM. It was seen merely as a technical thing like a damp proof course.

‘But now we have a set of tools which the government handed us the ball to run with - particularly by insisting that the industry uses it for all public projects by 2016.’

Saxon said BIM was also becoming increasingly coming to the attention of commercial clients because it not only cut costs at the design stage but also gave them a digital database which helped them ‘run’ buildings more successfully.

He said: ‘This payback is even greater than savings made during the design process – and that offer was very attractive.’

Saxon said that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) had thrown its weight behind the UK’s technical drive and that BIM could be an ambassadorial offer’ for the UK – and something far more than was being proposed by US companies.’

He said that, because of protected fee scales, Germany had yet to catch up on BIM, but confessed that the impact on fees and future liabilities of BIM in the UK still needed to be thrashed out.

Comparing the success of UK practices with those in US, Saxon said that only Foster + Partners was in the same league – billing almost half of the UK’s annual £300 million worth of fees on overseas projects.

US-owned AECOM alone racked up £302 million on architectural work last year.

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