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Let BIM help move the debate back to architecture

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BIM should just be seen a smarter way of working and a forthcoming free digital toolkit will help everyone move in that direction, says Alistair Kell

I recognise Robert Klaschka’s view (‘Why BIM is ideal for small practices’) that there is simply too much information circulating about Building Information Modelling, which is causing confusion and hampering its adoption.

The detailed scope of ‘Level 2’ BIM – distinguished by collaborative working using file formats common to all parties in the project team and mandated by government on centrally-funded projects from next year – has developed considerably since it was first announced. It is still evolving, but we are closer to conclusion.

What troubles me is how the debate seems to have shifted from being about the quality of architecture and the spaces we create to focus on the process by which we create them. As architects, we have the ability to lead this debate, to work alongside clients and collaborators to create exemplary buildings and spaces.

BIM is simply a more efficient way of doing this, creating opportunities to improve building outcomes.

As architects we have the ability to lead this debate

We must understand that these new processes and tools will better support the design and construction process but we must also keep the outcome, rather than the mechanisms required for delivery, as the primary focus of our industry.

Standardisation and consistency of delivery is often discussed with reference to the automotive industry. But no one ever pays attention to the workflows used to build a car. You obviously appreciate that it is delivered as cost-effectively as possible and functions as you expect, but the activities undertaken to achieve this are of little interest.

While we at BDP have been developing our internal procedures, it has become clear that there were areas that had yet to be concluded within the Level 2 suite of documents to provide a comprehensive set of tools that would provide a ‘levelling’ and improve its adoption across the industry.

To ensure our procedures aligned with the emerging standards, BDP joined the government appointed team, led by National Building Specification (NBS), to develop the digital toolkit, because we felt it was vital to shift the debate away from the technicalities of BIM and make it second nature to every member of the project team.  The digital toolkit comprises two parts: a standardised and digitally-enabled classification system and a digital Plan of Work tool. These will create a unified, single classification system for use within construction and will provide an easy- to-use web portal which guides users through the design and construction process.  The digital toolkit will sit alongside the existing documents – RIBA Plan of Work, BS 1192:2007, PAS 1192:2 and so on to complete the guidance for Level 2 BIM.

We must keep the outcome, rather than delivery mechanisms, as the primary focus

The first piece, the classification system, will be a new version of Uniclass based on the international ISO/DIS 12006-2 framework. This will give the industry a unified structure that will provide mapping and guidance so objects can be configured at a project level to have the correct multiple classifications where required.

Some 6,000 templates are being developed, setting out guidance for Levels of Detail and Levels of Information for construction objects. Initially these will be spaces, systems and products for architecture, building services, structural engineering, landscape design and civil engineering.

These will be freely available online and will also be available in both IFC and MS Excel format. They will form the ‘construction language’ that all project teams can use to define their information exchanges for a particular stage of a project.

The second piece, the digital Plan of Work, will enable the project leader to clearly define the team, responsibilities and an information delivery plan for each stage of a project – who, what and when – in terms of documents, geometry and property sets.

In progressing our work on the toolkit, we have established an approach that acknowledges the development of information through each work stage and how this relates to the brief.

Our view is that the information available at the beginning of each work stage effectively defines the brief for that stage. The design activities are then progressed and the development of the briefing material is then encompassed in the work stage outputs, be they data drops, planning submission or end of stage reports. The volume and detail of the information will vary across stages, but the principle can be applied across all work stages and other key activities, including planning and procurement.

The information available at the beginning of each stage effectively defines the brief

Once the digital toolkit is available and established, we expect to see improvements in both information development and efficiencies in overall project life cycles. Clearly there are many challenges ahead but significant progress has already been made.

Over the past few months NBS has consulted widely with architects and other consultants and incorporated the feedback into our development programme.  The public beta version of the toolkit is being made available in early April, with a full launch planned for mid-June. All architects will have an opportunity to try out the toolkit and provide thoughts and views from April onwards to make sure we have a tool that is genuinely fit for purpose.

  • Alistair Kell is information and technology director at BDP. For more information about the digital toolkit, go to TheNBS.com/BIMToolkit
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