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BIM will keep architects linked in

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To BIM or not to BIM is emphatically not the question, writes Christine Murray

For the last month, a pretty thorough debate has been taking place on the LinkedIn Architects’ Journal group. The topic is BIM (Building Information Modelling), and how the software is changing the way architects work.

The forum covers everything from how the BIM model is best employed in the design process, to who owns the model, to whether using BIM will reduce your insurance premiums, to sharing data with consultants, and how to frontload fees to compensate for the extra work in setting up the model.

What has been clear about this discussion from the outset, however, is that ‘To BIM or not to BIM’ is emphatically not the question, at least for this group of architects, architectural technologists and consultants. The overall feeling is that BIM is the future, and the future is almost now. There are just a few kinks to iron out, but that’s OK, as the entire industry is somewhere on the BIM learning curve.

Some users find BIM too stifling for initial conceptual design. Nick Willson of Nick Willson Architects in London says they found the model useful only after Stage E. ‘Early design phases were too fluid for BIM. One has to put a lot of detail into the model, which slowed our creative juices.’

Others say that once they’ve got to grips with the software, they prefer to use BIM from start to finish. Will Thorne, partner at Thorne Wyness Architects, the Isle of Mull, suggests BIM is more intuitive than 2D drawing. ‘You tend to adopt a workflow that’s hand sketch, model in 3D, quick render to validate. It means everyone is better informed about what the thing is going to look like earlier in the process.’ Vanessa Bizzell, architectural director at Bluemouse in Sheffield adds, ‘I also render simple 3D images (overnight, so they don’t eat into fee-earning time) from my model, which clients love.’

One of the only real fears expressed about BIM is that involvement in the model requires a great deal of computer literacy across the whole project team. This means less tech-savvy directors and partners might feel left out during the design process, or find it hard to critique and monitor projects.

Thorne adds, ‘The drawings don’t develop like they do in 2D, so it’s harder for project architects and directors to judge progress. The detail is developed component by component, so you might spend a week resolving cladding, and all this will look pretty strange on any extracted 2D drawings. Reading the design in 3D on screen is a different skill that needs to be learned.’

What is clear is that BIM is a step-change in the built environment as significant as the introduction of CAD. Over the summer, we’ll be publishing more on BIM, including a roundtable based on the LinkedIn forum. In the meantime, come join the conversation.

  • To take part in the debate, join LinkedIn and search for The Architects’ Journal in groups www.linkedin.com
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