BIM: Building Information Modeling
Architecture is married to technology. Everyone knows this today. It is an amicable relationship, I believe. Nonetheless, these days it is hard to imagine working in the building industry without digital tools. Indeed most of us still carry romantic notions of a draftsman hunched over the table with set squares, scales and enormous sheets of paper stretched out. Then, of course, a coffee cup ring at the bottom corner tucked away from a direct view but present enough to speak to the dedication, endurance and hard work architects, designers, and technologists do for each project. Today we do something different yet similar in manner. We lavish in digital means that take splendid building ideas into action via Building Information Modeling (BIM). My journey with Revit, and now more so with BIM, started in 2005. Fresh out of school I joined a small architectural practice in London, Ontario specializing in the “new” Autodesk software called Revit. I started dabbling with the software and developing what grew into an indispensable skill today.
In my experience, life has a way of colliding people, places, experiences and skills together in the most unexpected but fruitful ways. Some of that happened to me on my way to becoming a BIM and digital expert. I had somehow surrounded myself with people who, like me, happened to share excitement about digital technologies in architecture. From my past boss to my current one, Carlos Antunes, I gleaned knowledge about Revit and its place in the profession. Around 2007, Revit leapt to the tech-of-the-future status for construction and especially for architecture, and we at KIRKOR revelled in its possibilities. The rest is now history.
So, what is BIM, and why is it important.
In a few simple bullet points:
• It stands for “Building Information Modeling.”
• BIM, above all, is a process (and not one single thing) that creates value through enhanced collaboration throughout the full lifecycle of a built asset.
• BIM can apply broadly to all types of built assets, including buildings, bridges, roads, etc…
• BIM uses a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions [about the asset].
Why is BIM Important?
• BIM significantly enhances the design and construction processes of a built asset by enabling project stakeholders to visualize better, communicate, coordinate and ultimately collaborate on a project using a model.
• When each stakeholder in a project is active in the BIM process, a federated model can be developed to bring all of the stakeholders to work together to form better-informed decisions about the design.
• With a federated model in place, coordination and visualization tasks like clash detection, scheduling (4D), and cost estimating (5D) can be performed on the design model to predict and troubleshoot potential conflicts with the design that would be otherwise impossible to foresee.
I started with the essential software understating, much like I outlined above. However, I became enchanted with it all shortly thereafter and started learning all I could get my hands on at the time. In 2008 I was brought into KIRKOR’s office on a consulting basis to begin assisting with their Revit implementation. I started slowly, primarily working one-on-one with several teams, answering questions and guiding them to proficiency. Then in 2009, I joined on a full-time permanent basis as the de facto BIM Manager. I began not only working with the project teams in a consulting capacity as I had before, but I was also working on the projects, building the models and setting the standards which we now have today.
In those early days, there were four main projects where Revit played an essential role in proving its value at all of the various stages of our design process: Westside Lofts, Hullmark Centre, World on Yonge, and Cinema Tower. In particular, Hullmark Center, led by Carlos, was one of the projects where our efforts would turn into our first sample model to develop Revit standards and create a lessons learned database.
Cinema Tower, led by Brent, was a significant improvement to the setup of our first efforts and a testament to our ability to show expertise in Revit. It had increasing complex geometry that pushed us to develop new methods for modelling and documenting concrete (for example) to capture curved and non-rectilinear forms. Without a software solution like Revit and a well-built model, these complex conditions were challenging to communicate with our project stakeholders — communicate through better (at that time – never before seen) visualizations and then more accurately document the design using the 3D model directly. Now we had a tool to present the idea and sell it!
Revit’s use in our office increased over time. From drawings to documentation, Revit has become a hero in project management. Carlos specifically, partners Brent and Cliff too, were a driving force behind the Revit directive. In the first year, roughly 25% of the office used the software at an acceptable level. After 2 years, more than 50% of the office used the software at a high level, and another 2 years later, 95% of the office used Revit for all phases of design, through to the contract admin process. Within 3-4 years of implementation, we had completely phased out AutoCAD as our primary design tool.
We made our Revit implementation a top-down approach, thus starting with the partners. They embraced our Revit implementation, supporting this initiative financially, both in technology and support. Above all, they also believed in the software’s ability to draw together the various languages, architecture, design, and documentation.
As Revit matured as a tool, it disrupted the ways of CAD, and the concept of BIM began to take a stronger hold in the industry in an equally disruptive way. We began to realize that Revit is not BIM. It’s a tool. But BIM is a process. So we began to embrace the process of BIM and allow it to dovetail into our design process.
This meant using BIM to improve collaboration with everyone crucial to the process through communication and coordination. We learned very early on in our implementation of BIM that working alone on an island in Revit – that is to say, as the only discipline in BIM, where the project is multidiscipline by nature – is only bringing benefit to a small part of the overall team. Because many of the consultants were not using Revit, we, as the architect, ended up modelling complex portions of their work to present areas of concern that were not easy to understand otherwise. For example, in the Hullmark project, we modelled micro piles and a complex network of underground Bell conduits and TTC subgrade infrastructure to demonstrate how the piles could fit between these existing underground utilities.
Through several 3D presentations and demos, we could communicate a design solution to several stakeholders at once, a practice that immediately improved communication. The proof was in this new process. We now use our tool to communicate more effectively and make more informed technical design decisions, thus speeding up the overall decision-making process and helping our clients gain confidence in our design solutions.
With a BIM execution plan implemented on our projects, we’ve established common goals and expectations attainable with the BIM process in mind. These goals include a consistent approach to modelling, design authoring, and visual clash detection for coordination. The BIM execution plan is our instruction set for how we’re going to coordinate, when we will exchange models, and how our models need to be set up with technology (i.e. the software tools) and the standards.
In this way, we can go beyond building the model to using the model in ways that replace and enhance legacy approaches to coordination. For example, in mechanical coordination, we’re modelling bulkheads, and our mechanical team is modelling the ducts that go in these bulkheads. We can visually detect if these elements fit together and if they clash or overlap. Where the issues pop up, we can generate them and track them inside our clash detection tools. The issues captured in the clash detection tools become the basis of communication and offer us a way to track and comment on solutions to correct the problem, thereby negating the need to communicate through email, markups, and reports that may end up getting lost in that more “broken” chain of communication.
Now, and looking to the future, tools like BIM360 (now Autodesk Construction Cloud (or ACC)) and Revizto have significantly matured to the point that we’re again looking at more disruption with respect to technology. We have the stakeholder engagement we need, all of the significant models we need to author our designs, clash detect and coordinate them simultaneously. Also, we have a place (in the cloud) to federate these models in the same environment and track the issues generated because they “live” in the same place. This is where the next wave of change will come from, and I look forward to being a part of the leadership that will engage our clients in these new ways and have them participate more in the design process.
Jeremy McMartin, Director of Digital Practice