Digital transformation

Building Information Modelling, or BIM, is becoming the tool of choice for the AEC industry. Many architects, however, have yet to maximise BIM’s potential. Beyond helping to create better designs, BIM can help firms expand into multidisciplinary services and drive business growth.

A brief introduction to BIM

The concept of BIM has existed since the 1970s, when early software for modelling buildings was developed. However, the term ‘Building Information Modelling’ came into popularity in 2002 when Autodesk released its eponymic white paper. While computer-aided design (CAD) software allows users to hand-draft 2- or 3-dimensional drawings on a computer, BIM integrates data about the building and its components into each 3d model, along with comprehensive data about a project through additional dimensions of data.

Over the years, BIM technology has matured to create an all-encompassing database approach that helps architecture, engineering, and construction firms to work together more seamlessly. Because of its clear benefits, BIM adoption is growing worldwide—with some countries making BIM mandatory for public projects.

5 benefits of BIM for architects

The current movement towards remote work and digital transformation, even for creating something in the real world, makes BIM more valuable than ever. BIM also allows architects to work faster and more efficiently without limiting the creative process. Here are some benefits of BIM in architecture:

1. Improved design, modelling, and testing

Every project comes with specific considerations; BIM helps ensure the architectural design process includes these considerations and meet the client’s brief every time. Today’s BIM software include extensive data for environmental impact information, clash detection, structural assessment, and more.

As Wila O'Chariss famously said, “An architect's dream is a civil engineer's nightmare.” With BIM, architects can experiment with using different materials in a design and not only gauge the aesthetic result, but also get preliminary structural assessments before full-fledged reviews by an engineer. This minimises the number of changes need, supports creative designs, and ultimately enhances a firm’s reputation.

2. Better collaboration throughout projects

Nearly every project in the AEC industry involves numerous teams, from design to construction to maintenance. With BIM, anyone involved can obtain information or add it to the same building information model. All designs, systems, and changes are coordinated, minimising miscommunication or information loss.

On the client-facing end, BIM makes pitches more compelling and attractive with the creation of 3d models that can be explored from every angle. Architects can even take clients through a virtual reality (VR) tour of a structure and quickly answer questions on cost, schedule, and the impact of proposed design changes at any stage of the project, resulting in greater client communication and satisfaction.

A note about BIM standards: Regardless of the actual BIM software used by you or your partners, being able to share data easily is vital to the BIM process. This is where Open BIM comes in. While different BIM software tools create and contain data in proprietary formats, OpenBIM is based on a workflow where all stakeholders can share and exchange project data in a neutral file format, most commonly the Industry Foundation Class (IFC) format.

For instance, an architect’s team can design and create a BIM model in AutoDesk Revit, a structural engineer can open and add information using Graphisoft ArchiCAD, and a MEP consultant can further add smart building data using Vectorworks Architect. With OpenBIM, interoperability is no longer a hurdle for adopting building information modelling.

3. Efficiency and cost savings

Using BIM in architecture can also expect time and cost savings as a natural consequence of improved collaboration. Without the back-and-forth of checking on details like dimensions, materials, and costs, or wastage due to undocumented changes, AEC firms could yield significant savings on project costs; one study showed the BIM-based clash detection could lead to cost savings of 20% of contract value. This is especially true for design-bid-build projects.

4. Transparency and accountability

BIM’s tracking of version histories means that every change can be traced, annotated, signed off, or rolled back as needed. This is invaluable for larger projects, where the BIM process allows architects, construction companies, suppliers, and clients to all get on the same page.

5. Improved access to information

From the design office to the project site, the use of BIM and cloud integration allows project stakeholders to easily access the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it. This again lends itself to greater productivity throughout the project lifecycle.

How architects can start adopting BIM

We’ve shown that using BIM can make your firm more productive and increase client satisfaction. But for your architectural firm to successfully adopt BIM for architecture, here’s what you should do:

Develop a BIM adoption plan

Think about what you want to get out of using BIM and the key metrics for measuring your return on investment. Then, map the changes that will be needed to your project workflows. This guide can serve as a useful starting point.

Invest in training or hiring

Building Information Modelling tools are complex enough to spur the creation of new job roles, and you may need to hire a BIM manager to oversee BIM-based projects. Team members will need to undergo BIM courses to understand the software usage as well as BIM methodology. As the end users, they will eventually be the ones to shape your business’s usage of this vital piece of technology – from automating processes to harvesting valuable data.

Consider offering additional services

Architectural firms with BIM expertise can help clients with outsourcing BIM work. For example, building owners getting started with BIM may need drawings and data to be converted into BIM formats for building management, and may even want ongoing help with hosting their BIM data. This means your business can expand and get a greater return on your investment in BIM.

BIM represents the future of the AEC industry. While learning to leverage BIM’s capabilities is challenging and time-consuming, doing so will cement your business reputation and growth.

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