Saturday, February 26, 2011

Architects need to Tread Lightly on "BIM" - But Defiinitely Go There.

This is unique to my Civic Architect Blog in that it doesn’t directly affect neighborhoods. It is more related to my profession as an architect, and the kind of software that we’re starting to use: “Building Information Modelling” (or “BIM”). This came about because a friend of mine, a civic-minded engineer, co-authored “Visualize, Simulate, Fabricate” in Cite Magazine 87.

I’m not a member of the “BIM sucks” school of architects. BIM is more attuned than CAD to how architects should think – in 3 dimensions. BIM links design, visualization, and documentation. It promises to be hugely beneficial to the profession, and besides, it’s fun to use. But there are very real risks and concerns that firms must be aware of, before they dive head first into BIM.

  • BIM won’t automatically detail everything correctly. Architects still need to review and redline their drawings. In fact, picking up redlines becomes more difficult because you can’t just change a detail to make it right, and coordinate the plans and elevations later. Details, plans, and elevations are interrelated, so it is painfully obvious if something’s not coordinated.
  • Until BIM becomes the industry wide standard, firms will face a learning curve on it. New employees may not know BIM when they start with the firm. It’s a bad idea to throw someone who doesn’t know BIM into a huge, complex, half-finished project in BIM. It’s not fair to the employee or the others on the team; and more importantly it puts the project at risk. This has to be taken into account in project-staffing decisions.
  • It is of utmost importance to find the right person to manage a firm’s BIM software. BIM software is incredibly complex, and it needs to be set up properly or it won’t work. Small firms need to contract-out with skilled BIM managers. Mid-sized firms need to make sure they always have someone on staff who really knows what they’re doing. Large firms need to establish BIM departments, with two or three people who know the software in-and-out.
  • BIM is not a panacea. I keep asking “so, will BIM generate boilerplate specifications based on what I put in my model?” The answer I keep getting is ‘ummm, no.’ This is a huge part of the contract documents for a project, that BIM doesn’t do. Firms will still need to put together binders of cut-sheets, and write their project manuals in a word-processor.

Of course there are many virtues to BIM. I don’t think anyone denies those. Firms absolutely should move towards BIM, but I’m getting tired of articles like “Visualize, Simulate, Fabricate” that extol the virtues of BIM, without acknowledging the risks.

In closing I will apologize to my neighbors and friends who aren’t architects, but read this blog. This post is full of shop talk. I’ll make up for it later – I promise.