We may be heading toward a digital future but human collaboration will underpin technological change; indeed it will be crucial
Report from – Alistair Kell
Queen Street Station, Glasgow (Image courtesy of BDP)
In a world that is increasingly replacing personal communication with digital technologies, BIM presents itself as an interesting paradox, for while BIM is only achievable through ever-increasing computing power, it allows a collaborative approach that is necessary to deliver successfully a more determined means of communication across all project participants.
This applies to both client and architect through better understanding of the brief and developing design proposals; between architect and design team in preparing integrated and innovative building solutions; between design team and contractor for procurement and construction purposes and for many other activities throughout the life of a building.
The importance of collaboration underpins UK BIM Level 2 requirements which first appeared in 2011. Although it could not succeed without it, the mandate is not about software adoption but focuses on defining a process to support uniform, repeatable collaborative workflows with clearly defined deliverables. While the benefits BIM are already proven within BDP, the current industry position is that we are at a staging post, a point along the journey to a fully digitally enabled construction industry which will become a key part of the digital economy, informing and supporting many aspects of society.
For many years, the UK construction industry has utilised an adversarial approach but BIM demands a different way of working which has collaboration and improved communication at its heart. While the uses for building information models are potentially limitless, the adoption process is incremental but the benefits are real. These include design coordination between disciplines focused on work stage deliverables; information produced, with errors reduced; improved visualisation; and costing, procurement and construction all centred on common goals.
The value of these benefits for our clients has been demonstrated as projects utilise techniques such as virtual reality, offsite manufacturing or BIM-enabled procurement. For example, being able to place a doctor, nurse or patient within a virtual treatment room allows far greater understanding of the design concept than traditional communication methods such as plan, section or elevation. BIM workflows allow this as an outcome of the modelling process. Likewise, driving off-site manufacturing through BIM data brings improvements in quality, site logistics and ultimately health and safety. Fabrication under factory conditions is increasingly achievable. So what does the future of AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) look like?
Information – structured and organised data – is becoming the currency of our industry. This will only increase, demanding a different way of creating information that can be put to many uses. With this there will also be a requirement for a common data language and more rigorous means of authoring and verifying this information.
Machine Learning is beginning to offer real potential, harnessing computer power to carry out repetitive design and analysis tasks that would not be economically achievable through traditional means. By analysing design parameters against large quantities of data, relationships can be identified and proposals assessed in ways that were not previously possible.
Collaboration between people and machines will increase in order to streamline and improve building outcomes. Construction robots are becoming a reality – leveraging data and, with ever increasing computer power, allowing dangerous or repetitive tasks to be completed uniformly without risk.
We are still at the beginning of a technological revolution which will change our industry beyond all recognition. This will not happen overnight but the journey is gaining momentum and starting to unlock the many benefits BIM offers.
Alistair Kell is Principal and Information Technology and Process Director at BDP Architects. He will be speaking at BIM Prospects on 3 April. This article first appeared on the BDP website.
BIM Prospects 2017 will assess where the construction industry is one year on from the launch of the BIM Level 2 mandate and will explore the development of BIM for product manufacturers.
Now in its third year, the two-day conference, will be run in conjunction with the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Digitally Built conference, which will focus on the other vital components of digital construction; the synergies producing a complete overall picture of digitising the construction sector.
When: 20-21 April, 2017
Where: IET, Savoy Place, London, WC2R 0BL