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Fighting for BIM

Old habits die hard, and Building Information Modeling (BIM) is just finding that out. Even though it has been on the AEC scene for about 10 years now (others will tell you even longer), it is still running into some resistance, slowing down its potential of changing the way we practice architecture.

It is time to give it a little push and help it overcome the resistance. BIM has made significant inroad in the architectural profession, and many firms are using the new tool at a different level of proficiency and commitment along their own BIM journey, yet some are still holding back to the old ways of doing things. To those, I say come on board and discover a new and enjoyable way of practicing architecture.

Break the habit and just jump in; the only way to do it is to “just do it.” It will cost you some money for consulting services and to buy the BIM software and possibly new hardware. It will also cost you in training, but the benefits will quickly outweigh the cost of the BIM investment. BIM won’t make your design skills obsolete nor impede your creativity if you approach it with an open mind. It won’t take away your felt-tip pen nor your tracing paper. Every tool you used before BIM will still be available to you.

Hire some young graduates fresh out of college who are BIM-prepared—at least for the 3-D part of BIM. Your greatest challenge will be to choose a BIM program, and you need to tread carefully and look past the hype. We did that and are now a proud Archicad studio. Regardless of the BIM program you choose, you can start on a small project, it will reduce the fear of jumping from a cliff, and with some effort, you will be amazed how proud of yourself you will feel once you see what BIM can do for your design process and when you put together the construction documents. You will never go back to drawing lines in the computer again.

Some old timers will tell you “I can draw it faster by hand or in the computer.” (They won’t be around too much longer because they are reaching retirement age.) Their argument may be true only for a specific task. But BIM is not about drawing just one thing. It is about the entire design process of a project and team collaboration, and drawing it by hand or in the computer does not even come close to the efficiency that comes with BIM once you have mastered its tools, workflow, and process.  At SYLLA International, we embarked on BIM-related design processes and tools since the mid-90s and have not looked back since. Even with the smallest of projects, we turn to BIM to do it. If a client were to ask us to do a project by drawing lines in the computer, we are not even sure we could or would do it. Thankfully no client has so far.

For those who have made the jump into BIM, good job, but some old habits still linger. Many architects are still relying exclusively on 2-D orthographic drawings to describe a building to a client or a contractor, leaving aside some good BIM tools that are more effective sometimes to describe a building. For example, at SYLLA International we are fascinated by Archicad’s capability to dimension and annotate a 3-D view, which is the kind of software innovation that we expect and appreciate from a software company focused on architecture. Why not use this tool to include more annotated and dimensioned 3-D drawings to describe a building in the construction document set?

One annotated and dimensioned cutaway isometric or axonometric drawing taken from the BIM model can communicate the design intent better than the orthographic 2-D drawings of three contiguous sides of a building as separate drawings. The reason is that the cutaway isometric or axonometric drawing combines the power of both a section and elevation in one drawing view that gives you a much better context of architectural understanding than otherwise possible with either drawing alone. Yet many architects are reluctant to use 3-D views in construction documents, preferring to use them simply as a design tool and reverting back to the 2-D orthographic drawings as though the BIM model exists only to serve the needs of the 2-D drawings. This means simply that we are not leveraging the power of many BIM tools someone had the foresight of designing just for us to use.

SYLLA International has been using BIM and BIM-related technologies so much for so many years that we unabashedly proclaim having lost our ability to fully appreciate or take in flat 2-D elevation drawings–which some purists in the profession may consider an anathema. You know what I mean. We often provide our clients 3-D rendered images and a virtual 3-D model they can understand and appreciate more so than flat 2-D elevations drawings. Frankly we do not even color 2-D elevation drawings anymore. We will only generate elevations as a working design tool and include them in the document deliverable to fulfill our contractual requirements, but that is it.

With BIM, we also rely extensively on cutting planes to regularly slice and dice the building to better understand its makeup and resolve design and constructability issues. At a recent meeting with a client, when we showed the couple the BIM model and started to slice the model with cutting planes, their eyes lit up, a sign of positive design feedback that helped us sell the design concept faster than otherwise possible with colored 2-D line drawings that most clients cannot relate to.

We also include as many building sections as we deem necessary in our construction documents. Once you have the BIM model, it does not cost anything to cut more building sections to better shape understanding of the building. All building sections will pick up changes from the BIM model. The old rule used to be not to duplicate information in the construction documents, lest changes are not picked up where information is duplicated. That rule no longer applies in BIM: Repeat the information as many times as necessary to drive the point home, provided the information, which is the “I” in BIM, comes from the same model, otherwise the old rule still applies.

Now we are embracing BIMx. We used to save our BIM models in Sketchup to send to our clients along with a link to download the Sketchup program to view the model. BIMx is changing that, and we no longer need Sketchup for the sole purpose for which we used to use it. We do not like to use multiple software programs in our workflow because that is what a good BIM program is for. Rendering and animation are a different story in the workflow. We want to push it further now by asking contractors to use BIMx. Why not? The model is the most effective communication tool of the project, and the more contractors can understand the project at the outset, the better the numbers they will give you and your client.

Here is something I would like to see in Archicad and other BIM programs: If your BIM program can dimension automatically all exterior walls on all four sides of a building in floor plan, how about giving us the tools to dimension automatically wall sections from the foundation to the roof. The concept is the same: If the program can detect and dimension all building corners and wall openings in floor plan, then it should be able to do the same on a building section and wall sections. It would be a big time saver for architects, and I hope Archicad and other BIM programs will look into it.

BIM is here to stay. It is not going anywhere. So let’s make the most of it. Let’s not let the old ways of doing things hold us back from realizing its full potential. Here are our BIM questions in today’s blog:

  • What sort of resistance BIM is running into at work and how is it being resolved?
  • Is your company management committed to BIM?
  • Has your BIM journey been bumpy or about what you expected?
  • If your office has adopted BIM, are you using it for all projects, large and small?
  • Are you including more 3-D views in your construction documents?
  • What cool and innovative ways are you using BIM for to leverage its power?
  • What new functionality do you want to see in BIM programs?

BIM software companies will be eager to know your use of their software, and your fellow architects and designers may be tickled to learn about it. Until next time, BIM on.

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