Ireland's only dedicated building services engineering journal
Ireland's only dedicated building services engineering journal

CITA BIM workshops – keynote address by Judit Kimpian

Last year it organised a series of ten BIM workshops to improve the awareness of Building Information Modelling among professionals in the sector, writes Judit Kimpian, Director, CarbonBuzz Project Manager, Aedas. The final session was at the Royal College of Physicians – a beautiful space, built well over a 100 years ago, entirely without any computer technology. As the keynote speaker I was asked to put Building Information Modelling into an international context, talk about barriers and opportunities globally.

Ralph Montague, Director of ArcDoc, pictured with Dr Judit Kimpian, Director ofSustainable Architecture & Research, Aedas R&D, Derek Mowlds, Chairman CIBSE and Alan Hore, Director of CITA.

Aedas has been a major global player for integrating information technology in the design process and the practice and has a great portfolio of projects demonstrating this approach. The tools and platforms used over the years have varied enormously – to illustrate this journey through the evolving technologies I showed a cross section of case studies.

A key characteristic to these was the variety of software packages used to achieve design aims, which were both aesthetic and performative. Many of the projects shown are complete, with some on site, while others are still on the virtual drawing board. Much of the recent work built on the findings of Aedas-led research, such as CarbonBuzz, as well as detailed post-occupancy evaluations.

This type of collaborative project helped the industry expose the gap between design stage predictions and actual energy use. The practice now works towards targeting low operational energy use and relies heavily on virtual information models.

Judging from the questions after the talk, what seemed to interest most was the business case for adopting BIM, ie the day to day benefits and costs. Most of the audience associated the use of Autodesk’s Revit with the ‘B’ word. Although it has taken a while, the US software house has become very successful in promoting its platform in North America and internationally.

There was some awareness in the 70+ strong audience of other platforms too, such as ArchiCad, which is big in Continental Europe and well known around the world, while Bentley is particularly popular for infrastructure projects and large design-focused London practices such as Fosters or Grimshaws.

This is not atypical – software packages like Digital Project and Rhino tend to be used mainly by complex high-end projects not because of cost but because Autodesk has done such a good job of automating what most people think BIM is: interactive drawing extraction and scheduling. Given the functionality available today one does wonder why anyone would do an area calculation or ironmongery schedule by hand ever again.

Yet the term BIM refers to more than this. At the least it gives an opportunity to get all disciplines, mechanical, structural, architectural, to use the same 3D model for coordination, reducing the risk of having to rectify clashes onsite at a high cost. Where this works, it tends to lead to much faster design times and greater  certainty of the outcome. Where it can fall short of expectations is the willingness for the whole design team to model in 3D.

Most engineers are reluctant to put anything to 3D for a “simple” project until the design is “finished” as in most cases their calculations do not rely on 3D models. If the design changes, not only do they need to recalculate but they need to remodel too, adding further to their workload – for a fixed fee. It is only the more complex projects that make sense to model early, as these would need to go through 3D based analysis.

The issue here is that interoperability between analysis packages and mainstream BIM platforms is notoriously bad. Users rightly ask why they should model twice, once for the analysis and once for BIM. Major software developers are now looking at this problem more closely and are beginning to see interoperability as a business opportunity. Platforms like Rhinoceros became extremely popular among young professionals for exactly this type of flexibility – watch this space.

To adopt building information modelling a practice needs to invest in training, new hardware and software infrastructure and allow teams the time for the learning curve, all of which is costly. When the process is well managed the gains are substantial.

But when not, the consequences can be costly. It is everyone’s worst dream to be staring at a computer screen close to a deadline unable to extract the right information for a submission. It is therefore essential to have one person on every team that understands how to set up and run a model depending on the information likely to be extracted from it.

The Holy Grail of building information modelling is to be able to manage all information relating to a project from “cradle to grave”. Use 3D scanning to model existing buildings in 3D, develop concept designs, extract information and drawings, use the 3D and the associated database of components and properties to drive facilities management and reuse/ recycling at end of life.

The catch is that different stage models need different data structures. Early stage models need to be light and nimble, provide great visuals and feedback about the impact of briefing decisions and appearance on cost, whole life cost, thermal comfort, structural performance, embodied carbon, etc. Aedas’ Tall Building Simulation model is a good example for this. In later stages a model requires lots of components and data attached to those components, such as typology, fire performance, cost, maintenance requirements, etc and provide feedback about quantities, schedules and assemblies.

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It is currently difficult to “design”, “analyse” and get beautiful images from a program fundamentally geared towards drawing extraction and scheduling, while it is equally hard to schedule and extract drawings and work packages from a conceptual modelling tool.

With more evidence emerging about the productivity gains to be had from BIM and more and more projects placing an emphasis on building performance, adopting the technology is increasingly looking like a no-brainer. The trick is knowing what to use and when – after all, some things are best solved with a pencil.

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