BIM and Design Culture

BIM drawing
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photo of Sami Kazemi
Sami Kazemi
"BIM tends to transform the perception of design changes into design iterations which is a valuable process outcome to achieving both design and technical excellence."

BIM drawing

Five years ago we set out to further integrate our studio’s creativity and technical capacity through the implementation of Building Information Modeling (BIM).  There is much to be said about the benefits of using BIM to increase efficiency and productivity and improve coordination with other disciplines, as well as its ability to provide increasingly valuable data for both the client and the contractor on a given project. In simple terms BIM allows us to virtually construct, test, and explore a building, before breaking ground on site. Significant attention is given to the quantitative benefits of integrating BIM, but its impact on design culture, while covered much less, is equally profound. Even though BIM is a technical tool, it has the ability to act as a change agent within a studio environment, pushing teams towards a more collaborative design process.

New Team Dynamics: Work Sharing Effect

The first thing we do at Quadrangle when we start a BIM model is to enable “work sharing”. This is a technical feature that allows multiple people to work simultaneously on the same virtual model and it’s an integral aspect of  working in BIM. It may seem to be purely a technical feature, but in fact this capability does change the team dynamic. In a traditional CAD team, team members are assigned a certain aspect of the work, that they are responsible for, each with its own set of digital files. For example one person works on the floor plans while another works on the elevations; it is always the project Architect’s role to coordinate and maintain the design intent as changes occur.  In a BIM project, everyone working on the model is able to see the impact of every decision made: whenever a mullion moves, a railing detail is revised, or an entrance is shifted, everyone in the team will visually see the impact of that decision on the architecture. The project Architect is still responsible for guarding the design intent as changes occur, but the difference here is that with a more clear realization that every small decision made has an impact on the architecture, everyone on a team shares a sense of ownership, and a responsibility to maintain the design intent.

Collaborative Effect

As everything is integrated into one virtual model that everyone shares, another interesting side effect arises: the need for ongoing communication becomes more necessary. The great thing about intelligent creative people communicating is that great ideas always arise. And with everyone connected to the same virtual model, it becomes easier to test and validate these ideas.

BIM relies on the user’s ability to model a building as close as possible to the way it is built. This means that a good understanding of construction is needed from the user; but even though BIM technology has been available for some time, there is still a generational aspect at play, where younger professionals could be more adept at new technologies but may be short of the construction experience, this becomes another factor in encouraging more collaboration and mentorship between more senior staff and new graduates in a multi-generational environment.

Changes vs. Iterations

Design and technical excellence relies on a process that involves exploration, iteration, and collaboration.  In the traditional CAD approach, it is more efficient to limit design exploration and iterations to the early phase of design development, beyond that, design changes are time consuming and could be perceived as unnecessary. Because BIM is driven by the 3D environment, iterations are more welcome; changes to a floor plan for example are automatically reflected on all other relevant views (elevations, sections, schedules, areas, 3D views, etc…). BIM tends to transform the perception of design changes into design iterations which is a valuable process outcome to achieving both design and technical excellence.

Understanding that when it comes to design, any tool at our disposal is only as good as the people using it, incorporating a technical tool like BIM offers an opportunity to not only embrace its productivity benefits, but also push further the collaborative, goal oriented, design process.