BIM for architects: how can you ride the wave?

The rising wave…

For more than two years, I have been using BIM and attending meetings while events have been bringing players in the construction industry together in France. I am now noticing fast and major behavioural changes.

Trade fairs are rapidly becoming narrow-minded and are having to move around because they are in such high demand with businesses. At the same time, visitor numbers have increased considerably. Conferences and other meetings have brought new faces to light, people who have succeeded in teaching themselves and becoming experts in BIM thanks to various training courses covering everything from the use of tools to the establishment of the process within a business. Every day, new and partially free solutions are born, allowing anyone and everyone to get involved.

All these phenomena bear witness to a real infatuation with this new working process—and indeed, we must not forget that BIM is first and foremost a working process and not just a collection of tools. Tools may be necessary for the implementation of BIM, but they are not the basis of BIM practices.

What we are seeing, then, is the emergence of a new mind-set.

Those keen to move on to BIM are more inclined to share and exchange with all collaborators working on the same project, where previously each individual player would redraw the plans according to their own needs, relying exclusively on what little data their colleagues were willing to hand over.

Behaviours and habits needed and will still need to change, but a real desire to work together can be felt nonetheless.

In the past, there were also reservations about the legislation, and so contractual solutions are gradually being established in order to continue using existing building laws adapted for a new working process and new technology. We should be pleased to see contracting authorities pushing for this ideal by commissioning BIM projects, as they are effectively paving the way for the first volunteers to respond in BIM, and, after them, for those who are watching these volunteers launching themselves into the process, until ultimately the whole profession will have embarked upon the BIM adventure.

The appeal of BIM for construction: to make it more robust.

From now on, BIM will enable us to create an avatar of a building and preserve it long after its delivery, throughout the entirety of its lifecycle. It’s like the ‘medical record’ of the building.

It allows us to centralise the data for each building product, as well as to give different people working on the project access to this data.

It also permits us to make use of ‘clash detection’ and resolve these ‘clashes’ in advance on the model rather than having to demolish and adapt on the construction site. With this method, we should no longer notice discrepancies between the technical specifications and the work carried out.

BIM gives us the possibility of virtually testing structure, comfort, thermal profile, economics… and all ahead of time, thanks to the simulation tools. This allows us to construct more complex spaces with the guarantee that the work’s execution will be both good quality and by the book.

Don’t hold back, get on track!

Admittedly, BIM slightly disrupts the usual way of working. More time is spent beforehand in the conceptual stages of a project, which calls into question both the way that the timescale of the phases is set out by French building procurement law (la loi MOP), and their payments. It is therefore important to formalise each phase and each assignment in the contract so that they are adapted to BIM. The most difficult thing left to do, however, is to combat misconceptions.

From what I’ve heard, BIM isn’t designed for us, we’re just a small firm”

This right here has become somewhat of a catchphrase, and it raises several issues…

It’s common knowledge that for architects and contracting authorities, time is at a premium. Taking the time to train yourself and properly read up on the advantages of new methods is not always a priority. 

After all, our tools work and we’re used to working like this.” This is an experience which I remember very well from my stint in an architectural firm.

I learnt that taking the time to train yourself and properly learn how to use new methods and/or tools is, in the short term, time and money down the drain, and causes a seemingly detrimental delay. But when we come back to the game with new skills, we make up this time more quickly than with the old methods which now seem outdated even though we were still using them just yesterday. What I want to bring to light here is the fact that sometimes, craning your neck in order to get some perspective can lead to a breakthrough – and stop you from being unable to see the forest for the trees!

As far as the suggestion that “it isn’t designed for us” is concerned, I hope that’s not the case! It’s not up to BIM to adapt itself to users—it’s up to users to adapt BIM to their projects, to choose their tools (which are becoming ever more varied in terms of price and solutions). Moreover, BIM is, as previously mentioned, a process and not a tool: as long as we choose programmes which correspond to the activity, it will be possible to adapt. The majority of architects are, without realising it, already working with tools suitable for BIM. A short training course is all it would take to be able to get stuck into it.

Finally, as for the kinds of projects most appropriate for BIM, this is where the misconceptions lie. It all depends on the objectives of the project for the contracting authority.  If they want a digital model allowing them to ensure the upkeep of their building, to run real, technical simulations, or otherwise to follow the lifecycle of their building, it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a 1000 m² international project or a 10 m² cabin in the middle of Larzac.

When it comes to a request on the part of the contracting authority, these demands get formalised and funded because additional work and skills are required. It’s true that more effort is sometimes required on the part of the architect, but in the long term, when the client gets back in touch with project management to move the operation along into the 2nd phase, the architect will have no need to remember every little detail, because it will all be centralised in the digital model… Which makes the architect’s job of transforming the famous cabin in Larzac into a holiday home a whole lot easier! 😊

And you, which phase are you in with BIM? What feedback have you collected from your first projects dedicated to BIM? Which tools would you recommend? Tell us everything! 

Charlotte Pellerin, architect.