Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Global BIM Acceptance

In the U.S., after two decades of development, Building Information Modeling has gained a fairly broad acceptance in most sectors of the AECO industry.There are many organizations involved in promoting and advancing BIM. Building Information Modeling is typical for large and complex buildings - airports, hospital & medical facilities, laboratories, schools.

In the beginning, BIM adoption was driven by professionals who quite simply wanted to improve quality, performance, and profit. In 2007 BIM adoption was boosted by the GSA National 3D-4D-BIM Program. Transition has not always been easy, and the level of implementation as well as methodologies vary widely, but today the top design firms in the U.S. are BIM firms: Gensler, HOK, HDR, Perkins+Will, SOM, HKS. Not coincidentally, the top construction firms have also invested in BIM: Turner, Clark, DPR, Hoffman, Hensel-Phelps.*

Similarly, in the U.K., BIM adoption is being driven by the government sponsored Building Information Modeling Task Group. The 2011 Government Construction Strategy will require collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) on its projects by 2016.

The story in the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region is not the same. Doha, the capital and largest city in Qatar, did not exist just fifty years ago, and it seems unlikely that many of the towers that have seemingly erupted from the desert were conceived using BIM. Even today, the new buildings currently being constructed are not exactly high tech, in terms of construction. They are reinforced concrete with block infill structures clad with aluminum and glass. They are massively built and labor-intensive and fantastic, but any evidence of BIM use is difficult to identify.

Qatar does have a National BIM initiative, which is an aspect of its 2030 National Vision for growth and development following the FIFA World Cup in 2022. All of the major infrastructure projects and all of the 2022 stadiums are BIM driven projects. Familiar names like Atkins, AECOM, Jacobs Parsons and Turner are among those involved. Overall, however, the progress and development of BIM is far behind what we take for granted in the West. Why?

In his LinkedIn article "10 Barriers to a Full BIM deployment in the Middle EastHamzeh Nawar, BIM Coordinator at Arabtec Construction LLC, explains:

Software companies took the lead in introducing BIM to Middle East, as a set of software and tools in the form of modeling, clash detection, quantity take-offs, and drawing extraction. This has resulted in a huge misunderstanding of BIM as a collaborative business process and limited the deployment of BIM in industry to the usage of BIM tools.
  • As BIM is new to the region, qualified BIM specialists are rare. Accordingly firms tend to hire and train people on using BIM tools without educating them on BIM process.
  • BIM requires significant sharing of data and information through the project life cycle between internal and external parties involved in the project; however companies in this region tend to be conservative and not so open to the sharing of information
  • BIM is a collaborative process that requires a major change in the internal work process and culture.
  • BIM (as it is meant to be!) is struggling to float to surface in this part of the world. A conservative and limited form of BIM is starting to form in the Middle East, a version of BIM limited to technology and capabilities of BIM software and tools.
Hamzeh concludes, “Benefits are still realized with this version of BIM, but the major benefits of a full BIM deployment are still a long-shot. Apparently BIM-ers still have a really long journey to go before they start realizing the actual benefits of BIM in Middle East.

*Source: 2013 rankings by Building Design + Construction

Friday, July 4, 2014

Qatar Update

I've been silent for quite some time, but I've decided to start blogging again.

The reasons for the silence include immersion in my work as BIM Manager for the FIFA 2022 World Cup Al Wakrah Stadium and Precinct Development project, the intensity of that activity, and the observance the of the client's explicit interest in confidentiality. I am not allowed to share any of the details of the project, the processes involved in its creation, or detail the challenges that are typically encountered on any large and complex building project. I intend to comply with that mandate, no matter how much it goes against my professional and democratic sensibilities. Imagine where we would be with BIM if we could not share and learn from each other's successes - and failures.

I can confirm that it is a BIM project with a high degree of complexity. I am on the Project Management team from KEO International Consultants. The project's architect of record is AECOM (London), the design architect is Zaha Hadid, and the client is represented by Project Management Consultant CH2MHill. Most of the professionals involved are British, along with Australians, a few Americans, and workers of many other Asian and European nationalities.

Personally, there are always two aspects of my work-life from which I derive satisfaction, in addition to the actual objective activity of the job. Teaching and learning.

In Qatar I have learned quite a lot, but so far the opportunities to "pay it forward" have been limited. The revival of this blog is one of the ways I intend to change that.

Thursday, September 5, 2013



At the end of this month I will be relocating to Doha, Qatar to serve as Senior Architect and BIM Manager for a sports complex renovation.

I will be working for project manager KEO International Consultants. The design consultant is AECOM, project designer Zaha Hadid Architects.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Finding the Efficiency of BIM

Revit Model
With two weeks until first building department submittal, our "GA" apartment project has steadily evolved since the decision to continue using BIM was made. We now have three Reviteers involved.

The GA project is a large stacked flat apartment building. We have evolved a method that incorporates groups, links, design options and phasing to achieve the maximum efficiency in creating and managing the BIM for construction documents.

SketchUp Model
In multi-family housing CADthe design development process relies on surface modeler SketchUp. While most agree it is a "great design tool", the model is not connected to the plan development, and frequently loses its fidelity.

Projects often receive client or agency approval in spite of inconsistencies. When a project moves from DD to CD, the 2D plan files developed by the designers are handed over to production staff who refine the building plans and develop construction documents. It is they who must decipher or verify the "design intent" while applying their knowledge of building codes and constructability. The redundancy and inefficiency in this process is apparent. The obvious solution is to use the same program for both modeling and plan development. That is the reason that BIM and Revit exist.

Are designers really challenged by the process change required to switch from SketchUp to Revit? It is a move which offers many benefits. For those not familiar with the MacLeamy Curve, one effect of BIM is that effort is shifted forward where the  ability to impact cost and functional change is greater, and the cost of making changes is less.

Repeat: The cost of making changes is less.

In the technologically held back housing industry, the perceived additional effort to start up a Revit project at the CD stage is a difficult sell, especially when the client has not requested it. 

Vasari is an alternative
for concept design.
The efficiency of BIM is found in moving the effort forward where the cost is less. Designers should be eager to to accept the challenge of learning new methods, when there are benefits for all involved.

Once the basic building form has been conceived, designers must evolve the aesthetic concept, optimize dwelling unit mix and design, and provide accommodation for the infrastructure, services and common facilities.

The arrangement of the various unit types has significant impact on the building's form. Using mass families these unit types may be modeled as multi-story elements that can be driven parametrically to analyze and optimize the building design. Over time a library of plan types and plan forms will be developed that may be combined to rapidly complete the plan development. 

The mass family is also the basis for development of building modules that will be linked into a host model. At this stage design options may be used to explore and evaluate different material and finish options. With this method, "skinning" the building is achieved by manipulating the unit type model and propagating geometry and material changes throughout the model.

Groups are used for the interior of each unit type model to assure floor-to-floor consistency and modeling efficiency.

Revit is very entrepreneurial, and even within the same company, there are often as many modeling strategies as there are modelers. Methods also vary depending on the type of project. My goal is always to improve both the process and the product. The knowledge gained will be applied to subsequent projects, regardless of type.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Revit to CAD - Nothing to Fear

We are well on our way to our goal of 50% DD on our new 'GA Apartment' BIM project, with a well developed model, fifty sheets set up, and the first round of CAD backgrounds issued to consultants. 80 hours.
Our largest BIM housing project so far was nearly derailed during a kick-off meeting with the owner's MEP consultants. I was not present (perhaps I should have been) but it was reported that these CAD based designers were upset about the extra effort involved in working with CAD files exported from a Revit model. One claimed that they would need to add 4 weeks to their schedule because of problems they have had with some other architect's BIM output. Of course this is just fear the unknown - were have not yet provided anything. (Owners take note - if the work were being done with BIM, this would be a non-issue.)

It was stipulated that unless we can provide backgrounds and sheet layouts that look exactly like our standard 2D files, the project will revert to CAD. I did not hesitate to guarantee that will not happen. I further guaranteed that the export will be better than, not equal to, the typical 2D output.

Internally, we had previously discussed that the 'OOTB' Revit export setup produces files that conform to the AIA Layer Standards, which is also the basis for our office standard. To placate those who cannot seem to conceive of walls with finishes, we had further decided modify the export setup to place the finish material line work on separate layers, allowing these items to be hidden or deleted.

The main problem with CAD standards is they DO NOT WORK. We have a very well documented office standard that defines layer names for every type of "object" in the 2D world. We also have a table listing all of the approved line colors and their corresponding line weights. I randomly chose one base plan file from the project's "xref" directory and easily discovered violations of both these "standards". Non-standard layer names and colors.

With the typical "x-clip/xref" methodology, there are literally hundreds of layers to manage - one set for every instance of every unit plan, plus many other random layers - more than six hundred layers in all.

The CAD exported from the Revit model is completely consistent and reliable. The options for CAD export are explained very well by Steve Stafford in this Revit OpEd post,
"It is important to understand that the intended purpose for exporting to DWG is to create files that can be used as a background for other trades. It was never really intended to be a better way to make DWG files."
In the export dialog Revit categories are mapped to layer names and colors in CAD. I actually had to "dumb down" the standard export setup, combining items that would normally be on separate layers.

For export to our specific office layer standard, line weights are controlled using color by layer:

In the Visibility Graphics dialog, Cut Line Styles allows adjustments of lines weights of host objects (floors, walls, ceilings & roofs) which affect both display and export.

While some fine tuning remains, we achieved the goal of providing CAD base drawings with separate layers for finishes (which do not exist in the normal CAD world!) Overall the output is better. 689 layers in a typical CAD floor plan base are reduced to thirty-one - yet CAD is the "industry standard" that is defended, against the elegant, simple, consistent output created by Revit.

Strange but true.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Multi-Family Housing Concepts

When I became immersed in the housing industry and began studying its processes, my original strategy for implementation was to emulate the methods being used with CAD, to make the transition to BIM easier. That strategy has evolved over several months, and each new project is an opportunity to improve the the process and the outcome.

Housing is similar to high-rise hospitality, where repetition of the individual units within a structural bay is the key to efficiency, in the modeling process as well as in actual construction. This repetition allows the unit mix within a hotel or condo tower to be adjusted late in the design process, or perhaps during construction, in response to project conditions. In tower BIM the individual unit models typically do not include the building enclosure (although this has been done).

Low-rise, Type V mixed-use and multifamily housing differs in that, unrestricted by a structural grid, the unit shapes and sizes vary greatly, and in design the pieces must be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, to achieve the desired unit mix. Within the individual unit types, there may be variations based on story level or exposure, including windows, railings, balconies and other interior and exterior features.

In construction, these buildings are "stick framed" with bearing walls, simple span floor joists, and roof trusses. They are very simple buildings.
  • The benefit of BIM to builders is the refinement of the design to eliminate surprises in the field. Surprises lead to changes, delays, and loss of efficiency.
  • The benefit of BIM to designers is that a building prototype may be rapidly assembled with many variations tested to achieve the optimum design configuration.
  • The benefit of BIM in production is rapid composition of construction documents that are coordinated and graphically consistent.
For the RW Apartment project, in less than 40 hours, using previous projects as a resource, we already have a prototypical CD package that could pass for 50% completion. 40 sheets in all. Starting a residential BIM project from CAD and Sketchup files is quick and easy. Anyone with Revit construction knowledge can do it. Imagine how productive and profitable it is when these techniques are successfully pushed "upstream".

Modeling Notes~
It is tempting to try assembling an entire building from groups or linked files. While this is a great way to start, for a "stacked flats" project it must eventually be abandoned - especially when using groups.

A residential building's exterior walls vary in their height, materials, and openings.
Once the basic form is generated, it seems best to remove these items from their groups. We start with "core only" walls for layout, but these are quickly replaced by components with specific materials and finishes.

At the building level, the largest repeatable segment was identified as the entire building enclosure, consisting of roof, walls, floors, windows, doors, stairs and railings.

At the unit level, the largest repeatable segment consists of interior elements and exterior features, including windows, that do not vary from floor to floor. The key with these interior groups is that all objects must share the same reference level. Interior groups are independent; they are not nested into the larger building group.

Door and window style schedules developed on previous projects allowed rapid assignment of those components based on room type.

Friday, May 31, 2013

It's Not Rocket Surgery

I met Phil Bernstein at an AIAOC event several years ago. I was astonished when he projected ten more years before BIM would fully penetrate the profession.  Already working on the bleeding edge of architectural technology for several years, that estimate was beyond my belief. That was thirteen years ago.

I visited his blog and was refreshed to learn that someone is thinking about architectural at a much higher level than is common in our daily professional lives:
"How do we make design a more profitable practice? Design practice has traditionally positioned building as a commodity in the delivery supply chain, valued by clients like other products and services purchased at lowest first cost. Intense market competition, sole focus on differentiation by design quality, and lack of innovation in project delivery models and and business models, has resulted in a profession that is grossly underpaid and marginally profitable, despite the fact the building sector in its entirety operates in large capital pools where significant value is created. The profession must explore new techniques for correlating the real value of an architect's services to clients and thereby break the downward pressure on design compensation."
This is the purpose of the BIM-4-Homebuilders conference. To learn what your colleagues and peers are thinking as well as what they're doing with regard to BIM. Those who have been to our SCRUG meetings know that the real purpose of the meetings is networking. At this event it will be on a grand scale, amid a 30 million dollar collection of exotic cars - and the proceeds of the event go to charity.

Owners, designers, builders, and consultants all may have differing ideas about BIM. What is it? What does it do? What is it's value? What is it for?
Why has this sector resisted change?
  • After a brutal economic downturn, workers are grateful  to be employed, and reluctant to "rock the boat".
  • It took years to get designers to give up their pencils - now they're stuck on Sketchup, the "hollow" modeler. Most designers show no interest in advancing the technology. Most are simply waiting to be told what to do.
  • Practitioners have streamlined the CAD process beyond efficiency to minimalism. "We don't show that on our drawings" is a common instructional phrase. Coordination is one direction: downstream. It is up to the consultants to keep their work up to date. Conflicts are resolved in the field.
My part in all this is to teach - to anyone who will listen - how easy, how satisfying, and how rewarding it is to build with BIM. All the work depicted in the video above, and much more, was accomplished in two days time. Wall and floor types; custom windows and awnings, materials. Coordinated civil data; imported topographic data. As of today the first wave of design refinements has been implemented. 

We proceed with the confidence that all of this information is coordinated and up to date. We are gradually accumulating a library of components and prototypes, and a repertoire of methodologies, that must eventually be moved upstream, to realize its full value. Those who resist are likely to be overwhelmed. 

Who believes that this is difficult is not aware. 

To join your peers and colleagues in this process of change, please register for the BIM-4-Homebuilders conference today.