BIM, that’s the Final Frontier

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

There has been much recent talk concerning ownership of the ‘Information’ in our Building Information Models. In fact there was a whole Building magazine sponsored webinar devoted to this very topic, closing their series of webinar discussions on BIM. It turned out to be a rather circular discussion, with very little that was new or indeed definitive. But was I expecting too much?

We know that BIM is a process. It is not a piece of software, but a collection of pieces of software that must be used, or at least co-ordinated by experienced professionals who can look forward and be adaptive to the needs of BIM evolution. Because there can be no doubt that like any ‘process’ it will evolve with use. One of the industry’s biggest problems seems to be getting it into more common usage such that it will have the opportunity to evolve. A ‘chicken and egg’ if ever I saw one.

The big players are having current limited success. Limited, that is, to the big players; their success being well reported. The smaller players clearly need to try it on for size before they can see whether it fits. There seems to be a choice between massive financial investment, or a massive move away from the traditional control building design practices exercise over their resources; to something like BIM in the cloud.

Project Management / Collaboration:
There will be a trickle down of BIM – incarnate to suit life’s smaller building projects. It will evolve to provide a new house owner with a reference as to where that pipe came from, and where that cable is going to, but that will not happen for at least ten, and maybe twenty years plus. It will take a generation of use for BIM to become mainstream for everyday use. Oh sure it will happen by 2016 for government and public contracts, because Paul Morrell has said it will, and that’s good because without that sort of kick-start we’re looking down an even longer barrel for the rest.

The larger projects, by definition, are executed by the larger players whose profits allow BIM development. Particularly if they are reliant on government contracts, in which case there is no where else to go. Developers, contractors and building designers with more diverse and flexible portfolios, remain free to watch this game from a distance, cheering occasionally when someone scores a goal, and mopping theirs brows in relief when it’s an own goal. “That could have been us!!”

It’s all new, to most anyway, so there are bound to be hiccups and trip wires along the way. Collaboration is the key. If you can find a design team that can agree the prosecution of the design; the resulting collaboration must be managed such that design input is co-ordinated. On larger works there may be a dedicated BIM-PM, on smaller works you can bet your life it will end up being the architect or technologist augmenting their traditional role as design team leader. There’s a further option for savings on professional fees by the client then.

The single project model will unquestionably evolve from its inception to be packed to bursting with information on the building construction, infrastructure and systems, equipment and maintenance schedules, procurement and supply chain minutiae, even down to the composition of the paint used in the mens toilets – to give an over-view that barely scratches the surface. BIM provides the opportunity for so much detail that it verges on being too much.

Currently documented project scripts describe a necessity for ownership of the project model to commence with the building designers – that’s architects, technologists and engineers; thereafter migrating to the main contractor as manager and orchestrator to successfully over-see integration of the supply chain and specialist sub-contractors, in addition to the inevitable changing face of the design throughout construction.

It is possible of course that the originating design team be retained throughout the construction process, or any combination there-to. It does not, and should not matter. If one adopts the assumption that architects and technologists receive a client’s brief with their eyes wide open, the prospect of how the design and procurement are to progress is little different in a full, or even partial BIM environment, from that of more traditional 2D or 3D developments that are ongoing as you read this post. The principles of copyright will prevail, and the technicalities, as ever, will be ordered by the lawyers. What would we do without them? Or is it what would they do without people who seek to make life more complicated than it perhaps needs to be?

The role of BIModelling is to manage a building development project from cradle to grave; in all it’s phases and incarnations from project inception to ultimate demolition. The Design, Procurement and Construction phases are well documented. But for the building owner and manager in use to benefit in full from the adoption of their BIModel, ownership of that model and full unfettered access to it’s information must ultimately be theirs.

Ownership and copyright to the IP relating to the building design will remain with the architect or technologist, with the same applicable to the structural design being with the structural design engineer, the mechanical design infrastructure remaining with the mechanical design engineer, and so on, and so forth. If the same building was erected on another site with the same design, procurement and construction processes, the design copyright would be unchanged. The ownership of the resultant BIModel would be with the new client. Buildings are like fingerprints – everyone is different, even if they look the same. For the purposes of BIM we only have to take a cable from ‘A’ to ‘B’ by a different route, and it instantly becomes a different building. Let a lone put it on another site.

Any client will require that the building designers and contractors retain accountability for receiving payment. That’s a given and right now that’s why it’s BIM that’s the Final Frontier.

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