Practice 2.0: 4 Take-aways from Chicago's BIM Forum

Practice 2.0: 4 Take-aways from Chicago's BIM Forum

By Federico Negro

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting our work on the construction of the Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame by Trahan Architects at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) BIM Forum in Chicago. The event is meant to “facilitate and accelerate the adoption of building information modeling (BIM) in the AEC industry lead by example and synchronize with counterparts in all sectors of the industry to jointly develop best practice for virtual design and construction (VDC).” I also got a copy of Chuck Eastman’s new edition of his BIM Handbook which served as entertainment during the trip and which I’ll refer to later in this post.

It was my first time at the forum. Here is what I learned about the adoption of BIM by the industry and how it is understood.

1. There are still three types of people when it comes to BIM: those who do it, those who talk about doing it, and those who willingly remain unaware while hoping it will just pass by.

Like most transformational processes, BIM has its share of opponents. It also has its share of cheerleaders. Many design technology conferences these days have a healthy dose of BIM cheerleader presentations, or so-called BIM marketing. What I liked about the AGC’s BIM Forum was the fact that it was topical in nature, which forced presenters to get specific and address real issues, improving the signal-to-noise ratio. It also does a great job of ‘reaching across the aisle’ by including all members of the building process. James Timberlake, a founding partner of Kieran Timberlake and an architect, gave the keynote address.

The conference, which is held three times per year in different cities across the US, directly addresses issues associated with the shift toward BIM-based management and delivery. This year’s topic was “Where does design end and construction begin?” The topic alone sets this conference apart as it strives to go beyond the question still being asked at other conferences: Why should we use BIM?

To that end, one of the more interesting presentations at the forum was a skit performed by Phil Bernstein (who keeps a great blog, by the way) and Jan Reinhardt. The skit, aptly named “BIM among enemies”, played out the process of model sharing under a traditional project delivery contract structure.

The narrative walked the audience through the different stages of design and construction, starting with pre-construction. The most successful part of the skit was the actors’ ability to place equal blame on the three major parties for missteps during construction coordination. The owner was blamed for not clearly outlining deliverable requirements for both parties. Just ‘requiring BIM’ was not enough. The architect protected his position stating that he was only required to use BIM and not to deliver BIM. He saw holding the model as leverage, but did not want to take on risk associated with its use. The builder told his subs that a BIM model would be provided, but didn’t have access to it. Once he did get it, he either couldn’t use it or realized the model didn’t quite meet the standards he required for use in construction (see point below). This in turn caused many problems with his subs in coordination and cost overruns. Needless to say, both parties quickly fell into a confrontational stance, a common outcome in such a situation.

The level of collaboration and communication required amongst the architect and builder, a relationship that lacks a contractual agreement in traditional models, is the main subject of the skit. How we address this is a different conversation, but having a venue to discuss these issues is critical. I encourage BIM Forum to promote more of this type of material.

2. People still misunderstand the concept of ‘purpose built models’.

Too much emphasis has been given to the belief that to do BIM one must keep a single model in a single environment that fulfills all tasks required by a design. This concept is misleading. Each stakeholder has a purpose – a deliverable – in mind when building models. There are different preferred tools and workflows in each of the disciplines. There are also incredibly detailed standards for internal quality assurance inside many firms. Aggregating disparate models into a whole is quite a different concept to that of multiple parties concurrently reading and writing onto a single file.

That said, it is in the best interest of the project to identify someone whose job it is to aggregate all parties’ models into a coherent whole, with its own data structure, attribute sets, etc. Who, then, is responsible for this must be clarified in all projects, though it usually falls on the construction manager (CM) or a neutral BIM coordinator. Mainly, parties need to understand that what they produce will be shared, and it will become part of a larger assembly.

The single-model misconception is probably a by-product of the perceived marriage of BIM and IPD (Integrated Project Delivery). Though IPD is a very interesting and promising collaboration structure, it still represents a minority of projects in the building industry. Design-Bid-Build (DBB), Design-Build and CM at Risk are by far still the most common models in the U.S. (DBB accounted for 90% of public projects and 40% of private projects in 2002#). The success of any IPD project probably lies in the inclusive collaboration structure where all parties work together from the onset of design, with the technology playing the role of enabler. Many of the projects I’ve worked on could have greatly benefited from the expertise of builders and fabricators during the design process, but the benefits of BIM do not necessarily require these new contract structures.

That said, I’d like to share how we see this issue as it relates to more traditional delivery methods. We have identified two specific types of model exchange:

Among design parties – The model exchange occurs for the purpose of furthering the definition of the building design as a whole. (i.e. between an architect and his consulting engineers). Between the ‘design’ side and the ‘construction’ side – The design team delivers a model to be used as a reference or in addition to paper documents by those executing the construction. (i.e. model use for quantity surveying, coordination, scheduling, etc.)

Both of these are common on any project that uses a BIM-based project delivery process. The key, however, is understanding that each of these models (architecture, HVAC, FP, structures, plumbing, electrical, and others) was built for a particular purpose. That purpose is typically defined by that party’s deliverable for the project, which today is still mostly a set of 2D drawings (construction documents or shop drawings). The architect, for example, spends months and years carefully constructing a model that will clearly communicate design intent, but will not include information needed to properly phase the project, or at least do so in as detailed a manner as is needed for construction. Why not? Because it is not their job to do so. The CM or GC must take this on.

Construction and job site logistics, and sub-contractor means and methods expertise will add a whole other layer of complexity and specificity to an architect’s model. This is the real value added of a good builder and cannot be underestimated. Sometimes a CM will completely rebuild a model from scratch, other times he/she will use the design model as a reference. Either way it is the distinction between ‘what’ will be built, and ‘how’ it will be built that makes this stage of the process so critical.

This system may not be the ideal method for integrated design and construction of the future, but it is the most common method used today. It’s intention is to protect the owner with a structure of checks and balances. (Whether it works or not is not the topic of this post, but feel free to comment below). We should take the time to bring to light all the benefits BIM-based project management methods can bring to these traditional contract structures as they have the most to gain from it.

3. Most leaders of companies in design and construction today are still too risk-averse to take the lead in moving our industry forward. (The few that aren’t will lead this wave and will come out on top on the other side.)

This is too long a topic for me to address on this post… I will do a follow up on this, but the gist of it is this:

The best architects, engineers and builders we’ve seen are all over these technologies. They’re using the technology to improve their position, improve their designs, improve their deliverables and become more competitive in an already highly competitive market. Some use it as a way to attract talent, while others use it as a risk management tool, a quality control mechanism, or in support of business intelligence processes…

In any case, I think education needs to play a role here in demystifying notions of expanded liability. These processes are being used every day by many who understand their value, and have taken the time to carefully discuss these issues with their clients, their lawyers, their consultants and their staff as they move forward with implementation. The language of communication in model-based collaboration is different. Make sure you take the time to understand your comfort zone and align your project deliverables and expectations to it.

4. ‘BIM’ as a term is still misused or misrepresented.

As a public service I will quote a reputable source for the definition. Chuck Eastman’s BIM Handbook defines BIM as “…a modeling technology and associated set of processes to produce, communicate, and analyze building models.”

He goes on to define building modelsGeometric definitions and associated data and rules (can be physical data such as areas, volumes, dimensions.. or meta-data such as manufacturer name, phase of construction, assembly tag, etc.) Geometry is integrated non-redundantly, and allows for no inconsistencies. When an object is shown in 3D, the shape cannot be represented internally redundantly, for example, as multiple 2D views. A plan and elevation of a given object must always be consistent. Dimensions cannot be ‘fudged’. Components that include data that describe how they behave, as needed for analyses and work processes, for example, takeoff, specification and energy analysis. Objects have the ability to link to or receive, broadcast, or export sets of attributes…

In other words, the aggregate of geometric and attribute data is a description of a model (an object), whereas the construction of these models is a description of Building Information Modeling (a process).

I recommend the book.

I leave you with a very telling paragraph from the book:

“BIM moves the industry forward from current task automation of project and paper-centric processes (3D CAD, animation, linked databases, spreadsheets, and 2D CAD drawings) toward an integrated and interoperable work-flow where these tasks are collapsed into a coordinated and collaborative process that maximizes computing capabilities. Web communication, and data aggregation into information and knowledge capture. All of this is used to simulate and manipulate reality-based models to manage the built environment within a fact-based, repeatable and verifiable decision process that reduces risk and enhances the quality of actions and product industry-wide.”

About this author
Cite: CASE. "Practice 2.0: 4 Take-aways from Chicago's BIM Forum" 03 Aug 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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