addingupI have lost count of the number of times over the past few years that I have heard consultants complain to me that they added BIM to their service offerings and all that happened was that documentation costs went up and the project still had the same problems as before. An attitude prevails that, “I added BIM and the magic didn’t happen.” The problem with this position is that the designer is reliant on BIM doing all the heavy lifting to fix the problems with an industry whose problems stem from a much deeper problem.

Documentation standards globally haven’t slipped because the software isn’t good enough or because the operators aren’t technically competent; the issue at fault is that the underlying methods of communicating and interrogating designs have not moved with the technology in a large majority of design offices. It’s not a question of manpower or costs but one of communicating a deeper understanding of the building being created.

Unlike their 2D counterparts, model authors are required to understand the intrinsic meaning behind every object that is included in the model. It is not enough to draw a single line to represent a pipe – you must understand that the pipe has not only a length but also a diameter, a fall, a requirement for fixing clips, corners don’t just happen they need junctions… and this is just one pipe. We can no longer design and document in a system where the designer sits at one end of the room working in pencil while a CAD technician draws their interpretation at the other end.

The old process of dividing design from documentation is fraught with pitfalls. I believe that this is one of the root causes of the decline in documentation quality that has beset our industry over the past decades. This disconnect between what we design and how that is recorded and communicated to others leads to a chasm of information loss from which many projects never escape. The designer may understand the parameters and limitations of their creation but the nuances of this are lost in translation to the documented form, and when this document is the only means of communicating to others the information continues to degrade further.

To combat this there are two developments that must take place;

  • Firstly the designers must become part of the development of the design model. This doesn’t mean that they must personally construct every object, but they must at least understand and be involved in the creation in the same way as a leading hand on a construction site.
  • Secondly the documenters must become involved in the creative process of the designs they document; understanding, interpreting and developing the concrete, pipework and timber to create a plan of how the building is built.

Ok, so it’s really one development, and we create a hybrid documenting-designer, but the point is that we need to bridge the divide between designing and documenting.

So when you look at how the technology of BIM is going to change what your practice produces, firstly look at how your design and documenting roles are going to change within your team. And don’t expect the BIM to find the solution for you!

Insight by Matthew Johnson – Associate Director POWE ArchitectsMatthew Johnson
Originally published as the other 23 on Blogspot
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Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of POWE Architects.