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Digital Built Britain v BIM

When BIM first reached the masses in about 2010 it was exciting: finally the construction industry woke up to the 21st century and embraced the ability of computers to take on our more mundane tasks and improve communication.

A data-centric approach to managing projects meant that appointments would be clearer, design computation could yield instant feedback, models would feed directly into fabrication robots and building operators could simply and efficiently access all the information about their assets at the click of a button.

However, in 2016 there seems to be a widespread consensus that BIM is just an expensive, less flexible way of delivering projects, and sadly the acronym is often a sure fire way of clearing a room.

Beyond the UK government's level 2 BIM deadline in April 2016 there is no level 3 BIM; instead it is 'digital built Britain'. And the industry is following suit; let's remove this acronym with too much baggage and stigma and get down to what it really means: sensible data management, better quality communication of design intent, easier and more effective collaboration, and many opportunities to do things more quickly and accurately.

When thinking about 'digital' rather than 'BIM, we find ourselves asking a more straight forward question: what can computers and data do for us?

Firstly, computers are capable of recording vast amounts of data and processing it very quickly, but to date they're not so good at the more creative stuff; that's what people are for. So it follows that we can outsource a lot of our thinking time to a processor by offloading the more mundane, repetitive tasks, leaving our creative minds to focus on the more interesting things. Good technology should allow people to spend less time alone staring at a computer.

As an example, BREEAM is a way of addressing a very important aspect of our building design (environmental impact) but is often seen as a time-consuming form filling exercise. This is a terribly boring thing for a human to do, but provides essential information in a usable common structure. This is exactly what computers are good at, so let's automate this important but boring compliance process so that humans can get on with doing the interesting important tasks.

We are now also capable of doing things that were previously impossible or impractical. Virtual reality and augmented reality are becoming cheaper and easier; anyone with a smartphone has a choice of free apps to upload your 3D models, and if oculus rift is outside your budget, try google cardboard for just £6. The MX3D Amsterdam bridge project is proving that 3D printing is not just for small objects; perhaps entire pipework systems could be printed on site too? Many other emerging technologies are presenting completely new options: reality capture, the internet of things, cloud computing, wearable technology and visual scripting are just a few examples.

Secondly, data can be very informative if you know what to do with it. Buildings can potentially generate enormous amounts of data, and in the right hands that can quickly be used to assess energy performance, make comparisons of different technologies, or identify faults in building systems, for example. Raw data is daunting, but visualisation of that data is easy and provides a more immediate form of interpretation. As 2 examples, graphs and infographics are clear methods of showing key statistics and are easily generated in Excel, and 3D models give an intuitive interface to accessing associated data at various stages in a project lifecycle.

Finally, you don't have to be a computer scientist to use a computer these days. Much of the software available for design, construction and operation of buildings is going this way too. Virtual reality is a good starting point for the technologically averse, but there are plenty of other technologies that offer simple solutions for anyone.

So, on hearing the acronym 'BIM', don't run for the hills, simply consider what computers and data can do to help you.


--BSRIA

This article originally appeared as Goodbye BIM - Hello Digital in the BSRIA News in March 2016. It was written by Ben Roberts, Associate and BIM Delivery Leader at Hoare Lea.

See other articles by BSRIA here.

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