Arup Thoughts: Let BIM unite standardisers and innovators

Some in the industry argue that building information modelling (BIM) should be used to enable radical innovation, while others feel its main goal should be standardization.


Some in the industry argue that building information modelling (BIM) should be used to enable radical innovation, while others feel its main goal should be standardization. Courtesy: ArupFreed from an obsession with standardization for efficiency, building information modelling (BIM) enables radical innovation. But differences of opinion in the industry are handicapping its potential.

There are two camps in the BIM debate: those who believe the tool should be used to enable a standardized design process and those who believe it should be used to enable radical innovation. It’s time for the two BIM camps to start working together again – because when they don’t get along, they obstruct each other.

The standardizers love structure and protocol. Infrastructure UK, the owner of government assets, is in this camp. It has identified BIM as a methodology that can help deliver the huge savings they have to find while still meeting the needs of the nation. I know many of my Arup colleagues working on infrastructure projects also share this aspiration for BIM, as do the professional institutions.

The innovators include bodies such as the UK government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Singaporean government. And many of my building design colleagues are in this camp too. They are interested in the potential the tool offers for radical innovation. BIM makes it possible for them to test their design intent virtually – enabling them to push the boundaries further than they otherwise could.

The standardizers often argue that BIM is the only opportunity we have to impose structure on an unstructured industry. Imagine you’re designing a school building and a bridge and that the two designs use a steel beam. Standardizers would argue that you need a rigid classification so you can compare things like the relative cost or carbon footprint of the beams.

But agreeing any industry-wide classification is a monstrously difficult task and is unnecessary when computation can do the same thing with unstructured data. I agree with RIBA Enterprises’ chief executive Richard Waterhouse, who said that classifications are for humans, not machines.

Unlike the standardizers, the innovators want to be free to develop new definitions and new measurements all the time, because this will lead to new solutions. For example, if you were to measure all buildings only by cost then they would all look pretty similar. Whereas if you measure them by, say cost and carbon, their form is likely to change substantially: think of Stanford’s Energy & Environment building for example, and compare it with a contemporary spec’ office building.

By imposing a single way of doing things through BIM you risk stifling innovation. You risk becoming more efficient at something that is less and less relevant to society and its needs.

That would be a shame because, to date, BIM has certainly enabled the industry to do things that would have been impractical before. For example, BIM is behind the Water Cube of the Beijing Olympics which arguably couldn’t have been created without it and even enabled digital ‘post-occupancy’ evaluation pre-construction at Admiralty Station in Hong Kong.

What’s the answer? I believe that both camps should be patient, inclusive and co-operative. They should look for synergies. And they should respect and promote each other’s practice, as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Conversely, I believe that focussing on one or the other view might mean the naysayers that don’t want the status quo to change will get their way.

- Alvise Simondetti is a foresight, research and innovation team member at Arup. This article originally appeared on Arup Thoughts. Arup is a CFE Media content partner.

No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Commissioning lighting control systems; 2016 Commissioning Giants; Design high-efficiency hot water systems for hospitals; Evaluating condensation and condensate
Solving HVAC challenges; Thermal comfort criteria; Liquid-immersion cooling; Specifying VRF systems; 2016 Product of the Year winners
MEP Giants; MEP Annual Report; Mergers and acquisitions; Passive, active fire protection; LED retrofits; HVAC energy efficiency
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing Arc Flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Putting COPS into context; Designing medium-voltage electrical systems; Planning and designing resilient, efficient data centers; The nine steps of designing generator fuel systems
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
click me