Could BIM transform the way we design, construct, and manage buildings? Richard Byatt reports from Bristol on a project for the University of the West of England.
8 December 2015 | By Richard Byatt
At design, construction and even FM conferences over the past few years, the answer to almost any question has been BIM - Building Information Modelling.
The movement has spawned academies, forums, workshops, events and social media groups. What has been in shorter supply is practical examples of how BIM will connect design, construction and operations to produce better buildings that are cheaper to build and easier to manage.
Stride Treglown, architect for the new Faculty of Business & Law (FBL) building on the University of the West of England (UWE) Frenchay campus, describes BIM as: "A collaborative process of virtual design, construction and management. It means understanding and controlling the data flow through these phases, ensuring leanness in its handling and therefore driving efficiency."
The government set up the BIM Task Group to help deliver the objectives of the Government Construction Strategy published in 2011. The aim is that all central government departments have adopted collaborative Level 2 BIM by 2016.
NBS, part of RIBA, compares BIM to Quality Assurance. "BIM Level 2 is aimed at ensuring that information is produced and shared in a consistent and standardised manner." Level 2 is often described as "shared BIM", the more ambitious Level 3 as "integrated BIM".
To ensure that projects are properly validated and controlled as they develop, data is extracted from the evolving building information model and submitted to the client at key milestones to verify that the project is compliant, efficient and build able.
A different culture
The £50 million, 17,000 square metre building for FBL will be the biggest academic building the faculty has built. Set to open in January 2017, it's part of UWE's £250 million investment across the campus. Frenchay was built in the 1970s and is showing its age. FBL's current building is a rabbit warren of corridors, with totally enclosed academic offices.
"We needed to up our game in terms of the facilities we offer students and staff," says Marianne Reed, head of faculty strategic developments.
The new building comprises two wings of accommodation enclosing a central atrium. On the ground floor the space opens up to a plaza that will shift the centre of gravity of the campus. Facilities include two showcase law courts, a city trading room, a 300-seat lecture theatre, and two smaller Harvard-style theatres.
The facility is designed to promote change in ways of working, particularly through sharing of offices and the provision of more flexible social space. BIM was an integral part of the brief. UWE wanted a tool for estates and FM to plug into its existing FM software. Protocols established on the FBL project will guide all future projects at the university. As a leader in BIM education, UWE also wanted to use the FBL building as a demonstration project.
Stride Treglown has worked with BIM for 10 years and the practice is a prime mover in the South-West BIM Hub. The main contractor for the project is also BIM-enabled. ISG is a member of the UK Contractors Group BIM Working Group; the BIM4FitOut task group and the CIAT BIM taskforce.
The project team has adopted a Soft Landings approach, working closely with UWE to maximise efficiencies and enhance performance during the design, construction, commissioning and occupation phases so that predicted performance and expectations are fully met.
On BIM for design, Andrew Kingdon, associate architect at Stride Treglown, says: "From day one you don't have architect and structural engineer working in silos - the conceptual model can be used by the engineer, you're sharing information from the outset. Every week the architectural, the structural, civil, M&E and public health models are all uploaded, with changes highlighted, and then downloaded by consultants and federated."
Andrew Stanford is ISG's regional BIM manager. "We want BIM to become business as usual. Essentially it's a more efficient way of doing what we do. It enables our clients to have complete, consistent information at handover to enable them to maintain their buildings more effectively."
Generally the way designers and contractors use BIM, he says, is to work in 2D, but as the model incorporates 3D geometry they have the ability to instantly view a space or object in 3D. With the amount of kit in buildings today and issues of access and logistics this can save time and work.
Visualising the space
The faculty has undertaken stakeholder engagement since the feasibility stage of the new building project. "We've got lots of different groups that meet as part of the stakeholder engagement," says Marianne Reed, "including an FBL new-build teaching spaces group, with representation from across the faculty and university, including central departments such as IT services, procurement, space planning and timetabling."
The 3D model really came into play when looking at things like the location of data points and small power.
"When you look at the detail people really start to engage. Where in a teaching space do we need power, how do we want to teach in these spaces, what's our pedagogy, do we want technology enhanced teaching spaces? We're looking at how we want to teach and how we future-proof these spaces. We're trying to disseminate knowledge and learning across the university. We're also talking to student reps across different programmes - some in year one will be moving into the building later in their courses. Power is their big issue!"
The architect created virtual spaces in Autodesk's BIM software, Revit, early on. More academic staff will be sharing offices so they rendered one, two and four-person offices, put furniture in them and added virtual cameras. "You can go into a room and see how it works, see all the elements including ductwork and ceiling tiles for example. In a teaching space you can tell whether views are obstructed," says Kingdon.
Images taken from the "federated model" can even be used on smartphones with a Google Cardboard 3D viewer. "It's a great way to get feedback," says Kingdon. "A key user walked down a virtual corridor and declared that it felt too enclosed so the design was revised to incorporate more glazing."
A direct export from Revit to the navigable 3D environment tool Revizto has allowed Reed to make full use of BIM's visualisation capabilities. "I have a model on my iPad which has been really great in terms of engagement with staff. When I'm meeting with smaller groups I can show them furnished space and walk through it with them. There's no need to create a special presentation. I can walk wherever I want to in the virtual building."
Managing with BIM
The look and feel of a building is very important for design and stakeholder communications, but for FM it's information about how a building has been put together that delivers on the promise of BIM.
"Traditional O&M information doesn't give clients all the information they need to run a building," says ISG's Andrew Stanford. "In some cases the FM team has to come in and survey to understand what's in there."
Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (or COBie) is a non-graphical information exchange specification developed by a number of US public agencies to improve the handover process to building owner-operators.
"What BIM and COBie allows us to do is to capture information as our supply chain are on site, installing that air handling unit, and we can package that, including warranty information and service level agreements, in a way that the estates team can import it straight into their facilities management system," says Stanford.
Trina Ratcliffe-Pacheco is building design manager at UWE. She joined the estates team (part of facilities) in 2012 to implement BIM and upgrade the FM tool. The department was being restructured and the university maintenance contract, currently with Mitie, is being retendered.
UWE's estates team was using an old, heavily customised version of Archibus that some people had abandoned, reverting to spreadsheets.
"We needed a unique, central database," says Ratcliffe-Pacheco, "so upgraded to an out-of-the-box Archibus solution. It's compatible with BIM and can be linked to other systems such as accommodation and timetabling."
The starting point for BIM implementation was to decide what would be classed as "maintainable assets" and how the university wanted data provided by BIM. This has driven the specification for the FM and maintenance aspects of BIM. Kingdon says that traditionally architects would hand over a set of final construction drawings plus a set of O&M manuals. These would be kept in a physical or virtual folder and were not readily accessible. With BIM, information about an asset is held in a database but embedded in the model. Unlike conventional 3D design, BIM's approach means that a door would come with acoustic and fire ratings data.
"The interface certainly makes it easier for lay people to understand space," says Ratcliffe-Pacheco. "Our maintenance manager can explain a problem to a contractor using a 3D interface. Even on a simple level, a job such as changing a lamp is made easier as the contractor can see immediately if there are access issues, check the type of lamp and the connections."
Augmented reality technology will allow an FM team to walk through buildings with a tablet and identify and retrieve data on assets simply by pointing the tablet camera at them.
Ratcliffe-Pacheco wants to collect life cycle data and part of the SLA is building up knowledge so that estates can group and schedule tasks more efficiently, especially refurbishments. The system will also be used to gather information on what features of new buildings do and don't work.
To be an accurate reflection of the building in use the model must be kept current. Contractors can feed data back into the model if the specification of, say, an item of plant changes. But Ratcliffe-Pacheco is cautious about the capabilities of suppliers. "It would be ideal if contractors could simply take information from the model and import it into their CAFM systems. It remains to be seen if this will happen." Although she sees a commercial advantage for FM companies to say they are BIM-enabled, she believes it's unrealistic to expect maintenance contractors to have this capability. It's not a requirement in the current tender although contractors are required to update the Archibus database.
For FMs it's probably best not to get too hung up on modelling; BIM is essentially about data management. As the demand for flexible buildings increases so will the need for intelligent systems to manage the way they are used, maintained and adapted. We may see the boundaries between BIM and CAFM begin to dissolve in the quest for a truly responsive model.