The future face of construction

BuildingSMART officially launched its Middle East chapter last week

Professor Vladamir Bazjanac
Professor Vladamir Bazjanac

The international membership organisation BuildingSMART officially launched its Middle East chapter last week with its Build Smart 2009 conference, entitled Better Construction Through Interoperability.

It marked a new era for building and design communication throughout the GCC but it could also come to be seen as an even more momentous occasion – the point at which Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology took a stranglehold of the region’s practices.

For the uninitiated, think of BIM as being to AutoCAD what the iPod was to the Walkman. BIM employs three-dimensional, real-time, dynamic building modeling software to produce a model storing all data related to the construction and maintenance of a building during its lifecycle.

“From an information science point of view, BIM looks at a building as being a large databank of operations, without any thought as to its end use or return on investment,” explained Professor Vladimir Bazjanac from the University of California’s Building Technologies Department – the leading research centre of its kind in the world.

“From there, it produces a memory map – with different disciplines fed in from the different segments.”

The key is interoperability. As a change is made to the model at one point, all clashes and ramifications are updated instantly – as the structural engineer makes a small change, the MEP contractor can see how that has affected their work straight away.

“I asked the audience at one conference what exactly was in an iPod,” said Building Smart alliance and National Institute of Building Sciences executive director Deke Smith, who has also authored books on the subject.

“They answered with things like memory, silicon chips, a speaker, a display…but the simple answer is music. We need to look at BIM in the same way.”

Smith emphasised that BIM is not a solution or a single software package but a tool or framework in which other programs could operate.

“We’re seeing so many uses now. Try it with a geo-spacial software to see how orientation affects the daylight or ventilation to your building. Simulation is a whole new field that is just getting started.

“Code compliance checks could be run. Basically, it’s a mathematical model and once you have the information anything can be calculated.

“To see how far this technology can go, look at BIMStorm which applies BIM to a city planning level. You can see exactly how an individual building behaves in a master-plan situation.”

BIM technology is nothing new and designers, contractors and even clients are starting to embrace the 3D framework, but the biggest advantages, according to Building Smart ME communication director David Jellings, is in the community and sharing of information that Building Smart brings to BIM.

“Imagine if I could create a single file from all the knowledge of all the people in this room,” he told the audience. “How much would that be worth?

“Interoperability is evolution and learning through the experience of others. Members of Building Smart both receive and deliver. If you discover a solution to a specific problem, your process could become best practice, benefiting the entire industry, just as you will benefit from others.”

Jellings was also quick to highlight some of the more tangible benefits of Building Smart and BIM.

“It’s about consistent delivery – this market lacks that; improved efficiency; sustainable design and improved communications.

Why not deliver all projects on time and on schedule? Why not have zero RFIs [requests for information] on all projects?

“Is anyone interested in saving 20% on a project costs? Imagine that 20% saving applied to the whole of Abu Dhabi’s 2030 plan. How much does that add up to?”

Deke Smith maintained that it was up to governments in the region to drive the use of BIM and set an example to industry.

“If you buy a great car, you don’t wait for the engine to seize then buy a new one,” he commented. “You keep it running, you get check-ups, and you change the engine oil.

“Governments have a responsibility to citizens to provide leadership and maintain buildings. We have to do better than buildings that will need replacing in 20 years’ time.”

However, others said that owners and developers would play a crucial role.

“The biggest challenge we face is people,” said Nakheel’s head of sustainability and environment, Brendan Jack. “People are a double-edged sword when it comes to efficiency – they want to do bigger and better things.

“For Nakheel, and doubtless other large developers, unless you do things right from the beginning, there can be so much inertia that you can get a long way down the route to completion without being able to correct errors quickly enough. For us, that’s where BIM helps us make informed decisions early.”

Al Rashid Investment CEO Ramesh Tolani added: “As we all know, cost is the massive challenge facing developers, more now than previously, whether that is the cost of procurement, design, operating or maintaining.

The BIM process is a collaborative, open approach that leads to more creative designs, with changes incorporated along the process. Cost certainty is what all clients and developers are looking for.”

Professor Bazjanac insisted that owners and developers did not even need to fully understand BIM technology.

“You don’t need to know how it’s used, just that it is used. Ask as many questions as possible right the way down the line.”

And speakers insisted that right the way down the line was exactly where the benefits of BIM could be felt.

“You simply get better bids with BIM, as you can accurately demonstrate the complexity of projects to contractors. The scope is better defined and it gives construction companies and suppliers an accurate tonnage right from the time of bids – all at the touch of a button,” said Thornton Tomasetti principal Kyle Krall.

As a structural engineer, Krall added that the projects which embraced BIM throughout the entire design stage demonstrated an improved schedule due to the collaboration and risk analysis beginning so early in the process.

“Paper drawings can still be generated, which many in the industry prefer to work from, but there’s a very specific language being generated as this approach will someday be the standard used to deliver a project.

“BIM is the future, but it’s certainly already here now,” he concluded.

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