Sunday, July 20, 2014


This is a talk I gave at the inaugural "BIM Breakfast" (Dubai version) organised by ITP at the Ritz Carlton DIFC on 11th June.  I was speaking on behalf of GAJ, who co-sponsored the event, but I chose to present a personal view in order to reach a mixed audience of experienced users and interested "novices"

The title is something of a mixed metaphor.  You probably picked up on the reference to Shakepeare: his idea of life as a journey, a progression like the acts of a play.  The phrase "BIM addict" is intended to evoke a passion, bordering on compulsion.  BIM generates strong feelings, for and against.  Hence my first slide, based on the standard Alcoholics Anonymous greeting.

So the talk is about BIM as a passion and a journey. Reflections of an architect who first dabbled in "proto-BIM" around 20 years ago & has been using BIM at GAJ on a daily basis for more than 8 years now (full-on Revit).  During that period, and especially the last 8 years, my perception of BIM has evolved, and continues to evolve.  So imagine me as Shakespeare's player, strutting across the stage, changing my costume with each new scene.

When I first got my hands on Revit I saw it as a new and very powerful way of drawing.  By then I had been drawing for 50 years and I was bowled over by the fact that a new drawing tool could empower me so dramatically.  The next image is from the first set of tender drawings I produced using Revit.

You can see that I was Carried away with the ability to visualise and document in a single integrated environment. To place a set of live views from the model onto a page, adjust my design in any of these views, and watch as the drawings update everywhere.  It's easy to forget how powerful this idea is when you first encounter it.  A year or so later and using visibility controls to create a time-lapse effect. Exploring the sequence of trades, detailing in 3d. 

A couple of years further and I was starting to develop a style, but till loving the combination of orthographic and perspective, the holistic approach.  Drawing is a tool for understanding.  How you draw makes a difference: attention to detail, clarity of thought. 

These are intensely personal things that come across as a style. The style of a writer, or a speaker makes all the difference to how you receive their ideas. The same is true of drawing. We used to know this, but sometimes the disruption of technology leads to amnesia, we become drunk with power, and forget the basics of good drawing technique.

 An example of the ability to disect, to get inside, to deconstruct closes my first phase of "BIM as a better way to draw".  The next big thing to hit is the power of data.

One day you suddenly wake up to the fact that your model is packed with information.  BIM objects are intelligent.  A wall knows that it is a wall. You can keep a running count of floor areas as an urban scheme develops, real time feedback to validate design ideas. 

At a more prosaic level you can count doors and windows.  This seems like a trivial thing now, but for someone who has churned out door schedules by hand on large projects it seems like magic. The first encounter with BIM schedules is breathtaking.  A huge weight falls from your shoulders.  Mind numbing tasks fall away and you actually have time to think about what you are doing.

Thinking outside the box a bit, you can study options for apartment buildings or hotels.  Keep track of the balance of room types. 

And the other side of data.  Analytical tools.  This is a wind study we did for a project just a couple of weeks ago.

So far it's been lonely BIM.  I'm sure lots of you know what that feels like.  Trying to persuade the other consultants to jump in.  The water's lovely in here.  Let's hold hands and paddle off together.

Stunned silence, then:  "Yeah we've got a couple of licences, but the guys are not confident yet.  Maybe next time." or "The programme is too tight." or "But we already started in CAD."  Happily things have changed over the past 2 or 3 years and it's much easier now to assemble a BIM team, at least for the main disciplines.

These are images from a project I am currently working on in Oman, just outside Muscat.  Ducts and pipes appearing in your ceiling voids in real time. 

 Coordination meetings when everyone can see straight away where the problems areas are.  Another exciting phase as the addiction takes firm hold.

My catch-phrase for the next leg of our journey is stolen from Autodesk who also helped to sponsor the event. I hope they don't mind.

At some point you realise that all this stuff that has crept into your private life: email and smart phones, facebook & twitter, dropbox ... all this stuff is cut from the same cloth as BIM.  Digital tools that transform the ways that people interact with other people, opening up connections and the accellerating the flow of ideas.  Brainstorming at the speed of light.

I was doing a tender review the other day: contractors in Oman that I had never heard of.  They all have web sites.  Information that would have taken months to compile a few years ago is available in minutes. 

You've all seen the shots of someone pointing their tablet at the ceiling and seeing what is (theoretically) inside. What about compiling snagging lists on a device that knows which room you are in; scanning the barcode on a piece of equipment and checking if it meets the specification. (At this point I hold up my Surface and my Windows smart phone, just to prove that I take my own path through life :-)

CLOUD-MOBILE-SOCIAL is where we are right now.  New cloud collaboration platforms are springing up on a daily basis.  Manufacturers and suppliers are investing in content services, looking at new ways to interact with BIM users.

Which brings us to the next phase of our journey.

The next big realisation is that for BIM to really work (get the full benefit), we need to involve everyone, the entire industry.  That's why the experience of the UK is so exciting, a national initiative.  It's something we really need to encourage here.  Contractors are coming on board in a big way. 

This is a job we are working on right now.  Design & build with a BIM savvy contractor.  I built a parametric crane for them. Type in the height, adjust the radius, off you go.  And suppliers are beginning to wake up to BIM at last.  Some really good content services developing. 

But we need to go beyond lecturing suppliers with "BIM is the next big thing, you need to get on board"  We also need to listen to them.  They have their own digital tools.  How do they envisage the future ?  And it's not just about downloading objects from a web site.  The real value has always been the personal interactions.  Experienced designers and contractors interfacing with experienced specialists.  How can BIM supercharge that process ?  content, suppliers, contractors, get everyone involved  I think this is going to be huge over the next few years.

But meanwhile my mind is racing on.beyond the day job.  Extracurricular BIM.

Pencils are very adaptable tools, you can write a shopping list and if you are Leonardo you can invent fantastic machines or explore the muscles of a dissected corpse.  We shouldn't keep BIM locked inside the business box. 

Beware of dividing the world up into separate compartments.  BIM is the most amazing educational resource.  Study the highlights of classical architecture (one of my favourite weekend hobbies)

or maybe you are into documenting technologies before they disappear from memory.  Sash window. 
And what about art ?   Where exactly is the dividing line between everyday life and a work of art?  Can we do art with BIM?  What would that be like ?

In the early days people thought photography was too mechanical to become an art form.  How wrong was that?  So that's my current phase.  BIM spreading into all spheres of life.  And here in the Middle East, lift can sometimes feel like a "Rat Race".  What does BIM have to say about that ?   

Most discussions of BIM are locked into an old school business paradigm.  ROI.  Geta competitive edge. bigger better faster.  But that's such an old fashioned business model.  We need to catch up with the cutting edge of business thinking. 

sustainable business concept, Building a long-term brand based on trust and respect. CSR.  So lets take a quick look at  4 pronged model ... starting with

environment - energy modelling, recycled content.  This is not new or controversial.  It's a steadily growing aspect of mainstream BIM, something we all need to embrace.

Marketplace. The images above are from a scheme in London called "considerate contractors".  It's an issue we need to address.  Rightly or wrongly the industry doesn't have a very good reputation for considering the needs of the general public.  Can BIM help us to address that in a typically UAE manner, using cutting-edge technology to communicate with the public and to conscientise contractors about the need to operate responsibly ?  Perhaps Dubai Municipality should require contractors to operate web sites which display virtual models of their projects, warn residents about activities such as all-night concrete pours, and allow them to register comments and complaints.

Workplace.  This is a matter of some concern in the UAE.  The sad fact is that we have gained a reputation for treating our building workers rather carelessly.  Recently at GAJ, we have been working with a BIM-aware contractor that intends to use BIM as a tool for site orientation & planning, fostering awareness that is critical to Site Safety.  This is great & I hope we can continue to build on that.  But what about housing conditions, labour camps.  Can BIM make a contribution here ?  These are open questions.  The kind of questions I am starting to ask about BIM right now in the 7th phase of my addiction.

Community - There are many ways in which BIM could help our industry to contribute to te community.  Lets take a brief look at one: community planning.  This is a well-established idea in many parts of the world: the belief that ordinary people have a right to be involved in decisions about building projects in their neighbourhood.  Here in the UAE we are used to a top-down approach, but it can't go on for ever.  Can BIM help us find a UAE approach to consultation and community engagement ?  Could we soon see virtual models on-line that allow residents in the UAE to envision development proposals before they are finalised and to share their reactions with clients and consultants.

BIM is new, BIM is "happening", everyone can contribute, help to shape the future.  Why not get on board ???

So that's a brief review of my own personal BIM journey, during the past 8 years with GAJ. Yours may be similar in some ways, different in others. But the challenge facing us now as an industry and as a nation (as a species) is can we come together, hold hands and take the BIM journey together.


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