11 November 2019
by

In late 2002, Architectus CEO Ray Brown saw a presentation on what we would later call building information modelling (BIM). He was impressed with the level of integration, and especially the fact that the plumbing fixtures cut their required penetrations in the slab, so that these were captured in the concrete outline plans. It so happened that I had been playing around with Revit at the time (it having been acquired by Autodesk earlier in the year), and I reported that Revit could provide a much more efficient way of delivering our project documentation. Shortly afterwards, we commenced a pilot project, and within a few years Revit had become our key platform for delivery.
 
Before long, we reaped the benefit of the flexibility and efficiency of BIM authoring: the ability to visualize quickly and easily, and this was improving our internal processes. However, it was only when the 1 Bligh Street project commenced in 2006 that we had the opportunity to extend our capabilities across disciplines and throughout the project life cycle. The client provided a strong BIM mandate, and we were appointed as BIM managers. We created a BIM Execution Plan and management protocols, and at handover had a federated model that represented 29 different trades and disciplines. From that groundbreaking project, we developed the capabilities that would allow us to launce our subsidiary company BIM Consulting (BC). BC provides BIM consultancy, and support and management services, to the wider construction and property industries, as well as research and back-of-house support to Architectus.
 
Over this period of 17 years, we have embedded BIM into all of our processes and developed strong capabilities, integrated content, standards and workflows; we have developed a range of capabilities, and trained generations of staff. We have participated at the highest level in industry organizations, and in the great debates of the field. Yet, at the same time, we find that we are still working in a multi-speed world, where some projects demand the full range of BIM opportunities, while in (a decreasing share of) other projects we still need to deliver traditional document sets, and integrate a range of non-BIM inputs. Given our commitment to BIM as a methodology and platform, we have found ways to derive the greatest possible value from our model creation, regardless of the depth of the BIM requirements on the project.
 
Now, Architectus’ focus on BIM has turned to how we can use it to facilitate collaboration, increase coordination and lower risk.
 
On one recent project, the developer came to us with a novel proposition: a single outsourced firm would have responsibility for the majority of BIM authoring. They would be engaged directly by the developer, while the consultants and subcontractors would be selected for professional expertise, unconstrained by BIM capability. Responsibility for quality and completeness of BIMs – and adherence to individual company standards and general project requirements – would be in the hands of the outsourced firm. Autodesk’s BIM360 collaboration platform, hosted in the cloud, allows full engagement with the models by all parties. This is a true Level 3 BIM environment: with permanently linked trade and discipline models on a web server, and defined data and information capture for uses such as cost estimating, construction sequencing, facilities management and integration of Internet of Things (IoT) elements. While we would still be actively engaged within the models, the consultant team focus was more concentrated on design and project management, rather than model creation.
 
Fig 1 - BIM maturity chart. Adapted from National Guidelines for Digital Modelling, CRC for Construction Innovation, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.construction-innovation.info/images/pdfs/BIM_Guidelines_Book_191109_lores.pdf. Copyright 2009 Australian Institute of Architects.
This approach has had a number of interesting ramifications. One is the tight integration of the various models, to the point that the models can be relied upon to produce documentation with elements from different disciplines. While it is standard Australian documentation practice that horizontal set-out of structural elements is produced by the architect, we have been able in this case to dimension to the structural model. Furthermore, architectural aspects that are part of the structure (such as slab set-downs and hobs) are created in the structural model, and documented in the architectural drawing set. On all previous projects, we had to model structural elements separately because we were unable to have our documentation reliant on the outputs of another firm to this degree. The same applies to fire hydrants and hose reels, electrical panels, mechanical systems and stackwork, and a host of other elements, the spatial requirements and positioning of which have a clear impact on the code compliance and design aspects that we are responsible for.
 
With all disciplines, consultants and subcontractors in context within the model, in their original authoring environment, there is no need for publishing and federation timelines and activities for the process of design development. We can develop the design in the context of all other disciplines and avoid clashes, rather than detect them later on. With single point responsibility for maintaining links, we can ensure that the model information from other parties is up-to-date and complete, as far as is known. The significant overhead of keeping everything in working order is handled by the outsourced modellers, and is unaffected by project deadlines and resource limitations amongst the parties. These aspects provide us with reliable models that represent all aspects of the design and are up-to-date. This is the establishment of the single point of truth: where the model becomes the definitive source of information, and published documentation rarely needs to be looked at. 
 
With modelling responsibilities largely being performed by the outsourced team, we have initiated procedures to ensure that design quality and compliance are always maintained. This has turned our attention to how we deal with our own production teams internally. Deadline pressure is always considerable, so we have created methods to allow continuous review of our designs and documents to manage the associated risks. 
 
Some of these techniques are quite simple and low-tech, and we have lowered our cost and time overheads by incorporating them into our project templates. We don’t tend to use general working views, but specific views which highlight compliance issues that need to be continuously managed throughout the life of the project. Fire compartmentation, doors, acoustics, thermal performance and accessibility issues all need to be continuously monitored, and we use the power of BIM to report and display information that draws from the intrinsic characteristics of the selected object to represent system performance in ways that can be grasped quickly and easily. We have created complex parametric content that, for instance, measures door clearances for accessibility and indicates non-compliant situations, and can be clash reported against both architectural elements and those from other disciplines.
 
We are currently taking this to a new level. A plug-in developed by BIM Consulting for Architectus, called Mission Control, monitors Revit activity and model quality, and writes this information to a database. Knowing that many aspects of code compliance are complex, and not readily turned into a mathematical formula or geometric condition, we are looking for analogues for risk factors. An example would be the model being hidden and overwritten with detail elements. The potential risks can then be presented for review by experienced personnel. We would like to compare efficiency and performance over multiple projects to learn the strengths and weaknesses of our delivery process, and where it can be improved.

Another innovation that we are looking into is integrating specifications within the model using NBS Chorus. This is a cloud alternative to using traditional Excel and Word desktop applications that are disconnected from the model. Figure 2 shows a recent Architectus project in Revit with integrated specification, or a type of ceiling system.
 
Fig 2 - Model and specification being developed in parallel
Architectus lives by its tagline ‘Explore. Collaborate. Create’. These are not just words, but central to our processes. Our deeply embedded BIM culture allows us to design and deliver optimally. With the insights from recent projects, we are looking to derive further value from our models and continue to improve our efficiency, responsiveness and management of risk. 


Discover more about the approach to technology from Architectus at:
- https://www.architectus.com.au/en/technology