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Building Information Modelling: Friend or foe?

Building Information Modelling (BIM) level 2 became mandatory for use on all public sector works in 2016. Over the next year we will see further implementation of BIM – and evidence suggests it is becoming more common place in the private sector.

What is BIM?

BIM is regarded by some as a necessary evil – however by others, it is an exciting new way of procuring and delivering construction projects.

It brings together all of the information about every component of a building in one place, making it possible for anyone to access that information for any purpose, for example to integrate different aspects of a building design more effectively. In this way, the risk of mistakes or discrepancies is reduced, and abortive costs minimised.

As hardware, software and cloud applications herald greater capability to handle increasing amounts of raw data and information, use of BIM will become even more pronounced than it is in current projects.

Ultimately, BIM envisages a collaborative multi-disciplinary approach for any project, from conception to hand over and project use throughout the whole life-cycle of the building.

The focus of BIM is to design a project with the end purpose in mind. At its peak, it is the natural progression of 3D CAD design whereby all parties with design input, as well as the employer and construction parties, contribute and subsequently work from the same single design. That is not to say that BIM is limited to new projects, as, if used correctly, BIM can also be used for retrofit works to existing buildings, bringing existing property stock at least partially into the 21st century.


The government has recognised that the process of moving the construction industry to ‘full’ collaborative working will be progressive, with distinct and recognisable milestones being defined within that process, in the form of ‘levels’. These have been defined within a range from 0 to 3, and, whilst there is some debate about the exact meaning of each level, the broad concept is as follows:

  • BIM Level 0 – in its simplest form, level 0 effectively means no collaboration between design team or other parties with the drawings being produced as 2D CAD. These are then subsequently distributed via paper or non-amendable electronic prints to the rest of the team. Generally, this has now largely been surpassed in practice by the industry.BIM Level 1 – this level involves limited collaboration between the design team parties. It consists of some use of 3D CAD for concepts works but the use of 2D drafting for statutory approval documentation. This is generally the level to which the industry is working at present.
  • BIM Level 2 – this level is distinguished by collaborative working between parties using 3D CAD models. However, each party works from individual models so that external data from other parties combined is with the individual model to create a “federated” BIM model. Most UK practitioners who have begun to adapt to BIM are operating at around this level.
  • BIM Level 3 – considered the “Gold Standard” of BIM. This level has been used internationally on a few large scale projects, but is generally still some way off for the vast majority of UK construction practices. BIM level 3 requires all parties to be working from the same 3D CAD model which is stored on a cloud server and is therefore accessible by any party anywhere in the world.

After the design phase, this model continues to be accessible by the construction team, who would be able to amend this to create an “as-built” model. This is then provided to the end user of the building, meaning that they are able to monitor information relating to the performance of the building (e.g. energy, maintenance and other performance costs). Ultimately, at the end of the life-cycle of the building, the end-user will have detailed information to hand to safely, quickly and cost effectively demolish or otherwise regenerate the building.

Benefits of BIM

There is no doubt that BIM has the opportunity to completely revolutionise the way that building projects are designed, constructed and utilised. The concept of having the entire design team working in collaboration from the outset, with the client able to respond and suggest any amendments before even a peg is put in the ground is a clear positive in terms of overall project delivery.

Savings as a result of the use of BIM on several large international projects have already been seen. It is estimated that as a direct result of BIM, 199 days and £65k worth of time was saved on the development Abu Dhabi Airport as well as a reduction of 30% in construction time of Shanghai Tower.

Despite the clear benefits, there is equally little doubt that the implementation of BIM is a significant sea change for the construction industry and one which does not come with an insignificant expense. This expense is not just limited to the acquisition of new technology programmes, data storage and information security costs, but also training and engagement costs for staff.

Whatever your point of view, BIM represents the future of construction and there is no doubt that for the industry, it is here to stay.

Article submitted by Chris Hoar, Partner, Michelmores LLP


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