Are you familiar with what a 'light table' is? No trick question here, it is simply a backlit surface, commonly used to overlay drawings. Now imagine you have architects, engineers and builders all huddled around one. They are standing there with a stack of drawings trying to find 'clashes', aka places where objects are intersecting and shouldn't be.
This scenario is unfortunately an all too common headache brought on by the intricate systems that go into our buildings. This process has historically been a limitation for construction projects, but the days of rustling with multiple drawing and spending hours of coordination over a light table are now over. We are at the brink of a time in which an entire project can be designed, managed and executed all in one location, on a single file. This process is called Building Information Modeling (BIM) and it is bringing the construction industry into the 21st century.
If you are to look at the traditional design process you will notice it resembles a linear work flow; a series of tasks in which one trade tends to pass their portion of a project along down the line with minimal coordination amongst each other. The client & designer will generate the overarching ‘big picture idea’, and hand it off to the designers, engineers and other various trades who then implement their idea of the ‘best fitting system’ for the project. As a result of this, you are left with an arrangement of systems designed in isolation with no relationship or integration with each other.
The biggest flaw in this process is the lack of initial communication amongst all participants that will be contributing to the project. The result of this is the generation of more conflicts and problems later in the design process; and as we all know, time = money.
However, there is a solution to end some of this madness. By adopting an integrated design approach, all the coordination is started at the initial phase of the design process. This is achieved by essentially front loading the process and bringing all the various parties to the 'table' from the very beginning. This provides opportunities to be much more efficient with time, create coupled systems that work together and ultimately reduce the need for costly changes later down the road.
All this can be achieved through a building information model, which is essentially a comprehensive 3D file that incorporates all the components that make up a building. Much similar to a cloud-stored text document that allows for multiple people to make and view edits, a building information model does the same thing with 3D objects instead of words. This really allows for what is called the integrative design process, which when compared to the traditional design process, is more cyclical; allowing everyone to contribute to the project from inception.
A BIM Model has the ability to be embedded with data, much like a database or spreadsheet. This data can be generated as you design, like the dimensions of your walls, or inputted by a user, like the price of a specific material. Now that these objects have this associated data, previously daunting tasks (like recalculating your project costs or how many beams you're using) are now done automatically as updates to the design are being made. For example, as walls are drawn within the model you are able to extract all the associated information, like area, length and even cost.
Over here at SURE HOUSE, we have adopted an integrated design approach early on in our design process and our team is constantly developing our Building Information Model. Our BIM model serves as the primary place to go to keep all our team members up-to-date and allows our team to coordinate live within all the various disciplines associated with the project.