The limitations of BIM in the architectural process

Building Informational Modeling has been suggested by some as the panacea to address the interdisciplinary inefficiencies in the construction industry. In many cases the adoption of BIM has numerous potential benefits. But when considering individual disciplines within the construction industry the question is how will BIM integrate with their business process? The term business process here is used to refer to project development in an architectural organization. Although both practice management and project management are also considered. BIM is an enabling tool within the construction process. According to Lean principles tools should only be used where they are applicable to the tasks and tangible benefits can be demonstrated. When applying a new technology such as BIM it is critical to understand the core activities to which the technology is being applied. This paper sets out a framework of actions and interactions that occur within architectural practice. Through this understanding the role and potential of BIM adoption as a basis for re-engineering can be evaluated.
The particular understanding of architectural practice and the adoption of BIM has been gained through action research undertaken as part of a knowledge transfer partnership project. The knowledge transfer partnership was set up between the University of Salford and John McCall Architects.

There are those who believe that BIM accentuates the chasm between design and construction that now defines the AEC industry (Deutsch 2010). The challenges of effectively integrating BIM into architectural practice are similar to those that occurred when CAD was first introduced into the architectural industry. CAD or computer aided design in many ways failed in its role of aiding design. With the introduction of BIM there is a new opportunity to align the technology not just with the requirements of design but with the demands of the wider architectural process and the professionals and administrative staff who bring their own expertise and requirements to such endeavors.
Usually BIM is considered as a collaborative tool but the reality is in the construction industry most firms are not multidisciplinary and are in fact relatively small in nature. Therefore the decision on when and how to use BIM are often made from a firm’s internal perspective of perceived benefits as opposed to the wider industry gains possible through BIM. This paper explores limitations of BIM in the integration into architectural process. Through a consideration of the alignment challenges of BIM systems and BIM authoring tools, it is hoped that this will form the basis to develop a new generation of better aligned architectural tools combined with the benefits of interoperability with other needs and other disciplines within the building life cycle process.

What is BIM
To understand the limitations of BIM, it is necessary to define what is BIM (Building Information Modeling). BIM has many different definitions each indicating a partial capability of the holistic BIM philosophy. For example, it is defined as a language allowing interoperability or as a method of codifying knowledge or as a method of human machine interaction or as a method of applying parametric behaviors or as the process of creating and using digital object orientated models for design, construction and operations of projects (McGraw Hill, 2008). Also it has been defined as a solution to building lifecycle modeling. Suermann, (2009), defines as "BIM is the virtual representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility from inception onward. As such, it serves as a shared information repository for collaboration throughout a facility's lifecycle", while Eastman, (et al 2008) defines BIM as “a verb or adjective phrase to describe tools, processes and technologies that are facilitated by digital, machine-readable documentation about a building, its performance, its planning, its construction and later its operation”. Penttilä, (2006) describes Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a set of interacting policies, processes and technologies producing a “methodology to manage the essential building design and project data in digital format throughout the building’s life-cycle”.

The architectural process
In some architectural practices procedures of practice, roadmaps and checklist are used. These define the tasks to be undertaken to create the type of architecture produced by the firms. These standardized working practices are often the basis of quality systems and ISO 9000 accreditation. But these explain little of the ways that the development of architectural design is achieved. Many of the actions in architectural practice are undertaken using tacit knowledge, which although effective in its application may not be understood in a formal way by the architect using it. In order to revaluate and understand the practice of architecture we need to strip it back to its key operations. Then by reconsidering these key concepts in the light of new ideas such as lean and with an awareness of new technologies such as BIM we can look to establish new improved processes and process maps.
An architectural practice is a business which takes the needs and requirements of a client and translates those predilections and concepts into a holistic buildable form. Services of providing construction information and site administration may also form part of the architectural duties. The scope of architectural responsibility and level of development of deliverable is defined by contractual agreements. To achieve the scope of works requires the processes of communication, creation and management. The actions required are illustrated in Figure 1 below.

The core of the architectural project process

This shows an approach to the architectural process that incorporates thinking, collecting, creating, correcting and connecting. The project model may comprise of both a BIM graphical model and project support data. This support data maybe in the form of letters, emails, reports, certificates, photographs, spreadsheets and CAD or hardcopy drawings. At John McCall Architects a project support database was created and it is hoped in future to integrate this with the BIM graphical data store.
The exact methodology of thinking, collecting, creating, correcting and connecting maybe simple or complex as the project demands and the application is often project specific. In this paper these activities are considered through the perspectives of people, processes and technology.
In order to undertake this architectural process effectively these five areas need to be managed and facilitated. This paper attempts to evaluate BIM against these five key areas of architectural process to measure out its contribution and limitations in fulfilling these architectural tasks.


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