A BIM-based design process: 1/JBR – part 1/3


December, 2018

If necessity is the mother of invention, then process is the uncle.


It applies to all fields of human endeavor where methodology determines the outcome. In experimental science the proper setup of controls allows the result to be reliable. In fitness, the program is adjusted depending on the desired result. The process of physical development is designed to reach specific goals.

It is also true of architecture. The process is everything. A well-designed process allows the making of the right decisions consistently. On the other hand, a poorly-designed process results in missed opportunities which are not even noticed by the architect.

Therefore, it is crucial to design the process prior conceiving the project. We live in an exciting age where fantastic innovations occur several times a day. The impact of hardware and software on design outcomes is well-known to anyone who has participated in architectural projects in the last 20 years. What is often missed, however, is a hierarchy of decisions pre-arranged to ensure the optimal outcome for any given stage of the project.

As an example, consider a conceptual design. Designing a unique door jamb detail may be the right thing for certain projects, but spending the team’s time on working out details while walls are still moving by meters in the beginning of the design is wasteful, and has an adverse impact on the project. It makes the work hours input into the project ineffective. In addition to this, spending time on the wrong items reduces the number of alternatives considered. It all means a less optimal result.

How so? For any given project there is a finite timeline. Even if flexing the delivery dates and letting them slip, we hopefully all agree that no project can go on forever. For any given team there are a finite number of worker hours available. Every minute spent by the team has an impact on the design budget and the profitability of the organisation as a whole. Every bit of time spent has an impact on the client’s bottom line. It can be either positive or negative. An inefficient design, or one that costs too much, can entirely destroy a project’s financial model and feasibility. On the other hand, a design which keeps good track of the data, allows adjustments to be made, correcting course and, allowing success as an outcome.

When considering all these facts, it becomes evident that the proper use of the time available is crucial to a project’s success.

We are lucky that in the last two decades, Building Information Modeling (BIM) software became widely available. In case you aren’t familiar with BIM, it is a way of keeping track of all project data in a comprehensively built 3d model. The geometry of the model can be used to adjust the statistics and data, and inversely, editing the data changes the geometry of the model. As the design evolves, with the right setup the software continuously improves the numbers, giving us real-time feedback about the project’s ability to meet criteria. The data can then be optimised to fit into the project’s criteria, allowing the best possible result.

There are many different BIM software options, but I have no preference over which ones to use. Among the range of possibilities lie the popular such as Revit, Bentley and ArchiCad, but there are many other competing BIM platforms available.