Back to the drawing board? Hell no!

Dear Traditional Architect

I regret to inform you that we no longer draw lines on the computer screen. The process of designing includes build a digital model with parametric components loaded with specification data and information. Pretty cool, no?

Let me introduce you to the term BIM (Building Information Modelling.) It is, in fact, the most overused word in architectural journals, seminars and daily architect discourse.

I suggest you slowly start to learn to use either Revit or Archicad. If you are already using these, well done, I hope you are exploring its BIM capabilities, permitting the computer to do some of the work for you.

Now I’m sure you really love your old design software or drawing boards, pencils and paper, paper, paper. Unfortunately for you, digital world is moving faster than you can fathom and it is time to embrace this before its too late for you and your business. I don’t believe you wouldn’t love to produce construction drawings quicker while you avoid conflicts between components? Wouldn’t it also be cool to see your designs in 3D and not have to refer back to Sketchup or AutoCAD to make great client presentations and all your other glossy brochures.

Now architects and engineers may think they the ‘bull fighter’ in the ring but when things go wrong they can also been seen as the ‘rodeo clown‘ on the project.

An architect’s job is fundamental to manage the design and sometimes coordinate projects, but keep in mind, BIM is not all about you.  It is not merely a 3D graphic representation, but a virtual model designed to evaluate the construction and performance of the built reality. Properly implemented, BIM delivers projects more efficiently, to a higher quality and more safely. It also provides an information asset that can optimise the management (and performance) of the completed facility and, upon wider adoption, has the potential to revolutionise the way public infrastructure is planned and public services delivered.

BIM isn’t just a design software program, nor is it simply a 3D model converted from a 2D drawing. It includes (and this is important) a database or series of processes that include the model elements as well as vast amounts of information that constitute to a healthier project life cycle. BIM is all too often viewed in multiple file formats and becomes a disconnected process that quickly becomes complicated. This results in many architects becoming sceptical and writing BIM off as a sales ploy for software vendors or is seen as additional work that the client needs to be billed for.

I am sure that you are not opposed to BIM as a concept, but for many architects who are sole proprietors, the learning curve can be so much longer as you wear the many caps of entrepreneurship, while still drawing lines on the computer.

Many architects criticise BIM as it forces them to produce designs counterintuitively to how they have been trained, and how they think as architects. BIM design demands precision and information “too early in the design process,” and drawing and sketching with pencils and fat markers on yellow traces is comfortable. BIM design amplifies the need for data, not just physical size and location, but other data that may not even be available until you have a schematic design concept. Data that is traditionally generated during the construction document phase is suggested (or even demanded) much earlier in the process. This requires a shift in the fee structure when convincing clients to invest more capital earlier to generate the model can prove challenging on projects. This is especially true for projects that may never make it past the Schematic Design phase.


Let’s be honest, looking at some of the buildings around our cities’ skylines, Revit or Archicad deserves much credit.


The designs are exceptional, brimming with design creativity, yet the contractors that construct the building have little use for the model information provided. They generate their own quantity take-offs and information the way they prefer to do it in order to re-engineer the Bills of Quantities. Contractors still want 2D drawings to work off, and that’s a fact. But do they know that 2D drawings can be extracted from a 3D Model?

I have to admit the above statement still rings true, but can we agree that globally construction is changing rapidly. My hope is that we train future architects, engineers and contractors to still think like professionals and not only see BIM as a software tool.

Do you really think BIM matters to owners?

In order to adopt a BIM strategy across all projects, we need to understand the owner’s interest towards healthier buildings. We also need to consider the impact that the adoption of BIM will have on both private and public sector bodies, on construction related service providers, main contractors and their supply chain and facilities management.

If BIM is applied correctly by designers and contractors, many of our buildings can and will feature enhanced ventilation to improve air quality, layouts that encourage physical activity while taking into account our lifestyle preferences. Then we will possibly see project team connectivity and the need for transparency on product information.

More than half of owners do not know the degree to which they can see financial and lifestyle benefits from their buildings, which include:

  • Improved tenant/employee satisfaction with the building
  • Happier and healthier building occupants
  • Improved construction quality


BIM is prolific and is implemented across 54 counties across Europe, Australia, Singapore, Canada and the USA. The UK government mandated the use of BIM to Level 2 on all central government projects in 2016. Its use in the US is widespread. Singapore is seen as an innovator in this area requiring planning applications to be submitted in BIM format – an idea that has recently been applied by the city of New York and Dubai.

BIM is fast becoming an essential requirement for informed consumers of construction services across the globe. Is it not time that South African architects, engineers, contractors and project management professionals start moving towards improved ways of working?

To learn more visit the www.biminstitute.org.za 


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