The architectural design process has transformed. What seems to have become an inevitable imperative is the use of information and data-rich models to communicate design intent, assess performance and cost implications and incorporate design changes in the initial stages of the design process.

While the way you design, collaborate, communicate and deliver projects may have changed based on industry demands, the introduction of new software such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools not only help you address real-world design challenges they also enhance your design development process.

The initial stages of the design process are crucial. Design decisions such as orientation, aspect ratio and conceptual level, have an impact on building performance. The effect of your design decisions diminishes as the project matures, making the early design stages critical. BIM helps in assessing early design decisions which can have an important impact on building performance. By using BIM strategically and understanding the challenges involved in adoption, you can quantify qualitative design decisions.

How BIM Addresses Design Challenges for Architects

When using BIM, architects must realise the potential of BIM beyond its function as a 3D BIM modelling tool to create construction documents. BIM modeling helps to create data-rich 3D models which provide you with an opportunity to make better design decisions and improve building performance. To capitalise on the strengths of a tool such as BIM, you must clearly understand what it is and what it is not and how it could be utilised strategically.

It is more than a documenting tool – BIM is not only a tool that optimises CAD inefficiencies and creates 3D geometry or sketch models, it helps in creating 3D models that are layered with data which you can use to your advantage to make better design decisions. It is also a tool that can be shared with other disciplines, removing the software interoperability issues of using different software across various disciplines.  Considering BIM only as a documentation tool to create production and construction documents (CDs) limits the potential of the tool. In the early phases of the project lifecycle such as pre-design, schematic design and design development, where you as architects spend most of your time, using BIM extensively would help in building robust models from which drawings and other data could be extracted.

It is as detail oriented as the governing LOD (level of detail) protocols – Models and parts of a BIM model can have varying levels of granularity. You can have several LOD levels for different components or parts in the same model. By agreeing upon certain protocols at each level of the design development stage, you can develop, use and exchange various components of the BIM model for different stakeholders in the construction project.

It helps to create data-rich building models – Aside from physical design characteristics, BIM models provide information on the usage of spaces through semantic models which are graphical representations of the components of a building model element. It is a myth that BIM models are not detail oriented. In fact, details developed in 3D BIM models could highlight improvements early in the design process.

It can be used by designers with or without experience – Creating 3D BIM models is a step up from 2D CAD drafting. While experienced designers may be able to give you a data-rich model that could assist your design decisions, designers with fundamental experience and skill in designing and modeling in 3D can work on BIM models as well. There is an initial cost of training, however as designers learn on the job, the benefits 3D BIM modeling tools will justify the investment.

It solves design problems – During the design concept and development stage, by using 3D BIM coordination tools, changes and calculations can be done directly from the model and updated in real time. As worksheets are dynamically linked and updated, you can see the impact of your design decisions and make improvements in real time.

There is data that is inherent and attached to objects, data on the location, area (surface, projected), volume, user-defined and default data such as software and building component libraries. Using this information and tools such as BIM, data-rich models can be created to provide information on the usage of spaces apart from physical design characteristics.

When adopting BIM, large architectural firms must transform from single discipline to multi-disciplinary, contractor-led, risk tolerant firms and small architectural firms must become responsive and agile. By using BIM, you can assess quantitative implications of various design options to make relatively improved design decisions. It is up to you to harvest the information intelligently and strategically use the ‘I’ in BIM.