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Review: Evaluating the case in Jonathan Reeves’ new book “Innovative Vectorworks BIM”

Why do so many architects think BIM (building information modeling) is just valuable for big architecture firms? In a new book this AEC myth gets a big reality check.

Architect Jonathan Reeves has produced a wonderful new book on BIM. Serving primarily as its editor as well as co-author, the new Innovative Vectorworks BIM essentially champions the movement itself in AEC while promoting, through example, the varied practices in the United Kingdom who are innovating while working through the complexities of the CAD to BIM migration.

The book has a second mission of course. That being showcasing and advocating the strengths of the Vectorworks BIM platform. Jonathan handles this admirably in two primary ways. The first way is through 10 case studies. Every case study begins with a different firm introduction and works through a BIM transition story sculpted through a few noteworthy project examples. The second way is through the second half of the book, where Jonathan exhibits his vast experience and knowledge of Vectorworks, honed over 20 years of use and teaching.

01 - Innovative Vectorworks BIM, by architect Jonathan Reeves. The new book sells for just 30 British Pounds.

01 – Innovative Vectorworks BIM, by architect Jonathan Reeves. This image is the cover.

The learning Vectorworks section of the back half of the book also features a guided discussion of Vectorworks 2016’s most salient new features. However, through some of the case studies, mentions of the new Vectorworks 2016 features were discussed within the context of specific practices, their BIM workflow challenges and how specific new features would help them along. This gave the new features more contextual meaning.

Transitioning to BIM

By far one of the most valuable items in this book is the diversity of experiences regarding moving a practice to a BIM workflow. The software companies will tell you a few limited—often packaged with training services—ways to migrate a practice to BIM, but honestly the actual complexity of doing it largely depends on three key factors: (1) firm project type workload and balance, (2) client value and demand, and (3) intra-office CAD ability and culture.

The example firms in the book range in size from small, medium and enterprise (SME) scale practices. This book is a rare find; most BIM books don’t provide equal treatment across the SME BIM world. From one man shops to mid-size firms in multiple offices to enterprise firms doing work all over the world, the variety itself paints a canvas wide enough so that each reader can find themselves and their practices somewhere in the mix. In other words, if your architecture practice is contemplating moving to BIM, in the planning stages, or already underway, this book has a range of values.

Case Study Commentary

Immediately in Jonathan’s preface section of the book, he makes a pointed observation about the architecture world: “many smaller practices have been at the forefront of experimentation in architecture, and they are often early adopters of technology in ways that larger practices find difficult.”

This statement is interesting on several levels. Firstly, it happens to be true but there are important points one can take with it. While smaller firms may in fact be more agile than larger enterprise practices, those larger enterprise practices have far more resources to dedicate to pure technology research and experimentation (R&E). This can mean several things: staff with specializations, expertise, and qualifications as well as budgets to acquire high-expense equipment before smaller firms, like 3D laser scanners.

02 - 10 Firm Case Studies span the SME scale of practices from under 10 to over 120 people.

02 – 10 Firm Case Studies span the SME scale of practices from under 10 to over 120 people.

So, while the statement holds true what is more apparent in the case studies themselves is that firm size alone does not equate well to either agility or capacity to innovate with technology in practice. There are other factors, some quite nuanced that come out in the case studies.

For example, Axiom Architects LLP is a multi-office, mid-sized architecture firm operating in both London, Lewes, and Exeter. With staff around 35 people, this mid-sized office has much more capacity than under 10 people firms in the area of information technology resources. Typically firms over 18 – 20 end up requiring a full-time IT manager who does nothing but information technology work.

Yet precisely due to the size of this firm, the whole approach to BIM was no doubt conducted differently than in smaller firms. The case study revealed some of the key questions the firm asked early on, such as:

  • “How could Vectorworks BIM be used to improve the consistency and accuracy of our design output?”
  • “How could it save us time and improve efficiency, rather than increasing workload?”
  • “How would we implement a BIM working method for all staff across three offices? “
  • And…”how could BIM help meet future client needs.?”

The case study addresses these questions and more through a detailed explanation of how BIM was first implemented on specific projects, revealing both pitfalls and unexpected benefits.

Unlike some firms that dive in all together at once, Axiom Architects started slowly in trial mode using a small number of staff and carefully selecting suitable projects that served as “wayfinders” to develop the firm’s understanding of the BIM workflow process.

IFC and Bigger BIM

While each case study details their firm’s story on the path to BIM, what is delightful is that in most cases this includes a discussion of the technical setup of Vectorworks files—how they structured projects in the past and how they structured now for BIM. One particular example is the case study on Kendall Kingscott Limited, a enterprise-class firm with over 120 people working in four offices throughout England. The firm is split between architects and professional surveyors.

This case study had a valuable “BIM Project Reference Map” describing in detail how project standards, project models, and project sheets (in drawing sets) are organized around a logical system that ensures optimization of the workflow as well as scalability for larger projects.

03 - The book is richly illustrated and detailed with firm BIM transition stories chock full of wisdom and guidance.

03 – The book is richly illustrated and detailed with firm BIM transition stories chock full of wisdom and guidance.

Kendall Kingscott is one of those firms doing larger projects where the Open BIM workflow is vitally important. The firm also utilizes the Solibri Model Checker (SMC) application, which as of recently, is a new sister company to Vectorworks all under the Munich-based Nemetschek Group.

The Kendall Kingscott case study is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, getting English-language documentation on how larger practices are using Vectorworks in BIM workflows is rare. There are many enterprise firms in Japan using Vectorworks but that doesn’t help anybody outside of Japan. In the United State in particular the case study on Kendall Kingscott will be much appreciated by larger Vectorworks practices.

Larger firms handling larger building types inevitably deal with bigger volumes of data on projects. If projects are academic, scientific, or healthcare oriented that data management can be intense and thus inform the BIM process in ways that other smaller practices don’t quite deal with. For instance, it is not surprising to learn in the book that firms like Kendall Kingscott are using the Space tool.


At Kendall Kingscott the firm writes: “As a practice, our tender information typically consists of drawings, specifications, and schedules. Often it will include a set of room data sheets (RDS), particularly with design-and-build procurement.”

Like many of the other case studies, the commentary can sometimes lead to strong suggestions for future Vectorworks development, as in the case where Kendall Kingscott makes note of the limitations of the Space tool in Vectorworks in reference to the way the firm sees the use of room data sheets.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Jonathan Reeves’ book Innovative Vectorworks BIM is a valuable asset to all architecture firms contemplating migrating from a CAD to BIM workflow. The book is setup in two parts and while the second part on Vectorworks learning did have some valuable tidbits in its “50 tips and tricks” section, the section on architectural modeling was really an illustrated guide of what Vectorworks can do and not an instructional section. If it had been an instructional section the book itself would have been much more valuable than its selling price of £29.99.

Is the Part A “case studies” section of the book worth the price of admission? Absolutely.

The first part of the book is what is really interesting—learning and seeing what other Vectorworks firms are doing and how they are working on their BIM workflows. The book is intensely illustrated—which is nice—and the projects in the book themselves are quite interesting. Jonathan’s own work in particular starts the book off strong, as his firm is the first of the ten case studies.

While we are no longer “rating” book reviews like we rate software, Jonathan Reeves’ Innovative Vectorworks BIM is highly recommended. It’s chock full of guidance, wisdom and template thinking about BIM that is well worth its asking price.

Getting the Book

One can learn more about the book here and purchase it. There is the ability to download two free chapters at this link as well.