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Little BIM to Big BIM
Chris Idle says that moving from Little BIM to Big BIM is helping them advance their practice. The efficiency of Idle Architecture becomes quite self-evident when you realize they are only 12 people strong. With a small group, they manage many projects at once, ranging in value from half a million to 40 million dollars. And they handle all these projects using Vectorworks Architect as their BIM software platform.
“I think it gives us a lot more thinking time,” he says, emphasizing that to deliver the design quality the firm is known for, they need the ingredient of time itself. “You are going to have potential problems,” he says, “and instead of feeling like you are going to be reactive to those problems you can be proactive and prepared for the issues,” noting that Vectorworks Architect allows them to develop detailed 3D BIM models and really expose various aspects of the building design. This positively impacts the firm’s relationships with general contractors, often behind in BIM compared to other countries.
“When you show them what you can do they get very excited about it,” he says. “The reason is that they get a much better picture of what they are going to build; there is just a lot more clarity for them, and this impacts quality because they get to see earlier how things are going to go together. That gets the contractors thinking early about the issues.” Take for example, the nature of being able to clearly see all the complex piping and mechanical ductwork that needs to be built into a mixed-use building type like Sackville Street. Vectorworks Architect enables all AEC stakeholders, but particularly the contractors, to see such systems as planned out by architecture and engineering teams.
The Sackville Street project jumped up to Big BIM; for the first time, all MEP and structural engineering consultants worked together, delivering a full BIM deliverable process with the architect. Before this, Chris Idle says their Little BIM process wasn’t nearly as integrated in terms of “problem-solving.” “It was more about the visual benefits of 3D BIM models,” says Idle. “Big BIM is when you are really using it to solve problems and you are passing data back and forth to all your consultants.” The firm used Vectorworks Architect’s ability to send high-quality IFC model data back and forth between all engineering consultants who were working with Revit and sharing IFC models with the architect and each other.
For project collaboration, the team used Solibri to look at IFC models and perform clash detection and other BIM model validations. Because the project is just breaking ground, Chris Idle wasn’t sure how the contractors might access the BIM model during construction to handle such things as the RFI process. However, there are numerous tools for construction stage collaboration, from cloud-based tools like BIMcollab ZOOM and Cloud to the use of Bluebeam Studio or full-fledged CDE solutions like Aconex or Viewpoint. Regardless of how the CA phase collaboration will happen, Vectorworks’s IFC and BIM Collaboration File (BCF) support will enable Idle Architecture to integrate their BIM authoring tool directly into third-party tools and processes based around common BIM industry standards.
Big BIM Issues and Benefits
With Sackville, the deeper BIM integration with consultants offered some interesting discoveries. Idle is used to delivering highly precise and detailed documents. But the level of detail (LOD) of BIM models by their engineers, particularly the structural engineer, could be a lot less than what they were producing on their end. Chris Idle also noted that their office would, in the future, begin implementing a BIM Execution Plan (BEP) that establishes certain standards for the level of detail (LOD) expected for the whole project to work successfully. “For the first project like this—Sackville—we held meetings with our consultants to discuss how we were going to implement BIM model sharing,” he says, “but the next time we will formalize the process.”
Big BIM is when you are really using it to solve problems and you are passing data back and forth to all your consultants.
Another interesting aspect of Idle’s project mix types is that their multifamily-based clients are not particularly interested in the information potential of BIM models. “When you are doing apartments and multifamily housing, in general, you aren’t going back to do fit-outs for these units,” he said. “They are fitted out once at the beginning.” However, for commercial office buildings, those clients may react to the benefits of Big BIM differently. “There are a lot of tenants passing through in commercial buildings. And those types of clients have people in their organizations that can benefit from the information,” he says.
One final interesting point about Idle Architecture and its path to Big BIM is that to get there fully the office had to eliminate the firm’s use of SketchUp and Rhino 3D. And it wasn’t easy. “Yeah, that was huge,” says Idle. In the past, the firm often created 3D models in multiple formats and then had to go back to redo work, costing us weeks. “In one project, we had a lot of complexity and used Rhino but had to unwind that process for BIM,” he notes, “and that costs us a lot of money.” Chris Idle believes that it doesn’t make sense to be using only 50% of the power of several tools that all costs the firm money. Instead, settle on one tool that can do everything and invest in learning how to use it fully.