Why did you get into BIM and digital design?
One day when I was about 12-13 my father brought home a computer, on which I was introduced to programming and coding and such. From that day I was hooked. In those days, if you wanted to do anything you had to program it yourself, there was no ready-to-use like there is today. This made me feel liberated as I had found an outlet for creativity. I was also interested in drawing as well as making music using synthesizers, so using digital tools to play around with multimedia I found really inspiring.
Because of this I studied to become a civil engineer in computer science. However, I realized I wanted to focus more on design and so I became an architect. Then and there that shift felt farfetched but looking at it today, that combination is BIM! Because of this I have since the 90s worked with technology similar to BIM. Before we actually coined the term, I did advanced 3D renderings and linked databases to CAD-models in real time.
We have to realize that BIM is a fairly loose concept, we think of it as a defined term, but the fact is that it is interpreted differently by everyone. The widely held view is that BIM is a circular flow of information throughout the lifetime of a building, but if you only use Revit / Tekla / ArchiCAD during the design process it will not be BIM per definition, it only means that you are doing your design work using would be object-based CAD software. It will not become BIM until we let information circulate, and even if we can start a BIM chain, it will be cut off as soon as we leave out information. To work with BIM, you must reuse information, refine it and then pass it on throughout the workflow.
What do you think will happen when fire safety design becomes BIM integrated?
It will influence several levels. Some really low-hanging fruits are that you can start creating espace- or location plans directly from the BIM model. You do not need to have someone doing it next to you, outside of the official work flows. If you instead have the right data and the right templates in software like Revit, you will have an evacuation plan in a matter of seconds, that updates when the rest of the project updates.
Working with BIM also means keeping track of logistics; how many fire extinguishers do we have, how many are needed, how far is it between sensors and sprinklers, I could go on. This means a very logistical precision throughout the design. All disciplines that step into BIM get immediately 100% compliant documents at no extra cost; you can be absolutely sure that you have the same error everywhere, haha! And that is an advantage! Because if you find an error and correct it, you know for sure that the error is fixed everywhere.
What I really hope will happen though, is that we will begin to design based on facts, not simply old guidelines and old rules of thumb. That the designer uses available data to test and try many different solutions from the early parts of the design process and then drives the design forward, out of understanding. Today, there are CAD integrated software tools that simulate how flue gases will behave in enclosed spaces and how ventilation affects air flows. There are also tools today that simulate how people behave in premises if a fire breaks out. How do we get people out in the best way possible through these fire doors, what happens if we put an extra door here or an extra door there?
When I worked at Sweco, the famous water towers in Kuwait was to be redone. They were to be converted into art galleries and they had only a small elevator and a spiral staircase. What if we have 65 people up there and a fire is let loose, how would we get them out? By using a crowd simulation software called MassMotion I could use my Revit model and put people in it. Then we could simulate different alternatives for emergency exits. and the simulated people would turn different colours depending on how crowded it would be. I counter-tested my proposed solution with a fire expert who had come up with a similar one, but with the help of his expertise. So, without senior fire knowledge, even I could make an analysis that was quite good.
This means that these tools and this methodology could make fire safety design another important parameter in the design process. It can be used much earlier in the process and therefore used more seriously. There is a lot of expertise today that comes in late in the process, when in fact everything has already been designed. Then there will instead be a lot of compromises, that famous suspended ceiling that is constantly lowered… If you can integrate these processes, the fire safety designer can join in from the beginning and instead be design-supportive with his competence. Then you can discover challenges, problems and also opportunities early on and fix adjust the whole based on that insight, instead of making half measures of it all. That will be both better, easier, and cheaper!
There is a famous graph that shows that BIM moves the main work effort to the earlier stages of the design process. The time put into the work is actually the same for BIM design and traditional design, but the outcome is much more elaborate, many more factors have been taken into account. BIM becomes a kind of “knowledge bomb” that is integrated into the process.
If you look at a smarter design methodology where more actors are involved early, where you have decided on systems and components already in the beginning, then we can start talking about an industrialization of the entire design- and construction process. You can have procurement earlier and you can have much higher quality throughout the project. And we want the expertise in on it, but also customers, residents, everyone who has an interest in what is being constructed should be invited. It will be difficult at first, because we will have to learn to communicate in a different way than we do now, but it will also be more fun. With better knowledge and closer collaboration, we will be able to have much more daring construction projects and more exciting architecture. BIM will enable all of this; in fact, without BIM this kind of integrated, modern design process will be impossible.
What do you see as the single most important benefit with BIM and digital design?
This has to change and it is about to change. Sweden is in some respects a world leader, for example the Swedish single-family home industry has come a long way. They digitized a long time ago because they see themselves as a coherent industry. The houses are designed on computers to optimize how they load their elements on trucks, they have industrial robots that cut and saw, and so on. There is a great deal of knowledge there. The same industrialization and digitization have to happen to construction and real estate, in which BIM is only one of the important keys.
A good example, a harbinger of things to come to the AEC/FM industry is the Austrian company called Cree that builds huge glulam office properties. They work in a completely different way than traditional construction companies and instead have five civil engineers on the construction site together with really smart cranes and optimized processes. They are building houses faster than we can imagine and that is what the future workplace will look like. There will be robots, robotic cranes, every single element will be connected chips that communicate with each other. Sensors and cameras will monitor the construction site in real time so it will be safer and more efficient. This process means that the production itself will be better and more profitable. The companies will have an automated, controlled production line all the way until you put the key in the door.
For an industrialization to happen, the designing itself must also be digitalized. Industrial robots are not able to read drawings but need control codes. You will be forced to digitalize the design and you will be forced to increase the quality of the design. There will be demands of strict design rules on how to draw, that is which doors, windows, wall types or building systems you can choose. In an industrial production, it has been decided on from the beginning what rules there are to work within. It does not have to mean that the architecture will be worse, I am convinced that it will be at least as good if not better. You will probably in many cases need a certification to be allowed to participate, that you must be able to work with BIM and with CAD tools according to strict rule sets and be able to work with certain processes.
There is an important part, perhaps the single biggest aspect that holds back the transformation and that is that the architects and engineers are paid by the hour. This works against any incentive to become more effective. With a more modern compensation model, the market would be open to innovation and true progression. Another result of automation is that it can lead to enormous unemployment in the construction industry regarding both designers and builders. But those who remain will be so much more important. Architects have a long, solid education that is about seeing to the whole, understanding people and finances, understanding the impact of design on all levels. They will have to use their skills in a completely different way instead of sitting with menial tasks. They will be subject to higher demands and their role will change completely; namely exactly what they once were educated to become.
There will be a dramatic digital revolution, it has already begun. This spring, Covid-19 acted like a catalyst and BIM will play a central role in how the industrial revolution finally will enter the construction industry…a hundred years after every other industry…
If you want to know more about Michael´s work, please head over to his LinkedIn.
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