BIM – It’s Not Just for Clash Detection


While Building Information Modeling (BIM) is widely accepted as a means to improve our construction documents and aid in field coordination, I saw little value to my teams during the early design phases. It seemed slower and more cumbersome than the traditional way we documented the project as the early development occurred. As we continued to use this powerful tool, however, I started to see opportunities to think about our traditional process differently and perhaps eliminate some of the trouble spots we repeatedly face on projects.

Buildings develop traditionally in three major phases of work. First, in the Schematic Phase we layout the major spaces and components. Here the building takes shape. This phase is highly iterative and many solutions are tested. In the Design Development Phase, the building is refined. More micro details about how the individual spaces work are discussed and documented. Finally, in the Documentation Phase, the complex drawings that the general contractor will use to build the building are created. During the crucial Design Development phase, many of the important details that will support the staff and patients who use the building are discussed and decided.

Traditionally, the architecture team leads this phase and facilitates the discussion among the folks who will use the building and the many consultants and engineers that design each of the complex building systems. Architects are pretty good at this. Unfortunately, the traditional process also dictates that the architecture team will document and draw all of this information. Because buildings aren’t built from the simplified drawings created during this phase, all of the consultants then typically redraw these systems during the final documentation phase. This hand-off of information and redrawing leads to obvious opportunities for miscoordination and errors. When examining our own process this was a great place to begin looking to eliminate wasted effort and error-prone approaches.

BIM can shine during Design Development. The fact that we can render a room entirely in 3D and allow our clients to see the tangible product vs. a seemingly random part number is truly beneficial to the end-users. With the advent of technological advances in tablet computers in conjunction with 3D modeling, we can give the end-user a dynamic, panoramic view of the room. While these advances allow us to better communicate with the end-users and ensure that our design will meet their needs, it doesn’t resolve the information hand-off at the end of the Phase.

This is where we pushed to let BIM inform the way we think about documenting a building. On a recent project, I not only invited the consultants to the table during the design meetings, but also empowered them to model their respective scopes as the design progressed. Each user meeting was simultaneously a discussion about the needs of each space and a coordination session. At the end of the Design Development Phase, the important, detailed information about each space was documented in a way that the owner could understand and approve and already in the consultants’ models who would complete its documentation. No hand-off or redrawing of information was necessary.

In a second post, I’ll discuss how BIM has helped overcome other design phase to construction phase challenges, such as door hardware and access control.