BIM or Bust?

BIM or Bust?

Written by: Mike Shilton

There is great confusion surrounding Building Information Modelling (BIM). This is mostly because it is clouded by a plethora of acronyms and examples that show complex 3D visualisations, typically of buildings. This only seeks to reinforce the misconception that BIM is only relevant to large practices undertaking major architectural and civil projects and will require massive investment. Software vendors have helped by seeking to promote their advanced 3D application as a “BIM Solution”. The implication is that that Building Information Modelling (BIM) has little or no relevance in garden design.

As a landscape architect that has been working with BIM related objects for over 15 years, I know there are great possibilities to apply some of the techniques and processes even to the smallest of operations. BIM is relevant for all projects where spatial coordination is required and you need to consider the implications of alternative solutions. It can also help identify and avoid potential clashes between elements in the landscape and can provide quantity take-off for more accurate costings. On more complex sites, it can be used to resolve changes in site levels and better communicate through the 3D form.

However, where BIM really excels is where there is a need for greater collaboration and sharing of information to achieve better, informed decisions - effectively, everything you have been doing as a landscape professional for years.

If you look at other professions working in other industries, such as automotive, manufacturing and even the fashion, they have readily adopted the concept of prototyping. This allows them to simulate, test and review their proposals before committing to massive investment. Stakeholders realise the benefits because it delivers significant cost savings, reduces their risk and engenders a “get it right first time” mentality.

As such, why would these same principles not apply to the construction industry? BIM allows you to do this by designing in a safe, virtual world before you commit to building your landscape in the real world. This means that you can prove your design and its components will function as intended, that your solution will fulfil the client’s requirement, that your product choices are relevant, that finishes are maintainable and that the project can be delivered within the budget and time frame agreed.

Predicting Plant Performance

Designing first in a virtual world offers many benefits. When selecting plants, choosing the right plant for the right place is important. By demonstrating how different plants will perform in different locations within the garden, you can show how they will grow over time, indicate their effectiveness to provide shade through the day or across and entire year and review the implications of maintenance.

You may say that you do this already with your current systems, processes and client presentations. This is probably true but often the information is created and duplicated in several different applications. This means that a change to the design has to be replicated in multiple locations. Therefore, each design change runs the risk of introducing errors that could be costly to you or your client. This is where BIM solutions offer the most significant benefit.

Fundamentally BIM relies on a single source of the truth, that is, a data rich model, often in 3D, from which you can generate many outputs and cost the project from the earliest to the final stages and handover. By working in 3D from the outset, you can quickly create plan, elevation and 3D perspective views of your model. As it is a dynamic model, any change to a 3D element is instantly reflected in these views. Because it is a virtual model, you can add data to help describe the object, including links to images, product catalogues and manufactures websites. As such, you and your client have to opportunity to interact with the design in real time, make changes and quickly review the outcomes.

As technology improves, options are emerging that allow you to publish your model securely to the cloud. This allows you to fly through the 3D and could allow links to videos other sites that show how to construct or maintain as feature in the garden. Who knows where new technologies, such as augmented reality, will take us in the future.

It is true to say that many of the benefits described are only just starting to become available and, I’m sure, many currently unknown benefits will emerge over time. And, therein stands the elephant in the room. What I have discussed can’t be achieved with paper, pen and cardboard and can’t be achieved over night. If you are serious about improving the way you work, wish to offer a better service to your clients and want to produce better performing landscapes, you will need to invest.

As with BIM, start by looking at the outputs and services you want to deliver first. Secondly, step back and review your systems and processes to see where there are gaps. Thirdly, consider what you need to bridge these gaps. Finally, consider what investment is required, not only in terms of software, hardware, systems, and training but also processes and over what time frame.

They say BIM a game changer. I believe it is. But, like all games, you need to start at the beginning, know where you need to end up, have a path to follow and enjoy the journey.