Retrospective BIM Modelling of Buildings

Even with the challenges that are there in regards to retrospective modelling I feel the difficulties encountered in the process of actually attempting it emphasise the clear need for more efficient processes of data storage and access to building information, and isn’t that what BIM is all about? Having the information there, when you need it? Yes in this example I’m modelling a pretty old building with very outdated standards of data handover in the sixties, but the lack of available data has similarities to non-BIM’d buildings of today.

Over the past few months I’ve been extremely busy on some very innovative and intriguing projects which have been taking up a considerable amount of time, hence the lack of articles! I’ve finally had a few minutes to put aside to dedicate some time back into the site.

Over the past few 6 months I’ve been heavily involved in a European funded project Resseepe, which is focusing on the retrofit of large institutional buildings such as Universities, hospitals and schools. The project aims to establish informed and innovative solutions to optimise how we manage and develop refurbishment strategies for buildings.  Focusing not only on the innovative technologies that can be used and combined in refurbishment projects, but also on the processes and decision making procedures preceding retrofits.

The Building in Question

The Building in Question

Part of this project has led me to retrospectively ‘BIM’ modelling a large university building, around 5000m/2. Now having quite a bit of previous modelling experience I believed this would be a reasonably straight forward task. How wrong was I! Now modelling any building often takes a bit of technique refinement to get the software to do what you want, I’m talking a ‘new’ way to model a bespoke roof design, or massing a particular shape or form in a way that you haven’t done before. This kind of skills refinement is pretty normal as you progress through any existing or new software. I’ve always found that regardless of level of skill at any software with the commercial ‘new edition every year’ platform there is always something every year to brush up on. This process has been as usual invigorating, to keep pushing personal understanding and skills.

Now as I say, this level of skills evolution is normal, the real learning curve or hurdle has been the lack of available information on existing post war building stock. This is an issue that many Estates and asset management teams have to try to endeavour to overcome, in that much of the information on buildings is old, outdated and/or buried. For the building in question that I’ve been modelling there has been a close relationship with in house estates to try and muster up what information we can to give the best available current state and picture of the building. The challenge here is that this still leaves a lot of assumptions and estimations. For instance in a building designed in 1961, no one at the time considered the 3D modelling requirement of some BIM user when compiling the plans. The plans of the day were constructed with one criteria in mind; enough information to raise the building from the ground, in time and for the right money. Building handover or management was at best an afterthought, if that. In modern years the information being handed over to FM teams is greatly improving with initiatives like softlandings in the UK. Although, we don’t have to go too many years back’ looking at buildings where handover of data was an afterthought and still is in parts.  I’m thinking the rushed collection of building management and health and safety binder’s minutes before the impending deadline.

An early stage render showing BIPV refit option

Another key issue when retrospectively modelling existing stock is the accuracy of the details. In this case you can’t rely on existing original or CAD plans to hold accurate data because over
the years buildings evolve and often the records don’t show this in every detail. It may even be the case that when a plan reaches site, the detail was just not viable and the process or reality of the build altered slightly, this is where the need for ‘as built’ records derives, again this is key to BIM and softlandings. To counteract this there needs to be a process of model validation. Now this may differ slightly from the new build validation in that were not directly validating immediately against rule sets, such as in Solibri etc. The key here is to validate the accuracy of plans, CAD or assumptions so that the model is as close to ‘as-built’ as possible. Now what were encroaching into here is a level of detail aspect, much the same as any BIM new build, in that it needs to be established as to how accurate or refined does the model need to be. This all depends on what information will be required down the line, i.e. will the model be solely used for energy simulation or is there a desire to use the model for quantities asset management which will require far greater component and parametric data to be added. As with new builds, you can only draw off quality information when quality information goes into the model. There is a point where decisions have to be made on the practicalities of entering the detail and specification of every light fitting if that information is never going to be required.

Even with the challenges that are there in regards to retrospective modelling I feel the difficulties encountered in the process of actually attempting it emphasis the clear need for more efficient processes of data storage and access to building information, and isn’t that what BIM is all about? Having the information there, when you need it? Yes in this example I’m modelling a pretty old building with very outdated standards of data handover in the sixties, but the lack of available data has similarities to non-BIM’d buildings of today. The benefits that a BIM model can bring to new builds are very similar to those that are on offer in retrofit or building management. The challenge is to bridge that gap in retrospect. In years to come I envisage a FM process where it’s a lot more common for reasonably sized existing stock to be retrospectively modelled as the alternatives of traditional data management are far to cumbersome. In the case where a building retrofit is to take place I would go as far to say it’s crucial.   


BIM, success or failure, leap or crawl? (Processes and Protocols)

BIM, success or failure, leap or crawl? In this article I’m going to question whether BIM protocols and improved collaborative and integrated working processes can be the lasting legacy of BIM regardless of technology take-up.  Should companies concentrate on getting the processes and people aspects of BIM implementation right before considering what technology aspects of BIM to adopt?



Project Execution Plans (PEP) and Project Implementation Plans (PIP) are an area where quick, cheap and effective steps can be made in the early stages of BIM adoption.  Small or large companies can use these tools or documents during the implementation stages of project at relatively small costs as compared to actually implementing the technology platform needed to run a BIM project.  The documents if anyone is familiar to them will be aware are not a radical new concept, there are clear similarities to any existing planning documents that firms have set up internally for projects. Other BIM protocol documents such as the Pas 1192-2 have additional reference and guidance for a  BIM strategy outlining project  planning, structure, sharing and modelling protocols etc.


By at the very least adopting integrated planning structure of BIM project firms would be able to get the people and processes aspects of BIM right first, reap the benefits and then get the technical aspects ironed out either immediately after the BIM protocols and people structure has been established or even further down the line. Now some firms may be able to make the leap in one go, but others firm may require a more gentle transition period. The danger of making a great leap is that the early end spending may not be directed in the long term right direction. It’s not unheard of for companies to spend a huge amount on BIM models or technology before even having a clue on what they actually want to achieve through BIM adoption.


To briefly outline BIM protocols; BIM protocols are the setting up and adherence to processes and procedures that are part of BIM. Documents such as the Implementation Plans and the Project Execution Plans are used to outline the goals, skills, protocols, responsibilities and many other aspects of a BIM project at an early stage.  Whilst in their current reference these types of documents are often referred to as BIM projects tools or plans I believe they could have a wider use across a multitude of projects, from basic standard construction projects right the way through to international research projects. Protocols and Executions Plans can be used to take a team beyond the initial brief into and through a project from start to finish providing clarity on what rules and procedures the team should adhere to, in a pre-agreed and documented format.


pas 1192 use

One of the major benefits of at least adopting BIM protocols first  is that as mentioned trough reducing initial outlay the leap into BIM can be less of a leap and more of a steady passage.  Another factor to consider is that by tackling the people and organisational aspects first you can skip the nervous and often ill-informed leap of purchasing a costly full software package deal before even knowing what you want out of BIM leading to multiple problems further down the line. The kind of problems I’m eluding to are ones such as being tied into a proprietary vendor, or not considering the actual companies or clients (depending on who’s the driver into BIM)  requirements for the first or future BIM projects. Making these leaps into the technology aspects of BIM before fully understanding what you hope to get out of it, or maybe more importantly what you actually need out of a BIM project could be extremely costly. I have seen many testaments of companies purchasing astronomical amounts of software before even having a real clue as to what BIM or BIMM actual is and what it means for the firm beyond that of buzz word adoption. If a company is going to invest in BIM they need to be sure that they have sifted through the initial stages of the BIM wash and have begun to really evaluate and establish what BIM can do for them as an outfit.

Many people are getting BIM the wrong way round and coming unstuck when they have a flashy and pretty BIM model, or should I say 3D model as it is in most cases and not actually understanding what kind of data or processes they want to draw off from the BIM process as a whole.


Many people talk about the top>down approach of implementation i.e. getting the directors and managers to agree on the push for BIM and then look at the ‘down’ or general staff and assess what needs to be done in regards to training and technology etc. One step that I feel could get the ‘top’ on board more easily could be to present the notion of improving the simple and low costs things first to improve the methods and protocols of working.  By implementing BIM protocols you can make quick gains in efficiency and processes with little outlay which could then be used as leverage to encourage any doubting bosses. In an ideal world all parties would be on board at a firm from the get go but this is obviously not always possible in reality. There are still factions out there that don’t understand BIM enough yet or are simply not encouraged enough by the current arguments to wholly make any huge leap. It’s often the case in business to adopt the ‘let’s see what everyone else does first’ policy.


With all these fluctuating variables coming into to play, getting the people working more efficiently and truly collaborative from the outset of projects could be one of the key lasting legacies of BIM as the area naturally metamorphosis’ and evolves over its lifespan.  Certain processes, technology and aspects of BIM may fade over time, but the people involved, providing there’s no radical automated robotic takeover of the industry, will be there for the long run so getting the people aspects right makes sense, doesn’t it?


To put a delicate twist on my opening line; BIM, success or failure, leap or crawl, BIM protocols and improved collaborative and integrated working processes can be the lasting legacy of BIM at the very least I hope.


BIM Workshop Attended in Coventry

I recently attended a BIM workshop which was held at Coventry University. The 2 days were presented by the ‘2 David’s’, David Emery and David Jennings. It was good to hear BIM described and discussed in real terms in real life applications.  The event was one of a reoccurring set of workshops which are funded by Sustainable Building Futures (SBF) with the aim of assisting SME’s on their road towards greater BIM adoption.



Many topics within BIM were covered, from the origins of BIM to what BIM actually is and isn’t? As many who understand BIM already know BIM isn’t something new! This point was highlighted by David Jennings with some nice references to historical builds right back to the Empire State Building and even further beyond that to the construction techniques adopted for the Egyptian pyramids. The Empire State Building consists of 102 floors and was constructed in the 1930’s. Surprising to some may be the schedule of works and completion time; the building was completed in just 13 months, which was no mean feat back in the 30’s! They achieved this through various ways, one being a collaborative and integrated design environment in which all of the various design and construction teams worked in close proximity of each other. This enabled decisions and alterations etc. to be made live without any lengthy delays for information exchange. Another point of interest regarding the schedule was the fact that there were no critical paths which enabled for a smooth process. A point that strikes me was contrast in complexity from many buildings today. There was a simplicity to the design of the building, in essence only two floor plan variations were used which obviously lead to a more efficient progress and schedule during construction. Aside from the BIM aspect one aspect which makes today’s building far more difficult to build is this complexity, and from a sustainable and construction point of view possibly over complexity. The iconic focal point buildings we have in our major cities are great for the viewer but are the levels of complexity they bring to much in a low impact conscious industry? One argument against this however would be the level of revenue that a landmark building can bring to a city, just look at the money that follows a Renzo Piano design!

The way that what is BIM was explained was put in a nicely succinct manner by David Jennings as ‘the access to information when you need it’. To further explain BIM the definition set out by BuildingSMART was also displayed showing the variations in the BIM acronym; Building Information modelling, model, management etc.  From these definitions in my personal opinion if, as we are, we a struck with some kind of acronym then personally I prefer the BIMM acronym that has been bandied around, Building Information Modelling and Management (BIMM). I feel this best encompasses all of the technology aspects of BIM as well as signifying the importance of the people and processes aspects.



Next up on day 2 we had various run troughs of some of the more technical aspects of BIM such as COBie and quality assurance check via Solibri.  It’s clear to me that COBie for many is a bit of an unknown territory, so it was nice to see it running live on Solibri and see actual outputs of intelligent data. Later on I will be doing an article on putting REVIT through its paces in regards to how to get from REVIT to COBie outputs so will cover that aspect myself then. What was outlined within the talks were the Benefits of quality assuring a model or IFC file to be more specific before running the COBie calculations/export. One point I’m really intrigued to follow the evolution of is the progress to be made in regards to COBie drops and the path towards fully integrated models and data. As discussed within the workshop COBie drops 0,1,2,3 have all taken place within live projects but drops 4 and 5 have yet to be fully completed. I’m keen to see how far these drops can be automated and how fluid the process becomes for drops 4 and 5 as it’s the major data drop area for the Operations and Management side of things. And in my view handover and Softlanding’s are one of the current missing links where BIM could achieve its true ROI and prove its worth to doubters!


I won’t go into too much detail into the Solibri process as in the near future I will be doing a hands on assessment of how I find the process but from what I seen of it in live action I do feel there are some neat aspects to the software. Having used Tekla BIMsight for clash detection I can immediately see the differences in what Solibri can bring to the table from the live demo. One of the major abilities I liked was that you can use pre-programmed definitions to interrogate a model such as building codes etc. (I’m told British codes are to be updated in the near future) which in my understanding will take it beyond many other clash detection software’s.  As a teaching aid or as a real world live project tool if I can utilise a tool to do Building Codes and Building Regulations checks as well as the more common clash detection it will surely speed up process. One of the toughest aspects to teach students within construction is to get them to design with building reg’s and such in mind.  A checker won’t and shouldn’t eliminate this skill but it would defiantly be a useful tool to ‘double check’ for human error.


Overall it was a well done workshop with good real world content so congrats to the two David’s for getting me thinking about a good few points to keep my eye on in the future as well as areas for future articles! You can check out their site at Virtechs 


What should we be assessing in BIM Education?

What should we be looking to assess in regards to BIM in education today? Also what should we be looking to assess in the future as all parties, industry, education and research knowledge of the best BIM practices and processes evolves?  The UK Government is attempting to establish BIM learning outcomes and such but I’d like to hear first-hand off people actively involved in BIM what they feel should be assessed and taught  in Higher Education


Over the past few months I’ve discussed many topics revolving around BIM, the what, the why and the drivers. This week I want to follow on from a previous article on ‘The challenges of integrating BIM into Higher Education’. Many parties are now in consensus that we need to be integrating BIM in some shape or form into academic curriculum at HE level. But what exactly should we be teaching and just as important what should we be assessing students on in BIM?

Teaching BIM in my opinion is just as much about the people and processes as it is the technology, maybe even more so. This is because if you don’t get the collaborative processes right than how can you expect your staff or students to begin to tackle the more technical aspects of BIM. For members of a team to be able to accept a change in their working process there needs to be an understanding as to why any change is being pushed.  For some this maybe a slight adjustment but for many this maybe a complete culture change.   The whole business view reflects the ground level people view in this respect in that some companies are already practicing collaborative working and in office protocols etc. so they will only need minor adjustments where as other companies may need to make wholesale changes to adapt to BIM processes.


If education is to provide the construction industry with graduates that have the applicable skills which are required by industry then education institutes need to ensure that the skills that are being taught in lectures and classes are relevant to the realities of an ever evolving industry.  One of the key challenges I see for BIM education curricular and assessment is being able to continually keep up to date with the changing nature of the construction industry. As I’m sure many of you are aware industry guidelines and practicing policy can often change almost as often as a change in the wind.  Just look at the UK planning guidelines fiasco with bringing in changes and then making abrupt turns in policy. The same can be said for schemes like the feed in tariffs for the solar panel industry.


sourced - google images

sourced – google images

With this in mind I feel it’s imperative that academia tries to keep their finger on the pulse as best as reasonable possible in regards to BIM curricular. And yes this may mean that lecturers may spend weeks preparing a module syllabus only to have to completely rework it a year or two later.  Gone are the days when a lecturer can get away with turning up with the same PowerPoint’s and coursework’s year on year for 10-20 years! Well that my opinion at least.  With a continually evolving industry we need a continually evolving and adapting curriculum.  This practice should not only be restricted to BIM teaching it should be the ethos across all courses.  Many courses today are based technical aspects of the industry and with anything technical it continually gets updated and altered year on year; I’m thinking Autodesk policy here!  Culture changes are generally less regular but in the case of BIM beyond the overall wider culture change aspect there is multiple smaller changes down the BIM road. This is a natural progression as BIM feels it way through it implementation.


With all this in mind I’d like to evoke some discussion on what should we be looking to assess in regards to BIM in education today? Also what should we be looking to assess in the future as all parties, industry, education and research knowledge of the best BIM practices and processes evolves?  The UK Government is attempting to establish BIM learning outcomes and such but I’d like to hear first-hand off people actively involved in BIM what they feel should be assessed and taught  in Higher Education. Please feel free to join the discussion below with you thoughts and opinions. 


Sustainable Building Conference 2013 – CIOB

This article is part of a series of articles which will reflect back on my recent experiences at the Sustainable Building and Construction Conference 2013 (SB13) held at Coventry University. Questions arose on; Is there enough social housing available today?   Also with much  of the 26 million UK housing stock built before the concept of sustainability was even envisaged will it be possible to  upgrade the 9 million homes in need of upgrade in the near future?


Sourced from - Coventry University

Coventry University

One of the keynote speakers which addressed the Sustainable Building and Construction Conference 2013 at Coventry University was Chris Blythe representing the CIOB. The focus of Blythe’s presentation was on issues found within the UK housing market. In particular Blythe raised concerns with the “lack of social housing within the UK. Yet counter to this empty private houses or rooms.”  Blythe also highlighted the “issue that house prices are far more than the average salary than 30 years ago. (With) Stamp duty preventing home-owners from progressing up the ladder.”


Moving onto the sustainability of UK housing stock with much of it being built before the concept of sustainability was even conceived, 26 million homes in fact which has had a knock on effect to what state our housing is in today. Blythe highlighted that within that stock  “9 million (of those) homes are now in most need of upgrade.” Questions arose on whether this was possible with the confusion that existed over leadership and the lack of clarity of the direction that housing should be or is heading in. Within the presentation issues came to mind with the multiple false starts and ‘initiatives’ of new schemes which are going to revitalise and revolutionise the industry. The question is how many of these ‘initiatives’ are truly useful to the industry and possibly more important the consumer?

One of these initiatives is the green deal… it viable? Recently at Ecobuild 2013 many concerns were raised within various seminar sessions on the future of the green deal in particular the SLOW…….  uptake, at last count 36 out of 26,000,000 homes have taken up the offer!  Blythe highlighted that a lack of branding to the green deal and the lack of existing trusted brands involved could hinder its progress. Unless the larger manufactures jump in will the trust in the scheme develop to the level that is needed for it to succeed or even survive!  Loan schemes rates were also questioned by Chris Blythe when compared to other standard interest rates.  One other aspect which Blythe discussed was what happens during the sale of a house involved in green deal scheme, will the new proposed purchaser be happy to take on the green deal contract? Selling a house today is difficult enough with a heap of paperwork to process, potential buyers may be scared off with the additional green deal contracts to add to the pile!


Blythe showed figures of housing completion rates in recent years. The images showed that housing completion rates have dropped from 140,000 per year to around 90,000 per year, 2007-2012 period, yet at the same time the HBF satisfaction rate has gone up. The point raised by Blythe questioned whether the rise in HBF was due to statistical survey massage or in part down to the fact that quality is now more important in such a competitive period of housing. The current targets for housing is set for 250,000 new homes to be built each year, looking at the previously discussed figures are these targets even remotely realistic or possible with today’s tight budgeted industry?


In regards to training apprenticeships have dramatically rose since 06/07 from 184,400 to 520,600 in 2012.  However as promising as these figures look could it be claimed that the rise in apprenticeships are a replacement for standing in the unemployment line, which in turn makes the unemployment figures look a lot better for current Government!  Although one good factor in the schemes is that the completion rates of the apprenticeships are also rising in relation to the take up rates.

Now back to the core theme of the conference, sustainability. Many discussions were raised expressing concerns over not only on how do or should we measure sustainability but also, what risks or accountability exists for the targets which are often referenced and set in regards to it.  One quote from Chris Blythe that I really enjoyed as many present did w was, “what legal obligations do politicians have to ensure that targets or policies are met, it’s not like anyone would go to jail if not!” It’s a statement in jest but at the heart of it there are some really points to discuss. Such as what accountability exists for the contractor or design teams? What measures are there or should be in place to ensure that those parties responsible ensure that there is a closer relation between building performance predictions and actual building performance. Could there be more nominal levels of risk/reward be applied to this criteria in future to improve building performance.


That concludes my first reflections on the conference with particular focus on Chris Blythe’s keynote speech this week. Thanks for reading this week, over the next few weeks there will be more exerts and reflections on the SB13 conference.


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