Building Information Modeling – Advocates & Critics

By Steven A. Watchorn, Assoc. A.I.A., LEED AP

Let me start off by saying that I am an advocate of Building Information Modeling (B.I.M.) and its benefits to the construction industry, but I have not whole-heartedly embraced current B.I.M. software as the standard tool of architectural design.  However, there is a large population of design professionals, facilities managers, project managers, and building owners who have already embraced it.  They understand that the software is a real game-changer; a tool that can make the design and construction process more efficient and rewarding.  B.I.M. offers many solutions to some of the traditional problems associated with coordinating complex design projects, and offers post-occupancy tools and cost savings never before seen by building owners.  However, its shortcomings leave many wishing for more:

  1. B.I.M. training and start-up is extremely expensive and time-consuming.  Even the proponents concur with this point, but they suggest that it is offset by fewer change orders during construction and life-cycle cost savings.
  2. The B.I.M. design process is not intuitive.  In order for B.I.M. software to effectively link design updates between multiple sheets and trades, it requires a significant amount of database manipulation in the initial design.  Entering data into, and linking spreadsheets, is NOT design.
  3. B.I.M. software makes it easy to include standard construction elements into a project, but unique design solutions are more time-consuming and more difficult to incorporate than in traditional CAD software.  However, projects with complex detailing and coordination are ones that benefit from B.I.M. the most.  It is still to be seen how well B.I.M. will benefit smaller projects such as building envelope repairs, which still use CAD in the preparation of bidding and permit drawings.
  4. The majority of design professionals currently engaged in using B.I.M. have less than 10 years of construction experience.  It is argued by some that experienced construction professionals without any B.I.M. experience are being held out of opportunities because of their lack of B.I.M. experience in favor of a much younger and less experienced population.  This is a common result when technology outpaces the job market, and it will force many professionals to play catch-up.
  5. The ability of a project to be well-coordinated is the result of good project management.  A B.I.M. project without proper and knowledgeable project management offers no real advantage.

These are just a few of the B.I.M. criticisms and realities that I have heard from others in the profession.  I believe that these criticisms are necessary to help grow and make our industry better.  B.I.M. is a powerful information-sharing tool, but it should be better guided by the design process that it serves.

The GSA and many municipalities now require that B.I.M. software be utilized by design firms on any new construction project with public funding.  LEED certification rewards projects that use B.I.M. so it is clear that the future of building design is with B.I.M., and it is important that design professionals unhappy with the shortcomings noted above demand more.

The relationship of technology, design, and ownership needs must become more aligned with, and inform, one another.  That is the perfect sustainable system; one that the future of B.I.M. must address more equally.