Click to enter complete search
Time for architects to embrace the realities of digital Darwinism
John Arnott
22nd January 2017

The world of architecture has long been an analogue environment.

While the role has evolved through the ages from the artisan to the professional, the fundamental mind-set of the architect has probably changed little since the days when Imhotep was designing the Step Pyramid almost four millennia ago.

While every architect and practice may frame it in a different way, ultimately their focus is on designing places and spaces that range between the functional and the beautiful and if done well, they will be both.

So with all this in mind it is little wonder that the sector is still lagging behind when it comes to embracing and adopting Building Information Management (BIM) and all the opportunities it presents.

It is now almost a decade since the concept of BIM was first mooted by the New Labour government and five years since it was introduced as a requirement by the coalition government in an attempt to improve efficiency around public sector procurement.

Since then it has not been short of profile – barely a week goes by without new guidance, improved software or general comment on the whys and wherefores from across the industry but at best it remains a process only used where stipulated in the tender process and at worst it is something considered by many to be someone else’s job.

As the debate about the importance of BIM to the future of architecture has raged, we have lost sight of the bigger picture. Many people have taken to thinking BIM is simply to do with modelling in 3D software and delivering it via some advanced online tools when in fact it could be, and should be, so much more.

There are three distinct tiers to successful BIM delivery, each independent of each other but intrinsically linked in a manner that is not always obvious: how we work in a project, how we work as a business and how we interact with others.

A successful BIM culture where the process is understood by all and data and software are standard across industry has an obvious payback, not just in efficiency but also in breaking down the information silos that have historically existed between the architecture, engineering and construction sectors.

This process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through design and manufacture to service and disposal is well documented and understood in other industries such as aerospace or manufacturing – they already integrate people, data, processes and business systems and provide an information backbone that runs through their organisation.

It is hard to know quite why our sector has taken so long to embrace BIM, I suspect a combination of apathy, fear and a general attitude that if it’s not broke then why fix it. And there remains much to do to persuade architects that BIM will help, not hinder, their creativity – a Hays survey of Australian architects covering the first quarter of 2017 highlighted a focus on BIM skills over design as their main concern.

Ultimately, it will be an evolution not a revolution that finally creates a BIM culture within practices. While steady advances will continue to be made, in many ways it will be the architects of Generation Y - who are immersed in social media, mobile, wearables and the Internet of Things - that will fully embrace a new generation of business models and new methods of working.

With this in mind it is crucial that BIM becomes a fundamental part of the architectural educational process and that students are immersed in the concept before they finish their studies, so events like the BIMinBirmingham conference being held by Birmingham City University and backed by RIBA and a number of local, national and international practices, are timely and welcome.

As RIBA admitted last year “..there is still much work to do and the journey continues. For BIM to realise its transformative potential, investment and change is needed across the sector.”

Or to put it more bluntly – this is a time of digital Darwinism where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses can naturally adapt. The stage is set for a new generation of business models charging behind a mantra of adapt or die.

“It is hard to know quite why our sector has taken so long to embrace BIM, I suspect a combination of apathy, fear and a general attitude that if it’s not broke then why fix it.”

Stay up to date with Broadway Malyan

If you would like to receive our quarterly newsletter please submit your details on the right.