Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Guest Post by Keith Chan- Toward BIM Architecture

Keith joined KSS in 2012 as an architectural assistant for his year out in practice, after completing his RIBA Part I BSc degree at Welsh School of Architecture. Having spent his childhood in Hong Kong and grown up in the UK, he has developed interest in contextual architecture design.  Studying and working at the same time in pursuit of RIBA Part II, he has become analytical on how architectural education links to the construction industry and seek to explore the role of the architect nowadays. He is now gaining valuable experience with BIM and construction process, particularly through helping with co-ordination in sports and retail projects.'




What I liked about my architecture school was the balance between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’, highlighting how interdisciplinary architecture can be, and how the industry is developing across the world, sparking students’ interests in the vernacular, place-making, fabrication and at the same time drags us back into the reality of what is going on in the industry.


BIM was mentioned in my Part I degree - Revit was taught to us basically, along with other powerful packages such as Ecotect, 3DStudioMax that we have all produced designs with. We were focusing on how powerful the programs can be and how they can be used as ‘Design Tools’ to help us design sustainably and analytically, at the same time exercising the more ‘traditional’ or ‘good-old’ drafting and sketching by hand. Still, we designed in our ‘architectural wonderland’ with limited constraints for our school projects.


One thing I have learnt a lot from working at KSS was how BIM aims to embrace the collaborative nature, across all parties of a project, across the same software platform, and the convenience of exchanging information and modeling. Still learning much about the trade, I came across the recently published NBS BIM report. I had a glance over the statistics and the ‘perceptions of BIM’ and general hesitation for practices adopting BIM caught my eye. Personally, as a fresh university graduate, instinctively I believe education can play a part, in particular at universities and vocational colleges. After all, new comers joining a firm can always bring new knowledge and skills.


When I say education, I do not only refer to the ‘skills’ element of using software, undoubtedly it would help increase user-confidence, but instead to teach by painting a comprehensive picture of BIM - nothing religious or brain-washing, just through a handful of sessions of role-playing seminars with case studies to discuss the general status quo, honest and hard facts of what works now and what needs improving, that may suffice for now. I believe that the awareness is the catalyst, university graduates in this job market are eager to make themselves more employable, with the availability of resources (Youtube & forums) on the web to pick up software skills in their own time, ‘BIM-thinking’ could easily be embedded within the new breeds for the industry.


Note that I didn’t specify ‘architecture schools’ in particular but ‘universities’. BIM is collaborative –picture a week-long design workshop in university, where students who are interested to join the construction industry, from faculties of engineering, architecture, business or management all gather and try to design a basic house using BIM. In fact, I can picture ‘heated debates’ and frustrated faces too, but that may be the point – to emphasise that it would only work when everybody is levelled, using the same language and set up a mutually understanding workflow/protocols. CAD and technical skills can be picked up quickly, but communication and co-ordination skills must be experienced and trained. ‘Is this BIM related?’ perhaps not necessarily, but at least it dissolves the potential ‘silo’ approach from different professions early on.


Knowing that Norway or Finland has been using BIM throughout small and big scale projects – even taught in school; I’m intrigued to learn how and ‘why not’ for UK (more than the obvious and overused justification of ‘cultural difference’). If we still dwell in limbo, I fear (maybe a naive and distant nightmare) that sooner or later, local/global projects may one day be outsourced to other transnational design teams due to their more advanced BIM expertise, and ability to collaborate; UK local practices would lose out even more if we don’t march on, and young professionals start looking abroad to find work, some already have. Schools’ main concern was that there is no guarantee that practices graduates end up working uses/going to use BIM, and that the current school staffs are researchers/academics and external practicing tutors do not have enough time or right skills to teach.


For education to initiate, the industry must commit, and make institutes realize the importance of the trend, so that they feel obliged to also invest time and effort to educate the new generations. Future generations no longer simply judge the excellence of a project by its end product; they should also be able to celebrate the process of how it is conceived and built, how we used technology to improve efficiency throughout the build, in the midst of the economic and environmental difficulties of our time.