We use BIM for design and construction, but why aren’t we applying it to operations?

Russell Pedley Assael

At the 2017 America’s Cup, Ben Ainslie, the British four-times gold medallist, referred to the tournament as being “as much a design race as a sailing race.”

He was, of course, referring to the boat he would be piloting, the Land Rover BAR.  The boat is decked out with four on-board cameras and 190 sensors positioned all over the boat, collecting a whopping 16GB of data in a single sailing session. The data is collected, crunched through the Land Rover supercomputer, and transferred to the remote team, who analyse the data to see how the boat’s performance can be improved next time.

Utilising cutting-edge technologies like those used on the Land Rover Bar is not alien to the built environment. Although the proptech revolution is yet to truly materialise, technologies that monitor, measure and ultimately improve a building’s performance are starting to proliferate in the property market.

Open-source technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) are becoming more prevalent and are changing the way in which we design, build and collaborate on buildings. Recently, the government made BIM Level 2 mandatory on all public-sector projects like HS2, and is currently pushing to develop its digital standard for BIM Level 3.

Collaborative nature of BIM

At Assael, our architects have fully embraced the potentials of BIM. We no longer draw – we model. The three-dimensional BIM model we create becomes the foundation of the project. The floor plans, elevations, sections and component details are all drawn from the original BIM model.

The collaborative nature of BIM makes it the perfect foundation for projects, encouraging joined-up thinking from everyone involved. All the project architects working on a scheme can access the model and other disciplines, such as M&E engineers, can join the process with ease. Instead of a seemingly endless back-and-forth between architects and consultants, we can create a streamlined review process where everyone knows their role, while having oversight of each stage of the project.

With all the time and effort going into BIM at the design and construction stages of a project, it seems nonsensical not to carry it over to the operational aspect of the building.

Pontoon Dock Assael

Pontoon Dock, the BTR scheme in the Royal Dock’s that Assael use as a flagship of their work with BIM

The level of data and detail that a BIM model can provide those working on the operational side of buildings is phenomenal. The joined-up thinking that BIM drives in the nascent stages of a building can - and should - be carried over to the operational management of a project.

Facilities managers and operational teams still use a predominantly paper-based system, relying on excel to provide up-to-date inventories on everything from shower heads to dishwashers. With a BIM model, all this data can be entered during the design stage and construction stage, providing a working inventory of all the components included in a scheme - their cost, their servicing schedule and the various suppliers.

If the relevant care and dedication is taken at the opening stages of the project, the 3D BIM model can become an essential tool for the onsite concierge, acting as a master document for the entire building. This can be extremely useful when faucets begin to leak, or radiators pack up during the winter months, as once onsite maintenance teams diagnose the problem, they can use the BIM model to find all the relevant information about the broken component and directly contact the supplier.

BTR applications

The success of the build-to-rent sector in the UK depends on the quality and performance of the buildings. Developments need to be designed to deliver for both the operators, through maximised efficiency and long-term asset performance, and the residents, through beautifully designed spaces in desirable locations.

BIM is crucial in the design and construction stage for ensuring that this level of quality is consistently maintained throughout. It shouldn’t stop once the operators take over a building.

The government recently officially supported a professional rental market in the UK, giving £65m of funding to the Wembley Park BTR redevelopment that will deliver 7,600 high-quality rental homes. This show of both support and intent by the government needs to be matched by an operational offering that is efficient, streamlined and dynamic.

Wembley Park 636

Source: Quintain

If BTR is going to stack up throughout the UK, providing much needed homes, then the buildings need to be managed to last and perform. BIM can go a long way in ensuring this happens, and it’s about time operators opened their eyes to what’s right under their noses.

Russell Pedley, co-founder, Assael Architecture