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BIM Bytes: Is ‘smart’ technology the new hope for housing?


With the announcement that Bicester is to follow Ebbsfleet as the next Garden City, it is hard to avoid thinking of what our future cities will be like. When the aim is to deal with a housing shortage, is the use of BIM a sensible focus?

A key way to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more quickly, and modular construction is cited as a means to achieve this. There is a natural link between the use of BIM and the use of off-site manufacturing: for example, BIM software assists the preparation of a tight construction methodology prior to modular units arriving at site. However, two flagship modular housing projects in the UK and US have been beset with problems.

In October, Taylor Wimpey started a £5m High Court case against Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners over water seepage at its Oxley Woods development near Milton Keynes. In particular, the claim is related to the design by project architect Richard Rogers.

In the US, the B2 tower at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn was to be a 32-floor, 31,500 sq m modular building comprising 50% affordable units.

When construction started in 2012, Arup said its “4D BIM capabilities supported innovative engineering that incorporates construction-process-driven design to bring incredible value to this project in a difficult market”.

In September, Skanska USA, the contractor, filed a $50m lawsuit that focused on claims of employer changes during the project; the developer (Forest City Ratner) alleged in reply that the losses resulted from a lack of skill on the part of Skanska.

So modular construction and BIM are not panaceas for construction disputes. But there is hope.

As long as BIM shows any benefit, there is an inevitability about its increased use. The most advanced technology has become the norm in everyday life and so the thought of shunning advances feels counter-intuitive.

With home projects, the cost savings of BIM should be scalable. For large homeowners, the long-term asset management benefits of a BIM model should be appealing, but why shouldn’t all homes have the same benefits?

And so we come back to Bicester, because the final question is whether BIM is part of an opportunity to create a “smart city”. If we think smart technology can be used to create efficiency and raise well-being in a community, then the answer is clear – we need to make Bicester smart.  

Picture: What it was supposed to look like: the B2 residential building by SHoP Architects for Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, New York


There is a natural link between the use of BIM and the use of off-site manufacturing. However, two flagship modular housing projects in the UK and US have been beset with problems.– Assad Maqbool