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Rich Industrial Estate, Bermondsey

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A design-led architecture practice’s view of BIM adoption

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To find out how a design-led architectural practice is adopting BIM, we talked to Will Chan, project architect at Coffey Architects.

As Coffey Architects has not been driven by the mandate to adopt BIM, why has the practice decided that now is the time to begin its BIM journey?

The practice has grown significantly in the past few years, so has the scale and complexity of the projects we work on. With larger projects, BIM helps a lot to streamline the design and coordination processes.

Clients from the private sector are also beginning to show interest in using BIM because of the benefits it could bring, for example in programming, information exchange and drawing accuracy.

With the government’s recent mandate to adopt BIM Level 2 on all public projects, the trend to adopt BIM more widely seems inevitable. The practice has therefore taken a strategic view to develop our in-house BIM capabilities so we could bid on projects we’re interested in without this potential technical constraint. We could also offer BIM service to our existing clients as required.

How has the practice upskilled itself to start working in BIM? 

We have sought help from an external BIM consultancy company to set up BIM in the practice. This company has extensive experience helping architectural practices to implement BIM so they understand well the challenges medium-size design-led practices like us face in making this transition.

They have provided training sessions for key members in the studio and teams, which would use BIM on their projects, and are also providing ongoing BIM support for us.

When hiring new members of staff, we not only look for brilliant designers, but also designers with previous experience in delivering BIM projects so they can bring their practical experience and knowledge of using BIM into the practice. 

How has the practice justified any expense connected with training and software?

We see BIM as a part of the future of our profession and the wider industry. We therefore consider the “expense” as a worthy investment, which will open doors to future job opportunities as the practice continues to grow.

The initial set-up cost for BIM may be proportionately high for a medium-size practice like us but we believe this cost will be outweighed by savings from the efficiency generated in the long run. 

We are also keen to harness the benefits BIM could offer to enhance our internal design process. The most obvious one is the ability to test out different design options three dimensionally and generate schedules and quantities concurrently at the feasibility stage. The 3D BIM models can then be sent directly to our 3D printer to print so we can understand the formal expression of the options and their relationship with the wider context very easily.

What are the next steps on Coffey Architects’ BIM journey?

We started using BIM a year ago on a residential-led project in Bermondsey. We completed Stage 3 design on this project a couple of months ago. Building on this experience, we’ve convinced our client to implement BIM on a residential tower project in Southwark we’ve started working on this year.

We’re now also looking at setting up office-wide standards and project templates for smooth and consistent BIM implementations on future projects in the practice.

Do you think architects are falling behind contractors and engineers with BIM?

I think this is a misconception. Architects who use BIM use it just as well as the engineers and the contractors. Architects can lead the BIM process in the same way they lead the design team. As BIM becomes more widespread and cheaper to invest in, there are benefits for smaller practices and smaller domestic projects.

Top image: Rich Industrial Estate, Bermondsey, London.

We see BIM as a part of the future of our profession and the wider industry. We therefore consider the ‘expense’ as a worthy investment, which will open doors to future job opportunities as the practice continues to grow.– Will Chan, Coffey Architects