Cloud-based BIM collaboration helps deliver Royal Wharf development

The Royal Wharf development is one of the country’s largest residential and commercial projects, located at the heart of London’s Royal Docks £3.5bn regeneration in the Silvertown district.

A joint venture between Ballymore Group and Singapore-listed Oxley Holdings, the 161,874m2 development will deliver a total of 3,385 residential units and 10,000m2 of retail and commercial space when fully completed. Almost 45% of the 40-acre development footprint is planned as public open space, according to the developers, including a 2.4-acre park and a riverfront promenade, while the development will also feature a piazza-style square, leisure facilities and a high street.

At the end of 2015, building services engineering firm Tate Consulting was appointed by the joint-venture development partners to provide a full mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design service in BIM for Phase 2B of the project, working closely with architect Whittam Cox, structural engineer OCSC and contractor Roundstone Construction Services to coordinate the design.

This appointment was extended in November 2016 to cover Phase 3 of the development, which is currently targeted for completion in December 2020.  

Central to Tate’s project was the use of cloud-based BIM, employing Autodesk Collaboration for Revit with BIM 360 Team software. Jeff Bearcroft, managing director of Tate Consulting, explains why this option was chosen: “We were very familiar with Autodesk software and were comfortable it could deliver what we needed quickly and efficiently,” he says. “We considered our own Revit server, but were attracted to a cloud solution because of the speed of deployment.”

According to Bearcroft, before Tate came on board, the client advised that it was planning to increase the use of offsite building prefabrication (supplied by Netherlands-based building prefabrication specialist Hurks) on later phases of the development. 

This requirement meant that the design team had to produce fully coordinated designs more quickly than had been the case in earlier phases on the Royal Wharf site, which meant that if design clashes were not picked up in time, rectification would be more difficult and time consuming. “Doing the design in BIM for later phases was thus an important step forward in addressing these issues,” explains Bearcroft. 


The phases involving Tate include around 1,960 apartments and townhouses. The project had a “fabric first” philosophy to the building design, with the energy-saving measures initially focusing on maximising the performance of the thermal elements of each plot to reduce energy use.

The building services for Plot 24 were modelled in 3D to ensure spatial fit, coordination and to allow the main builders’ work penetrations to be cast during the structural facade panel manufacture offsite

This was supplemented by high-efficiency mechanical heat recovery units to each apartment, LED lighting to apartments and landlord areas, automatic lighting controls to common areas, extensive energy sub-metering of landlord services and variable speed drives to both fan and pump motors.

The development also made use of a large-scale combined heat and power (CHP) plant located in the site’s dedicated energy centre, to serve the project’s district heating network. A large proportion of the site’s thermal energy demand for both heating and domestic hot water generation is served by the CHP. “This, combined with the other energy saving measures, has allowed the targeting of a 25% to 50% reduction in carbon emissions over Building Regulation minimum values to each apartment,” Bearcroft says. 

In addition, a number of the plots also incorporated ‘green roof’ construction to encourage biodiversity.   

Working in the cloud

Adopting the cloud-based BIM solution offers a more streamlined and efficient approach to the project, says Bearcroft: “Cloud-based Revit design has changed the whole way of working at Tate, as we are now able to design more quickly and coordinate our work with the architects and structural engineers to a much higher level of precision than is the case in a 2D design environment.

“The key benefits are that it allows the whole design team to work more collaboratively and across multiple offices, allowing the design to be coordinated quickly and securely between the MEP, architectural and structural engineering models.”

Between 10 and 15 Revit technicians and engineers were involved in working on the collaborative design process for the Royal Wharf project, with cloud-based BIM integral to provide seamless coordination during the building design process, from concept to completion.

“The cloud-based Revit environment makes it easier for us to maintain an overview of all incoming steams of project information and enables us to cut out errors while working to very tight project deadlines,” Bearcroft says. “Previously, we had to use FTP sites and Dropbox to share models, with the risk that design changes were not up to date and information could be lost between various people and their different systems.”

Using BIM 360 Team functionality enables design engineers to access the design models and interact directly with Revit technicians online by onscreen marking up of changes and logging issues for resolution.

Previously, says Bearcroft, all changes were logged with the BIM manager using hand mark-ups for onward communication to the Revit technicians. “This means the design team are able to react more quickly to client design changes, but at the same time the company has full visibility on the development of the design,” he says.

As a result, engineers have been more empowered to solve issues directly and have been able do this with the client on site via their laptops and mobile phones – again, creating a more efficient and responsive collaborative environment.

While some firms may be reluctant to commit to a cloud-based BIM solution because of concerns about security, this was not a problem for the Royal Wharf development. “We have not encountered any significant security issues,” says Bearcroft. “We are able to control who has access to the cloud-based models. We also have our own IT systems to back up all cloud-based models in case of any disruption to the service.”

Resolving issues

The extensive collaboration through cloud-based BIM has had a significant impact on the speed with which design issues and clashes have been identified and resolved, therefore reducing construction delays and enabling an ambitious construction programme to be met.

“Coordinating designs for architects, structural engineers and building services engineers is a challenge,” says Mark Brunette, BIM manager at Tate. “Without regular online collaboration, there can be significant delays in detecting any issues – which in turn can result in considerable problems for the contractor further down the line.”

The cloud-based BIM approach enabled many issues to be overcome more quickly. The Leisure Centre at Royal Wharf, for example, involved a highly challenging coordinated design of large ventilation ducts associated with the full-sized swimming pool and gym. It was a particularly difficult project, as the amount of services required had to fit within a condensed ceiling and riser void area, and also with a very complicated structural model.

Design issues had the potential to cause major problems with the rest of the development if not addressed quickly. Some of these identified early across the project through BIM and resolved quickly included:

Ceilings heights and wall locations were modified by the architect during the design development process which required rerouting of the ductwork and pipe systems to resolve these clashes.

Detailed builders’ work drawings early in the design process which were fully modelled in 3D to allow clash detection.

The required duct and pipe structural penetrations were reworked and modified to suit structural design requirements and avoid clashes with columns and beams.

Autodesk’s Navisworks clash detection system was employed as part of the of the cloud-based collaboration process. “This provided easy 3D walk-through and problem analysis to the whole team including MEP, architects and structural engineers,” says Bearcroft. “It allowed the whole design team to review design changes across multiple office locations using screen-sharing via Skype, which enabled easy and fast 3D clash detection and problem identification of coordination issues between all services and the architect and structural model.”


The speed in resolving design issues that this cloud-based BIM collaboration project delivered were central in helping the firms working on the Royal Wharf development to meet the developers’ ambitious programme dates.  

“The Royal Wharf project is on a very fast development programme, requiring the architects, structural engineer and ourselves to be able to coordinate the design while responding to client changes – for example, as a result of planning matters,” Bearcroft says. “If we had to rely on previous design methodology it would inevitably have led to unacceptable delays and less design efficiency.”   

For Bearcroft, using cloud-based BIM has had very positive benefits so he would like to encourage greater use of it on future projects. “There have been a lot of lessons learned and we believe there is much more that can be achieved by even closer working and communication with clients, architects and structural engineers and we hope to develop these ideas as we go forward.”

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