RIBA stages and BIM: You can’t play a new game with old rules

There is a disconnect between the client’s expectations of RIBA stages and BIM design methodology, says Steven Hunt, managing director of building services consultancy, Steven Hunt & Associates.

For as long as anyone currently working in construction can remember, projects have been progressed within the framework of the RIBA seven stage model, from feasibility at stage one right through to monitoring of the finished building at stage seven.

The system has worked well and, while design and build procurement routes have sometimes muddied the waters of who holds the mandate for detailed project design, the RIBA stages have helped ensure that all delivery partners understand their role in the process.

BIM, however, is a game changer in construction delivery, causing a problem as everyone is still clinging to the old RIBA rule book, trying to implement new working practices without relinquishing old structures.

In a BIM utopia all delivery partners would be appointed at stage zero (client brief) and work collaboratively through the feasibility (stage one), concept design (stage two) and detailed design (stage three) phases to better equip them to work effectively together throughout the technical design (stage four) construction (stage five), handover (stage six) and monitoring (stage seven) phases.

In the real world of budget conscious BIM projects and traditional definitions of roles and skill sets, however, this remains a pipe dream that we’re unlikely to realise for some time to come.

For most of the construction design and delivery process, this continuation of the traditional status quo, despite the enormous changes to design and delivery methodologies introduced by BIM, does not present too much of a problem.

However, there is a significant grey area in terms of responsibility and financial commitment that occurs somewhere between RIBA stages three and four. This is because the client may request a detailed design but the building services consultant can only provide the required level of detail in the model by investing time and resources in a technical design.

In effect, the client is asking for RIBA stage three, but is expecting stages three and four combined. As a result, the consultant is faced with two equally onerous options: either to provide a performance building services specification that does not meet the client’s expectations; or to complete a full technical specification which exceeds the mandate from the client at that point and involves a significant amount of additional work which has not been accounted for in the fee.

The reason for this is that clients are applying 2D thinking to a Revit-based 3D design process. As a result, where consultants may once have drawn the routes of ductwork and risers into a CAD drawing to scale as part of the detailed design, now these items can only be included in the Revit model if they are fully specified items with product data and pricing.

It’s an issue that BSRIA has identified and attempted to address with its Design Framework for Building Services (BG6/2014), which sets out numerous building services design stages aligned to the RIBA stages. The BSRIA model attempts to insert sub stages between RIBA stages three and four, but the disconnect between traditional thinking and Revit delivery remains. Why? Because Revit is not simply a visualisation tool; it is also a database.

At Steven Hunt & Associates, we have tried to adopt a client-friendly approach that maps the RIBA stages alongside the BSRIA stages and provides the client with a menu of options. In this way we can design to the level of detail they require, without over-reaching their budget or undervaluing the level of work our team needs to put in.

As with all other areas of BIM, however, it will take time for the culture change needed to help us adapt the working processes, structures and assumptions we’ve all been used to. Among those assumptions are both client and the consultant expectations of what RIBA stages three and four should look like. 

Only by embedding the BIM principles of communication and collaboration on the scheme can we start to evolve and align those expectations to reflect the new functionality of BIM software and be less encumbered by the old parameters of design stages.

Main image: Ritu Jethani/

Clients are applying 2D thinking to a Revit-based 3D design process. As a result, where consultants may once have drawn the routes of ductwork and risers into a CAD drawing to scale as part of the detailed design, now these items can only be included in the Revit model if they are fully specified items with product data and pricing.– Stephen Hunt

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  1. Does the new RIBA 2013 Plan of Work not address these issues very effectively?

  2. There appears to be great confusion around the role of the consultant in BIM projects. So far the consultant design concepts I have worked with have been awful. No better than marks on the drawing that mean nothing or are not feasible in the real world. Such that we have had to re-design the entire services portion of several projects despite the fact our only responsibility, from a design point of view may have been co-ordination. Meaning the consultants costing has been pointless and expensive, bearing little resemblance to the true cost of the project.

    We then have to advise our clients of the issues using the model to evidence what and where the erroneous data is and what the difference in cost will be to achieve the desired functionality. This destroys our relationship with the consultant and makes for a client who want to check every detail of a project which they are welcome to do but, the time cost is huge and not allowed for in our resource allocation or pricing. We need to stop this adversarial approach and understand in all working relationships their must be give and take and not just protecting ourselves at the expense of every other member of the supply chain and the client. It is damaging the image of BIM in the industry and destroying working relationships that have been developed over years.

    BIM is all about the data but real collaboration is the key to making it pay in every sense.

  3. I was under the impression that the RIBA 2013 Plan of Work completely addressed these issues…

  4. The issue is Procurement route not RIBA stages which are capable of working in any scenario. We are back to the Patrick MacLeamy @ HOK Curve and early supply chain engagement of any type, whether contractor, designers or subcontractors. It is all about moving risk around and driving cost certainty. The diagrams in PAS1192-2:2013 show this flexibility.

    Hopefully great documents like BG6 show that this early engagement brings benefits, but fees need to be brought forward to have design complete pre-site start.

    Driving CAPEX and OPEX together will hopefully bring more effective EIRs and better defined briefing to allow designers to more effectively design in 3D data rich environment.

  5. Why is this about the RIBA PoW? We now have a superior (in the hierarchy of things if not published detail) Digital Plan of Work; the work to deliver which incidentally was driven by a very senior and respected services engineer. I happen know there is only a ‘gnats’ difference between the DPoW and RIBA PoW but many don’t and it might be useful to tell them

    A role of the DPoW is to provide a model for all to follow at high level and is also about outcomes. It relates to the client Plain Language Questions for each stage. The bespoke PoW for architects, engineers, etc can provide interpretations of the work involved.

    The ‘problem’ is not new or anything to do with BIM and CERTAINLY not a particular software. The RIBA PoW has always acknowledged that on any particular project there may be an imperative to shuffle stuff a little (or a lot!). Later it provided guidance on this particularly as alternative procurement routes became more mainstream.
    There are a couple of points to the PLQs. They are supported by the concept of level of definition and level of information to tie up rearrangement of obligations for information exchange at any stage for any discipline. Also it is useful in the much forgotten side of BIM – the expectation for clients to be better too. That it is entirely unreasonable to expect such huge levels of clairvoyant skill on the part of the industry that had become the norm. So any client should ask for the right information once, at the right time (stage) and not then mess it about without fully accepting the consequences in cost and time.

    It is all there but I completely agree not all practitioners have been brought up to speed sufficiently on the mechanisms but this will never happen if we fixate on particular ‘BIM software’. I’d have to change very few words to turn this back ~25 y to the original JCT ‘information required schedules’ and guidance to consultants about using these to advantage. BIM has mostly created heat but in that we ought to use the light that it has shone on issues that go back to the drawing board and never properly addressed … until now? We live in hope.

    Keith Snook.

  6. I’m sorry but I cannot agree with the article and Stephen Hunt. There is no things such as BIM software. BIM is a process and it defines the roles and responsibilities within this process however these roles aren’t job rolesearch! The new RIBA plan does address it however all deliverables at each stage should be agreed within the BEP and EIR’S

  7. Isn’t this a simple case of realignment of consultant fee’s and construction cost’s if more design work is carried out at stage 4. If for instance a workable design is delivered by a consultant then doesn’t that mean less work by the constructor in relation to design input!.

    We all need to start using the standards that have been issued for BIM along with the Toolkit, this will then drive the same thinking on each project and nothing will be left to chance.

  8. I concur with Paul Surin and Keith Snook that there is no such thing as BIM software – the whole purpose of BIM is to drive through processes and data in a manner which is accessible and available to all using open standards which do not rely on any particular software .The success of BIM as a process is dependent upon it developing as a cross platform open standard data process which can be accessed by all. The emphasis within this article on one particular software serves only to undermine and confuse.

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