Interview: NBBJ’s Jon Ho – Taking a lead from the US

The UK culture felt more comfortable maintaining established processes that already worked and there were no clear signs that the industry would be moving towards BIM, there were many challenges in convincing other design disciplines to change. – Jon Ho, NBBJ

Jon Ho, associate and digital practice leader for architect NBBJ’s London studio, explains how the UK industry is lagging behind the US on BIM and the expectation placed on architects to lead BIM-enabled projects.

What are the main differences in the use of BIM here compared to the US?

The amount of time each region has adopted BIM on projects. Broad adoption has typically been slower in the UK, partly due to the cultural and social dynamics of the industry. However, the recent requirement by the UK government for Level 2 BIM compliance provides an opportunity for rapid expansion and the much-needed contractual language. 

The UK market is also gaining ground on the US by developing an extensive framework of BIM standards to help ensure that design teams are more robust and diligent in the way they perform their work.

What were the major obstacles faced by the London office?

The social and cultural dynamics of the UK industry made BIM adoption more challenging in the beginning. A conscious decision was made by the firm in the UK [in 2009] to ensure that all projects were committed to the BIM process, which seemed more of a leap of faith in the UK because of a lack of previous exposure.

The UK culture felt more comfortable maintaining established processes that already worked and there were no clear signs that the industry would be moving towards BIM, there were many challenges in convincing other design disciplines to change. Confidence had to be built from within, through the sharing of project successes and lessons learned.

What BIM lessons have you taken on board from the US office?

A major breakthrough has been the development of a modelling methodology that lends itself to the UK pre-fabrication process. By working closely with a major UK contractor, we were able to implement an innovative methodology, developed in the US, that is fully compatible with the subcontractor process. The system enables accurate recording of geometry and the direct transfer of specific data to help ease the design iteration process as well as maintaining an incredibly efficient model.

The US office helped streamline how we manage and organise our models and maintain them throughout the life of a project. They showed us how early development and use of a BIM Execution Plan, also defining the level of development for modelled elements, can be a powerful tool in ensuring projects meet the needs of the client and other key stakeholders. Identifying a Project BIM Leader on all projects is also a critical step in managing the quality of BIM.

Are conflicting international BIM standards and regulations a concern?

We are able to share workflows across all teams, but with content it is a greater challenge. It is becoming increasingly important for organisations like NBBJ to have a team to manage these aspects across the firm. Our Digital Practice team was set up to bring together technology leaders from every design studio in the firm to share ideas and develop innovative new tools.

How many BIM-enabled projects have you worked on? 

NBBJ’s London studio has had over 20 BIM projects come through, most of which were large or medium-scale projects. On every project since 2009, when BIM was adopted by the UK branch, we have benchmarked the basic requirement for: 3D spatial coordination, building element scheduling, design iteration and drawing production. In addition to this, specific workflows for specific projects were identified to respond to the varying challenges, such as clash detection, Revit Landscaping, Healthcare Design Standards, BIM for Pre-Fabrication, or COBie incorporation.

As architects, are you finding that you are taking the lead on BIM implementation? 

Ever since 2009 we have seen increasing expectations placed on the architect. On a design and build project, where the architect is typically the lead consultant, it has meant increased responsibility and focus in managing the BIM process with the design team.

The greatest challenge architects face in fulfilling this role is establishing a consistent process for ensuring early engagement and/or dialogue with key stakeholders, followed by the creation of a holistic and approved BIM Execution Plan that all parties agree to.

Over the last three years, NBBJ has seen significant increases in the design disciplines’ adoption of BIM. As a result the collaborative process between each design consultant has become more robust, with a clear alignment in the understanding of the processes required. A majority of the leading contractors in the UK have also begun their transition to BIM, which has helped to further improve the overall process.

Are UK clients BIM aware?

One of the biggest challenges is educating the client in BIM, as there is no clear industry-wide process for ensuring this is sufficiently captured, despite the availability of approved documentation. This is becoming increasingly important with the government’s Level 2 BIM standard, as it involves processes that require the early engagement of particular stakeholders, such as facilities management. We are seeing increasing occasions where clients are requesting Level 2 BIM, but not being fully aware of what they are asking for.

There are some project responsibilities that should be placed on the client, which have been largely untouched due to their lack of awareness, which has placed more responsibility on the design team to push these through to ensure the project meets Level 2 BIM. The responsibility has tended to be placed with the architect, who now typically manages and coordinates the design team.

What do you make of the new NBS BIM Toolkit for Level 2 BIM compliance?

It has the potential to become a really useful resource for the industry, bridging the gap between the UK BIM Standard documentation and the way it is interpreted and applied on projects. With it still being in beta stage, it will be interesting to see how the toolkit evolves over time, and how project teams across the industry eventually choose to use it, either as a resource for guidance, or as a central common platform that brings all project disciplines together.

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