Interview: Pantelis Ioannidis, JRA – ‘From our experience, IFC does work’

Pantelis Ioannidis, BIM manager at John Robertson Architects, on why the practice has chosen not to use Autodesk Revit and remains committed to Graphisoft Archicad.

When did JRA make the decision to start using BIM?

We have been using a BIM authoring tool, Graphisoft Archicad, for over a decade now and are very experienced in creating 3D models. However, we were working in our JRA “silo” and were very rarely sharing these with other consultants. At the same time, we were hosting very limited information, if any, in our model elements.

Since I started working for the practice, in December 2014, we have been looking into how to open up our 3D information to other consultants within the design team, as well as how best to embed data to our models.

Driven by the government’s construction strategy, a decision was made to align our internal standards with the Level 2 standards. This would give us the advantage of a consistent approach to BIM and it would make information exchanges easier with the rest of the industry.

How has BIM been implemented at the practice?

We established an internal BIM group at the heart of the practice, which I chair and staff at different levels – project directors, associates, architects and assistants – actively participate in. We spent a few months reviewing and restructuring our internal BIM workflows, standards and protocols, and these are now slowly being rolled out across the practice.

Although many of our staff are experts at using Archicad, there is still extensive training to be done, in order to change their traditional approach and adapt it to the new standards. We hold regular CPD sessions to make everyone aware of the upcoming changes, but when it comes to hands-on training, we have decided to teach teams on a project-by-project basis, rather than teach the whole practice at once.

The initial development work internally has been completed and there is now the requirement for this to be maintained and updated, as and when required. At present, we are using BIM workflows on any appropriate project and, moving forward, we will be using BIM on as many projects as possible, as we believe that this is the future of our industry and it will be “business as usual” very soon.

As far as costs, we did not have to invest in software or hardware, as we were already using a BIM authoring tool in appropriate hardware. The main cost has been training and increased staff overheads, due to the amount of development work that needed to be completed.

Why did you decide not to use Revit?

Archicad has been our authoring tool for years now, so all our IT systems were structured around this. Additionally, we had developed expertise in the use of the software. We assessed its capability and we decided that it serves our purposes better, compared to other tools in the market.

Moreover, we are very keen to support OpenBIM and open standards, rather than use closed/native formats and Archicad seems to be the best software in that sense, as its IFC capability is fantastic.

Have you found it difficult to work with those using Revit?

Undoubtedly, Autodesk Revit is the most popular tool in the industry. We haven’t found any considerable hurdles to using an open standard to exchange information, as long as a number of decisions across the design team are made at the beginning of a project, and are documented in the BIM Execution Plan. That’s no different to any BIM approach with any software used.

There has been a perception in the industry that IFC doesn’t work, but from our experience it does and it’s a great means of exchanging geometry and data. What seems to need more development work is the ability of commercial software to deal with the IFC scheme, so I would expect software vendors to prioritise work in this field and deliver solid results soon.

It’s not something new and it has been done very successfully in the IT industry numerous times. If you think of email, you can compose an email in any operating system and device and the recipient can open it in any operating system and device. I would expect exactly the same to happen in our industry, if we want to start talking seriously about working in one central multi-disciplinary model.

Have you experienced resistance to using IFC from contractors or consultants?

Initially yes, especially when working with consultants or contractors who have never worked with us in the past. In fact, a lot of people in the industry refer to the model as a “Revit model”, even in formal documents such as EIRs [Employer’s Information Requirements] and BEPs [BIM Execution Plans].

This initial resistance is overcome after we share clear guidance on how to work with IFC exchanges, and after some test model exchanges have happened and are successful. The only real issue is perception.

What would you say are the benefits of using IFC?

The IFC scheme gives us the ability to structure our data in a consistent form. It also gives us the ability to deliver COBie data from our models, as COBie is a subset of the IFC scheme.

Using the IFC scheme in Archicad is even more efficient, due to the software’s data mapping capability. We are able to automate a number of fields (for example name, description, etc of model elements), minimising user input and errors.

We anticipate this to be very useful for data drops, for instance COBie drops, as we are able to automate roughly about 80% of the data we need to deliver as design consultants.

Was there any resistance to implementing BIM internally?

Any big change brings some kind of resistance, especially when people are asked to change workflows that they have been using for years and sometimes are required to go out of their comfort zone. 

When I arrived at JRA, I was pleased to see that a lot of staff were aware of BIM and had a general understanding of it. The fact that they have been using a BIM authoring tool for years helped a lot, most of them were thinking models rather than drawings, even if the end result has been drawings for a long time.

Despite the fact that we didn’t have to change from a traditional 2D approach to a BIM approach, we still had to implement some considerable changes to our workflows, so there was some resistance.

Is the practice seeing any financial benefits on the BIM projects?

It is always difficult to quantify the benefits of BIM. We have definitely seen that drawing production is much quicker and information arrives to the client and consultants sooner than traditionally.

Coordination is also quicker and much more accurate, as it is automated now via sets of rules which check the discipline models against each other.

We also hope to have a consistent approach and standard throughout the practice that will aid directors with checking models and drawings more easily, and help staff to switch between projects easier and with no need for additional training.

There has been a perception in the industry that IFC doesn’t work, but from our experience it does and it’s a great means of exchanging geometry and data. – Pantelis Ioannidis, John Robertson Architects

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  1. I’m an Archicad using architect and just started using IFC to share files with Revit using structural and M&E consultants on an assembly use project. It’s been a seamless process. I’m very satisfied with it.

  2. Yesterday we use dwg.
    It wasn’t a great way to work because of a lot or files.
    Nobody work nice for ever because it was too complex.

    Today we do BIM.
    Today there is a real and fonctionnal way to collaborate on the BIM.

    Trying to work with a lot or files is as stupide as it was in 2D with dwg.
    Using ifc is more stupid because it’s even more complex.

    Long Life to bim cloud and the single model.
    The solution exist just use it!

    Don’t do the same error as yesterday.

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