BIM and Integrated Design’s 17 Most Pressing Issues for the Decade

“The most fruitful and natural exercise of our mind, in my opinion, is discussion. I find it sweeter than any other action of our life.”

— Montaigne

Before we can all work cooperatively and compatibly, sharing information and models, working together for common goals, several pressing questions must first be addressed.

These are the most critical BIM, IPD and LEED issues I am currently wrestling with. Your insights here would not only be appreciated – they’re necessary – to keep the ball on track and moving forward. Are these the most important questions to address as we start 2010? Are there more urgent inquiries requiring our attention first?

BIM User Interface and Learning Curve – this may seem preposterous for those who have been working in a BIM environment since the stone age but newcomers and those still wrestling with stair design and object creation are left to ask: who designed this software (engineers, marketing teams?) why is it designed this way (to mesh with our product line, not human users like you,) and what are they going to do about it? For these reasons BIM has been more readily adopted by emerging professionals than by those in mid-career.

BIM and Gender – at the risk of coming across as sexist – it is a widely known observation that males have an easier time visualizing 3D models and spaces. “A male advantage in the ability to generate and mentally manipulate spatial representations of geometric and other figures has been well established in studies conducted in North America and in a host of European nations.” Results from these studies support male superiority in 3D spatial cognition independent from culture.  Anyone that has been privileged to spend even 5 minutes at Laura Handler’s blog will think this to be ludicrous, but does BIM, unlike CAD, put female design and construction professionals at a disadvantage, requiring additional effort on their part to achieve the same – or better – results?

Designing in BIM – currently BIM software is overly answer-dependent, requiring too much exacting data at a time when designers need to be loose, flexible and open-ended with their questions to be most effective. Conceptual and Schematic Design will continue to be worked-out in Rhino and Sketch-Up until BIM learns to truly think like an architect – as it purports to – and less like a contractor. If the architect’s core competency continues to be comfort with ambiguity, BIM will need to make room for uncertainty, mystery and other vagaries of creation.

Learning BIM and Integrated Design – the topic of my last two posts: Where BIM, IPD and LEED ought to be learned? In school, in the workforce, or on our own? With school curricula already overburdened and slow to change, is BIM and IPD work processes, mindsets and attitudes something best left to each student and emerging professional to pick up on their own?

Will Integrated Design Succeed only by Coercion? Or instead, altruism? For IPD to work must we resort to force? Will it only be utilized as a delivery method and BIM-enabled process when the Owner demands it? Must Integrated Design wait for attorneys and insurers to work out the details? When will participants willingly, proactively – w/o coercion – work with others in a cooperative manner? What does the ultimate pay-off need to be to see this succeed?

IPD Contractual Issues need ironing-out before industry-wide adoption – or require a delivery method rethought from scratch? If the owner, contractor and architect are to share information, risk and reward – the stakes need to be more evenhanded. Currently, the architect has the most to lose when considering that they are taking-on more of the responsibility, means and methods (normally contractually prohibited to the design team) and financial risk – territories outside their jurisdiction and expertise not to mention comfort zone. Next the contractor and lastly, the owner.

The Role of Midcareer Professionals Working in the BIM Environment – will they find their place sitting alongside BIM operators, applying their experience, willing to mentor-up and mentor-down? An especially critical question for those that have hoped to make it to retirement without having to take-on a whole new technology and way of practice. Will these more experienced professionals – with the unique ability to see the big picture and minutest detail all at once – be willing and able to adopt and adapt to this new environment?

The Impact of the Recession on LEED, BIM and Integrated Design Adoption and Implementation. Those recently laid-off – or underemployed – will they be able to seek and receive adequate training in BIM and IPD processes? Will this effort translate to jobs? If not immediately put into practice, as so often happens to the newly trained, will these individuals lose all they have gained and in doing so, lose hope as well? Will these candidates opt to find work, if and where available, in non-traditional practices or even outside the profession and/or industry?

Will Architects be able to Adapt to the Changes – of BIM technology and work processes – so effectively adopted by contractors in the last year? Will this decade see the architecture profession dissipate, morph into something else, or grow in resolve despite – or even because of – these changes? Will contractors take the lead – creating some kind of hybrid practitioner? Will architects rise to the occasion – taking on a leadership role in the process, returning to some version of the Master Builder, or instead be willing and able to participate in a new formation of the Master Virtual Builder team?

Who Will Lead the BIM and Integrated Design process? Architects, Contractors or Owners – or some new combination of these entities? Repeat clients get the benefits of working with the Integrated Design process, while newcomers and first-time Owners don’t. Who will master the communication skills necessary to describe, explain and justify a process that potentially can benefit all involved?

What Will the Next New Technologies and Work Processes Be? And will architects become disciplined and proficient enough with the current technologies and work processes to be able to identify, adopt and implement the next big thing – such as design-by-computation, drawing-free design – on the horizon, in  an effort to bring greater results for the owner and public-at-large?

BIM and LEED – Will harnessing the power of BIM and the integrated work process enabled by it ultimately result in a positive impact of the built environment?

Who Owns the Rights to the BIM Model? Who is responsible for the information contained in the model? When does the hand-off occur between the architect and contractor who often need to refine the model for use in construction as well as for use in clash-detection and coordination? Does a hand-off even need to occur? How can architects ask this question without resorting to protection of ownership and territory – helping the team move forward and reach its goals together? How can architects be encouraged to share their models with all involved? Who will make the first move?

The Question of Insurance – Still in a “wait and see” mode, insurers are supposedly awaiting the results and outcomes of the first IPD contracted projects and how they hold up under real life conditions. How long will this take and will someone introduce a workable workaround to bypass this impediment to progress?

One Model ideal vs. Many Models – For a truly integrated project – the one comprehensive model project, shared by all parties, would seem to be ideal. File size can be dealt with quite readily – and interoperability is on its way. That said, must we resolve to live in a multiple model world?

Existing Buildings, BIM and LEED – What impact, if any, will the widespread reuse and restoration of our existing structures – and infrastructure – have on improving energy use and the environment? And what role will BIM and Integrated Design play in this purview? Will design professionals be the keepers of the data and metrics serving as evidence of BIM, IPD and LEED’s impact on owner’s next projects?

How and When Will Architects Get Along? With everyone, not least of which, each other. Architects need to relearn how to play well with others and together. Whether that means going back to what Louis Kahn called “Volume Zero” or kindergarten, relearning to share, communicate orally and verbally, accept some risk, trust and collaborate ought to be front and center concern and focus for every architect willing to enter this bright new world before us.



Filed under collaboration, design professionals, education, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, modeling

4 responses to “BIM and Integrated Design’s 17 Most Pressing Issues for the Decade

  1. Emmanuel Garcia

    Who Will Lead the BIM and Integrated Design process?

    Smart General Contractors, because their budgets have more room to fit that extra work, and they’re the ones likely to benefit the most. In fact, I think the best and most profitable firms of the future will be Design/Build, or Design/Construction Management firms.

    There just isn’t enough money in traditional Design Fees.

    Regards from Los Angeles,


  2. Good post.

    I have however to take exception with the “BIM and Gender” point.

    Although agreeing that gender has a important role in the way people apprehend space, it is also true it plays a role in organization capabilities.

    Therefore, and taking into account that 3D is only a small part of BIM – organizing the information is much more important – and that BIM files are much more unforgiving, from a organization perspective, than CAD files, my experience with students has been that there is no gender difference when dealing with BIM.

    There are strengths and weaknesses on both genders, which tend to even things out when working with BIM.

    • randydeutsch

      Thanks for your comment – I couldn’t agree more. you make an excellent point that the 3D visualization component is just one facet of working in BIM and that other qualities that are required of those who work in a BIM and Integrated Design environment more than make up for this perceived shortcoming. I appreciate your insight on this point. Randy

  3. I would like to reiterate here, my comment to your LinkedIn post on this subject,

    The question and answer described by Gino, namely interoperability, can only be achieved if we demand the software developers whose applications we use to themselves accept this mindset!!! Certainly the non-technological aspect of all this is difficult on it’s own, but it is further compounded when the technology itself does not share in this “open” mindset to interoperability and collaboration. We need the software vendors to make a differentiation between the database(s) itself (which we should have ownership of) and the apps/tools used to interface and manipulate it (which they own). We are in this together and the software vendors are just as much stakeholders in all this as anyone.

    There are a few different ways to possibly approach this:

    1) The most ideal way of dealing with this would be for the database(s) (for me personally a database does not necessarily have to be a single file) and their elemental forms and parameters to be stored in a neutral format, and the various BIM apps we use simply as windows (interfaces as you noted) into and manipulators of those forms and parameters.

    2) The second best way would be to allow the various native/proprietary file formats to continue maintain their data as they do, but demand the software developers to develop tools that allow referencing and linking (not importing) various competitive applications and formats directly, whereby as the source changes those viewing/referencing it are kept cognizant of those changes in real-time or near-real-time.

    3) The least efficient method is through translations/conversions like IFC, aecXML, etc.applied on the back end, because the database(s) themselves are proprietary.

    Of the above, unfortunately, I am not sure of any software developer working on 1. It would be nice if IFC, aecXML were to become this neutral format for the actual storage of the data to begin with. There is at least one working on 2, but most seem to have settled on 3, and don’t seem that interested in going any further.

    We need to make it clear that 3 is a fine starting point, but we need to be moving more quickly in the direction of 1 & 2. These in the long run will better serve our industry as a whole when you consider things like budgets, project life-cycles, legacy, owners and facility operators who typically do not have BIM design apps, etc.

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