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open BIM - the architect in the digital era

BIM - is this the solution?

Possibly the multi-layered and creative construction method „dies“ due to the therefore missing view of the architect, which is the learned 360°-perspective of the complete planning.

Frank Will: Progress means change and this applies to every occupation

We’ve all seen the large buildings from back in ancient times through the Renaissance to the modern skyscrapers of today. It’s not only the buildings that change though, but also the planning of them.

In 1963 Professor Georg Nemetschek’s newly formed “Engineering Office for the Building Industry” was one of the first organisations to implement a programme to calculate finite elements of heavily loaded, irregularly supported panels. This was the birth of the digitisation of the construction industry.

Here in a business park in Fasanenhof, a suburb of Stuttgart, we are right at the forefront of these developments. Frank Will, who studied Construction Physics, made the big leap at just the right time. He very successfully negotiated his way from 2D to 3D in CAD, visualisation and Building Information Modelling (BIM).

We are grateful for Frank Will’s honest insight and views which have also helped to broaden our knowledge.

„3D & BIM – an opportunity and challenge"

VIACOR: Your trade body offers a variety of software solutions, BIM consultancy and courses for architects. What path led you to this field of work?

Frank Will: After successfully graduating in Construction Physics, I realised that the profession was unfortunately viewed negatively. The Construction Physicist was used mainly as an expert witness in disputes, rather than as a consultant engineer for energetic and especially sustainable construction as is the way today. I was far more interested in the environmental aspects of planning.

Following a job advertisement for a sales role with Nemetschek Programmsystem GmbH, in 1994 he made the lateral move into the interesting IT Construction industry, which offered good future prospects. IT didn’t have the same significance as it does today, but CAD software solutions for architects and engineers were selling well. It was the big switch from the drawing board to digital planning for architects and the first important step to digitisation.

In Southern Germany Nemetschek sales were buoyant resulting in Frank Will forming the “Frank Will Nemet-schek Trade Agency” in Fasanenhof, Stuttgart. In these offices today Frank Will is still offering IT solutions, BIM consultancy and professional training programmes in the following fields: 60% to architects, 30% to engineers and 10% to facility management.

V: Which software solutions do you offer and was there a temptation to back the wrong horse similar to Quark Xpress and Adobe?

FW: Professor Georg Nemetschek was a pioneer, ahead of his time. Right from the beginning he had a head start in the transition to CAD (Computer Aided Design) solutions. The thought processes of architects and construction engineers were combined into one software solution and Allplan was born.

At the same time, the DXF format was developed as the “standard data exchange format” for the construction industry (2D). This is not an independent format like JPG but a native manufacturer format. With this strategy, foreign manufacturers tried to tie the construction industry to themselves, in a similar way to PDF and Adobe in the graphics’ industry. In recent years buildingSMART has developed a new data exchange format, called the IFC format, which is entirely manufacturer-agnostic. IFC is a 3D format and includes, for example, properties of components and objects. IFC 4.0 standards will be incorporated into the statutory planning basis of DIN EN ISO 16739.

The Nemetschek concept was ahead of BIM. Since 1984 Allplan has been able to plan all perspectives of the different designers in a transparent and compatible way. Today this fits perfectly alongside open BIM working with a European standard independent of the manufacturer. Nemetschek’s Allplan, the “Mercedes” of architectural solutions, is most strongly represented in the DACH region, especially in Southern Germany and as a BIM solution offers many advantages for architects, engineers and organisations. So in answer to your question, I definitely backed the right horse with the Allplan solution in fulfilling the demanding requirements of designers.

V: Has the architect’s field of work become more simple or merely changed with digitisation?

FW: Traditionally an architect works on work stages 1-9 and their pay scale is in accordance with HOAI. Nowadays clients working with BIM can achieve a workable 3D building model with costing information in the early phases of work stages 2/3. In order to recognise and avoid early mistakes, the working models are also observed and tested to avoid conflicts between the different trades. The architect is, however, only in the predesign / design phase, which can lead to a compromise of the design process and fundamentally overtax the entire design process. The architect can charge the client for this “special performance” of BIM 3D design planning by arrangement with HOAI. In any event BIM planning represents a shift and an increase in the productivity in the early work stages and an all-round huge change for architects.

One of the newest BIM process methods is “IPD”, an integrated project management tool which combines design, planning, execution and production in the early stages. In the USA this is the most commonly used method for organisations with a main contractor with design and planning teams. These new “teams” are preferred by the architects as the responsibility for the project no longer lies with the architect. This is a major change for clients and the way they work. This conflicts with the traditional working methods in Germany and would cause great problems to smaller and medium-sized architecture firms. In Germany general contractors often come from the construction industry and they work very efficiently in partnerships. It’s possible that complex and creative design will decline through the lack of architect input, the so-called 360 degree perspective of the entire plan. This would result in a possible “building manufacture” which would contradict architectural sustainability, one of the most important factors.

You can also formulate changing times in another way and that is that in the early stage an architect’s work is based on acceptance and rash implementation can have serious consequences. However, as large prestigious projects may result in high costs and can take too long, politicians, clients and investors play it safe by demanding the working model of the building as early as possible so that they are able to calculate the resulting costs. Potential conflict between design and costs can arise at exactly this point.

V: Are there software solutions which have become indispensable for architects? Which development/change has stood out the most?

FW: Yes, the CAD-BIM programme is indispensable. CAD since the 1990s and BIM over the last 5 years. For architects, the switch from analogue to digital was the first serious break from the norm. Today the second largest change to digitisation is occurring with the even more important switch from 2D to the 3D BIM era. This is forcing change in the organisation and structure of architecture firms.

V: Has the most serious change through digitisation for architects already occurred or are there upcoming developments which will cause more serious changes within the architect profession?

FW: As I’ve already mentioned, the current changeover from 2D to 3D BIM is the most far reaching change. Many architects haven’t yet switched over to 3D, as they have to consider many important factors first:

• Fundamentally architects ask themselves the following question – is an architecture firm with reliable 2D plans, which can be precisely and manually realised, not equally as effective? Today we don‘t have the arguments for and against the eventual quality of building created using BIM, which naturally leads to designers being sceptical towards 3D.

• 3D is not an “all in one” solution suitable for every purpose and its purchase also entails the investments costs of training and implementation. Especially for small and medium-sized companies, considering and implementing all components of BIM represents a huge commitment in terms of time and money.

• Which buildings are ultimately the best? The buildings designed with 2D or 3D? 2D is systematically drawn from the ground up, for a long time without an external appearance. With 3D the building has an appearance and impact straight away, which in the worst case the client will not like or won’t be able to build. In 3D designs, the materials often aren’t shown, in order to give some freedom and be able to make further changes.

• Architects with 3D visualisations appear more modern and then also have to prove themselves in realising their designs, which doesn’t always work. In later stages of the project the architect can be accused of this happening.

These reasons and more put things into context and architects quite rightly often ask themselves the question, who does BIM really serve? Is a change with main contactors and “IPD” coming to Germany or will the traditional perspective of the design culture with work stages for architects continue? This would be the biggest change in the role of the architect in the const-ruction industry.

I personally don’t believe in a universal development for existing design offices and multi-layered types of planning. “Historically Europe has had a traditional type of ‘construction character‘ and doesn’t want to lose the individuality of the buildings due to sustainabililty. In the current DIN EN ISO 16739, it is precisely this additional transparency of the planning process in IFC 4.0 format which was established as a legal framework for planning, to become mandatory in 2020. The government is committed to the complex design method OpenBIM with an open planning and manufacturer-independent format.

V: What makes a successful architect

FW: Of course this depends how you define a successful architect!

It’s vital to get on creatively with the clients and to respect his requirements and building costs. It’s also important to nail down the characteristics of the project early on, and find amicable solutions. The architect will then be recommended.

Also an architect who understands the importance of sustainability. The building should maintain a high quality standard for well in excess of 20 years, be cost efficient from an energy standpoint and have varied uses. It should also have a high-quality design and fit in with tplanning, an aspect that unfortunately is so-metimes neglected for economic reasons.
Success is knowledge! Today this is knowledge in digital planning processes and BIM workflows. For example, there is an architecture firm we trained which has leapt on the 3D train and BIM workflow from day one, without any compromises. All employees were advised, trained and BIM certified by us. Firms of this kind have a headstart and are very successful in their dealings with clients.

V: Will the architect profession die out at some point?

FW: I don’t think so – here in Europe there will always be demand for good architects. In Germany architects such as Peter Parler from a long time ago have always designed and built extensively. We have an excellent design and construction culture. Architecture and the art of engineering “made in Germany” is famous world-wide for its attention to detail and solid design. There is no field of study which marries design and construction better than architecture. This underlines perfectly that it’s imperative for the architect to have a complete 360 degree view for great design.

It’s possible that the team around an architect may change, such as the interdisciplinary and model-based teamwork of the structural planning within a project which is only useful for the build in the early stages of the project.