1. At what stage of a project should one start modelling in BIM?

    There is no single answer to this question. At the outset of a project, some designers and consultants go straight into a BIM authoring tool such as Revit, ArchiCAD, Bentley, or Vectorworks, others use fat pencils, yellow trace, or tools like Sketchup or Rhino first.

    The basic rule is: Use “whatever tool” gets the job done in the most appropriate way for the user/team, based on their preference, skill level, and their wish to carry information from conceptual design models to later project stages. BIM authoring tools are becoming ever more user-friendly with increasing capabilities for conceptual design. It is therefore recommended for users to review their preferred approach over time in consideration of the advances in software development.

    Some designers and consultants make the mistake of assuming that the concept stage has to be modelled in the same package as the project documentation. Although there are advantages in staying within one platform, this is not necessarily the case. Even though moving project information from one tool to another can be laborious, it may be the better choice; in particular when considering design freedom or specific capabilities for visualisation, analysis and simulation. In any case, once the design becomes more resolved during Detailed Documentation it is highly advisable to go into BIM. At this point, the model(s) is/are likely to become shared and collaborative and accessed by a wider team.

  2. How can I ensure to retain the IP of the BIM content I create on projects?
    Many consultants are concerned about giving away their original BIM models to clients and contractors. We invest a substantial amount of effort in producing the content and there is the possibility that the content proliferates and gets used by others beyond our control.

    The industry has not yet found a clear response to this issue. On the one hand, BIM software allows users to watermark model-objects in an attempt to project BIM content. We thereby apply the same mechanisms traditionally used in PSA’s and via copyright. Some BIM software allows us to ‘strip out’ library content from models before handing them over to third parties. One alternative is to avoid handing over any content in the original authoring software and to export it to a different format for exchange with other tools (e.g. IFC). Parts of the original information get filtered out this way. It is questionable if protecting IP makes sense in a BIM world. A firm’s BIM content has many company-specific parameters/attributes that are unique to particular workflows and documentation processes. Custom content created by one firm is often not useful for others.

    Those more experienced in the use of BIM agree that one can ultimately not really protect one’s IP. Even further, the most advanced BIM users tend to stop worrying about IP and they share their library content instead. Ultimately, effective BIM benefits from sharing library content across the industry, thereby assisting in the development of common standards. Ultimately each firm needs to ensure that the content they use in-house conforms to their standards for document output.

  3. How do I collaborate with other consultants when using BIM?
    With architecture and engineering firms becoming ever more proficient in applying BIM on projects, many discussions around this topic focus on ‘best practice’ for collaboration across multidisciplinary teams. The industry is responding to this development by proposing and implementing documents (such as BIM Project Execution Plans, BIM Management Plans or Teaming Agreements) as an addendum to existing contracts.

    Such documents list the main BIM objectives on the project and they facilitate a common understanding between parties on what is/isn’t required as part of their BIM deliverables. Further, the documents outline the main contacts in each firm who form part of the collaborative effort and they lay out how BIM data gets formatted and exchanged in a standardised way across the team. In doing so, BIM collaboration documents provide teams with clarity about each member’s role and responsibility, their BIM deliverables and the processes required to allow the team BIM effort to run smoothly.

    Every consultant project lead should know how to read and write such Project Execution Plans or Teaming Agreement. Further, it is their responsibility to inform the client or the contractor about the necessity of such an agreement at the outset of a project. BIM collaboration documents should allow for input and adjustment by all major consultants as well as the contractor. They may ultimately have an impact on the fee structure of a project.

    In Australia, NATSPEC offers a template for BIM management that can be downloaded here:

    Penn State University offer the most comprehensive document template for a PxP in the US:

  4. What do clients want when demanding ‘Full BIM’ and ‘IPD’?
    BIM deliverables in project briefs are currently often ill-defined. In these years of transition from traditional forms of delivery to BIM, there exists little, to no guidance about the range of BIM services desired by clients, or offered by consultants. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is often aspired to, but the means to achieve it is unclear for most of us.

    There are no standard guidelines depicting the level of BIM services applicable to construction projects. Not only does this level differ from project to project, it also depends on the aspirations of the client, the understanding by the contractor, and the skills of the consultants. Agreeing on the scope of services when it comes to BIM deliverables is essential in order to match one’s efforts with an appropriate fee structure that considers any additional work and the value-add BIM and IPD can provide.

    The starting point for determining the ‘appropriate’ level of BIM services on any project is therefore to engage the client in a dialogue to determine what they would like to get out of BIM and how they intend to use the information inherent to the model(s) eventually. This should happen as early as the briefing phase. It is important for consultants to communicate their level of expertise and to help educate the client by pointing out the possibilities and challenges associated to applying BIM on a project (instead of simply ‘selling its benefits’ to them).

    Detailed definitions of requirements for various BIM related services can be found in the Section 7 of the NATSPEC National BIM Guide:

  5. What effect does BIM have on a project’s fee structure?
    Can and should architects and engineers charge more when delivering projects in BIM than for traditional types of delivery? Can we argue for more fees due to the added effort needed for coordination upfront, or does this get balanced out by a decrease of effort during documentation?

    Extracting 2D plan/section documents from BIM is currently becoming the standard method of delivery on medium to large scale architectural projects. Clients are not likely to pay extra for what they perceive to be the same output as in 2D CAD (only achieved through different means). It is therefore pivotal for consultants and the contractor to raise awareness of clients about the spectrum of services that can be achieved through BIM and the value add those services offer. Greater extent of services (eg steel shop drawings or construction phase BIM) or additional studies required (e.g. LCA/LCC, ESD, FM) can translate into higher fees.

    Any adjustment of fees will also depend on whether the models are going to be passed into fabrication. If so, then the difference between a design model and dimensionally accurate construction coordination model needs to be narrowed.

    Due to the increase of the initial effort put into the models, fees may need to be brought forward and redistributed accordingly across the various project stages (but not necessarily increased). The Level of Development (LOD) for producing BIM content across stages can be tied to fee structures. This also signifies that fees may need to be adjusted depending on which party ultimately authors and takes responsibility for certain BIMs that feed into a collaborative effort. If consultants create a “design BIM” and others (such as the contractor) need to resolve into a constructible building, they should be able to claim parts of the fee.

    A copy of the American Institute of Architects E202 BIM protocol, can be downloaded for free upon registration at the following link (it is currently the most useful reference in this field):

    The protocol lists standard LODs with an option to associate BIM components with Model Element Authors (MEA) in order to audit the origin of various BIM parts and track the authors responsible for their generation.