Monday, January 24, 2022

BIM as a Design Tool for Architects, Is it Fantasy or Salvation?

The 2nd Digital Revolution, BIM

The first use of the word ‘digital’ in the building industry was with the introduction of CAD.
The introduction of CAD brought about great change not only for architectural design, but also overall construction industry which includes aproval and construction. And in an extremely short time.
What is noteworthy in this process is that architects has become the protagonist, more than anyone like the permit holder, the ordering party, or the contractors
Architects have already taken the lead in introducing ‘digital’ into architecture, and the aforementioned related fields, and even urged to introduce for them. With the introduction of CAD, architects have already experienced salvation by themselves.
More than a decade have passed since the BIM discussion began in Korea, most of architects regard it as fantasy rather than salvation. And the reason as follow.

This is my contribution for the magazine 'Architects' Jan.2022 which was published by KIRA (Korea Institute of Resistered Architects)


1. Difference of Dimension

Digitization of 2D drawing represented by CAD was just "tool chage" that creates the same result. The lines and characters with pencils to digitezed lines and characters. Infinite replication, transformation, storage, inquiry, etc. provided in this process was incomparably convenient and the results were same or better.  BIM differs from CAD not only in 'tools' but also in 'dimension'. 
In BIM envirenments, There is a fundamental difference from the CAD method of literally ‘drawing’ using lines and characters because  we create a three-dimensional information-based model beyond creating simple drawings with lines. It means that the 2D-based design technique with a long history needs to be completely changed from the ground up.

2. Difference in Learning Volume

Even someone who are engaged in architectural design and have used CAD for more than a decade rarely use more than 5% of the functions provided in the CAD software in use. If someone is using more than 10% of the functions, then he regarded as a CAD expert.
In a way, we can say that not many fuctions are necessary for make 2D drafting. It means that it has the advantage of being able to easily master the required level of skill without significant deviations depending on individual learning abilities.
On the other hand, in order to utilize BIM in design, it is necessary to understand a broad aspect of the software. Rather than simply drawing two straight lines and promising a wall, the "wall"fuction has to be used to make walls, and the "floor"fuction has to be used for floors. Although it is a simple example, each function for designing numerous elements of a building is provided, and its complexity is also not comparable to that of CAD.  For this reason, the proficiency period is lengthened, which is regarded as a fatal disadvantage for architects who always have to deal with dead-line.

3. Difference of DATA and Software

In the CAD environment, we simply create a drawing using a few layers, designate the leading thickness and print it to get the desired drawing. In this process, the reliability of the data is very high that it is safe to say that there are hardly any embarrassing incidents such as the sudden disappearance of the drawing or the change in the thickness of lines. It is right to think that this is due to the simplicity of the data used rather than the technical achievements of CAD.
Even when designing in a BIM environment, designers have to create results in the form of 2D drawings (at least until now), In this process, unlike the CAD environment, 2D drawings of 3D models are generated by calculation of the software. Due to the complexity of this process, it feels relatively difficult to obtain a drawing of the desired shape, and in some cases, it may be necessary to think about a workaround due to a lack of a provided function or an unknown error.

4. Difference of Information

CAD-based data that has been used for about 30 years in Korea is overflowing everywhere, and it is not difficult to create a new library. Building material manufacturers provide CAD libraries for promotion or even actively provide project-specific libraries. This environment has made CAD-based design more convenient and has accelerated technological advancement.
In the BIM environment, more sophisticated and reliable libraries and design codes are required as it is a design based on ‘information’. However, the production of the library requires a higher level of skill and a longer time compared to CAD, and the standard code for information input is still blurry in Korea. Most of the material manufacturers only provide CAD-based services yet, and only a few international companies provide BIM-based libraries. Even if all of the above is provided, always new libraries are needed because in the end a building is like a gigantic handicraft. In the case of large firms, it is possible to ready separate team to respond to this aspect, but in the case of small and medium-sized firms, which account for the majority, it may not be easy to respond in this area.

5. Fixation of Document Expressions

As mentioned above, the CAD environment is simply a digital change of tools, and the representation of drawings has hardly changed from that done in the drafting board environment. For example, all of the legends and tables are information, but they have been expressed in analog form.
In the BIM environment, since all information is related to each other and stored in objects, it is possible to organize and express more effectively than the existing methods. However, most permission departments, clients, and contractors still require the conventional method of notating drawings that are widely used. Of course, most of the existing methods can be expressed in BIM tools, but this reduces the efficiency that can be obtained in the BIM environment and goes against the purpose of introducing BIM.


Although all of the above acts as obstacles for architects to approach BIM, a small number of domestic architects are actively introducing and using BIM as a design tool. It is also true that the transition is taking place more rapidly in major foreign countries. As one of them, I will list the attractiveness and advantages of BIM as a design tool that I know empirically.

1. Comprehensive Plan Review

In general, one of the most important considerations in architectural design is 'area'. Of course, it is not difficult to obtain an area in a CAD environment, but in BIM, the review is completely real-time. All inputs, including areas, become data, can be stored and retrieved. This part greatly shortens the time required for architectural planning and enables more diverse approaches within the same period. In addition, it is possible to comprehensively and in real-time review not only the floor plan, but also the elevation and cross-section because it is planned with a three-dimensional model rather than simply sketching a ‘floor plan’.

2. Visualization

Visualization work called 'presentation' is always an important task in architectural design. Visualization, especially 3D visualization, is very important for accurate information delivery and evaluation before it is made into an actual building. Existing real model production or work through simple 3D modeling has been done separately from design work dealing with drawings. In the BIM environment, the architectural design process is made in 3D space, so 3D visualization is much easier and faster than the existing methods. A bigger advantage is that visualization and drawing are possible with one software and one model at the same time, so visualization with guaranteed simultaneity with design drawings is possible. This greatly increases the efficiency on each of design steps.

3. Document Quality

What I want to say is not about 'Design Quality' but about 'Document Quality'. it's about how good instruction it can be for construction. In CAD environment, it is difficult to avoid numerous errors because most drawings are made without being related to each other, and the expression of complex shapes is limited. In the BIM environment, document errors can be minimized with little effort because all data is correlated with each other, and even complex shapes can be expressed in various ways because it is based on a 3D model.
 It has already been proven in many cases at home and abroad that more creative buildings can be created through this part.

4. Scalability of DATA

Data created with BIM can be used not only in design but also in various related fields such as construction and maintenance. Although it is difficult to predict the limit of its scalability, it is easy to say that at some point construction will be accomplished only with 3D design information rather than 2D drawings.

Architects' Choice

In fact, the word 'salvation' itself is just a 'fantasy' for those who have never experienced it. However, the word ‘salvation’ is generally a passive concept that cannot be obtained through effort, but for architects, ‘salvation’ by BIM is an active one that is applied according to the actions of the person involved. Of course, it is not something like “prayer” or “faith” required in religion, but something more substantial, such as “investment” or “learning”.

I expect more architects to be interested in BIM and lead building industry.


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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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