How far ahead is BIM technology in regional design?

BIM is possibly the most popular acronym of this year’s design and build industry. The buzzword, however, can be detected more frequently within architecture circles, while its usage is far less when moving toward the interior design profession.

WSP has defined BIM (Building Information Modelling) as something that “describes the process of designing a building collaboratively using one coherent system of computer models rather than separate sets of drawings.”

The firm concludes by stating that adopting it is more than just switching to a new software. It is important that one studies and learns the fundamentals of this technology because “BIM is a whole new paradigm”.

So, are interior designers really behind on entering this “whole new paradigm”? And if not, then what has kept them back and how can this new technology benefit the design profession?

When interviewing various designers in the region, many expressed no knowledge of interior design firms using BIM in its full capacity.

Linsey Thomson, Interior Design Teaching Fellow at Heriot- Watt University, who had studied the market in terms of BIM competency, says: “Out of the 10-20 commercial interior design firms that I’ve contacted,I would estimate 40% are BIM competent from start to finish.”

She explains that many interior design companies understand that the implementation of BIM within interior design is “in its infancy stages, therefore most ID firms are happy at this moment to study the market, review case studies and analyse the outcomes by the ID companies leading locally in BIM”.

She adds that interior design firms that have “projects where the entire consultant team of architecture, MEP and contractors set the project benchmark by using BIM for all project attributes find it obviously easier to make the transition to the BIM mind set.”

On the other hand, “some successful interior design firms, for the time being, are happy to implement other strategies, excluding BIM, that they feel satisfy their established processes and current set up.”

She also mentions that there are firms that are working on smaller projects with shorter time frames and “cannot shift easily to working with a radically different software interface”. However, she adds that “monitoring BIM success stories within the UAE commercial interior design market may educate and slowly persuade” others to follow accordingly.

Bluehaus is one of the firms that has fully integrated BIM into its interior design component and other fields, including MEP, engineering and architecture disciplines, ranging across all phases of design from concept through to project completion.

“Our understanding is that the only firms that are using BIM are architectural consultancies. Naturally some of these have interior design capability, but even then we are not aware of any that are using BIM,” says Tony Archibold, design director at Bluehaus.

“The adoption of BIM within the  interior design field has lagged behind architecture adoption of the technology, even internationally, which means BIM has little impact on interior design presently and that is a shame,” Archibold comments.

Elizabeth Peters, BIM manager at Aecom explains the difficulty in employing the software within interior design firms in the region: “It’s very difficult for interior design teams to utilise BIM software and processes if the architect, engineers, and project managers are not aligned to BIM. As such, it’s difficult for these teams to justify the full investment of ‘going BIM’ if they aren’t going to be able to change their processes across the board on all projects.”

Peters adds: “I think BIM has a tremendous potential to enhance an interior designer’s ability to organise their design and understand the spaces they are designing. However, the fact that so many other disciplines aren’t on board makes it difficult to move forward.”

Isabel Pintado, managing director at LWD Interiors, says that the firm has not utilised BIM within the firm and is not planning to in the near future.

“Training staff and implementing BIM for an interior design firm means an expense and down time that are hard to justify,” she says.

She notes that the technology would bring together different disciplines involved in a project, “although the effort to implement against the benefits we would reap from doing so are currently not balanced”.

Thomson also agrees that BIM can create a uniting factor across various disciplines: “A software data network that has established the evolution of our industry and allows all the members of a construction project, a platform on which to speak exactly the ‘same language’, shall no doubt pull everyone together for the duration of the building project.”

Archibold says: “The technology opens new possibilities, not only of smarter working practices (less mistakes, better design and site co-ordination, and ultimately better quality control), but also the ability to take design in new directions that are not possible with conventional technologies.”

However he notes a fall back of BIM, according to Archibold is that it is “another thing to learn, which is barrier a when existing CAD is already incorporated in designer’s workflow. There is also a perception that it is less flexible than CAD, which is true in the beginning if using the default ‘out of the box’ component libraries but once designers realise that you can mask your components, the sky is the limit”.

When asked whether BIM should be made mandatory, Thomson says: “I do support the idea that projects of a certain scale consist of 100% BIM led workforce but mandatory for all interior designers is a little too soon a proposal.”

Archibold, on the other hand, says that he is not in favour of anything being made mandatory because that destroys innovation and diversity within the industry.

“That said,” he adds, “we are currently in the middle of a design revolution which is centred on the transition of digital-to-physical and the reverse, and if you are not engaged with this, then you are like the guy still writing books with a feather quill while Guttenberg prints with his printing press.”