Architecture, BIM, GAJ, La casa, NEB, P&T Architects, Software, Technology, UAE

Why isn’t BIM technology reaching its full potential in the UAE?

At a roundtable conversation held by Middle East Architect to explore design technology, four BIM specialists from Dubai gathered to discuss the progress the design tool is – or isn’t – making in the UAE.

Those in attendance included Sukul Jagdev, technical manager at La Casa; Andrew Milburn, associate at GAJ; Andrew Woods, BIM manager at P&T Architects and Engineers; and Youssef Yassine, architect and BIM manager at NEB.

While the group began the discussion by observing the common advantages of working with BIM, including the creative support it provides architects, its help in communicating and visualising projects with clients, and the collaborative culture it nurtures, Yassine asked the group why it’s seemingly taking so long for the regional industry to better incorporate BIM into the design and construction process.

“Why is the cycle broken?” he asked. “I first heard of BIM 10 years ago, and it was definitely around before that. Contractors are so far behind architects here and they’re afraid to take that step. Investing in BIM is not an expensive process – so why are they still holding back?”

According to the others, BIM is a continuous journey and the world at large is likely at the first level of understanding its potential.

From left: Sukul Jagdev, technical manager at La Casa; Andrew Woods, BIM manager at P&T Architects and Engineers; Andrew Milburn, associate at GAJ; and Youssef Yassine, architect and BIM manager at NEB.

“Part of the issue is that you always have to take a step back before you can move forward,” said Woods. “You’ll find that whenever a new technology comes into play, like when CAD was introduced. It just dumbs down the expertise at first. You’ve got a guy who can draw beautifully on a board, but then when he moved to CAD he couldn’t reproduce that skill. He either had to master the new tool or fall by the wayside. It’s the same with BIM. You’ve got a CAD expert and they’re top of their game, but as soon as another technology comes in, that expertise is diminished and now they have to decide whether they can learn a new technology.”

“It’s a journey,” Milburn added, before explaining that while, naturally, some people are just more ahead than others, you need to get the whole industry together to push the technology along.

Milburn said, “You have a division in more companies between the designers and principals and the BIM specialists, but until we get to the stage where the designers are more integrated into the BIM process and it’s more user-friendly, we’re just going to keep this going. We’re lacking that fluidity of the life cycle approach, which, in theory, is what we’re supposed to be getting with BIM.”

Milburn had previously noted that BIM’s advantage over previous technologies was the collaborative element to it. In a perfect scenario, he said, everyone would be working on the same model in real time, solving various problems at a must faster rate.

“To some extent, the industry as a whole needs to adapt. It needs to change,” he said. “If you look at the UAE, there’s a very aggressive, competitive culture and to get the full worth out of BIM, values need to change and the contractual process needs to change. There’s progress and fantastic things being done, but the whole ‘blame-game’ here will prevent automating the industry from reaching its full potential.”

According to Jagdev, BIM is currently being taught to university students. The new generation of architects and specialists are likely to improve the standing of BIM in the construction process. “They will be much better off than we are,” he said.

“It’s a process. Right now, we are probably working at a level one understanding of BIM, but when we all get to a level two or three understanding of BIM, the technology will be much more simply adopted. There will be less resistance from contractors, clients or insurance companies,” he said.

While the industry works to push the technology forward, many are now starting to incorporate virtual reality and advanced 3D printing into their creative process. Jagdev and Woods noted the rise of virtual reality, and agreed on its benefits. For both, it helps clients visualise projects well ahead of their construction’s completion.

“BIM is basically building the building twice. Once in virtual world and a second time in the real world,” explained Andrew Woods, BIM Manager at P&T Architects and Engineers.

“We always take it for granted that people understand our drawings and that what we’ve presented can be understood,” said Woods. “Very often, they don’t and when they walk through the hotel, they say, ‘Oh it’s a lot smaller than I thought it would be,’ because they don’t engage properly with the drawings. Now, with BIM and virtual reality, you can take the clients or the end-user through the building and address problems they envisage.”

“There are various technologies clustering around BIM now,” added Milburn. “The term ‘BIM’ has really just become a term that encompasses the digitisation of the industry and the impact of the digital revolution on our industry.”

Milburn added that people have long been talking about cars and airplanes and the way their manufactured, often wondering why buildings can’t be built in the same way. “It’s a very different task, of course,” he said. “But what interests me is that technologies are starting to come together that will allow for that reality.”

The specialists agreed that in the next 10 to 20 years, the region’s build industry will likely start seeing more off-site manufacturing with the help of robots, and more organic designs taking shape. The rise of automation in the industry will also start reducing the costs of building, because it will give way to lighter, slimmer materials.

“Why haven’t we gotten there, yet, though,” asked Milburn. “Why are we still discussing the potential of BIM and not yet working at that level? Well, to automate our industry and to digitise it is a very complex process. We just need to keep working it out and solving bits and pieces of the puzzle, bringing more people into it. That’s part of the idea. It’s the hope and the dream. But we’ve got a ways to go before all the pieces come together.”

Related story: BIM helps projects realistically transition from the virtual world to reality says Andrew Woods from P&T