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The digital skills that give an employability edge

06 February 2020

Job titles such as ‘BIM Manager’, ‘BIM Coordinator’ or ‘Digital Development Lead’ give the impression that architecture is a compartmentalised industry. In one corner are the architects who design; in another, the techies who carry out sophisticated data crunching with software and algorithms.

The reality is much less polarised and will become even less so with each new generation of architecture graduates, believes Ana Matic, Director of Digital Development at Scott Brownrigg.

A trained architect, she worked as a Project Lead for a number of years. Her path to BIM specialisation developed less from a deep-seated fascination with software than from a professional interest in running multi-disciplinary teams well, in order to deliver the best results.

“Mine was not a ‘techy’ way into BIM,” she states. “It was simply asking: ‘what new tools do we have, and what do our partners have, in order to best deliver the design?”

However, she foresees the skill sets of individual architects becoming much more software literate.

“I have heard it said that there are plenty of jobs for ‘software architects’ out there, yet not for ‘normal’ architects. But younger generations are entering training and finishing their Part 1 with considerable digital capabilities: architecture careers are becoming increasingly less detached.”

Fabio Roberti, Head of BIM at Wilkinson Eyre, makes a similar point. At the practice, every project team of architects has its own BIM coordinator/manager, but this will be an additional function to their design team role.

“BIM training is continuous here, as people will change roles and they may have to take on BIM coordinator responsibility at some point,” he explains.

BIM management building
A CGI rendering for a Tottenham-based housing project; © JMP and 3DReid.

Roberti heads four BIM specialists who sit outside the design teams, each with their own specialism such as scripting or Bentley (formerly MicroStation) software. All have architectural training, although a BIM specialist might have an architecture degree followed by an additional specialism, such as computational science.

He reveals that Wilkinson Eyre are working to integrate BIM into earlier work stages. He has no doubt that BIM will continue its steady conquest of the construction industry.

“The last area to go is facilities management. Before that, it was cost management of projects, but that has now caught up. Contractors like BIM because of clash detection, identifying and correcting incompatible design elements: most of the benefits are at the construction stage."

Heading up BIM at 3DReid is Mark Mountain, who comes from an architectural technician’s background. 3DReid is expecting to have everyone across its five offices in England and Scotland working in BIM by the end of this year, so Mountain is setting up templates for Revit models and scripts for tasks that will make BIM easier to use.

An example of work-in-progress design in Revit for 3DReid’s Tottenham project; © 3DReid.

Resistance to BIM, in Mountain’s view, tends to be from those alarmed by how much there is to understand. It often disappears when they see how dramatically it can reduce error and boost efficiency. He echoes Ana Matic’s emphasis on BIM as a tool that both facilitates and depends upon teamwork.

“When everyone is working on a single platform - Revit, in our case - you begin to appreciate how much that model has to work for everyone in the team. You can see exactly what you can and cannot do, so it becomes easier to ensure you do not do anything that will trip up someone else.”

Mountain says any practice setting up BIM properly over, say, six months will see efficiency climb and cost savings start to flow. He estimates that good Revit technicians become three times as efficient when working together in a BIM environment.

Quite apart from increases in efficiency standards for practices, Matic believes that the modelling capabilities of BIM will play a highly significant role in construction’s future. She warns that if architects do not fully engage with developments such as the ‘digital twin’, they risk being left behind by consultants, specialist (or not-so-specialist) designers and engineers.

“As architects, we use models to communicate and deliver our design. The next stage will be the digital twin model: the interactive model that both anticipates and monitors the performance of a building across its whole life. We will need to be able to do that, otherwise we will forever be only ‘early stage’ or ‘concept’ architects.”

Thanks to Mark Mountain, BIM Manager, 3DReid; Fabio Roberti, Head of BIM, Wilkinson Eyre.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Design, construction and technology.

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