Monday, 29 November 2010

BIM gets rolling

Over the past six weeks the term BIM (Building Information Modelling) has been used more than ever. At _space group, we have been tracking this technology for over 10 years and were converted a long time ago. The construction industry has now started to realise that there may be something in this new technology. The main driver for this change has been the adoption of the approach from client bodies. This includes the Government themselves, following several speeches from Paul Morell, the Government’s construction advisor, who is supporting BIM and confirming that it is the way all public buildings will be procured in the future. Other clients, such as Manchester City Council, have also stated that all future projects will be delivered using BIM.

Once large scale client bodies have made this jump, the rest of the industry will start to wake up to the need to use it, and hopefully, its potential.

Over recent weeks I have been involved in countless discussions, presentations and workshops with construction organisations who want to understand what BIM is all about. My starting point is always the same. BIM is not the answer to everything and there are some pieces of intelligent software available which do assist the process but there is still a need for experience and construction knowledge. The second point I make is that BIM is not only about training a team how to use sophisticated software but, I believe, is a complete cultural change within any organisation. Without decisions being made at the highest level of all businesses, BIM will not work. Procurement processes and contracts all need to be reviewed and re-aligned to this new integrated process.

We are only really at the start of our journey in the UK regarding BIM as several constructors start to realise the potential and need for this new approach. The architectural industry is still way off the pace and continues to fight against the technology. I believe much of this is fear and also arrogance in that many architectural businesses focus very much on the art rather than marketing needs.

The involvement by constructors has been really encouraging, however the understanding at board level still is a long way from delivery on site. Over the next few years we will see some major successes and failures utilising this approach however, I am absolutely convinced that BIM will be universally adopted across the industry and will deliver projects faster, cheaper and better.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Holiday Reading - T Dan Smith

T Dan Smith - One of Newcastle's great influences. Image from

On my recent holiday, I read, as usual, a broad mix of biographies all generally aligned to the built environment or business in one way or another.

One of the most interesting books I read was the story of T Dan Smith, the infamous leader of Newcastle City Council through the 50s and 60s. T Dan Smith won infamy through his connection with the architect John Poulson, who was imprisoned because of his dealings with various public authorities – a fate that Smith shared because of his dealings with Poulson.

While I was aware of his story, I didn’t know the detail, which this book provides, and very much puts the facts onto the rumour, starting with his humble beginnings through to the end of his life in a flat in Shieldfield, Newcastle.

There is no doubt that T Dan Smith was a fantastic visionary and I do believe Newcastle continues to benefit from much of this vision. He was responsible for the design of the Civic Centre, the implementation of the strategy for the metro system, the central motorway and many more major projects across the city. This investment 50 years ago ensures that Newcastle continues to be a major city in the UK today.

This single minded vision is similar to that which Sir Howard Bernstein has delivered at Manchester. He was also an entrepreneur and built a successful business but unfortunately his linkages with Poulson would tarnish his fantastic vision for the city. The book suggests that actually he was innocent and in the end decided to give in to the media and courts and plead guilty.

I have always been a fan of T Dan Smith and his vision for the Newcastle, and whilst I believe he has left a fantastic architectural legacy, I feel that his greatest legacy is the fear within Local Government to take chances in case there are recriminations like the ones he faced. Unfortunately today’s Local Authorities do not have the kind of vision which T Dan Smith had and generally deliver a middle of the road solution to most things.

Many of the disasters in Newcastle’s city centre, such as several of the tower blocks, were not in fact T Dan’s vision but unfortunately he has been tarred with the brush of these over the years. Whilst I believe that he has left a legacy in the built form for the city unfortunately his lasting legacy is the lack of risk and vision in northern Local Authorities.