Look at the skyline of a city in almost any part of the world and you will notice a concentration of tall buildings at its core. The varying design of high-rise buildings defines a city, and the world is demanding buildings that are not only stylish and functional, but energy efficient and sustainable in design. Along with new materials and technologies, the use of powerful model-based tools is allowing incredible flexibility in the design of façades.

In theory, working in BIM (Building Information Modeling) should result in a defined dataset moving seamlessly through the process of design, construction into maintenance and building management. Ten years ago, I was directly involved in BIM and even back then I saw first-hand how professionals, using best practice workflows and one of the two dominant design platforms, Revit and ArchiCAD, could provide a great starting point for improvements in efficiency and minimizing data loss. Today these platforms along with the use of innovative solutions like Grasshopper and Dynamo allow the design of building envelopes with incredible organic designs.

What effect is this having on façade and curtain wall contractors though, how can they manage if the technology used to deliver these façades is not keeping pace with the tools the architects use to design them?

There are some in the façade industry who are partly achieving a workflow using information to and from the BIM model, but they are rare.  In most cases the data regarding the original design is lost as its recreated again and again in other CAD programs through various parts of the process, including fabrication. This adds risk and costs to delivering the façade through repetition and double handling.

In BIM, to deliver the full benefits, all elements of the model must be available and usable by all parties throughout the process; before, during and after construction. Façade contractors need to aim for this approach by embracing software tools that can help them in a model based environment, capturing information and minimising data loss throughout the process of façade design and engineering through to fabrication and installation. Being able to export into a trusted neutral data format like IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) will enhance this approach by making information available to other disciplines for analysis and ultimately inclusion in the model.

The solutions are there to find, interoperability through open international standards of information. OpenBIM for example, supports a transparent open workflow, allowing project members to participate regardless of the software tools they use.
For more information on BIM collaboration, open international standards and the inter-exchange of information models, check out some interesting reading below:
IFC what’s it for?

Do you currently use BIM as part of a design team?  How effective do you feel this is in transporting critical design information through the full design, construction and maintenance process?