BIM Voice – Chris Smeaton: The Mystery of BIM for Landscape!

Credit: KEO
Credit: KEO

BIMcrunch has become a platform for a plethora of elite industry names to become guest writers on the site and share their thoughts and opinions with the #GlobalBIMCrew. Chris Smeaton, BIM Manager within KEO International Consultants‘ Planning Landscape Architecture Division discusses the mystery surrounding Building Information Modelling adoption for Landscape and gives advice so that landscape architects view BIM with the right mindset.

As BIM becomes ubiquitous within the engineering and design industry, many landscape professionals remain confused about what it is, how it is changing the profession, and what its associated costs are likely to be.

BIM is in fact both a technology and a process of working. This dual meaning gives BIM it’s somewhat confusing double acronym of “Building Information Modelling” and “Building Information Management.” The term BIM was originally developed by Autodesk to promote their software, and the original meaning was Building Information Modelling. Unfortunately, because the word “building” was mistakenly assumed to pertain only to the physical object, the building, rather than the verb “to construct”, many in the landscape profession, including professional organizations such as the Landscape Institute, abstained from adopting the new technology.

Over the past few years, the understanding of BIM has grown to include both project management and design production process. Much of this work was spearheaded by Mervyn Richards, Director of Avanti Partnership, who standardized naming conventions and organizational responsibility such as BS1192-2007 and the PAS1102-2. Mr. Richards defined 3 levels of BIM maturity, designating the degree to which a project is integrated into the BIM process. Largely as a result of this work, the UK Government mandated BIM Level 2 to be implemented on all government projects by 2016.

Companies are increasingly aware that they need to be part of the BIM mandate, and they are also aware that the BIM process will create efficiencies in their design production. However, many still do not fully understand the true meaning of what this process entails, or the software required.

But is BIM really new? In some ways yes it is. For instance, from a software point of view, it is now possible to work through the entire lifecycle of a project with the same 3D model. Another key aspect of BIM is that all of the disciplines required for any given project now work from the same 3D model, rather than using separate 2D CAD files via external referencing, which greatly increases project cohesion.

In the same breath, it’s not completely new, as BIM has evolved from previously accepted industry norms. For example, in my 9 years of landscape architecture experience, I have used a variety of different processes, naming conventions, central data environments, and software in order to achieve specific client and project requirements to deliver site and construction information faster, more accurately, and in a coordinated way. Essentially these things comprise Building Information Management.

Furthermore, the idea of integrating modelling into various aspects of a project is also nothing new. For example, Key Terra Firma (KTF), which I became familiar with in 2009, generates 3D models based on topography, allowing for the creation of sections, levels, gradient analysis, & fill calculations. By applying dynamic blocks I was then able to generate quantity take-off tables, which update automatically if edited in an associated AutoCAD environment. This can be further supplemented with programs like Keyscape, or LandFX, to produce planting and material specifications for coordination as a dynamic database. Taken together, the integration of these processes equates to Building Information Modelling.

The challenge for many landscape companies arises when the acronym BIM is used without definition by either the client or the project team. Currently in the UK, when BIM is mentioned and applied to a project, it is assumed to mean BIM Level 2. The definition of BIM Level 2 focuses on the standards and process, and does not specifically mention software, although it does mention 3D information models. This means the use of software to help us achieve BIM Level 2 is essential. However, I have also come across BIM referred to as a 3D Model used only for clash detection of underground services, and coordination with the building footprint and various existing conditions. In yet another case, BIM has been defined as a “Building Information Model” where the model contains related information to that project, and all the outputs come from that coordinated model – others may call this an “Asset Model”.

The point is, using BIM to manage information and/or data exchange is very different from creating a coordination (or asset) model. For me the most important step in the BIM process is to understand your Employer Information Requirements (EIRs). For a lot of landscape companies these requirements tend to come from the Architect as our client. Architects generally want to produce a landscape model that they can coordinate with their building design. The obvious choice is a Revit model but, depending on what the architect uses, it could be another preferred software platform.

Working with architects on a Revit model was my first introduction into BIM. So initially it was not the main client asking for the landscape to be included into the BIM process but the architects. As the UK Government has mandated for everyone in the industry, including landscape, to be BIM Level 2 compliant, clear goals are now in place to clarify the processes and standards that need to be practiced to become BIM Level 2 compliant.

In order to be compliant, it is essential to understand that BIM is not just Building Information Management or Building Information Modelling, it is both. The management process requires a 3D information model to work. This model helps you achieve your Employer’s Information Requirements by constraining the standards and processes involved, and facilitating collaboration. This results in a streamlined design process that renders highly accurate information to the specific level of detail required.

If you have read any of my previous articles you will know I am pro Revit. This is because of its capability for creating a model that automatically outputs scheduling, costing, materials, and phasing information. Furthermore, as most architects use Revit, we are able avoid collaboration issues, or the inefficiencies of bringing in third party software to unify the information. However, I have had to develop workarounds and processes to overcome its shortcomings. For instance, Revit does not easily understand planting, but this can be supplemented by adding another piece of software (such as Keyscape or Land FX), which works fluidly with Revit to produce the information required.

To summarize, BIM is not a truly new process or concept in its entirety. Yes, we all have to adopt new processes, acquire new software and update staff knowledge, but as an industry we should be doing this anyway. Any company that wants to be at the forefront of its industry needs to have the mentality and the wherewithal to embrace change. Take this time to have a look at the software and processes you are already using and compare them against the BIM Level 2 requirements – you might find that it will not take a complete overhaul of your existing work processes to achieve compliance.

Furthermore, open your doors – the underpinning concept of BIM is collaboration and you cannot do this on your own. On projects we are described as “design teams,” and we are all trying to reach the same goal. Lastly, don’t be scared of change – in this instance it is being done for the right reasons and is a good thing. For the foreseeable future I doubt we will truly know the full ramifications of BIM due to its dynamic and adaptive nature, and we are certain to see it further evolve as applied to landscape architecture.

Author Profile:

Chris Smeaton is the BIM Manager for a dynamic and creative team of Planners and Landscape Architects within KEO International Consultants in the Middle East. KEO is an interdisciplinary design, engineering, and project management firm providing world-class professional services to wide range of prominent private and public sector clients.

Chris is part of a multi-disciplinary team of BIM managers tasked to develop KEO’s BIM capabilities and to find new ways to leverage BIM benefits not only for Landscape Architecture but for every discipline within KEO. He currently works on projects throughout the Middle East ranging from master planned communities to sports stadiums, parks, and other large and small scale landscape projects.

Follow Chris on Twitter by clicking here.

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