Best BIM Bad BIM: Alex MacLaren

Credit: Alex MacLaren
Credit: Alex MacLaren

Answered from either a personal or industry-viewpoint perspective, Best BIM Bad BIM sees a member of the #GlobalBIMCrew divulge their best and worst BIM experiences and what they have learned from both. Hot on the heels of the big BIM2050 statement from earlier today, the group’s Communications Manager, and Assistant Professor in Architectural Design at Heriot Watt University, Alex MacLaren explains what she loves about BIM as well as her industry “bugbear”.

What does Alex think the BIM industry is doing best at the moment?

I’m generally excited now about a range of on-going projects which are really harnessing the use of BIM: not just going through the motions but finally comprehending and utilising the possibilities. These days I meet less people bemoaning the cost of software or trying to justify proprietary habits, and more people animated with their discovery of a new functionality or ability that they can put to use with their team ‘next time’.

I get really motivated by speaking to those working on the BIM periphery, to push forward how the benefits of this intelligent data can be used to improve experience for clients, users, tradesmen and the environment. It’s where we look outside of our own professional/institutional ‘bubble’ and see the bigger picture of the value of BIM that it gets properly exciting. For example, there’s a CITB-funded project running by colleagues of mine at Heriot-Watt University ‘Immersive and Controlled Environments’ (ICE), using VR and wearable sensors to train construction workers and to monitor safety in practice. This promises to be hugely beneficial to occupational health and safety; it’s affordable and space-efficient; combined with realistic environments taken directly from a project BIM model, it becomes a potentially life- and injury-saving project-specific simulation. The project engages tradesmen, college students, VR and AI, and is currently seeking fashion/textiles input on the wearable tech: truly cross-disciplinary! And real, extraordinary value.

What does Alex believe at the worst trends in BIM?

I guess it’s a common problem for new technologies: Some trailblazers in the ‘first wave’ of BIM adopters were actually very bad communicators of the value of BIM! Unfortunately some of the initial buzz came across as ‘cliquey’, and alienated or scared off a large number of people just by using complex tech-based language and new names for existing transactions. Somehow we managed to present the concept and operation of Level 2 and 3 BIM as a string of acronyms, code and process-driven bureaucracy, without driving home the potential benefits and value to existing clients and existing, respected competent professionals. We also didn’t manage to communicate that this was an evolutionary development (albeit using revolutionary tech)- and we alienated some very important players in the process.

If I’m allowed to have a bugbear of BIM, it’s the OTT TLAs. No client ever wants to be faced with a CIC consultant recommending IPD in a CDE using IFC-compatible PAS(1192). There seems to be some kind of enthusiasm for code and jargon amongst some in our industry, and it doesn’t help get the message across. WTF? SNAFU. It drives me mad.

What lessons can be learned from both the Best and Bad in Alex’s opinion?

Look beyond the confines of your own discipline (in my case, Architecture), during education and training, and in practice. If I hadn’t started paying attention to what contractors and other consultants wanted when I started working in industry, I’d still be doing the sort of beautifully illustrated photoshopped drawings drilled into me in college: and completely failing to communicate all of that carefully-curated ‘value’ to the client, co-consultants and the construction team.

As a result of my experience, I now try to bring more of that wider picture, and a interdisciplinary experience, to students on the courses I teach. Looking around the industry, it’s easy to identify shared values and aims, and what enthuses me is initiatives to harness and coalesce those shared endeavours. We need to communicate better: that’s the big lesson. When we effectively communicate an idea, and find someone unexpected understands and can contribute, new collaborations appear and exciting things happen. And like the ICE project, real value emerges.

Follow Alex on Twitter – @HWU_archi. For more on the work that BIM2050 are doing, click here to view our coverage of the team in action.

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