The Green BIM Conference

Monday 4 February 2013

‘It’s not software that designs sustainable buildings – it’s people. We need to remember that’.

So said Architype associate Elrond Burrell at a special breakfast conference last week co-hosted by NBS and NLA and organised to discuss the power of BIM in green design. 

Burrell said people need to avoid the dangers of BIM’s ‘quite seductive’ nature and use it to support the design process. ‘We need to know what the aims and the goals are. And just because we can do certain things doesn’t mean we should do them.’

BIM’s key component is its ability to help rigorously manage information through the design process, said Burrell. Getting that right at the model stage is crucial so it is correct when schemes such as the Passivhaus projects Burrell showed are right when they are built. He pointed to the Oakmeadow Primary School project near Wolverhampton, which achieved ‘radical reductions in energy use’ through the use of BIM. Built to a standard school budget, it includes two 65kw boilers to heat the entire school, and gas bills 90% less than in the previous building the school occupied. ‘20 per cent reduction the government talks about is absolutely easy – it is just building it as you design it really. We’re talking about going much further than that if we want to be serious about reducing carbon dioxide outputs’.

Casey Rutland, Associate Director at Arup Associates said the BIM process can help make a ‘massive change’ at the concept stage of projects and on existing building stock. He outlined the seven pillars of sustainability – social sustainability, carbon neutrality, water self sufficiency, sustainable material selection, climate change adaptability, and positive community contribution. And he stressed the importance of carrying out post-occupancy evaluations as well as trusting the digital process. ‘Computers will do what you tell them them to do. If you tell them the right things then they’ll do it properly. But you need to sometimes let go and trust that.’

The Government Property Unit’s Roy Evans showed details of the Soft Landings programme which aims to provide a resource for users and in order to reduce cost and improve performance of asset delivery and operation, with the aim being that GSl is standard procedure for government projects. This could prevent the scenario where, as Evans related, one government department says it spends an average of £500,000 on each building to meet its planned energy performance.

For Marilyn Standley, chair of the BIFM Task Force, the key issue is for BIM to help end users create and maintain buildings that are more efficient, have lower carbon emissions and cost less to run. Many building types in the private sector have repetitive designs, but with half of them rented, tenants are less likely to be involved in base build design. The development of the FM sector over the last 10-15 years has been huge, and they could continue to ‘empower the user community’, with BIM being a communication and education tool. ‘Managing a building is easy’, she said. ‘It’s managing a building with people in it that’s difficult.’

Chris Boyce, Design Director, Capita Symonds, took the audience through a series of school designs, where BIM processes can benefit the clients and schoolchildren, avoiding waste and enabling greater efficiencies, often by the creation of designs in tandem with the whole team. He added that BIM allowed a better understanding for the teachers of what the classrooms may be like to stand in when built. ‘The more of it you get right the less waste, the more efficient the building, the more money you spend on the right spaces -the education spaces - and the less you spend on the waste and the parts around the site where things didn’t work out.’ In order for our industry to get the best from this, he added, it was important to work together and differently, from the inside out - and BIM gives the opportunity to do that. ‘We have to think like QSes a bit more.’

Balfour Beatty’s director for design and BIM Peter Trebilcock said that BIM can help win work – citing six tender lists it wouldn’t have got onto without ‘BIM savvy’ – and aid the kind of sustainability targets that pervade everything the company does. Rider Levett Bucknall senior consultant Brendan Patchell, meanwhile, detailed the kind of economies of scale that can come as a result of better collaboration and life-cycle cost planning.  

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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