BIM – an international comparison

Photo: © Tim Westphal

You know both markets – the USA and the UK – well. What is the current status as regards BIM?
Phil Bernstein:
 BIM market penetration in the UK is currently much higher than in the US. However, the US will catch up in the foreseeable future.
Marc Bew:
In the United Kingdom, we have made great strides in recent years towards BIM and digitisation in the construction industry. Now, Brexit will require countries such as Germany, France and the UK to cooperate even more closely on the technological level in the coming years.

How should universities react to the new BIM situation?
Marc Bew:
 In the UK, a lot has happened in the last four years as regards BIM training. Now, the first graduates are emerging from the universities, and we will see what has been achieved. The Millennial Generation is much closer to these technological topics than we are in any case. So there is still a lot of work to be done in schooling, education and training to further anchor BIM in the construction sector and train people in digital planning.
Phil Bernstein:
 In the USA, the initial impetus as regards BIM came from the student body itself at the universities. A few years ago, students at the University of Connecticut went to the rector's office and declared: 'We can't find jobs because you're teaching us the wrong things.' There are still things that need to change in the minds of teachers.

What is the biggest difference between BIM in the US and the UK?
Phil Bernstein:
 The biggest difference is that the UK government has a much stronger influence on the construction industry than the US government.

Is such influence necessary?
Marc Bew:
 Much of the public investment goes into infrastructure. What is important here is to have the necessary tools, and transparency in terms of expenditure – after all, it is taxpayers' money, and taxpayers wants to know where their money is going. We save a lot of money with BIM.
Phil Bernstein:
 The message from the UK is clear: We work with BIM. It saves us a lot of tax money. We can use it to support other institutions such as schools, universities and social institutions. The social aspect is therefore very important. In the USA, the situation is different, not least because we have so many levels of administration – federal, state, district and city. In the case of public works, these do not coordinate their approach and strategy with each other. Another reason is that the US construction industry is very conservative and has always operated independently, and would not accept government interference. This is in total contrast to when Marc Bew sat down with the big construction companies in the UK a few years ago and they said to him: 'Yes, that's exactly what we want. Tell the government. We want BIM.' The US government had a federal BIM Council, which included various government areas – the Department of Defense, Transportation, Infrastructure, etc. They all sat at one table and compared their standards. 22 people at one table – 22 standards. That's a big problem!

What is the biggest challenge for the further establishment of BIM?
Marc Bew:
 Data management. In recent years we have created the technical basis, now we need to bring together the numerous areas and their requirements and jointly develop standards.
Phil Bernstein: 
I share Marc's viewpoint. Everyone needs to come together and agree on a common denominator. Because when the design process begins, it must be clear: Who needs which information? And how should this information be incorporated into the BIM model? In addition, communication needs to be improved. The network concept behind BIM is based on smooth communication. But this is far from being the case in the construction sector. Different software solutions, different equipment standards, etc. – all these inhibit innovations such as BIM and reduce their effectiveness.

When will there be a uniform BIM standard?
Marc Bew:
 We are currently working with contractors and architects to create such a network. We have developed our programme for the mandatory introduction of BIM. And we know BIM increases efficiency by up to 50% and reduces project costs by up to 20%. We can now prove this with various tools for evaluation and comparison projects.

What risks do we need to face?
Phil Bernstein:
 BIM is a tool that is based on data. So the question is: What does all this data mean? Currently, data is currently being assimilated into drawings. But they are then only images, diagrams of data – and no longer as useful as the data itself. There is currently a heated discussion in the USA concerning how machine learning, programming and computation will influence the design process. There are two camps among the architects and teachers. Those that say that we can never replace architects with computers. And the others who think that, if we improve the quality of the tools, data quality and information depth, we can also improve design quality. The question is therefore whether architects will allow themselves to be reduced to just designing "boxes", which will merely require them to enter the requirements into their parametric computer programs, or whether they want to actively participate in shaping the altered planning processes.
Marc Bew: 
The greatest risk for architects is simply to do nothing at all. There is global competition for projects in which BIM is becoming increasingly important. Everyone has to deal with this and be prepared for it.

What comes after BIM?
Phil Bernstein:
 I see it from a technical point of view. When it comes to the information contained in the project and its processing and handling, regardless of the software I'm working with, it must be possible to access it from a central point and to communicate centrally with each other. This represents a different way of looking at the project, and the relationships between the tools and the data will be reinterpreted.

Phil Bernstein, Professor at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut/USA; Photo: © Tim Westphal

Marc Bew BIM Task Group/UK; Photo: © Tim Westphal

Autodesk headquarters in Boston; Photo: © Tim Westphal

The 101 Seaport Boulevard – currently under construction in Boston. A large BIM project by Skanska and CBT Architects. Photo: © Tim Westphal
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