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BIM can make you powerful

By Henry Fenby-Taylor
Landscape architects should be able, through BIM, to influence the landscape in ways that they have never done before. But they need to understand the principles and approaches that BIM requires.

The evolution of BIM as a requirement in construction projects is not simply a central government driver that will only affect a narrow range of projects. This is a sea change that is being brought about by main contractors and lead consultants across the world. It is of vital importance to the effective execution of BIM construction projects that landscape architects engage with the process of implementing BIM level 2 on projects.

The unique perspective born from managing the interface between a variety of different consultants lends landscape architecture a view of the design process that encompasses the requirements and modus operandi of a number of different professions, such as architects and civil engineers, while retaining a holistic overview of design.

The landscape architect understands the requirements of these different professions at their point of interface. These points of interface could be spatial, physical or systematic. A spatial interface would include the integration of a natural play area with a SuDS scheme. A physical interface includes the relationship of a steep planted bank with the footpath intersecting it. A systematic relationship might include the relationship between traditional surface water drainage from a car park and a SuDS system.

These ‘interfaces’ may be real or conceptual, simple or complex. Regardless, they contain the possibility to add value or become a source of conflict and wasted effort. This would affect not only landscape architects, but also a whole host of other stakeholders, whether through ineffective coordination of design intent, physical position, budgeted cost, programme or other important considerations for the client and end users. It is important that our industries’ collective capabilities are harnessed in this new environment. It is important for the construction industry, the environment and for society, now and for future generations. BIM is a new toolset, which, once they have equipped themselves, will enable landscape architects to influence the landscape as never before. BIM will save clients money.

Start from the ground up
It is the ability to effectively manage the relationship between conflicting or clashing design objectives that is going to be of greater importance than ever before within the BIM level 2 project. The current situation regarding such issues is frequently one of frustration and abortive work, directly resulting in time and cost overrun of projects. The future under a BIM level 2 environment promises much greater scope to influence the effective resolution of design integration. These issues will be caught earlier and their impact understood and resolved more readily.

Landscape architects must ensure that they have the capability to engage with the BIM level 2 documentation and process to ensure that interfaces are resolved to a greater level of satisfaction before projects even start. Members of the construction team will have to make a consistent effort during the design and construction phases of a project if they are to realise the benefits of the agreed methods of working. Just saying BIM does not ensure BIM. For example, if the landscape architect requires that there be fewer changes to finished floor level or to the drainage capacity requirement for SUDs, then the responsibility to engage with the BIM construction process falls squarely with them.

See BIM, read Lean.
BIM is a notoriously slippery acronym, but when reading in the UK context, and especially within the context of the 2016 BIM level 2 deadline, the reader, upon seeing the BIM acronym mentioned should substitute the words ‘lean construction’. This is of course a generalisation but let us examine how it would work.

To understand the benefits that BIM level 2 is looking to confer on the construction industry it is necessary to understand some of the intellectual underpinning of the current level 2 requirements. This requires an understanding of lean construction. The two fundamentals are value and waste. Waste is any action that takes time, materials or money, but does not add value to the project. Value is defined by the customer’s requirements. It’s as simple and as complex as that. We avoid waste and add value.

Waste is easiest to visualise in a factory environment. Only the required quantity of materials is provided at the correct time to the correct operative, who, correctly, administers an established process to correctly pass the fruits of their labour, the product, as it begins to take shape to the next operative in the chain. All this avoids the need to stop, hang about or otherwise dither which can be caused by too much or too little work taking place in the various stages of production. So instead, the work is completed just in time. Hence ‘just in time’ delivery, which is a fundamental tenet of lean. This is lean production and is often the process we see in the news where cars move serenely and certainly through factories with the utter confidence that from the beginning of the fabrication process to the end of the line a complete car will be produced as was envisaged by the designers, engineers and project managers involved.

To make this concept transferable to landscape architects, we should imagine that the electronic files that are being produced every day for design are as much part of the factory line as is the car in the automotive example. The files come at an expected time, are worked on for an agreed period of time before being shared with the next professional at the agreed time. Expectations are clearly set and performance across the process becomes more transparent.

In addition, it is worth remembering that BIM is also a byword for a number of technological innovations within the construction industry. These various tools are frequently discussed and some separation is often sought between BIM the process and BIM the technology innovation. There is such a separation, but it is not as distinct as it may appear. In order to implement BIM processes effectively there is a requirement for the effective use of software. Conversely, to implement BIM technology effectively requires the effective use of processes.

What is BIM Level 2?
The requirements of BIM level 2 have developed over time and have a technical and process set of requirements This means that there is a requirement for adapting IT within your project team and that there is also a series of project management processes that also must be adhered to.

The 2011 Government Construction Strategy first set out the technical requirement that by 2016 the government will require a fully collaborative 3D model with project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic. The process requirement is described in a BSRIA blog as the seven pillars of BIM wisdom. The principal document requiring the attention of landscape architects is PAS 1192-2 which is available for download free from the British Standards Institution.

What can landscape architecture do? Specifically.
There are a number of key relationships between what is designed by different consultants that directly or indirectly influence the form of the landscape. Buildings, roads, railways, dams, flood defences, cities, forests and quarries are just a few such elements. A landscape architect can provide specific benefits beyond their specific design expertise through their holistic understanding of design. Systematic and spatial relationships are a key factor for the success of places, but may be overlooked by those disciplines that are more closely focused on achieving specific engineered outcomes. The usability of space and the client’s vision for the project are of strategic importance to the success of a project and more specific concerns such as right to light, cut and fill, and ground conditions, will affect the operational activities of stakeholders in the design, construction and management phases of a built asset’s lifecycle. These are critical areas that landscape architects are well placed to affect.

In order to capture these requirements it is necessary to be engaged with the BIM process at the earliest possible juncture. Should key stakeholders, such as the landscape architect, fail to have their knowledge embedded within the project documents that are part and parcel of BIM level 2, then it will be difficult to achieve the benefits that a landscape architect can deliver to a BIM process. This is not an isolated requirement for landscape architects. Indeed, a robust pre-commencement process is central to the success of a level 2 project. Ensuring that the interactions and interfaces between stakeholders are planned effectively means that waste can be reduced, and value added. Through BIM, we can catch problems before they occur.

What are my tools?
Landscape architects will have to meet the same requirements that other construction professionals are required to reach by 2016, namely BIM level 2 compliance for centrally procured government projects. These requirements are still being established, including the NBS digital plan of works tool, currently in development. This will act as the portal for landscape architects and other professionals to the project content as well as being the classification system that will define what spaces and objects are to be designed.

The project deliverables, including the level of graphical detail as well as information, are not set in stone at the project outset. Where a current scope of works negotiation may take place in a relatively informal manner, the BIM level 2 requirement will be exacting in its detail. PAS:1192-2:2013 is the standard that forms the foundation of any BIM level 2 project’s design and construction phase. It references several other documents that are also pertinent. However it is this standard that is the starting point for BIM level 2, and it has within it all the tools of a BIM level 2 project from design to construction.

The first tool is the Employer’s Information Requirements, which will set out a methodology for working to which those bidding for design work will be required to adhere. Nevertheless, this is not a complete and infallible document. Bidding consultants and teams of consultants should propose a BIM execution plan that meets the needs of the Employer’s Information Requirements, even if there is a change in the exact methodology that is proposed therein. Employer’s Information Requirements must be written by technical experts and so it should be taken that any changes to the plans set out therein will be dealt with in the same manner. A BIM execution plan is the tool that defines how a project will be achieved. It is a useful tool in its own right, as it provides a yardstick against which consultants and project teams may measure and develop their own capabilities and practices.

Technical tools for the effective implementation of BIM on a project begin with the survey. The best way to understand the interactions and interfaces between the various design disciplines and the existing site is to have a high-quality survey that effectively captures the required information at the outset. Secondly, in order to provide an effective understanding of the site conditions as described by the survey, the ability to work effectively in three dimensions is paramount. BIM is about creating an environment of certainty within a project team. The purpose of BIM level 2 and IT tools alike is to ensure that what is being designed is a true reflection of what is being delivered, based upon a sound knowledge of what already exists.

The onset of BIM is akin to the evolution of other aspects of design and construction from a craft-based environment into a quality-controlled process. In a craft environment there is a certain unrepeatable quality inherent in the drafting of designs and the creation of the designed object, something unique. However, a crafted item is uncontrolled and so prone to more mistakes than is a regulated and controlled process. For a long time the construction industry has been caught between these two approaches. The challenge for landscape architects is to ensure that they balance the benefits of the craftsperson’s eye with the unflinching quality requirements of a BIM environment. Design flair must be able to manage risk.

What next?
There is no magic bullet or panacea for BIM compliance, but a good step would be to attend the Landscape Insitute’s next BIM Masterclass.

These masterclasses are suitable for those looking to enhance their knowledge of BIM as well as those looking to engage with the BIM process for the first time. The masterclasses includes examples of how information is produced, managed and interrogated as well as addressing the benefits and opportunities of BIM for landscape architecture.

Find details of these are on the LI website at

Henry Fenby-Taylor is a landscape architect who has specialised in BIM. He works for Colour Urban Design as its landscape BIM system designer and also at Teesside University. Henry is writing the LI’s book on BIM for landscape.

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