• The Digital Workflow

Traditionally, Design Coordination can be a very complicated process. A typical scenario: programming is carried out between the Architectural Design team and the client’s team. Concept and schematic designs are produced — possibly in collaboration with other professionals on the project. These designs are often carried out in separate design software programs *(BIM Level 1)…

On presenting the design to the client, s/he suddenly gains more insights into the project. Some new ideas might emerge or some aspects of the design won’t resonate with him/her. So, more likely than not, the end result is changes and updates to the initial design. This implies the various professional teams would need to coordinate the changes and updates in their different software. The back and forth continues as the design progresses from schematic design, through detailed design, to construction detailing. On a more collaborative scenario, these design teams use similar design software; so they share the models with each other *(BIM Level 2). For example, the Architectural Design team links the structural model into the architectural model for reference. The Electrical Design team links the architectural model to the electrical model etc.

But even with this, the linking process has to be repeated every time there is a change. Sometimes, the impact might be minimal; some other times, it might be much. But this gets even more complicated as more specialty teams join the design/delivery process.

The bottom line is that the traditional workflow is inefficient. It is a stressful process for the design teams. It is a slow process. It results in loss of information etc.

The Smart Design Coordination is, therefore, part of an Integrated Project Delivery. The design coordination is founded on a unified BIM model — known as the single source of truth *(BIM Level 3). In this write-up, we would delve into the internal design coordination processes of a Smart AEC Firm. We would also discuss all the necessary documents that support this digital design workflow.


  • The Information Exchange Worksheet

In a previous writeup, it was stated that the final outcome of BIM Planning is the BIM Execution Plan. A flexible document that is constantly updated through the lifecycle of the project. The bulk of the projected activities during the BIM Planning are executed during the design phase of a project.Thus, the BIM Plan serves to validate the design coordination activities.

The most important section of the BIM Plan during design is the Information Exchange (IE) worksheet. The IE worksheet is a structured breakdown of the BIM model elements, in relation to the selected BIM uses for the project. For each element, the information requirements, the level of detail and the responsible party were defined. Therefore, this is the document with which to validate that all the necessary information exchanges required to populate the BIM model took place — at the correct level of detail and by the right party. In essence, the design process becomes a series of information exchanges. A data creation process, by various professionals — to create a unified BIM model.

The next important section of the BIM plan during design is the Quality Control. This section explicitly stated the overall quality control strategy, the quality control checks and the accepted model accuracy/tolerance for the project. Common checks include Interference Checks, Model Integrity Checks etc. This implies that there is a quality control team. It is ideal to have each design/professional unit represented on this team. Equally important is having the client’s team represented. This team inspects the BIM model as the design progresses. This ensures the right/optimal information is exchanged always. The bottom line is that the client’s/end users’ needs are progressively being met.

Another important part of the BIM Plan during design is the Project Deliverables section. Essentially, at the end of the design process, every indicated project deliverable should be available — at the specified format/time.

In summary, the Smart Design Coordination is a series of Information Exchanges — and the BIM Plan serves as a checklist document.


  • The Specification Write-ups

In the aforementioned write-up, it was also mentioned that there are two levels of Process Mapping — Level 1 and Level 2. Level 1 is an Overview Map, while the level 2 is specific to each selected BIM use. The level 2 map is primarily produced by a design unit — say the electrical unit.

While the level 2 Process Map diagrams the process for a BIM use, it takes a Specification Write-up to explicitly outline the details of the workflow.

While there are numerous applications of the specification write-up, our focus here would be on level 2 process map descriptions. For Integrated Project Delivery, every design unit describes their work processes through specification documents. These serve as the literal versions of the level 2 Process Maps and provide even more details. The specification documents describe the work and the desired results, the quality, materials, coordination etc. The most common format for specification documents is the CSI’s MasterFormat.The format is a master list of numbers and subject titles, classified by work results or construction practices — for organizing information about their requirements, products, and activities into a standard sequence. This is a widely accepted standard in the industry.

The organizational structure for the format is as follows:

  • Group
  • Subgroup
  • Divisions numbered with titles
  • Sections numbered with titles

For example:

Specifications Group:
General Requirements Subgroup:
Division 0:
General Requirements

This standardized format helps to ensure everyone on the team are in concert. This reduces errors and makes work more efficient. CSI MasterFormat is even more recommended because the structure is similar to the model element breakdown structure of the IE worksheet previously mentioned. This brings about even more standardization. (Visit https://www.csiresources.org/practice/standards/masterformat to get the latest sample).


  • The BIM Deliverables

Just like the traditional design approach, the functional design in an IPD is comprised of three stages. They include the schematic, detail, and fabrication design stages.

The Schematic Design stage, as its name implies involves the preparation of the Conceptual Design, with a back-and-forth communication with the client, until approved. At this stage, the Literal Information in the Facility Program is converted to Graphic Information. The emphasis, however, is on the overall conceptual framework of the project; and the spatial relationships. Preliminary analyses are also performed here to guide the subsequent stages. At this stage, the Architectural and Structural design teams would be doing a higher percentage of the works. In other words, providing most of the information.

On approval of the design concepts, the project moves to Detail Design Stage. What used to be the building mass start to comprise of actual material layers. A Space-by-space interior design is also a purview of this stage. It is very likely that the initial design concepts would be adjusted as the design gets more detailed. Care should be taken to ensure the client is part of the process. At this stage, the entire design team would be providing and exchanging information. There’s also coordination with the manufacturers and suppliers to ensure the accurate specifications of the various elements are taken into account.

The final stage in the design process is the Fabrication Design. At this stage, the various elements of the BIM Model are rationalized for digital fabrication. In other words, the elements are being broken down into parts — bearing in mind how the digital fabrication machine operates. At this stage also, information on the fabrication methods is very critical.


  • The Architectural Expression

Beyond the functionalities of a smartphone, there’s a distinguishing feature that would always ‘sell’ it over a non-smart phone. In the realm of smartphones, there’s even the unique feature that sets the iPhone ahead of its competition. These all trickle down to User Experience — which is a deliberate design endeavor.The same applies to the Smart Building Design.

We’ve viewed the design process from one angle — the Functional Design. The other angle is the Aesthetic Design. This encompasses the entire system of aesthetic representation of the building — the aesthetic and structural expression.

Beyond the aesthetic/structural expressions, however, experience design has a lot to do with human interactions. Take a moment to imagine your building as a smart facility, through what interfaces would you rather interact with it?

  • An Operating System?
  • Touchscreen control?
  • Remote control?
  • Mobile apps?
  • Wearables?
  • Virtual AI Assistants?

In all. experience design is a direct outcome of the programming — Client Discovery — stage.

Experience Design is carried out simultaneously with the functional design, as both affect each other. “Form affects function, and vice versa”.

In summary, the aesthetics of a building goes beyond the physical expression, to include user interactions. Thus, it needs not mentioning that the design needs to be validated by the client through the entire process.


  • The Virtual Simulations

Out of the 25 BIM Uses outlined by Penn State University, in her BIM Execution Plan, Analyses account for 5. These include Energy Analysis, Structural Analysis, Lighting Analysis, Mechanical Analysis, and Other Eng. Analysis. Thus, it becomes obvious that virtual analysis is a major advantage of generating a BIM Model.

Like Experience Design, Analyses are conducted alongside the Functional Design. However, the results yield even more realistic information as the design progresses.

At the conceptual design stage, the aim of the analyses is to guide the various decisions and choices for the project.

For example, different configurations/design options for the building could be analyzed for energy consumption, daylight conservation etc. The results are weighed against cost implications and presented the client for a final decision. Early analyses would also inform the choice of materials, choice of structural/aesthetic expression. Thus, these are mostly for the sustainability of the design. These save the entire team costly changes at the later stage of the project. A good tool at this stage is Autodesk Insight 360.

Analyses during the detail design stage — in addition to the sustainability of the design — include the structural suitability of components, mechanical properties etc.

These are performed against the specifications from manufacturers/suppliers. More extensive lighting analyses are performed when materials are applied to the building elements, especially the walls and glass members.

At the fabrication design stage, the analyses are mostly engineering in nature. 

Such analyses as to how building elements interact with adjacent members — rationalization — are the purview of this stage. These analyses could be performed in the same software used for the functional design. However, the latter sophisticated analyses are typically performed in dedicated software tools — mostly cloud services.


  • The Single Source of Truth

Historically, building design started with hand drafting — through the ancient civilizations and the classical ages. At the advent of the Industrial Revolution, PC was birthed, and this brought about CAD. However, technological advancements have been progressing at a drastic pace for the past few decades. Thus, CAD progressed to BIM and is still moving to even the next stage…

According to the National Building Specification (NBS), there are four levels of BIM — level 0 to level 3. Each level progressing from no collaboration to the highest level of collaboration currently attainable. As mentioned earlier, the design/delivery process in an IPD demands BIM level 3 delivery. This implies that every team member exchange information via a unified BIM Model.

This unified model is referred to as the single source of truth.

Typically, there’s a central model sitting on a network drive/cloud accessible to all. Every sub-team has a local copy of the central file. Design progress/updates are synchronized with the central model in real-time. A typical tool to achieve this Autodesk BIM 360 Design Suite.

This single source of truth provides information for diverse analyses. It provides information for project phasing (4D BIM). It provides information for quantity take-offs (5D BIM). It provides the data for Facility Management (6D BIM) — handed over to the facility manager at the end of the entire design process. It is the same model that is converted to the format digital fabrication tools understand — after rationalization. This single source of truth brings about real-time conflict resolutions through interference checks; otherwise expensive at construction stage.

Beyond all these, a unified BIM Model enhances collaboration and interoperability. It can easily be converted to such open-source formats as IFC (Industry Foundation Class); and thus, such files as the COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange)…


  • The Hard Prints

Through the entire design process, various design teams have been exchanging information, and at the end, the BIM (Record) Model has been populated. Does that imply it is all digital? No.We’ve already mentioned some of the support documents: the BIM Plan, The Facility Program, and the Specification Write-ups.Let’s discuss the few other documents found in an Integrated Project Delivery.

  • The Legal Documents: Such documents as government permits, local codes, and ordinances.
  • Procurement/Accounting Documents: modified reports from the BIM Model.
  • Shop Drawings: showing specific fabrication details.
  • Manufacturers’ Spec Sheets: giving more details about their products etc.

These documents play a supportive role for the BIM Data. They offer the primary physical communication — especially among the less-technical members of the team.

Nonetheless, the language of these documents should be explicit and straightforward. Their formatting must also be in alignment with the CSI MasterFormat.

***Adapted from Blaze Monthly Digest – July 2018.


Onyema Udeze

Onyema Udeze is the host of The Blaze Podcast.
He is the co-founder of Blaze Inc., a fast-rising startup, based in Nigeria that is tackling the inefficiencies in the built sector through numerous channels; such as services, and interactive contents.
He is also a Founding Director of ‘BIM Africa Initiative’, which is a pan-African, membership-based, non-profit organisation that is charged with BIM Awareness and Implementations across Africa.
He is the author of the book Essentials of Smart Building Technology, which is currently available on all the popular e-book stores.
He is an Instructor at Linkedin Learning.
He is an Autodesk Certified Professional for Revit Architecture, Mechanical and Electrical.
By profession, he is an Architect. But he has a vast interest in Technology Solutions in the built sector, especially those with relevant applications across Africa.

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