Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Stadium, Beijing

+ New legislation in the Netherlands will benefit the industry and its clients but raises issues about who should coordinate BIM data.

In the Netherlands, where I work, building information modelling (BIM) isn’t something that will just happen; it needs someone to take ownership.

My colleague Dan Clipsom recently described how UK legislation specifies the BIM process and leaves it to clients to define what they want included in the model. In contrast, Dutch legislation focuses on what the as-designed and as-built model you send to your client must contain.

I was BIM manager on the first project to follow the National Building Authority’s (Rijksgebouwendienst) BIM Standard, which is now under construction. So I have first-hand experience of how the legislation works in practice.

If BIM can be implemented successfully, it will enable quality and efficiency benefits to be realized during design, construction, operation and future redevelopment of the building. However, the process is currently falling down because it’s not clear who is responsible for what.

The rules call for all the data on an element like a structural wall to be in that wall element in the model – architectural data, structural engineering data, fire engineering data and more. But if different consultants are producing this data, then who is responsible for incorporating it into the model?

Contracts don’t yet cover this issue. So it’s currently resolved through trust and relationships. For example, I may do something additional for the architect if they do something additional for me.

I expect when someone has a bad experience with this approach, they’ll try to cover everything in complex contracts. But I don’t think ridiculously complex contracts will be workable, because it’s impossible to cover everything. Ultimately, the different teams involved will have to come back to trusting each other and figuring out how to work together using BIM.
I also think we’ll see clients looking to place as much work as possible with one party, which could result in contractors doing more and more themselves. Indeed, we’re already seeing big contractors buying up advisory firms to give them more in-house expertise.

There’s still plenty of uncertainty about how BIM will work in practice in the Netherlands. What’s clear to me is that there’s now so much information – all belonging to different parties – that the process needs someone to co-ordinate it.

With clients and contractors not yet fully up to speed with this new way of working, I think advisers like Arup are ideally placed to do this. BIM promises a lot of benefits, but it needs someone to take ownership.