The “special relationship” between the United States and United Kingdom is difficult to describe: We Americans, the freedom-fries eating, world-saving cowboys, consider our best international buddies to be the politest people in the European bloc. And while we pal around the world flaunting our best-friendship, we sometimes look at one another and beg the question, “Why on earth would you do that?”
In my particular case, it’s the UK BIM system that causes me to ask that question. Both the UK and the US regularly use BIM, but its implementation on the macro-level is vastly different. Before exploring why the UK’s BIM practices are particularly strange to an American, let’s examine the differences between the two territories.
In the 2014 NBS report, Ian Chapman declared that “Standardisation [is] the spice of life… Where would we be without standardised batteries, standardised car tyres, standardised credit cards, [etc.]” Conformity, he argues, creates “clear requirements,” “works in the best interests of both the product supplier and the consumer,” and helps further innovation because it “relies on improvements from a good common standards base.”
Indeed, BIM managers in the UK seem to take on the “standards are God” approach. Companies using BIM for the public sector must make sure that they are compliant with COBie, CIC, and/or other standards. There has been increasing pressure on the private sector to adopt BIM standards.
The US, on the other hand, has a mess of standardization tools. If a company wants to design a building for a government agency, they have to comply with the individual agency’s needs (for example, the Army Corps of Engineers, General Services Administration, and Department of Veterans Affairs all have their own standardization systems). Within the private sector, each industry, such as health care, has its own internal standardization methods, though it’s not formalized.
BIM usage has grown dramatically over the past few years in the United Kingdom. According to the NBS National BIM Report 2014, “In 2010 BIM was very much a specialism of a small number–13 percent–of practices. Now the majority of practices have adopted BIM. In the last year, 54 percent had used BIM on at least one project. That’s 15 percent more than last year.” Awareness of BIM technologies was at 95 percent in 2013.
In spite of the UK’s gains, BIM is more widely spread in the United States. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of construction firms using BIM in the US went from 17 percent to 71 percent – a 318 percent increase. BIM is now by far the industry standard in drafting and design.
Another differentiator between BIM in the United Kingdom and the United States is green certification. BREEAM—or the BRE Environmental Assessment Method is the UK’s most popular green certification program. Exactitude is the most important part of BREEAM certification – which can make it pricey. However, it is independently audited and specific to the UK’s legislation, making it easier for UK contractors to follow.
While LEED exists in the UK, it is the industry standard in the US. While LEED is not independently audited, those who review buildings for LEED requirement don’t need outside training or an assessor. LEED is based on a points system.
Why These Differences Matter
BIM in the UK and US are not so different. After all, both industries rely mostly on Revit and ArchiCAD to model buildings, and a building in Los Angeles still has the same essential components as a building in Glasgow. What strikes me as the biggest difference between the two territories is government involvement.
I spoke with Jeff Gravatte, the CEO of CADD Microsystems, a US company that provides construction engineering software solutions and training to a wide range of customers. He noted that, “The [UK] government is making a big leap by requiring models to do their designs in their building. That will push people to figure out the process… [and] being so forceful will be good. But there’s going to be a lot of bumps along the way.”
The UK, in comparison to the US, has dragged a bit in BIM implementation. The industry has needed a nudge for some time now. Since the government has mandated that all public-sector construction projects will be delivered using BIM by 2016, the UK has seen astounding growth in BIM adoption. While my American anti-regulation alarm is tingling, I’d say that what the UK has done for its public sector is not bad.
But as for the “bumps along the way,” rushed implementation is still concerning. Gravatte also added, “People focus a lot on the tools, but the process is far more valuable than the tools. The focus should really be on processes and removing excess steps.” There has been some effort to focus on process—I thought that Building did a particularly good job – but less so from the regulating bodies. It’s possible that UK businesses will be taking too many shortcuts, shortchanging their long-term ROI potential. Of course, one way to help construction companies perform their best is with construction management software, but it must be a part of the greater evolution from CAD to BIM. The rush to 2016 may be too much for many smaller firms.
There’s also much to be said about the UK’s efforts to expand BREEAM. One aspect of LEED that many US contractors appreciate is its transparency—everything that an engineer needs to know is readily available on its website. BREEAM, while recognizing that it has made leaps and bounds in improving its transparency, is still largely difficult to understand and forgoes democratic improvements.
That said, it’s a good thing that BREEAM and LEED compete with one another. Each standardization system has its benefits and drawbacks. From what I’ve seen, the two systems are happy to use each other’s ideas to grow and better benefit the market.
In sum, our fellow construction engineers across the pond are not so different from us. They’re getting pushed to implement BIM—perhaps before they’re ready—but have seen positive growth and ROI from it. To better accommodate this change, the government should focus more on process instead of benchmarks. They may see better building designs—and more long-term success—if they do.
This article originally appeared on Construction Code.