The Future of Construction

The Big Project weighs up the pros and cons of Building Information Modelling (BIM) to establish whether clients, designers, developers and contractors should be jumping on the interoperability bandwagon

At the end of this month, not-for-profit organisation BuildingSmart ME will release the results of a survey that could have a major impact on the common construction process utilised in the Middle East.

Since its launch in 2009, BuildingSmart ME — part of BuildingSmart International — has promoted ‘interoperability’ utilising Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology as a way of reducing costs and boosting the efficiency and sustainability of a project.

BIM effectively creates a construction project in a virtual environment. Not just for visual purposes, the model is an accurate, dimensional representation of a building, which stores all of the relevant design and construction data.

“For hundreds of years, people built physical prototypes. It’s only in the last 20 years that people have been able to build digital ones, and much more recently they’ve had the capacity to explore a project’s multiple dimensions — what it will look like, how it will work, and how it will perform,” software vendor Autodesk regional director for the Middle East and Africa Anders Arthur explains.

“Digital prototypes give you the ability to visualise, simulate, and analyse a digital model and to better understand the project.

“It allows you to experience it before it’s real. We can use Building Information Modelling techniques to understand the acoustics or the day-lighting or the energy that will fall upon a space,” he continues.

“For example, there are hundreds of decisions that go into most buildings. But if you asked most architects whether a change in orientation or using double-paned glass, increasing the overhang or changing the material will cause the building to need more or less energy to heat and cool, they probably wouldn’t know. Digital models enable them to answer those questions quickly and with certainty.”

There are two ways that the model is used; either basing BIM on traditional design processes, or more effectively, creating a single model right from the concept stage through to construction and building management. “So you’re using one single source and updating that model, whereas currently a new design is produced and sent out to a number of contractors, who all produce their own elements of that design and there are thousands of hard-copy drawings floating around. With BIM, all construction stakeholders can work with the same information at the same time through one model,” BuildingSmart ME communications director Dave Jellings told us last February.


Investing in Technology

0.5% – 1%

The approximate investment required to implement BIM from the early stages of the construction process


Failure to launch

However, The Big Project caught up with Jellings again last month, and his message was the same: the Middle East is lagging behind in terms of its technology deployment.

“The construction industry in the Middle East is using 20 to 30 different technologies for every large project and none of these are designed to communicate with each other. So if you want to transfer data between one contractor and another it’s a very difficult process and instead of sending electronic data, which is usually faultless, you end up sending a hard copy,” observes Jellings.

We’re changing from two-dimensional AutoCAD drawings to three-dimensional modelling. In five years, 2D drawings won’t be part of the construction process.”

“The technology BuildingSmart promotes is collaborative, which basically provides the process and software to enable the current platforms to communicate. So you immediately have the advantage of being able to work from the same information at the same time.” He adds that only around one third of the region’s construction industry is aware of BIM, but while it is still a relatively unknown entity, the organisation claims to be receiving support from major industry players — currently “half of the top 10 contracting firms in the Middle East because they’ve realised BIM is the future”.

In order to accomplish its mission to make BuildingSmart — interoperability through BIM — the standard process in construction, there are a number of obstacles that first must be overcome. Jellings outlines these as a lack of skills and mandating, and low industry awareness of the technology.

He cites Singapore as an example of a developed construction market where BIM is now mandated by government, and Scandinavia is heading the same way. Likewise, while the UK is still considered slow to adopt the technology, the government is expected to mandate BIM on a number of trial projects in April 2011.

“The world is waking up to 3D modelling,” concludes Jellings.

In fact, BuildingSmart is not looking for the technology to be made mandatory in the Middle East, at least not in the short-term, but it is seeking endorsement from the regional governments to strengthen its authority. And the organisation is positive that the survey findings to be announced on November 28 will be a crucial step to convincing the government and industry that BIM is the way forward.

“The governments are looking to the survey as a guideline to how they should be involved. We need to be able to present the current state of the market with some authority, we can only do that through market analysis,” says Jellings.

Among other findings, the survey will reveal current skill levels, factors preventing the adoption of BIM in the region and will hopefully identify the steps needed to “revolutionise” the construction market. In addition, it hopes the results will offer guidance on how to involve academia, government and industry.


Return On Investment


The estimated savings on a project that implements BIM technology from the early stages of the process


Lack of understanding

Currently even those that are aware of BIM often fail to fully understand it and those using it are often doing so incorrectly, according to BuildingSmart.

“Many firms have dipped their toes in the water, but very few understand the technology. There is a lack of knowledge,” says Jellings.

Murray and Roberts technical manager Ron Brinkman observes that BIM requirements are already starting to be written into the tender documents for Middle East projects. Furthermore, he expects that after one year, project partners on developments worth more than US $500 million will be required to implement BIM. As time goes on, this will also be applied to smaller projects, he suggests.

“We’re changing from two-dimensional AutoCAD drawings to three-dimensional modelling. In five years, 2D drawings won’t be part of the construction process.”

But Jonathan Lock, structural CAD manager and Arup Tekla global account manager at Arup London told The Big Project on the sidelines of the Tekla Middle East Managers’ Day 2010 in Dubai, last month, that until the client comes in and demands the model, the adoption process will fall down.

“Because it’s a new process, it’s being written into the contracts that BIM must be used. These contracts should outline the process to be followed and identify the key deliverables. However, as clients don’t understand the process they’re not able to drive it.”

A company of Arup’s size deals with major clients so it has to stand out. A brand name doesn’t win you projects anymore you have to deliver more”

That is where BuildingSmart comes in, he asserts, saying that the organisation’s role is to educate the stakeholder and the clients.

However, Brinkman and Lock also outline other challenges in rolling BIM out in the Middle East. For example, Murray and Roberts has started to introduce video conferencing so all parties can easily see and comment on the project model.

“But the problem is the internet is too slow in this country, so that internet technology needs to catch up,” he says.

Brinkman also observes that MEP contractors are slow to take up the technology, while savings can be the most significant if the model is implemented for MEP works.

Furthermore, the transparency of the model can drastically shake up the construction process and not necessarily profitably for contractors: “Using BIM, contractors who generally make their money on claims lose their margin so it’s not always good for the main contractor.

“But on the other hand, there are too many contractors in the market that instead of grasping BIM and learning to make money in a different way, are not willing to move forward,” explains Brinkman.

Meanwhile, Lock says the engineering firm’s role is getting “bigger and bigger” due to the technology and anticipates a shift in responsibilities in the construction process.

“We’re spending money to engage with contractors and fabricators because in the long run we’re saving money on requests for information (RFIs) for example.

“A company of Arup’s size deals with major clients so it has to stand out. A brand name doesn’t win you projects anymore you have to deliver more,” adds Lock.

Lock reveals that the group is also working with software provider Tekla to develop a ‘good-practice’ guide to model transferring data that it hopes will soon be published as a white paper, and act as a point of reference for the industry.

While several of the construction trailblazer firms are embracing the technology, the takeup is still minimal even in the UK where the construction market is considered significantly more developed that the Middle East’s.

However, with the launch of the BuildingSmart survey results next month and a good level of curiousity displayed by governments and industry surrounding this futuristic technology, Jellings hopes the lack of skill, awareness and necessity will soon be addressed; opening the way for the implementation of BIM across the board.

FAQs: BuildingSmart ME

What is BuildingSmart ME?

Launched in 2009, BuildingSmart ME is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the adoption of ‘Building Smart’ as the standard method for smart, sustainable construction through the lifecycle of a facility. It’s membership covers the Middle East, North Africa and India.

What are its key objectives?

– Surveying the construction sector — how widespread is the understanding and use of BIM?

– Raising awareness — of BuildingSmart and in particular BIM

– Showing direction — as a neutral body, guiding businesses through the necessary technology and process changes

– Involving businesses — success is dependent on the support of key stakeholders: government, academia, owner or developer, and contractors, as well as consultants

– Gaining commitment — to enable BuildingSmart to succeed

– Providing education — ensuring that training is available to meet skills needs

– Developing standards — appropriate to regional needs

– Providing a support mechanism for implementation — BIM Support Bureau

Who can be a member?

Membership is open to businesses of any size involved in the construction process and to individuals who wish to develop or improve their skills in BIM and interoperability. Corporate members form the governing councils, committees and support groups of BuildingSmart ME.

How to join

Membership fees for BuildingSmart ME are broadly based on turnover and type of business, and can be for individuals and corporations alike. For enquiries visit

Diary dates

Find out more about BIM and don’t miss the release of the BuildingSmart survey results at the BuildingSmart 2010 Conference, taking place from November 28-29 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Abu Dhabi Yas Island.

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