Today there are a plethora of computer or web-based technologies that help architects, engineers and other construction professionals to build better buildings, faster.

We’re living and working in a digital age and with advances in computers and other technologies, everything from design processes to the actual construction has the potential to get done faster and more efficiently.

Here are some of the technologies available to assist professionals in the built environment to construct better buildings and realise visions of extraordinary designs:

Drawing tools
As a basic starting point, computer-aided design and drafting programmes automate the manual drafting process in both 2D and 3D. These design and drafting platforms are available for architects, designers, draftspersons and engineers to generate precision architectural drawings, technical illustrations and documentation for 3D models with real-life sophistication.

Rendering software
Different from 3D modelling software, 3D rendering software enables the production of realistic rendered visualisations, including animation and walkthroughs of architectural models.

Complete software packages
These include built-in functionalities that enable every aspect of a building to be designed in detail.

3D printing
Still a relatively new technology in building design, 3D printing can be used as an additional tool to yield 3D models. It involves the creation of 3D objects by laying down successive layers of material, which can have different mechanical and physical properties. Besides modelling complete building shapes, 3D printing can be especially helpful to interior designers who produce furniture objects that can be moved around in an interior – helping clients to visualise layouts and use of space.

Estimation software
Construction-estimating software is used to calculate, track and manage the total cost of a construction project. These kind of programmes automate formulas that otherwise would be calculated in manual spreadsheets or with calculators. It can help to quantify estimated costs for tenders, as well as to manage costs throughout the project.

Online specification tools
While there are some specification libraries available as part of certain online offerings, many product manufacturers and suppliers have their own interactive online tools that provide specifiers with the appropriate wording for technical product specifications.

Energy-tracking applications
Especially when doing renovations, these web-based applications can help to establish a baseline from where to improve, as well as help facility managers to ensure that buildings are operating as efficiently as possible long after construction.

Social media
Social media platforms are where the conversation is happening and platforms are continuing to grow and evolve, enabling users to connect using text, images and video. It has become a means of exchanging ideas, connecting with both fellow professionals and end-users, and it plays a role in creating awareness and excitement around projects, for example.

Some of the most popular platforms locally are:
•    Twitter – short conversations using #hashtags with links to more information.
•    Facebook – build online communities and creating a general following, share ideas and inspire.
•    LinkedIn – connect with like-minded professionals, share and demonstrate expertise, and build a professional reputation.
•    YouTube – share videos that illustrate, inspire, document or educate.
•    Pinterest – create photo albums and group ideas for inspiration.
•    Instagram – a visual platform that revolves around beautiful images and also makes use of #hashtags.

Each of these social media platforms has a different way of communication and reaches diverse global audiences. Some may be integrated with each other.

<Insert infographic (just use the relevant ones as mentioned above>
 
This clever infographic illustrates the different ways of how architecture, engineering and construction firms would typically communicate on some of the most popular platforms. Courtesy of Smartegies
<End infographic>

Websites
A website is a point of contact for potential and existing customers and can host a showcase of projects, prove a track record and illustrate skill and expertise. It can also serve as a source of information where specifications sheets, online specifications and plug-ins to online product selection tools are published. The important thing is that these need to be updated regularly so that the latest information is always available.

In this day and age, if you don’t have an online presence, you might just as well not exist.

*Note: There are a plethora of tools and technologies available today to help architects and specifiers. This is just a brief overview to serve as a reminder of what is available out there.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)
Probably one of the biggest game changers in the industry at the moment is Building Information Modelling (BIM). While BIM is supported by software, it isn’t just about the technology. BIM is a highly connected workflow that combines a 3D CAD model with an information database that covers architecture and engineering processes, estimating and planning, and facilitates increased efficiency throughout the project lifecycle. It can be applied to new developments, revamps, maintenance or even demolition projects.

“The process of managing a BIM model is sometimes referred to as Virtual Design Construction Management (VDCM). This term usually implies a BIM model has been expanded to include a 4D time simulation or activity model, a 5D cost model and possibly further operations or facility management models,” explains Nick Erasmus, technical director at BIMGAMES and BIM Institute steering committee member.

“When implemented correctly, the BIM process can save thousands of hours in design, documentation, construction and commissioning activities, and improve overall construction project delivery,” he states.

No sharing, no BIM
Louis Viljoen, director of Prokon Software Consultants and steering committee member of the BIM Institute, adds that a crucial part of BIM is that there should be sharing or collaboration by all stakeholders in a project for intelligent BIM to take place. “If only part of the team is on board, you can still leverage some software, but it won’t be a full BIM project,” he says.

BIM adoption
In the United Kingdom (UK), BIM level 2 is mandatory for all government projects with the key objective being to reduce capital cost and the carbon footprint form the construction and operation of the built environment by 20%.

In South Africa, private companies and especially contractors are driving BIM adoption instead of the government. “We are finding that especially contractors who have bought into the BIM process are now selectively picking projects to tender on where the whole professional team is involved in using BIM, because it gives them large benefits,” notes Viljoen.

“Say a contractor wins a project worth R1 billion. If they benefit with 2% or 3%, they are making millions extra profit. For the professional team, their gains in terms of cost would be lower, but they gain time,” he explains. “Also, the project owners and funders are starting to prescribe BIM because they also want the cost benefits.”

But South Africa still has a long way to go and many companies are hesitant to get onto the BIM train. BIM certainly is revolutionising the way construction projects are being approached and managed, and has to be applied throughout a business, so it involves big change. And South Africans are typically adverse to change, which means that they will probably wait right up to the point where they are forced to do so.

SA’s BIM Institute
Locally, the BIM Institute is working to promote the use of BIM and a steering committee has been tasked with developing standards and processes for the South African and African markets. “This is a mammoth task and we will probably only see some results later in the year,” says Erasmus.

“Lonely BIMming”
“The state of BIM in South Africa is at a very complex stage at the moment,” says Erasmus. “Many companies are throwing the term around, but are not 100% sure how to approach it or what to do with it. Some say they are adopting it or that they are ‘BIM ready’, which in most cases are not true.

“Remember that BIM is a workflow and not just a piece of software you install. If implemented correctly it is a very simple process, but the biggest challenge is getting companies to model correctly so that the information inside the models can be utilised.

“Sadly, in many cases where it hasn’t been done correctly, companies have had to foot serious bills and fail to see return on their investment. This is partly to blame on a lack of knowledge on the topic and a lack of standards and processes, which results in every firm trying to figure things out on their own. We call it ‘lonely BIMming’,” he states.

Getting practical
So where does one start? “Before diving head first into BIM, first ask why you want to go for BIM,” advises Erasmus. He points out five possible reasons:
•    To converge information production with sound engineering judgement and design.
•    To get wider, faster access to comprehensible and integrated information.
•    It fosters instinctive but rigorous collaboration and better decision-making.
•    It harnesses innovative technologies and harvests intelligence from big data.
•    It enables reflective, adaptive thinking to incorporate a whole-life and integrated systems approach within the wider geographic context.

Software options
While there are a few programmes that can support BIM, Erasmus favours leading software that also caters for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering (MEP) industry. “Best is if you can complete a whole project utilising all software within the same range to seamlessly coordinate and collaborate,” he says.

According to Viljoen, it is also important for companies to determine which will integrate best with their existing infrastructure and processes and will benefit them the greatest, because it varies from one business to another. “The size of the business, the implementation, kind of projects and integration with partner companies all play a role,” he says.

“In certain cases different kinds of software can integrate, but if all the stakeholders involved in a project work on the same platform, it just makes it easier. If you upgrade an existing 3D modelling tool that only plays in one market, just be aware that you’re going to have to do a bit more mental gymnastics and conversions of files, but it is possible.”

For architects concerned with interoperability, Viljoen suggests looking at Building Smart Open BIM, an open and international standard for exchanging BIM data.

Build knowledge before buying
There are many talks and workshops being presented by experts on the topic of BIM where companies can learn more about it and get first-hand advice from experts in the field.

“Trying to research BIM is like trying to self-diagnose yourself over the Internet – you start off with a cough and before you know it, you are convinced you have some diabolical heavily contagious disease,” says Erasmus. “To ensure a successful outcome, any firm looking at moving into the BIM world should discuss their objectives with an expert, from just automating certain workflows to going ultimate BIM and finally incorporating everything into a facility management system,” he advises.

Case study: Designing a skyscraper in 48 hours with BIM
As part of the Build New York Live 2015 online Building Information Modelling (BIM) competition, entrants were given only two days to design a complete building and submit their entries through a cloud-based collaboration portal – proving just what can be done with BIM. As one of the engineers of the winning design commented: “I had no idea how much we could achieve within a limited time.”

The Ryder Alliance won top honours with their skyscraper design that includes a 60-storey residential tower with a concierge lobby, café, spa and fitness suite, observation spaces and management offices, as well as a multi-purpose sports hall.

Interestingly, the team comprised of 40 members from ten different firms of which two were based in Spain and one in Australia. Roles and responsibilities were clearly defined and documented from the outset to ensure efficient collaboration and optimised information exchanges.

Kicking off with a four-hour brainstorming session, the team planned the site organisation, modelled risks and opportunities, and predefined all the principles for the construction. The team used optimised 3D, 4D and 5D workflows to leverage maximum value from BIM technologies being used on the project, and utilised location-based construction sequence data automatically generated from the underlying 3D models.

For more detail on how this project unfolded, please visit www.rapid5D.com.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Prokon, BIMGAMES, BIM Institute, World Architecture News and www.rapid5D.com for the information given to write this article.