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Federated BIM Models for Architects; Difference in Want & Need of Computational BIM Workflows

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In the entire ecosystem of AEC industry, BIM plays different but important roles for various disciplines such as designs, construction, procurement, management etc. What AEC professionals are set out to achieve out of BIM workflow decides what BIM means to them. An EPC firm, a general contractor or an architectural consultant acknowledges BIM as a virtual model of what is going to be constructed; where as a building surveyor while undertaking refurbishment recognizes it as a model of what is constructed.

Apart from unique BIM workflows; conceptual design modeling tools and BIM poses several interoperability challenges to BIM users. To avoid the rippling effects of interoperability during design interrogation, most of the design engineers and architects smartly use one master sketching tool - one they are really familiar with. BIM is for modeling and hence has its limitations when it comes to conceptual sketching and design exploration. This has gradually decreased creativity in architectural designs.

While BIM is an excellent platform for design collaboration and coordination - design interrogation stage, it lacks several functionalities for design exploration. All it can deliver is an array of non-living design geometry. However; the advent of interoperability plugins has improved BIM workflows and made it more computationally active; especially for architects.

Architects need computational workflow - Really?

A single design tool does not suffice detail designing and collaborating, as they are required to be integrated with BIM at later stages.

Architects should gratify interoperability plugins as they empower them to avail a federated BIM model for computational workflows. It is because of the plugins, which support computational workflows in BIM that architects do not have to struggle with single BIM software to throughput all their design ideas.

But according to AEC evangelists and it really is more fruitful, when BIM is integrated with conceptual modeling tools during an early stage. If not done at the right time, a significant part of parametric and associative intelligence that is ingrained during design exploration tends to get lost due to variance in design capabilities of BIM tools and conceptual modeling software.

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When architectural design consultants integrate designs in BIM tools, they are required to re-build the model from scratch. Now that as we all know; BIM tools are least suited for design exploration, design intelligence is lost.

An obvious solutions to such limitations of integrating BIM and modeling tools, is to create designs in BIM right from inception. However, creating designs in BIM is restricted since most BIM tools aren’t flexible and capable enough to develop complex geometry. Furthermore, designing becomes a tedious task if the user lacks that firm grip and expertise with the tool. Thus, it is a common practice across, of having a federated BIM model populated using plugins for computational workflows; rather than restricting the architect to harness one single BIM tool.

Computational Workflows for Architects

Most architectural firms across the globe employ Autodesk’s Revit for integrating conceptual designs and they too face challenges when it comes to designs collaboration. There are plugins available in market that resolve interoperability challenges and translate geometry from conceptual design software to BIM tool like Revit.

Multiple options available for plugins, results into a wide range of different workflows - tightly coupled or loosely coupled - based on the partial or complete interoperability [respectively] that they offer. Let us have a look at some of the efficient tools that are known for delivering the most comprehensive workflows for architects. These plugins are also the favorite to some of the best and leading design support solution providers.

The live connection introduced by Graphisoft enables a dynamic relationship with BIM tool, say ArchiCAD, and allows sketching directly from other conceptual modeling tools such as Rhino/GH. It offers real time bidirectional geometry transfer between the two platforms and controls input parameters such as dimensions, materials etc.

Amongst the others, Rhynamo, an open source plugin, allows accessing features of Rhino inside Revit through Dynamo. Another plugin called Mantis Shrimp offers interoperability with Grasshopper and Dynamo. Both, Rhynamo and Mantis Shrimp, offer to manage two separate dataflow graphs. Such a feature essentially reduces stress to BIM user while working on large projects, multiple different software and collaborating designs. The best part about Rhino GDL converter is that it allows creating organic shapes [a commonly occurring phenomenon in architectural designs] in ArchiCAD without any special scripting with the plugin.  

All these workflows discussed until now are pretty complex and demands a manual transfer of data and their merger. Flux, the most flexible plugin, offers an equivocal and dedicated focus set on data; rather than on files. It is compatible to most design and BIM tools used in the industry. Because of a variety of plugins available, offering multiple computational workflows, an architect is bound to evaluate the pros and cons of each plugin before selecting one. Not only this, the architects should ensure and weigh advantages and limitation of workflow approach plugin delivers.

How does loosely coupled or tightly coupled approach affect BIM workflows?

Tightly coupled BIM workflows are completely compatible with almost all the BIM tools that are commercially in practice. It allows sharing of file with the consultants in a file based collaboration and the user will know the exact BIM system wherein the final model should exist.

While loosely coupled BIM workflows, allow users to collaborate, share and exchange data by linking different tools and systems. The approach is basically indifferent of the workflows and gives the BIM user a choice to link any particular BIM application that can import IFC file.  

Why go through the fuss of all plugins for computational workflows?

Readers, who reached this point of write-up, are sure to have second thoughts to why simply not adopt imports and exports of designs between BIM and conceptual modeling tools. Why go through all of this lengthy process? To answer this, the geometry imported in Revit is not editable unlike the one originally created in Revit or any other BIM tool.

The imported geometry is nothing but a placeholder in the form of geometrical shapes. Besides, Revit also doesn’t always recognize the imported elements and then editing in such an environment is like wanting to create floors and roofs without walls. Thus, it is necessary to have add-on plugins to ensure removal of interoperability issues and seamlessly operate BIM computational workflows.

Architects, by now, should have come to realization, and gradually acceptance as well, to know the worth of a federated BIM model instead of restricting themselves with one single BIM tool. It is time to clearly establish the difference between want and need of computational BIM workflows with federated BIM model.

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Hiral Patel

Hiral Patel is a news editor and has been contributing to the AEC industry since last 7 years. She mainly writes about the application of BIM across Architecture, MEP and Structural sectors. Her focus is towards encouraging construction companies, sub-contractors and architects to adopt right technologies to improve efficiency and profitability. Learn more

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