Successful BIM Diet: No Spaghetti Please!


20121116 0452 MEP Clashes Capture

Time is ticking and you don’t want the construction schedule to slip. You must decide wisely who must move. Who are you going to call?

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
― E.F. Schumacher

In construction projects there’s been a customary and historical pecking order among team players fighting for space to place their equipment, connectors, fittings, pipes, conduits and the like, that goes like this:

1. Architectural – They say, “Make room, move out of the way you mere mortals… Here comes the Architect!” Winking smile

2. Structural – They warn, “Do you want the building to collapse?”

3. Plumbing – They threaten, “Do you want the toilets to back up?”

4. HVAC – They whine, “We will run out of space unless you move!”

5. Fire Protection – They’re told, “Hey, you have plenty of pressure left in those pipes, move!”

6. Electrical – They’re commanded, “Sparky, move! For heaven’s sake, you don’t even have to worry about voltage drops!”

7. Everyone else – “Place your equipment in whatever space is left over.”

20121116 0536 Messy Spaghetti images

Please, don’t build a mess!

This might fly in a retrofit project. For new construction, aim for something better and simpler.

Unfortunately, running BIM coordination using that overly simplistic approach leads to building designs that are unnecessarily difficult to construct and later maintain during the life of a building.

To create a building we can all be proud of, designers and builders must think holistically and simultaneously. Give up the “us versus them” attitude. When coordinated properly, building systems are easier to follow and understand, and therefore, easier to fix and maintain. But they are also a lot cheaper to install, erect and construct.

Straight runs should generally rule over multiple turns and twists. Indeed, Model Building Codes limit the number of bends you can have before you’re required to provide cleanouts, access panels, junction boxes and the like.

To avoid trouble it is ideal to start project trades coordination as early in the design process as possible. Unfortunately, I have seen large Architecture / Engineering companies, who employ architects and engineers under the same roof, work as independently as if they worked for totally different owner firms.

Perhaps the main problem in general is the need to design buildings by committee. Things are just too complex for a regular human being to master all the nuances of building design.

I think the design by committee approach is too time consuming and wimpy. Somebody, either an architect or experienced BIM coordinator, needs to take their best shot at placing building system components in the ideal location and then get the approvals and blessings or improvements for each of the individual building trades.

Simplicity, safety, efficiency, constructability and economy should be the guiding principles. As an architect or building designer, learn to provide enough space for the equipment and required installation and maintenance clearances. Straight runs are nice. Short runs are even nicer. Less pressure loss or voltage drops due to friction or resistance. Please avoid placing equipment in ways that will require extra mile long runs.

20121116 0541 Pecking Order images

Starring from left to right: sparky the Electrician, FP or their buddies, HVAC, Plumber, Structural and the Architect, Project Manager or Lead BIM Coordinator at the far right. 🙂

After all, there are only so many miracles we can perform at the job site. There are times when it’s simply better to go back to the proverbial drawing / design boards. To avoid that at all costs requires one or possibly two ambitious individuals to give a design layout their best shot, without regards to playing favorites among trades.

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While it’s generally true that you can’t make everyone happy, don’t minimize your chances by playing favorites!

Indeed, for construction projects to work well, somebody must perform the role of the wise parent that doesn’t play favorites. That also means not letting a whiny, “squeaky wheel” child run the show by throwing tantrums. Impartiality and taking care of each individual trade’s need should be the guiding light. It is balancing seemingly opposing tensions that makes building design such a beautiful challenge. Don’t give up. Find a way to make it work!

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2 Comments on “Successful BIM Diet: No Spaghetti Please!”


  1. Great points. If only the design world worked better together. In the near 30 years of working in this industry I am continually disappointed with the seemingly increasing importance set on speed rather than accuracy and quality. I hope BIM will not only resolve these many issues before they hit the field, but also educate or at least bring to light some of the coordination issues that seem to plague the inexperienced “electronic designers” that spend no time in the field

    WES

    • caddguru Says:

      Amen, Wes! 😉 The time of separating drafting vs. design tasks is behind us. That’s an outdated, unwise mode of operation. “Smart Xerox machines” no longer have an important role to play in design documentation. It’s fortunate how CAD and BIM technology keep slowly but surely improving to the point that those designers that resisted learning in the past can now catch up much more quickly and easily that was possible in the first couple of decades of the PC Revolution. I’ve enjoyed the ride through primitive technology. It’s felt like learning to drive on a Model T.


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