An Education in BIM


There’s no doubt that BIM is having a profound effect on the construction industry around the world. When it comes to Ireland, take-up is gaining serious momentum; construction, architectural, engineering, consultancy and specialists contracting and supply firms of all sizes are recognising the benefits of early BIM adoption particularly in relation to procurement, sustainability and efficiency in construction, design and delivery. A number of Recent public projects now have a BIM requirement for Pre-Qualifiaction. BIM is here to stay.

In the previous issue of Irish Building Magazine we focused on the firms that have embraced BIM and are reaping the rewards as a result. This month we’re looking at the educational facilities and training centres that are facilitating this technological progress. To allow the construction sector unleash its full potential and embrace new technologies, it’s essential that graduates and construction professionals wishing to upskill have the necessary resources available to them. Colleges, institutes and training firms around the country are providing these tools to improve the breadth, depth, quantity and quality of educated and trained professionals in the built environment who will go on to support BIM implementation across the board. DIT, Waterford IT, Trinity College Dublin, Cork IT and others have all incorporated BIM into their various modules to a large degree. The Construction Industry Federation is also engaged in advancing the BIM landscape through its work with ArcDox in providing training solutions for its members. Firms such as Paradigm provide professional CAD solutions for architects, architectural technologists and engineers and have been doing so for over 20 years while firms like Soluis, Topcon, Exactal and BiM FM Data are also heavily involved in promoting the benefits of BIM across the industry.


Furthering the development of BIM in Ireland depends on construction buy-in and support from educational facilities. Irish Building Magazine will continue to support the industries efforts to become BIM savvy in the most time and cost effective way. We will continue to focus on this progress as it happens in relation to training, implementation, practical/technical difficulties or legislation.

‘When it comes to Ireland, BIM take-up is gaining serious momentum; construction, architectural, engineering, consultancy and specialists contracting and supply firms of all sizes are recognising the benefits of early BIM adoption particularly in relation to procurement, sustainability and efficiency in construction, design and delivery.’


A range of comprehensive, practical BIM programmes at DIT are preparing construction professionals for a new, digital construction landscape

Programmes and modules in the School of Architecture and the School of Multidisciplinary Technologies in DIT are ensuring that architects, engineers, surveyors, technologists and construction managers are ready for the challenges of retrofitting the existing private, public and domestic building stock. The ‘retrofit challenge’ isn’t just an aspiration; mandatory EU energy performance requirements mean we must comply, and the sooner we start the better.

In the Dublin School of Architecture, retrofit technologies programmes are aimed at architects and architectural technologists who want to re-skill. Courses are varied and focus on strands such as digital analysis and energy retrofit, energy retrofit technology and thermal bridge assessment. These retrofit programmes require students to understand how a building is constructed in the first place, using BIM technologies facilitates this.

“If you can retrofit an existing building, a new building out of the ground is a piece of cake. We give them the skills to do the difficult stuff and the rest just falls into place,” says Simon McGuinness, Lecturer at the Dublin School of Architecture.

In the new School of Multidisciplinary Technologies, two industry-focused re-skilling programmes in BIM focus on collaborative BIM, BIM technologies and primary, secondary and tertiary building elements. Such is the success of the BIM programmes that students are being turned away, while industry demand for construction professionals adept in the software is evident; students are dropping out as they’re snapped up by firms both home and abroad.  “Our graduates are being employed as BIM innovators and leaders. We get regular enquires from design and construction firms looking to employ our post graduate and undergraduate students because of their BIM skillset, so it’s clear that the big practices are seeing there’s a commercial bottom line to converting to BIM,” says Malachy Mathews, Lecturer and Leader for BIM in the Dublin School of Architecture.

Projects completed by postgraduates on display in the School of Architectural Technology illustrate the collaborative nature of the work completed. “These projects brought professionals from the design, construction and surveying domains for the first time and got them to work together on a design project, bring their skill sets together at an earlier stage than happens in traditional design. The educational theory behind it was to get them to drop their silo-based mentality and open up and actually start communicating with each other,” according to Malachy. The programme, designed by Malachy, required a change of mindset; students had to drop the ingrained idea of hierarchy associated with traditional design and construction. “Once they built up some trust with each other, I set them a project using BIM technologies and using a collaborative design process. The digital model used for the project sits on a central server, where students can work on the construction of the design simultaneously. So instead of “pushing data out to the people, we were bringing people to the data. That has produced a whole new dynamic.”


The developing opportunities associated with BIM are, according to Cormac Allen, Head of Architectural Technology at Dublin School of Architecture, endless. “BIM gives us the option to virtually construct, so, we can do it from anywhere in relation to any building. Using point cloud technologies, buildings can surveyed digitally and remotely. BIM technologies are used to simulate accurate digital buildings from the digital data allowing our students to analyse retrofit solutions These skill sets can be applied to any building anywhere in Europe.” BIM will radically impact on the construction sector by making the construction process 20% cheaper, 30% faster and 40% less carbon intensive while the role of the architect will also have to adapt to this new virtual world. “The real challenge for the architect now is to be able to facilitate and collaborate within a multidisciplinary design team. I don’t know whether the word architect describes what we require. I think there will be a dissolution of the profession and a re-emergence of several different professions,” says Simon.

The team at DIT believe that once the government realises there are savings to be made, BIM will be wholeheartedly embraced. “They don’t have to redesign the wheel, all they have to do is look across the water at what the UK government is doing. If construction professionals don’t get on board, they won’t even be able to tender for projects, they won’t possess the skills set.”

Trinity College Dublin

Rather than a dedicated stand-alone course, BIM has been incorporated into the structural engineering programmes at Trinity College Dublin. According to Roger West, Associate Professor at the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at TCD and a Construction IT Alliance board member, this is down to the amount of information students must absorb over the course of their studies. “Two years ago we introduced BIM into our design modules and this year we made the content more extensive. I think it comes down to two questions – should we as engineers be training people to use BIM so they are as conversant with it as an expert Autocad person currently is or should we be training them in the concepts and features and transfer the responsibility for detailed training to commercial professional people in the construction industry? My opinion is that we’ve gone far enough for the moment such that our students are comfortable using it  and eminently employable. I don’t think it’s our job to make them experts but they should be aware of the possibilities and its limitations.”

‘Timing in relation to industry implementation for BIM must be right and I believe we’re at that stage now.’ Roger West, Associate Professor at the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, TCD

Timing in relation to industry implementation for BIM must, says Roger, be right and he believes we’re at that stage now. Oliver Kinnane, Assistant Professor at Trinity, has introduced BIM to his students and Roger, who has been acting as a reviewer of the students’ projects, has been pleasantly surprised with the results. “The shortness of the learning curve with the students in  3rd year engineering has been a revelation. We gave them a limited number of hours in the lecture theatre where we introduced the concepts and ideas. These students would have had limited experience in Autocad. Then we asked them to design a pedestrian bridge for the Wicklow Way.” It was down to the students to pick the site; they then had to convey their ideas and sell them to the “client” by developing a BIM model. Much of the learning was self-directed. “One of the things that became clear straight away was that BIM makes it very easy to evolve your designs. BIM was very much used as a design tool, making the experience much more creative for the students.” Not only were students pulling down standard features but they were creating items like bridge bearings themselves. “When it came to the end of the project, I was happy with how quickly they had assimilated the use of the software.” Students in 4th and 5th year were directed to redesign the entire complex around Liberty Hall and to reclad the façade of the building. “BIM was used as a mechanism for both visualisation and for analysis such as wind, structural and energy analysis which brought interoperability into play”.

One of the challenges to industry-wide BIM implementation is, says Roger, how it fits into the typical construction industry which is comprised of 90% SMEs. “One of the things I’m working on with Alan Hore of DIT is using cloud computing as a mechanism whereby sharing files is more accessible to people who don’t yet have access to expensive software.” Roger also points to an industry not quite ready for BIM just yet. “This is a problem our graduates may face this year. They’ll be ahead of the game which is great, they may even become the BIM leader in the company that employs them. To that extent they’re a step ahead; hopefully the bulk of industry will follow suit.”

Waterford Institute of Technology 

Along with Alan Hore, Dr Ken Thomas who heads up the School of Engineering at Waterford Institute of Technology, established the Construction IT Alliance in 2001. This was the first organisation that promoted the idea of using technology by all stakeholders in the Irish construction industry to everyone’s benefit. “At the time we could see BIM on the horizon and we were anxious that Ireland had an organisation that encouraged and faciliated Irish companies and the Irish higher education sector in moving forward and making sure we weren’t left behind. I’m passionate about BIM and about making sure the Irish construction industry is closer to the leading edge of best international practice.”

Waterford IT has taken huge steps in implementing BIM into its programmes so it’s not a stand-alone topic. Every programme, be it architecture, architectural technology, construction management, quantity surveying, building services or civil engineering incorporates BIM in such a way that allows information to be shared across all programmes. “From our point of view at WIT it’s about students retaining all the good things about being an individual expert in their disciplines. The big issue is how you share information with other people. It’s not information for the individual, it’s how each individual receives information, creates new information and shares that with others – that’s the challenge and the opportunity that BIM technologies offer.”

Ken believes that the higher education sector in Ireland has a duty to ensure graduates are at the cutting edge or at least leading the way when it comes to BIM. “They can bring a lot of new ideas to companies that they join and hopefully you’ll have that bottom up effect as well with managers, directors and owners taking a leadership role and implementing it from the top down.”

According to Ken, BIM is key to the future of the industry; central to achieving a better future in the short to medium term is how quickly professionals are willing to change and adapt to the new technologies. “It’s not just a matter of buying the software, there’s training and rethinking our processes. It’s going to take a while to convince everybody, but those who have jumped already are making big strides and leading by example.”

Better value for money and a more efficient, faster construction are just some of the advantages associated with BIM. “Whether every stakeholder gets an advantage from it will be interesting to see, but generally speaking companies that are using the technologies are far more efficient and faster at doing things. They can offer different alternatives a lot quicker and can devise long-term lifecycle proposals in a far more comprehensive way than before.”

The UK mandate for implementation of BIM across all public buildings will, says Ken, be a much bigger exercise than it would be in Ireland. “If we had commitment from everyone, we could do it in a clever way that would facilitate everyone in our industry. Leadership from the Irish government and all relevant public organizations would be very welcome to ensure its timely and efficient implementation. It’s a huge opportunity for the Irish sector to actually move forward more quickly in this area and for Irish companies to become world leaders in the use of BIM technologies at home and abroad.”


Extensive research and a recognition of the current knowledge gap in practice and application of BIM at both undergraduate level and within the industry has led Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) to establish a multidisciplinary CIT BIM Focus Group that has begun to integrate BIM methodologies and technologies into its existing undergraduate AEC courses. CIT offers programmes across the full spectrum of AEC industry and given the multidisciplinary nature of its programmes, the Institute and School of Building and Civil Engineering are well positioned to initiate collaborative learning across all its programmes.  In terms of research, CIT has strategic research centres such as Nimbus and the Zero2020 project which focus on embedded networked systems applied to energy management, waters systems management and smart systems, all of which are complementary to BIM.

Ted McKenna, Chartered Engineer and lecturer in the Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering at CIT, believes the benefits of BIM include the nurturing of collaborative work practices and optimisation of various processes by the collection and use of implicit information, design decisions, construction as built information as well as operations data. After practicing as a consulting engineer for more than 12 years prior to joining CIT, Ted is well aware of the limitations that exist in the industry. “I have to admit, I was a little sceptical at first about BIM. I had spent a decade working in design offices where implementing a common CAD standard proved extremely challenging. I believe the issue of common and open standards combined with interoperability of technology to be among the main challenges to the progress of BIM but I think the industry is working hard to tackle these issues.” 

In collaboration with its industry partners, the CIT BIM Focus Group has developed two Special Purpose Awards – a Certificate in Building Information Modelling (BIM) and a Certificate in ICT for the Built Environment (BIM & GIS). The first programme includes three modules (15 credits in total) and is aimed at graduates of architecture, engineering and construction disciplines. It offers a multidisciplinary approach which, Ted confirms, will assist each discipline in understanding the thinking and approach of other respective disciplines within the AEC sector. The fundamentals of cloud computing and data management are also introduced to allow graduates understand the technologies underpinning the methodologies of BIM.

Ted believes BIM also offers benefits to the design, construction and operation of infrastructure projects. “That’s why our second Special Purpose Award looks at the application of BIM to infrastructure, in addition to buildings. The programme includes modules from the Certificate in Building Information Modelling (BIM) in conjunction with Geographic Information Science (GIS) and a ‘BIM for infrastructure’ module. The Certificate in ICT for the Built Environment (BIM & GIS) programme includes six modules (30 credits in total).”

The export potential for BIM knowledge also cannot be emphasised enough. “Irish professionals and firms have the opportunity to export the knowledge yet retain the people. For example, Finland is considered to be a technologically advanced nation with a small, agile construction industry and is among the world leaders in BIM; I think we should try to learn from Finland and develop a worldwide reputation for BIM application which will in turn benefit both our AEC industry workforce and the country as a whole.”

The DPW Group 

Rich DePalma, Founding Director of BIM consultancy firm The DPW Group, Architect/BIM Manager at RKD Architects and Lecturer at Griffith College is also Chair of the CITA BIM Education Forum. Set up earlier this year, the initial purpose of the Forum was to get the industry talking about education and BIM and to create an environment where members could brainstorm to see how education in BIM could move forward. “Since the Forum was set up we’ve had a good number of discussions about BIM and education. Our target is to release a document to not only academic but also industry stakeholders at the end of this year which will really highlight where we as a group see BIM and how it fits into the education process.” This document will also highlight some of the challenges education facilities will have and are currently havng in implementing BIM into AEC and FM courses. “The primary challenge is getting the expertise into universities to be able to teach subject matter. That expertise is hard to come by. Funding is another major issue; third level institutions have limited funds and to have full-time staff and bring experts in is financially challenging.”

Rich also believes that the link between academia and industry needs to be reflected. “The main way we’re going to try and do that is open up a dialogue with professional bodies. They accredit universities and the different programmes therein, so making sure BIM is on their agenda when they come to accredit the universities will have a positive effect.” One of the things the Forum needs to ensure, says Rich, is that graduates who are leaving third level institutions have the skills sets to participate and add value to the companies that hire them.

A challenge to this is the resistance that Rich and organisations like the Forum sometime meet from both industry and education in relation to BIM. “Sometimes people will say they know that BIM is the future but when you dig a bit deeper and ask how are we going to implement this into our education programmes you do meet a bit of resistance. One of the things we’re trying to preach is that it’s not about a bolt-on programme. BIM needs to be integrated into your programmes so that effectively, you’re not teaching BIM, you’re teaching design and you’re choosing BIM as a tool to do so.”


As Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) in Ireland, Sean Dowd is heavily involved in organising CPD lectures and conferences for the profession, some of which are BIM related. “We’re closely linked with CITA and we rely on them to provide speakers for our events. For example, at the Energy Show we had Ralph Montague, an architect who heads up ArcDox, speaking. More recently we had a young engineers network event in Waterford IT, where one of the speakers was from Darren O’Donoghue of Integrated BIM.”

Sean has seen a very definite move in the industry towards BIM but feels that “it’s like anything in that if it’s an option people just won’t do it. If the Irish government went in the same direction as the UK and actually mandated BIM for public buildings, there’d be no way around it and a BIM model would become just another part of the process you must comply with, like building regs.

Over in the UK, the main driver for BIM implementation is value for money; you’d imagine the Irish government would recognise that. We had a site visit to the new Science Hub at UCD recently and one of the project management team from Sisk (contractor on the project) said the real acid test for them was that they only had approximately 5% of the normal amount of requests for information.

It also shortened the construction programme so there are savings to be made there in terms of reduced construction costs.” Sean also points to how Ireland seems to be lagging behind other countries when it comes to embracing BIM. “We had a guest speaker from the US at our annual lunch last Christmas and it seems like BIM has been a central component of the industry over there for several years now.”

Despite the government’s procrastination, Sean feels it’s only a matter of time before BIM is more widely used in Ireland. “Looking at the way our building regulations have been revised, anything the UK government do we tend to repeat a few years later. At the moment I’m assuming that the government are just watching to see what other countries are doing. If we had a construction advisor like they do in the UK, a specific dedicated person to advise the Irish government, some of the confusion that exists around BIM just wouldn’t be there.”


As an Autodesk Authorised Reseller and Training Centre, Paradigm has been providing professional CAD solutions for architects, architectural technologists and engineers for over 20 years. After the downturn on the construction sector, Paradigm ceased being a reseller for Autodesk software in order to concentrate entirely on training, with a particular focus on the rapidly emerging Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology, which is now replacing CAD worldwide.

Des McGrane is managing director at Paradigm. “It’s mainly the clients that are driving the push towards BIM implementation. Clients are demanding that construction professionals produce models in BIM; they want an intelligent model of the building rather than just a series of CAD drawings. When it comes to efficiency of design and construction, there’s no comparison and more and more clients are realising that. The UK Government’s deadline for the use of BIM on all public sector projects from 2015 is also adding impetus to the implementation of BIM.”

The move to BIM is also creating a huge need for training as most architects, technologists and engineers who have been trained in traditional CAD technology, now need to upskill to BIM rapidly if they are to remain competitive, both personally and as companies.

Paradigm’s training courses are based around the Autodesk range of CAD/BIM software products; the company is an Autodesk “Authorised Training Centre” (ATC) and an Authorised Certification Centre (ACC). Paradigm is also a registered training provider under the RIAI CPD links and Engineers Ireland CPD programmes.

Paradigm’s most popular BIM training course is its Revit Architecture Professional course. Since 2009, over 500 construction professionals have completed this course. “The Revit Architecture professional course is a much more comprehensive, in-depth course than the standard three day Revit Essentials course. It’s the equivalent to eight full day’s training plus additional assignments and it prepares people for the Autodesk Revit Architecture Professional certification exam. Successful candidates gain certification as a Revit Architecture Professional, an official Autodesk certification which is recognised internationally.”

In line with the UK initiative on BIM, Paradigm is currently starting to deliver courses in London.  “We received an innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland to develop a blended learning course in Revit Architecture in conjunction with the E-Learning Development Centre at DIT, aimed at the export market. Blended learning is a mixture of classroom delivery and online learning which delivers the maximum benefit to clients. The classroom aspect of the course provides social interaction with a tutor and assists motivation while the e-Learning side of things means flexibility and low cost so really, clients are getting the best of both worlds.”

Approximately 20 construction professionals are trained at the company’s Dundrum offices every month. Both daytime and evening courses are available and in addition to Autodesk certified training courses, the company can also provide bespoke training courses tailored to the client’s specific requirements.

Paradigm also offers courses in BIM for infrastructure, of primary interest to civil/structural and building services engineers. These are organised around the different stages of the BIM lifecycle. The Preliminary Design Stage Course focuses on conceptual design for infrastructure; the Planning Stage Course looks at GIS Planning and Analysis Tools; the Design and Documentation Stage Courses takes clients through Civil3D essentials, survey and ground modelling, road corridor design (junctions), road overlay design and site development; while finally, the Building Stage course concentrates on Navisworks applications

To make sure clients get the most from their investment in CAD/BIM technology, the company also provides a range of consultancy services to ensure that organisations use the technology in the most efficient and productive way.

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