Irish Architect Dr James Harty talks BIM in Denmark


The ‘BIM Around The World’ series features Dr James Harty who gives a fascinating insight into BIM in Denmark and how it has changed construction there, his work in construction education and his research on the changing role of the architectural technologist due to BIM. He is an Irishman having an impact on the education and training of the Danish Construction Industry.

A strong demand for BIM due to the savings and quality of service it can offer has driven BIM adoption in Denmark. James has witnessed the change to digital and has worked to produce all-round skilled professionals in a unique construction degree that merges construction management and economics with architectural technology. James tells us more.

How did you come to live and work in Copenhagen?

Meeting and marrying a Dane, has a price to pay they say, but one on which I have been very happy to shell out. I completed the inaugural CAD course at AnCO, in Loughlinstown under the tutelage of Denis Burke after finishing architecture at UCD, and this launched my career in a digital world. Moving to Copenhagen in 1995, I found work in 3D visualisation, and master planning before I even started Danish classes.

In 2002, I started teaching architectural technology and in 2006, we moved our platform from AutoCAD to Revit. In 2012, I finished a part-time long-distance PhD entitled ‘The Impact of Digitalisation on the Management Role of Architectural Technology’ at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.  In 2016, I co-authored a book ‘Getting to Grips with BIM’ together with Tahar Kouider and Graham Paterson. It hit the streets to coincide with the UK’s BIM mandate for public tenders.

Please tell us about your book ‘Getting to Grips with BIM’?

‘Getting to Grips with BIM’ was launched to coincide with the BIM mandate in the UK for all public tenders. In it, I wrote the review of the BIM journey, a contemporary view of drivers for change and game changers. It looked at BIM historically, while portraying a BIM perspective. It placed BIM in its context in the construction sector and looked at the cultural shift this imposes on the sector. As a driver for change, the power of collaboration is described and endorsed, while the command of coordinated data is shown and explained. Moreover, attention is drawn to sustainability and how project performance can be tried and tested before being built. For example, oil, coal and gas accounted for 86% of all energy used in the United States in 2013, of which 59% was wasted. Just building proper designs eliminating the need for heating and cooling saves so much CO2.

Tell us about your PhD research at Robert Gordon University?

My PhD started out as the implementation of a technology, but ended up dealing with how we collaborate and trust each other. Trust is critical if we are to collaborate and this is best seen in Levels of Development (LOD’s), and how they earmark progress to other stakeholders. It studied the practicalities of mapping the overall process against responsibilities, training, data reliability and risk. It investigated the pervasive use of IT within construction on design strategies and associated management structures. It looked at the evolving and changing role of the technologist within information management technologies. Finally, it looked at the impact this would have on architectural technology, transforming it from being an assistant role to giving it prestige with other disciplines.

What are the major differences BIM has made?

Digital planning applications were first introduced in Denmark in 2007, initially as PDF files only, but with the development of ICT agreements it has evolved much further. It still has not reached a Projectweb status, and the hesitancy appears to be the robot versus human debate. Projectwebs are in the field and many contractors are using them collaboratively with all stakeholders. Programmes like Solibri and Dalux allow the parsing of projects against quantifiable data, be it building regulations or architectural competition requirements. This means that the client can be informed if the project lives up to the standards or deliverables requested.

Collaboratively, model sharing is happening more often than before, across disciplines and with contractors. Some of the larger contractors will even commission a model if there is not one at the tender stage. MT Højgaard have their own VDC Lab and are using iTWO software to control all aspects of construction, whether it be sub-contractor packages, internal audits or all invoicing. It can monitor cash flow and flag bottlenecks during construction, giving them back certainty and better-informed design.

Can you tell us about your work as a Senior Lecturer at the Copenhagen School of Design and Technology?

The Copenhagen School of Design and Technology (KEA in Danish), has four departments (Build, Design, Digital & Technique) where Build offers a seven semester Bachelor degree in Architectural Technology and Construction Management. The course produces professionals who can coordinate and participate in the building process at all levels. This includes the construction of new buildings as well as renovation work. During the studies, electives are offered in Design Consultancy (DC), Facilities Management (FM) or Construction Management (CM). The course is taught in parallel in both Danish and English (1,200/600 students). It is accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education and Science (DK), RICS, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and it is also recognised by CIAT, the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (UK).

BIM is an integrated part of the education, since we strongly believe that digitalisation is an essential and very important driver, which will have a strong impact on the future development and progression of the building industry. The programme focuses on problem-based learning, planned around a semester-long project. The project is conducted through group work, where typically four students work together, simulating a real-life situation. They role-play the differing stakeholders, getting exposure to problem-based learning, which encourages good reflection giving them the requisite skills and practical competences.

Is construction-related education in Denmark different to Ireland?

The biggest difference between the educations in Ireland and Denmark is that the technologist here does construction management and estimating (quantity surveying) so that they can offer a complete package, taking a project from conception to completion and further into facilities management. This opens up areas to explore life-cycle analysis, and become fully immersed in sustainability issues. This means it has become the client’s financial model, the design team’s construction model and the owner’s facilities management model, all bound inextricably together into a BIM pipe.

Can you give examples of where the Danish Government used BIM on large projects?

Most if not all large-scale projects are increasingly BIM’ed here in Denmark. Occasionally deliverables might be of a traditional format (DWG’s, for example) because of legacy systems of the receiving party, but the work will be coordinated digitally. Even municipalities are moving their portfolios over to digital platforms for facilities management reasons, it makes sense. The Copenhagen International School is clad in solar panels, which had a raised corner that needed careful planning. Dynamo was used to automate this process.

Who are the BIM Leaders in Danish Construction?

CF Møller, one of the larger architectural practices, took on a hospital project in Norway during the recession, where one of the requirements was that a Projectweb and BIM be used. After the project was finished the board of directors found that it was the only project that year which earned a decent profit, and ran to plan. They took the decision (top down) there and then to change all their licenses from AutoCAD to Revit.

How has the construction industry influenced the Danish Government in BIM adoption?

The Government has been a leading player here looking to make savings and efficiencies, by requiring BIM. Semi-government bodies set the standards and play a leading role in raising the bar to workable solutions. Classification systems are promoted, which sets the criteria for cross-disciplinary projects to flourish. ICT’s ensure that there is a level playing field, in which all can partake and participate. For a country of its size (population under 6 million), it punches way above its weight, as attested by how many brands are Danish (Maersk Shipping, Carlsberg, Lego, Bang & Olufsen Home Entertainment, Danfoss Valves, Vestas Wind Turbines, Ramboll Engineering, etc.). It is all about management, as they have little or no natural resources.

Are there any long-term goals and objectives for BIM in Denmark?

We are just around the corner of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) making an impact in construction. Having time-line models, which show the sequence and process of construction can be superimposed on to the site, so that with today’s date the project manager can see if the project is ahead or behind schedule. Clients, users and planners can be taken through projects in immersive media environments and real estate agents can offer their properties in 3D environments.

Bringing transparency into the construction sector has many benefits, rewarding good work and penalising poor work reimburses the better players and pays accordingly. Engaging the contractor longer in the project, makes for better design decisions and better quality, both in robust materials and prized execution. In the UK soft-landings are seen as an effort to engage all stakeholders longer in the building’s life. Often large corporations will not accept hand-over of finished headquarters, but rather lease the premises back over twenty years or more. This is an attempt to make the contractor or developer more mature in their dealings so that quality improves.

Consider that a sub-contractor offers to build a wall for a fixed sum and a competitor undercuts that bid; the contract tends to be awarded to the best price. However, if the dearer wall performed over twenty years in lower maintenance, less energy, better performance and is aesthetically pleasing; should there not be a method to reward that effort? Well, there is and it is called Blockchain. Blockchain allows a percentage of the savings in performance or whatever to be paid out annually as a dividend, rewarding whoever made the extra effort. This binds stakeholders into the longer reach and becomes a more sustainable solution, making buildings and cities smarter. This is gaining traction, and will develop sooner rather than later.

What countries have influenced Denmark’s BIM adoption and is Denmark influencing other European countries?

The Nordic countries push for better methods and each brings something to the table. Finland is good at developing programmes, Sweden’s natural resources brings innovation while Norway is good at infrastructure. The Baltic countries look west rather than east and this focuses on our methods. Denmark is seen as an early adopter and as in BIM, VDC and prefabrication; they all help each other in making the building process more streamlined.

What is the level of interest in BIM among large private sector clients?

Build 4.0 is Danish construction’s answer to Industrialisation 4.0. It includes digitalisation, 3D modelling, robots and drones among others to establish a platform supporting and developing advances in these new technologies. It targets architects, engineers, producers, entrepreneurs, building owners, technological suppliers and educational institutes, to tackle big-data, innovation and value creation within the branch. Digitalisation has been a political incentive in many ways; meaning that there is a risk that it is forced onto clients rather than them mandating it in the first place, leading to a perception of some bending the rules. However, as more success stories emerge, there is a swing towards it and this is gathering pace.

What are contractors and consultants views on BIM adoption?

Those who have adopted BIM (or VDC as they better like to call it), sing the praises and roll out methodologies about implementation, using targeted projects to test and then further plan mainstream activities. It means that information or data remains through the whole chain, improving flows and logistics. BIM makes contractors and consultants more efficient, offering a plateau of productivity. They need to adapt their company cultures and prepare for new technologies, new processes, new business models and new players to make it all happen.

What are the problems for contractors and consultants when adopting BIM?

BIM is a disruptive technology, just as the automobile was to equine means of transport (horses). Saddlers became leather seat upholsterers, carriage makers became chassis builders and hitching posts became petrol stations. If Henry Ford had asked his market what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. In 1898, delegates gathered from across the globe for an urban conference where the topic of discussion was horse manure being an environmental hazard in urban areas. Little did they know then but it was soon consigned to history. A lesson for us all.

Are the Danish public and private sector contracts suitable for BIM projects?

As Projectwebs grow and ICT contracts become more persuasive, the ubiquitous paper drawing will demise. David Rose Scheer wrote that whereas architectural drawings existed to represent construction, architectural simulations exist to anticipate building performance, and this will happen. A project on the Oslo waterfront in Norway for a residential complex had no paper drawings or more importantly no digital drawings either. Dashboards are appearing on visors built into site helmets, digital site huts are already here.

How will the Danish Construction Industry be changed by BIM in the next decade?

Having made a 3D model, getting the 4D, 5D, 6D, 7D… to better inform the design, makes the project more certain, reduces risk and allows what-if scenarios to be exercised. This builds nicely into Evidence-Based Design (EBD), at which the construction industry is poor, when compared to medicine and pharmaceuticals. Performance rather than cost will become more central to the debate and the execution.

Integrated Concurrent Engineering (ICE) is becoming more commonplace at design team meetings where each stakeholder uploads their models before team meetings and then clash detections among other things are corrected live, rather than being redlined/revision clouded, meaning decision-making is made together, time and money is saved, quality is improved design iterations are shortened and waste reduced.

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