Making a Simple Start with BIM

Profiled Firm: Iglesias Leenders Bylois Architecten |  Location: Herk-de-Stad, Belgium

Architectural firm Iglesias Leenders Bylois Architects (ILB Architects) has begun to incorporate the use of BIM. The greatest advocate is architect Meindert Leenders, who believes every architectural office should be working with BIM: “It does not need to be a big project. Take an actual case, set yourself a few achievable goals, and try to work them out in BIM." ILB itself chose 'Bergerheide' as a trial: a project consisting of three park villas, designed in collaboration with the construction company Dethier. The rules for collaboration were clearly set out by project director Vlaanderen Bouwt vzw — providing the architects with a sturdy framework for experimenting with BIM.

Growing Your Business Through Competitions

ILB Architects take a very personal approach to their projects, whether it concerns public buildings, office buildings, industrial buildings, housing projects, the construction and renovation of individual homes, or the design of a public domain.

“ILB always gives its customers what they want, but not necessarily what they expect,” Leenders said.

To achieve this goal, the firm systematically oversees every aspect of the work, down to the very last detail. The simplicity of the concept and the pursuit of creative and economically sustainable solutions always serves as the starting points. “We try to make something beautiful and innovative every time, without resorting to excessive experimentation," Leenders said.

Take an actual case, set yourself a few achievable goals and try to work them out in BIM.

Meindert Leenders, architect at ILB

This particular approach has benefited the firm on several occasions when pitching to win projects, including the ‘Bergerheide’ housing project in Peer. The requirements had already been drawn up according to the special planning scheme 'Green Living,’ which focuses on living in green spaces — a requirement that needed to be respected. ILB specifically focused on green spaces and opted for a design solution that considered open spaces. This led to the design of green roofs for the parking garages.

“They are all NZEB-apartments (nearly zero-energy buildings), so they are efficient in terms of energy use," Leenders explained. “In addition, we have chosen to give the building a distinctive spatial quality, whereby the terraces are deliberately placed on the corners, so that each apartment has a double aspect to provide enhanced ventilation, natural sunlight, and flexibility on the part of the tenants."

Organic Workflow with Vectorworks 

At ILB, the first steps in creating a design are often worked out in SketchUp, a step that Leenders hopes to bypass in the near future: “SketchUp is able to quickly create beautiful images that show the essence of the design, but as soon as you need to generate 2D designs, you run into problems.”

“Vectorworks is a greater time investment up front in order to grasp the workflow efficiencies and fully benefit from its 3D capabilities, but in the long run there are time savings to be made. Designing with SketchUp is quick, but you have to redraw everything again later,” he said. 

The firm is realizing that this approach results in duplicated work that is not necessary. "In Vectorworks, you can make a very schematic start, with shapes or spaces, then the walls, the floor, etc.,” Leenders explained. “You can then continue to add detail. The model grows alongside your design. It all works very organically."

A Program Built for Transitioning to 3D 

ILB has tried other programs over the years. "So far, we have found Vectorworks to be the best. The program is intuitive and flexible,” Leenders said. “Vectorworks allows us to quickly communicate personalized designs to our various construction partners. These can vary from the design of a fireplace to the construction of a market square."

He further emphasized an additional advantage — that Vectorworks does not just offer ready-made solutions grouped into a library. “Other programs often place an emphasis on libraries, but that should never be the focus. We are designers, first and foremost,” Leenders said.

Leenders went on to comment on the more recent advancements Vectorworks has made in BIM without losing sight of the 2D value of the program. “This really puts Vectorworks at the forefront of smart designs. Vectorworks allows you to make changes in 2D even after you have started your 3D design. Other programs will not let you do that,” he said.

BIM is a means to an end, but never the end in itself, even though the other packages seem to suggest that.

Meindert Leenders, architect at ILB

When switching to BIM, Leenders also noticed the initial resistance expressed by his colleagues quickly faded away. As he described: “When considering BIM, many people only think of Open [Big] BIM, the exchange of IFC files and editing the 3D design itself. But it is much more than that." Leenders believes that people often forget BIM’s full scope and that internal processes and goals become more efficient with coordinated schedules, worksheets, take-offs, and even title block borders and drawings — all of these components are a part of BIM.

“The BIM tools in Vectorworks let me design efficiently and with flexibility, ensuring a more productive collaboration process,” Leenders explained. “Plus, colleagues who wish to transition to 3D can still contribute to the design process because the software is built for accommodating a mix of 2D and 3D workflows. They can focus on the 2D aspect, draw up spatial elements or complete the facades."

Another important BIM aspect for ILB is the possibility of generating sections directly from your 3D model. According to Leenders, the only thing architects have to be aware of is the urge to include too much detail. “Many architects want to draw everything — every spindle in a balustrade, every possible potted plant, etc. Often, even the interior is included within the design. This, of course, is unnecessary and also makes the file very large. Basically, BIM enables you to control the story you are trying to tell and to capture its essence in 3D."

When exchanging IFC files, it is sometimes necessary to limit yourself. Not all details need to be shared with third parties. It’s also good to remember that Vectorworks allows for greater flexibility when exchanging IFC models. For example, in the Bergerheide design, a column in the wall initially prevented the file from being exported. "Fortunately, it was resolved by transforming the column into a symbol. Now and again you will need a workaround, which is only logical,” Leenders said. “You have your own design style and you create your own BIM-model. Whatever program you choose, it will never generate your BIM model for you. You have to do that yourself."

Lessons Learned with Open BIM

Based on their experiences, ILB learned a few valuable lessons about approaching Open BIM projects. First, they realized they should have had the contractor use their IFC models from the start. Despite the usable files ILB provided, Dethier, the developer and contractor of the project in Peer, eventually chose to produce its own BIM model, using the schematic drawings created by ILB as a basis.

"For this BIM project, we built off of the existing preliminary drawings. As a result, there were some strange discrepancies in the file,” Leenders explained. “Some lines turned out not to be completely parallel to each other. This is quite understandable as there are many different architects working on the same file at the same time."

Leenders realized after the fact that it would have been better to start from scratch with a new model. As he recounted: "A preliminary design can differ by a few millimetres here and there, but IFC files should be 100% accurate."

It is not necessary to draw too much detail. Basically, BIM enables you to control the story you are trying to tell and to capture its essence in 3D.

Meindert Leenders, architect at ILB

Another lesson involved the designs that ILB put forward for the IFC model export. They were too detailed to the point of not adding much more to the collaboration process. For example, the architects systematically drew a recess in the wall where ventilation was to be provided — every post and lintel was shown, as well as all exposed concrete plinths. “Of course, as an architect, you have to add sufficient detail, but our export was almost identical to the production drawings, which in fact did not really add to the usability of the export,” Leenders said.

However, as soon as the architects were able to control the file size, they did a few successful exchange tests with associated engineering firms, leading Dethier to be impressed with the IFC export. “They applied different queries, generated masonry blocks in the file and used the model, for example, to create the reinforcement plans more quickly," Leenders said.

Making a Start with BIM

Although not every file exchange went smoothly, Leenders remains very positive about Bergerheide as an Open BIM project: "It was a very good learning experience, both for us and for Dethier." Throughout the process, both parties delineated their own areas of work. The design remained with the architects, while the contractor took care of the final construction documents. The Vectorworks model was constantly used as a reference, which greatly enhanced communication between the two parties.

“Relatively little needs to be done at our site meetings nowadays. We are not faced with any major problems. That is the good thing about BIM and 3D drawings: any problem areas are highlighted at an early stage when constructing the model," Leenders said.

Initially, BIM required some additional up-front work to develop a system with the use of Vectorworks, but in the end the investment always pays off, according to Leenders. "Apart from the fact that you can resolve problems even before they arise, you can also extract a lot of data from the 3D model,” he said. “Last week, for example, we had to make a Window Schedule for all three blocks. Those windows were accurate down to the last millimeter. This enabled us to determine the exact placement of the windows, the window ledges, etc. We had to map more than two hundred windows and it was done in an afternoon. Try doing that in 2D. It will take you a week."

His experience working on the Bergerheide project made Leenders even more convinced of the BIM capabilities of Vectorworks. “BIM is a means to an end, but never the end in itself, even though the other packages seem to suggest that," he advised. “To start using BIM, you just have to set yourself a few goals. Take an actual case, something small, and try putting that into BIM. The sooner you make a start, the better."

Images courtesy of Iglesias Leenders Bylois Architecten