The Benefits of Investing In Big BIM

Profiled Firm: Idle Architecture |  Location: Melbourne, Australia
interior render of Sackville project from Idle Architecture

Chris Idle is the Director of Idle Architecture. He believes that the focus of his firm is “more about quality.” Located in Cremorne, a small suburb of Melbourne, Australia, the 12-person practice works across a number of different areas including multi-residential, commercial, interior design, and single houses. They’re known for and take pride in tackling large projects — something that is traditionally not done with small firms, let alone executed successfully.

The firm’s level of productivity can be partly attributed to its flat structure. In order for the three senior staff members to go through 20 projects at once, the rest of the practice is assigned to two to three jobs concurrently to keep workflows dynamic and moving. In addition to the fast-paced nature of the office, architects are also expected to experiment with ideas and materials that eventually scale up to a solid design solution.

“It’s about taking material and understanding what it is,” Idle said. “Then trying to redefine it rather than pushing it until it’s not that material anymore.” Pushing boundaries in this manner has given Idle Architecture an extensive client and consultant network — built mostly through word of mouth since its inception in 2005.

Over ten years later, a trusted client provided Idle Architecture the opportunity to design and build an apartment complex on Sackville Street, aimed to address the population boom in Melbourne and build up one of the city’s industrial areas.

Exterior shot of Idle Architecture’s Sackville Street project


For years, Idle Architecture engaged in Little BIM, meaning BIM was mostly done in-house with the purposes of maintaining the integrity of internal design and documentation by using Vectorworks Architect. The Sackville Street project was the first where engineers and consultants volunteered to create and exchange 3D models with data to collaborate, meaning the firm started engaging in Big BIM without even knowing it.

“The first meeting was a bit accidental — when we got involved in the project, drawings were needed for an office in Tokyo,” Idle said. “Then the consultant and contractor wanted to collaborate. It soon became a part of the construction phase.”

A routine was established where BIM models were exchanged every three to four weeks unless specifically requested, with a major update at each stage of the project. Even though the firm accidentally fell into coordination with their collaborators, it emerged as a smooth process.

“It went pretty well,” said Document Manager Tom Kinloch. “A very interesting process in terms of making the complicated simpler. And it gives you a bit more confidence moving forward on so many project stages.” By starting as early as possible, Idle Architecture witnessed firsthand that they could tackle the BIM exchange with IFC seamlessly.

BIM is a long-term investment in your business. You’re getting a bit more out of the design and giving every component the same level of opportunity through clash detection and coordination.

Chris Idle, Director of Idle Architecture

“We’d talk about expectations on when to set the model up for the next level,” Kinloch said. “It helps people understand the issues we’re trying to resolve.”

An additional time-saver was reviewing the 3D model alongside collaborators within Vectorworks instead of printing dozens of drawings. This versatile option allowed Idle Architecture to spend less time preparing the logistical components of meetings and more time on tangible solutions that enhanced the collaboration process as a whole.

IFC model showing architectural, structural, and mechanical elements of the building


From a design perspective, the Sackville Street project was an opportunity for Idle Architecture to creatively situate their work within the larger context of industrial development. However, taking a non-traditional approach required buy-in from the client — a task made possible with the help of several Vectorworks features that could help represent what the firm was envisioning.

“We used OpenGL renderings a lot in the planning phase,” said Idle. “As well as cross-sections to explain the heart of our approach to the design.”

“Clip Cube was also helpful,” said Kinoch. “Because we do a lot in connection to the sections in our drawings. And we have a lot of sections that we can view using the Multiple View layout.”

Staying on top of the latest Vectorworks tools is yet another challenge the firm has faced while they juggle multiple projects, including the Sackville Street design.

“We work on big projects when most architects in Australia work on small housing projects,” said Idle. “It’s a big learning curve getting younger graduates up to that level — a big conceptual language coming from small offices and wanting to learn big complicated projects.” With this in mind, the firm conducts monthly sessions where employees can come prepared with questions as different workflows are demonstrated.

Streamlining design processes helps the firm with efficiency — a major priority for Idle Architecture in order to stay on top of their growing portfolio of projects. To contend with the rotating door of deadlines, Idle decided to remove SketchUp and Rhino completely and focus all efforts on optimizing their use of Vectorworks.

“My view is that I used to spend money on software for about half its efficiency when I’d rather get the best out of software by learning how,” Idle explained. “I want to be designing jobs and inching forward to the next one. My team can’t be in the office redrawing — it costs us a lot of time and money.” The transition process took over a year, and the firm reaped its benefits with the Sackville Street project.

 “It helped to have seamless movement back and forth from one stage of the project to the next,” Idle said. “It certainly saves time.” And time is precious, given the amount needed to properly set up BIM models.

The entrance to Idle Architecture’s Sackville Street project

In the end, however, Idle was committed to staying current in the industry.

“It’s not even a matter of choice. BIM is a long-term investment in your business,” he said. “You’re getting a bit more out of the design and giving every component the same level of opportunity through clash detection and coordination.”

 Thanks to Vectorworks, Idle Architecture was able to consolidate their software. And through their coordination efforts, along with the BIM capabilities Vectorworks offers, Idle Architecture can make the most of their investment — in a way that is faster and smarter.

Images courtesy of Idle Architecture