Led by directors Paul Beaty-Pownall and Steve Cowell, bpr architects specialises in three core sectors – higher education, rail stations, and regeneration. Here, they describe a key project that helped embed BIM Level 2 into the company’s culture.
In response to the UK government mandate for the use of Level 2 BIM on all public projects by 2016, bpr moved quickly to keep pace with the requirements. As part of its compliance strategy, it began using Vectorworks software almost exclusively to maintain consistency across projects.
“We took advantage of the UK’s regulatory regimes to move to BIM,” says Beaty-Pownall. “In 2013 we changed our working practice and changed our workflow so projects are drawn in 3D from conception. I decided that from now on everything we do will be in 3D, and everything we do will make better use of models that can produce information more efficiently.”
With this framework in place, bpr was ready to implement the BIM Level 2 standards into its workflow. BIM Level 2 is defined by collaboration – by exchanging data in a common language, teams can combine design information with their own models in order to create a federated BIM model.
The team selected a pilot project for this task: the Ritterman Building, a five-storey teaching space for long-standing client, Middlesex University.
“As a designer you are always looking for opportunities where you can add value through good design, not just for the betterment of the project, but for the betterment of the environment around that project,” says Beaty-Pownall. “This can often lead to strategic solutions that can benefit the wider estate.”
Such was the case when working with Middlesex University. A client for more than 12 years, the university trusted that bpr had a solid understanding of its needs and how to accomplish them through good design.
How to make breakthroughs with buildings
Several challenges arose when bpr started working on the Ritterman Building design. First, the building would be constructed on a vacant part of campus composed of a steep, grassy bank. The building also needed to be adaptable to meet continually changing teaching, accessibility, and sustainability requirements, both immediate and for the future.
“We worked closely with the structural engineer to consider how that might be done, such as how to refurbish the building later on down the line,” says Lizzie Dodwell, an architect at bpr. “It made more sense to design within that problem to give us that flexibility in the future.”
For the Ritterman Building, bpr designed flexibility into the structure, such as opening up double-height space that could be modified at a later time by adding floors to create modular teaching spaces. Throughout the decision-making process, the firm also took the university’s long-term goals into account.
The completed building comprises both functional spaces and innovative teaching spaces
“The pedagogic needs of the university’s vision and operational requirements for the future is something we don’t know at this stage,” says Dodwell. “By being more flexible in our approach, we allow adjustments to be made later on down the line.”
The completed building comprises both functional spaces and innovative teaching spaces for the faculties of Science and Technology and The Arts & Creative Industries. In addition to these spaces, the Ritterman Building also includes a café, technology suites, a dance studio and offices for academic staff.
“The building may take two to three years from initial idea to completion, whilst the educational curriculum can change every year,” says Beaty-Pownall. “So being prepared to adapt and change the building over time is really important.”
Behind the scenes with BIM Level 2
The timing of the Ritterman Building provided a good opportunity for bpr to transition to a BIM practice. Middlesex University already had a framework in place that required bpr to work with the same teams, including structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers, across all projects.
“It’s been very effective to work over a long period of time with the same design team across a number of different buildings with the same clients,” says Beaty-Pownall.
The ability to import different types of files into Vectorworks helped the bpr team progress through their design plans at a faster pace.
“The structural engineer had Revit and was very keen to collaborate,” says Dodwell. “In the early stages he would send us his models in IFC and we would import them into our Vectorworks model to keep things simpler. The others all use 3D software in different packages, that were then exported into IFC and coordinated in a federated model, in Tekla.”
Proposed bird’s eye view from the south (bpr architects)
To produce detailed drawings and construction documents, bpr took the Vectorworks model and created separate files for three distinct “zones” in the 3D modeling environment – the envelope, core and internal zones. This enabled three teams to work on separate files. The teams then referenced each work area to a single sheet file, which they could work on in 2D to export detailed drawings and schedules. In this way, the entire team could extract consistent information from a single source.
Beaty-Pownall believes that embracing BIM workflows across the practice has been worth the effort. This collaborative way of completing projects has enhanced bpr’s workflow in ways that, without Vectorworks software, may not have been possible.
“One of the core benefits to the practice of using a 3D workflow is how it enables us to focus on design with the confidence that the delivery of information to support exciting ideas is robust,” says Beaty-Pownall. “In this way, we are able to continuously push the boundaries and explore opportunities to capture added value as the project develops.”
Although bpr did not serve as the BIM manager for the second half of the project, obtaining and maintaining Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) information allowed the firm to ensure that the coordination of the different disciplines would come together at every stage of the design process.
Increasing accuracy and saving time
The benefits of Vectorworks extend beyond collaboration, and the firm has also increased accuracy and saved time by using integrated Vectorworks worksheets instead of spreadsheets to keep track of project details.
“When we used Excel spreadsheets for our scheduling, we were literally taking up time counting door by door and door handle and hinge,” says Beaty-Pownall. “We now have a lot more confidence that the data provided is accurate.”
Finally, Vectorworks software has been helpful for bpr to see buildings in context, as the team can situate designs within true-to-life surroundings to offer a large amount of detail to clients.
“We were testing out the potential for a new performing arts building and wanted to understand the capacity of the proposed site,” said Beaty-Pownall. “This demands an understanding of the wider context — how high the buildings are, the character of the area. And not just what’s immediately next to it, as this would be a landmark building. You could very quickly use the Massing Model tool and Space tool to determine whether it would have a really significant impact on the neighbourhood.”
Thanks to Vectorworks, bpr architects designed the Ritterman Building as a BIM Level 2 prototype — with stellar results. By harnessing the BIM capabilities of the software, bpr established the trust needed with Middlesex University in order to deliver a design that will be truly valuable to the client for years to come.
Middlesex’s vice chancellor, Professor Tim Blackman, has hailed the Ritterman Building as helping the university to continue to “provide our students with a world-class learning environment equipped with the latest facilities and technology”, cementing its reputation among employers “for graduates taught in industry-standard settings with the skills they need”.
“I think it’s really important to work with a client, like Middlesex University, to ensure that this whole process is going to be of benefit to them,” says Beaty-Pownall. “They need to be able to know that the information we are able to provide upon completion is supported by their facilities systems.”
Working in the public sector, especially for a client in the higher education industry, has made Beaty-Pownall recognise the importance and legacy of the work. What started as a creative brief can become a reality within the software.
“When we used to use SketchUp, we’d be working in two entirely distinct workflows,” says Beaty-Pownall. “Now, designing and drawing all occur in the same breath, which is hugely beneficial. There's a real natural feel to drawing a 3D model of a building with Vectorworks. Thinking through how it is actually built as you draw, helps to structure the model, helps to provide efficient packages of information, and helps to design great buildings.”
Now that the Ritterman Building is complete, bpr is committed to working completely in BIM with 3D models for future projects.
“Working in 3D immediately enables you to visualise what you're designing,” says Beaty-Pownall. “With every line you draw, you can see the impact on the wider vision.”
The Ritterman Building. Image courtesy of bpr architects