Unpacking BIM: Sharing Stigmas with Designers and Builders

Brian Skripac, DBIA Director, Virtual Design & Construction


With all the value of a building information model (BIM) in the built environment, why is model sharing still so hotly debated on projects? The 2022 AIA Firm Survey Report, documenting the percentage of firms using BIM for billable work, indicated design visualization and presentation/renderings were the top uses for BIM. Coordinated construction documents and sharing models with consultants followed, at 84% and 80%, respectively. While these findings are encouraging for BIM usage broadly, there are several areas where ground can still be broken. For instance, only 54% of architects use BIM to resolve conflicts with other disciplines or share models with constructors or trade contractors.

Indeed, the contractual silos of traditional design-bid-build – which the report states was the top project delivery method in 2021 – play a role compared to design-build. Still, the industry needs to challenge this approach. Professionals must properly merge design/construction technologies with project delivery to bridge the risk management or risk avoidance gap.

AIA Firm Survey Report 2022 – Architecture firms utilize BIM software for a variety of uses, % of firms using BIM for billable work
AIA Firm Survey Report 2022 – Architecture firms utilize BIM software for a variety of uses, % of firms using BIM for billable work

For example, we’ve all been part of a design-bid-build project where the two-dimensional contract documents are released, and one of the first questions the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) asks is whether they can access the BIM. We can assume each team member proudly touted their BIM expertise in their proposal and stated in their interviews that they do “it” – BIM – on all their jobs.

What, then, does that mean for their project, especially when the response to the previous question is, “No, our deliverables to the Owner were two-dimensional drawings, not a model”? Typically, after some discussions, a stripped-down version of a BIM is reluctantly provided to the builder with a lengthy disclaimer asserting, “You can use it for reference, but you can’t rely on it.” In reality, we’re not doing “it” fully on our jobs if we only share information with the entire team on just over half of our projects.Decorative gif of actor Will Ferrell saying, "everybody's doing it!" from the film Old School (2005)

Disclaimer language like this is an industry crutch for very real project experiences where the production of construction documents is done expeditiously – only in the two-dimensional output – without updating the BIM. This sacrifices the quality and reliability of a BIM, which is usually not deliverable. It also initiates a dilemma where the drawings, which should be produced from the BIM, are no longer one and the same, creating redundancy and discrepancies in the information provided – it’s not how we should be doing “it.” Phil Bernstein said in 2021, “The problem with BIM is that 20 years later, we are using Revit to create 2D construction documents. We are not using BIM for what it was intended for. We have not evolved.” To evolve, the industry needs to place value on the quality of models so they can be reliable throughout the design, construction and turnover process.


Sign this disclaimer, the drawings, not the model are our contracted deliverables… While this approach is not feasible in most project delivery methods, design-build provides the necessary paradigm shift to address this evolution by having a whole team method from the outset of a project, allowing this collaborative approach to flourish. Here, teams can focus on developing BIMs in a meaningful and integrated way to meet the specific needs of a project with the entire design and construction team, not simply doing “it” per company standards in their own silo of deliverables with a risk avoidance approach.

The idea of a model as a contract document has become a growing conversation. This is a significant leap for the built environment, requiring time and incremental steps to achieve. At the same time, DBIA realizes the whole team approach to design-build inherently creates an atmosphere of trust and collaboration where project teams, led by a VDC Leader, can work to achieve their desired outcomes today. In design-build, we have the opportunity to engage in Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), fusing people, processes and technology to deliver a model-based approach to best-in-class project delivery. A BIM, then, can be much more than just a referenced object – “it” can be shared, consistently providing value throughout the delivery of the project rather than just 54% of the time.

Design-build teams should make BIM and VDC part of the process, not a contractual add-on or disclaimer. They should also leverage contract language to create reliance on your BIM to make it successful, as it is a shared responsibility for the entire team. When done correctly and collaboratively, there will be new transparency to the process built on trust between the design-build team members, allowing “it” to realize the Owner’s vision successfully.

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