In this article I will highlight and explore the key trends in BIM that I have my eye on. 2020 was a highly disruptive year for all of us, but it definitely opened up some key opportunities for the year to follow - both from a disrupted and evolutionary perspective.
As a BIM Consultant launching a new business, last year was interesting to say the least. Whilst we hurtled forward into the unknown, we found many potential clients holding back and shedding team size. By mid-year, BIM Guru had acquired a handful of regular clients who all had one thing in common - they were taking the chance to get ahead of the industry as it slowed down.
Over the latter half of the year, I had the chance to meet many other companies and people who were silently growing and adapting against the status quo - many of them still doing so as we head into this new year as stealth startups. Whilst I can't directly name some of them in this article due to NDA's, many of the trends to watch will be a reflection of things I expect to see take shape this year based on what I've heard and seen.
Whilst most of us are in the process of returning to the office, I'm aware of some studios who made the hard call to detach their staff from the physical office altogether. Such platforms as Microsoft Teams and more reliable VPN systems have shown that with the right setup and mindset, an office can exist virtually.
Not pictured here: staff in the office.
One major benefit this concept brings to the forefront is the ability for offices to hire staff outside their local area. This in turn gives a greater potential for 'mercenary' style designers, technologists and managers who can work at many places at once, all from the comfort of their home. As a consultant, it should come as no surprise that this possibility excites me - although I acknowledge that remote working isn't for everyone.
I expect to see a partially virtual approach to the average AEC office at the very least, but I am aware of a handful of offices in the process of going 100% virtual. Rent an office, or rent a server - it's your choice now!
Developer lead studios
In a typical progressive AEC firm there is usually at least 1 software developer supporting bespoke internal needs - if this doesn't describe your company then your company is behind the times. These developers are usually in a middle management role, reporting up to managers with little to no understanding of what their developers truly do.
In 2021, I expect the formation and strengthening of capable developer collectives who will compete against traditional firms, with a developer mindset pervading all levels of their approach. This will enable lean, competitive and agile solutions for clients looking for something different to what most traditional firms are currently offering them. An example of an early pivot in this space is Willow (formerly Ridley) who changed their business model and brand to a developer centric approach.
Could this be the typical AEC workstation soon?
There are many platforms emerging that would support this style of company, but the one I see the most promise in is the HYPAR platform. With such minds as Anthony Hauck (ex-Autodesk), Ian Keough (the father of Dynamo) and Andew Heumann (co-author of Human UI) this platform has some of the strongest thought leaders in BIM/AEC working on it - all it requires is innovative firms to embrace it.
Pedestrian behavior simulation
Covid-19 has forever changed how we are able to use public or leased spaces. Social distancing, screening mechanisms and contactless controls are quickly becoming the norm in what clients require - I don't expect this will change anytime soon.
Our designs can no longer rely on the 'sardine-can' typology.
I expect that all new projects will require a deeper consideration of how people behave within, and engage with public/leased spaces. There is also a new market for the refitting of spaces that are no longer able to function in their intended manner. I feel for such co-working companies as WeWork who no doubt have some absolute plonkers in their portfolio to functionally refit.
Keep an eye on pedestrian flow simulators in the short term such as Massmotion that will become essential for testing and proving the viability of our designs in a world more conscious of epidemic control. These products are already openly marketing Covid-19 specific tools and features, so this trend is clearly emerging.
Generative design by developers, for users
If I had to name the biggest BIM over-hype of 2020, it would be generative design. An attempt to launch this technology into the mainstream by Autodesk yielded small waves in the wider pool of industry innovation. Simply put, users were shown how to get answers, but not form their own questions.
In reality, generative design is a highly complex process when undertaken properly. Typically users must have a deep understanding of mathematics and geometry in order to yield meaningful results from platforms that can ably support their thinking.
I expect in 2021 we will see a 'fizzle' of programs demanding solution authoring by the user in place of those where the deep thinking has been packaged by capable developers instead. Such examples of this which already exist are Spacemaker (acquired by Autodesk) and TestFit (albeit not exclusively generative in nature).
We have also written an article that elaborates on this topic here.
A true contender for the Revit platform
Before some of the readers get out their pitchforks, I will acknowledge some viable contenders against Revit already exist in our industry such as ArchiCAD, AllPlan and BrisCAD. Despite this, Autodesk continues to dominate many countries in which they operate, and their BIM authoring platform Revit follows suit. If you don't believe me, just compare the stock growth of Autodesk versus Nemetschek group over the past 5 years.
Dissent in the ranks.
Early in 2020, an open letter put the general frustration of the industry with Revit's stagnant development into the spotlight. Autodesk quickly rebutted with videos from the Revit developers as well as a few 'there-there' pats on the head, but the point had been made. Even as a regular user and enthusiast of the Revit platform, I still agree with much of what the letter covers - Revit is ripe for a sucker punch from a rival heavyweight. The Revit roadmap feels more like a holding pattern to Revit's veteran users who witnessed the major periods of its development prior to Revit 2012.
I hope and expect that a stealth startup will emerge from the shadows very soon to deliver this blow, not only to provide an alternative platform but also to force a refocusing on the development of Revit by Autodesk.
Open software movements
Continuing on from the previous trend, general frustration with 'closed' platforms such as Revit have lead many users to embrace 'OpenBIM' as an alternative approach. The possibility of an open source contender for the closed platforms is slowly emerging, albeit in a somewhat fragmented form currently.
Watch this space.
FreeCAD and BlenderBIM show promise, and I feel that 2021 will be a formative year for the latter especially. In its current state, BlenderBIM still presents a steep learning curve (from both a programming and Blender specific aspect), but with the right industry support this curve will slowly level out.
I'm not with them yet, but I encourage those supporting this movement to keep pushing. Be sure to check out the BIMVoice podcast that has been sharing many videos from the author of the BlenderBIM platform (Dion Moult) recently.
A simpler approach to sharing BIM than the IFC schema
I won't be the first to admit that the IFC schema is far too complex for the average BIM user to understand. Types, enums, psets and an unforgiving clunky wiki have made my own learning journey into all things IFC a frustrating one in 2020 - especially as a Revit user unable to easily generate a clean IFC export. I can't help but feel that I'm unlearning my own standards to adopt one that isn't being successfully embraced at an industry wide level.
How it feels to be the only person in a firm that cares about IFC exports.
You are welcome to disagree with me, but I don't think IFC is the approach to open data that the industry wants. Maybe it was the one it needed at the time, but I see a simpler future for wrangling BIM data into a consistent format - I just hope we haven't ventured too far down the IFC path as an industry to pivot away from it.
It isn't so much the schema as a whole I have an issue with, but how manual it all feels to set up and implement. I expect the future of a unified information standard will exist within a simpler data remapping environment, likely hosted and managed in the cloud. I'm aware of some stealth startups already working towards this concept, and look forward to seeing them emerge soon.
Machine learning begins to inform
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are still fairly new concepts to the AEC industry. Having said that, there are many early adopters who have been busy collecting all types of data related to their workflows and projects.
Of these firms, I haven't seen too many sharing how they are putting this collected data to use although I expect that we will see this in 2021. We've asked our computers the questions, time to see some answers!
Tightening of the developer/builder pincer
'As long as someone needs to be suable for the design, architects and engineers will be needed' - that's what I always tell colleagues that worry about the future of our profession. My rather bleak outlook is a result of what I can see forming in the typical project delivery chain in Australia - at the front of a project we have developers, and at the end we have builders and operators.
Is this the future for many architectural firms?
Ask any developer what they think of architects and you will no doubt get many eye roles and metaphorically burnt dollars. Thanks to platforms like Archistar, developers have the ability to require the services of an architect later in the design process. This may mean that firms relying on feasibility based services will see a reduced demand from clients - especially as developer clients are becoming more common. I also see many developers currently hiring inhouse architects and engineers to wear the design risk later into the project rather than engage external design consultants in early project phases.
On the other end of the project we have builders and operators, pushing their tenders earlier into the project program or demanding IPD models. When I first began working in AEC in 2012, we went out for tender when we hit 100% complete DD (Detailed design). 5 years ago I worked on a project that was tendered at 70% DD. Last month I heard of a project that was tendered at 50% DD - you can see which way the goalposts are moving.
Sandwiched in between these two pincers are the design consultants, fighting over the scraps of pie that are left at the table when they're finally invited to sit at it. Fees are reducing and we all seem to be racing to the bottom. I expect this trend will continue, although I am hopeful for an industry correction - the question is what cost will this come at?
Conclusion: The future is yet to be written
All of these trends and many more I haven't listed may seriously change how we work in 2021 and beyond, or they may be yet to materialize when we reach 2022 - time will tell. If you are working towards any of these trends I've listed I wish you success in your ventures and look forward to seeing your ideas materialize. We'll need innovation more than ever as we rebuild the industry of yesteryear.
I hope this list has been eye opening and thought provoking for you as the reader, and enables you to potentially spot these trends more easily as the year progresses.
-Gavin Crump @ BIM Guru