BIM Trends to watch in 2021

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.



Virtual offices


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.


Hrm...

Source: https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/generative-design


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.

Source: https://www.aecmag.com/comment-mainmenu-36/2046-autodesk-aec-customers-demand-better-value


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.