Image via autodesk.com
The design, development, and construction of a building is an inherently complex ambition. For the architect, coordinating both the countless members of the project team and managing the production of the construction documents present its own set of challenges. Building Information Modeling has introduced itself as an invaluable tool in documentation, management, and project maintenance for architects and consultants in the AEC space. The intricate nature of BIM solutions coupled with the specialized knowledge needed to operate it properly has brought about the emergence of a new kind of professional, commonly known as the BIM Specialist. Critical to the health of a firm’s workflow, the BIM Specialist plays a crucial role in a project’s success. Let’s take a deep dive into this role, explore some of its common characteristics, and look at what skills and qualifications one might need to pursue an opportunity in this area.
History of BIM
In the early 1980s, architects began to move on from the pin-bar hand drafting method of documentation that anchored the profession for so many years to more efficient PC-based Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) solutions. With the introduction of the first personal computers in the mid-1970s and the development of graphical user interface, PCs began to emerge as a promising new asset to an architect’s workflow. In subsequent decades, drawings no longer had to be physically delivered to consultants — with the growing development of the internet and email, they could instead be sent digitally. The layer-based CAD system provided a familiar connection to the older hand drawing method, and DWG (drawing) files soon became the digital standard amongst building professionals.
Architects became more efficient, and their technological tools grew more sophisticated. Object-oriented CAD emerged in the early 1990s, and shortly after, parametric solutions began to surface, utilizing databases and algorithms to both store information about a building and allow users to make global changes to a model. Where before a draftsperson would have to make changes to multiple views (plans, elevations, schedules, etc.) if a modification was made to a building a component such as a door, BIM now allowed professionals to make a single change that would then parametrically update the database, which in turn updated every occurrence of that component in a model, saving time and refining the design and development process of a project.
In 2002, the same year it purchased Revit, Autodesk released a white paper titled Building Information Modeling, looking at how information technology in the building industry led to the idea of building information modeling and the characteristics and benefits of BIM solutions. In the paper, Autodesk lists three core characteristics contained by BIM solutions:
They create and operate on digital databases for collaboration.
They manage change throughout those databases so that a change to any part of the database is coordinated to all other parts.
They capture and preserve information for reuse by additional industry-specific applications.
The company goes further to outline the resulting benefits of utilizing BIM solutions, which it says is higher quality work, greater speed and productivity, and lower costs for building-industry professionals. As BIM has grown to occupy the core of the day-to-day production work within architecture firms, the need for staff proficient in the technology has become an underlying necessity. Additionally, bigger, more complex projects with large teams produce highly sensitive models that must be maintained, audited, and kept up to date. The BIM Specialist enters here as the critical key and point of responsibility in optimizing an organization’s navigation of this dynamic technology.
Enter BIM Specialist
BIM Specialists come in many varieties. Sometimes a project designer or architect could take on the role, coordinating the responsibility with their day-to-day project work, and other times, a BIM Specialist could be a team member’s sole function. While the daily trajectory will be different for each person there remain specific core competencies most firms look for in a BIM Specialist. We’ll focus on those to establish the common qualities one must possess to operate in this role successfully. Some of the qualifications and responsibilities firms seek in a BIM Specialist are:
Experience in Revit (within a professional project)
Experience training staff, troubleshooting, and standardization
Workflow, best practices, coordination
Firm templates and styles
Creating and maintaining families, libraries, and the overall model within BIM software
Experience in Construction Documentation (and Design Development)
Audit models throughout a project timeline for overall “health”
Teach/mentor staff. Lead workshops on software updates, new tools, best practices, etc.
Experience coordinating a multi-disciplinary project team (engineers and consultants)
Some positions call for scripting knowledge, particularly in specific plug-ins such as Dynamo (for Revit)
Based on the common qualifications firms often seek, most BIM Specialists will need to have an inherent understanding of the typical processes of a building project. As such, experience in a traditional staff role is a familiar prerequisite. Without knowledge on how to properly compose a set of construction documents, for example, a BIM Specialist cannot help establish templates and standards to lead the rest of the team in preparing deliverables in accordance with established standards. Moreover, experience working with other disciplines (structural, plumbing, electrical, civil, etc.) would prove valuable due to the continuous collaboration and coordination that is required throughout a building project. Often BIM models are shared amongst consultants on the project team, and an understanding of a software’s collaborative capabilities will allow a BIM Specialist to optimize and manage that aspect of the workflow.
What About Other BIM Roles?
Apart from logistical experience, the BIM Specialist also, by definition, needs specialized knowledge of BIM (Revit or ArchiCAD, for example) and how to pragmatically execute the needs of an office in the most efficient manner possible. We should also acknowledge some of the peripheral job titles in relation to BIM. The most common we see are BIM Modeller, BIM Coordinator, BIM Manager, and BIM Specialist. The lines dividing these are blurry, and every organization will have its own interpretation. With that said, a BIM Modeller is typically a production role similar to what used to be a CAD Drafter. A BIM Coordinator might operate at the project team level, providing technical support to designers and other staff and could sometimes report to a firmwide BIM Manager. A BIM Manager would be a more senior-level position focusing on firmwide education, standardization, and technical management and best practices.
Apart from logistical experience, the BIM Specialist also, by definition, needs specialized knowledge of BIM…and how to pragmatically execute the needs of an office in the most efficient manner possible.
Ultimately, someone seeking to pursue a career path in BIM should closely review open opportunities for the desired qualifications and expected responsibilities. Regardless of the indicated title, these details will provide a clear picture of how an employer is defining the role they’re seeking to fill.
Pay and Outlook
According to Archinect’s Salary Poll, the reported data of 79 respondents indicate that BIM Specialists across the country make an average of $65,349 annually. Those with 3 to 5 years of experience average approximately $53,840 and that value rises to $73,571 for professionals with 8 to 10 years of experience. As the profession further integrates BIM and technological tools such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), the role of the BIM Specialist will have the potential to undergo an acute renewal. “It’s less that the BIM Specialist has to know how to do everything, but you better know enough that you can manage those kinds of subspecialties,” explained Greg Pratt, BIM Manager at B+H Architects Seattle in a conversation with Archinect.
“Dynamo is a great example. I can dabble in it, manipulate some lists, but I certainly can’t produce full Dynamo scripts,” he continued, elaborating on the fact that it may be hard for firms to find people who are masters at every technological need a team might have. Rather, a BIM Specialist can play an important part in coordinating a group of people who are proficient in different disciplines like VR, AR, C#, Python, and others. Similar to the role of an architect on a project team, needing a degree of understanding of the work of the structural, civil, and electrical engineers to collaborate, guide, and deliver a successful project, the BIM Specialist can do so within a firm setting.
…a BIM Specialist can play an important part in coordinating a group of people who are proficient in different disciplines…
For those thinking of a future in BIM, Pratt suggests a programming background might prove helpful. “Whether that’s C# for creating tools, Dynamo, or even Grasshopper, I think that there is so much need for automation. Tasks that are mundane and repetitive, creating solutions and tools that allow project teams to become more efficient, I think, will be invaluable moving forward,” he outlined. Another skill Pratt believes makes an effective BIM Specialist is an ability to work well with people. “Over the years, I’ve realized that my fascination is mentoring and teaching. How can you humanize the software? How can you take a technical subject and make it more understandable?” he articulated. “That’s my passion. I try to remove the frustration that people have when having to interface with the software so that they can more easily do their jobs. My biggest thing is the human side.”
Develop Technical Inclination
BIM leaders come in many forms. Some will be unlicensed professionals with expertise and passion for the field, like Greg Pratt. Others might be architects who have transitioned into a BIM management role later in their careers. Whatever the circumstances, the BIM Specialist is a crucial role within any firm utilizing BIM solutions. Embracing the various paths to establishing oneself as a competent and passionate practitioner of the technology can be a sure way to outlining a promising career course in BIM. Whether it’s taking online courses, experimenting on projects, or taking a deep dive into new responsibilities within your team, building your chops in this area will develop your confidence and ability to help your colleagues.
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