BIM and Risk Management

First off, I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve sat through conferences with many of them, enough to know that the legal liability of an architect is at minimum, daunting, at maximum… well, let’s not (hopefully ever!) go there.

A client firm has a multi-family housing studio, and with the recent market swings from home ownership to apartment and condo living, are preparing for an increase in those services (fingers crossed, right?)

I’ve been asked to review the AIA Trust Condo Risk Management series of documents, and highlight areas that their new adoption of BIM could affect.  Suffice it to say, there are a LOT.  Much of the risk management of a firm is still tied to contractual language and CYA reviewing of a developer’s long term plans (new vocabulary word: Indemnity), but of course, design documentation is a legal document, and CDs and CA documentation play a very large role.

Happy to report, the collective recommendations by the Trust are largely in sync with the processes and benefits of effectively using a BIM methodology over conventional CAD documentation.  Worth noting through the series is the emphasis on resisting reduced services on the part of the architect.

Carefully evaluate reduced scope of services offered by the developer… With increased risk of condominium projects, more design control can actually reduce your risk. Avoid fragmented delivery of design services where (others) provide only partial designs…

This is persuasive verbage towards applying a form of Integrated Project Delivery, rather than detached design services with minimal control over subs.  Yes, it will involve more time (and hence more money) than what the developer may propose for economy, but it reduces overall risk of all parties involved – INCLUDING the developer.  This carries more weight based upon the developers intended relationship to the project over time, of course.

More emphasis on qualification-based selection of general contractor and trade subs.. especially for areas that draw claims: HVAC, building roof and skin, windows.

Now, designing with BIM is no guarantee of a GC or sub’s experience or expertise, nor is BIM a magical process, and it won’t take a dysfunctional firm into the realm of smooth and risk-free design (a mythical world that no one has ever seen).  What BIM CAN do is make quantifiable (visually and in accurate data) MORE of a design than standard 2D documentation can in comparable time. And that means more awareness of problem areas, earlier. More cross-checking prior to bidding and construction. More opportunities to ask the right questions of the right parties. More exposure to the coordination issues that lay at the heart of good architectural design.

My conclusion:

The AIA Trust risk management series definitely focuses on the legal preparation for engaging in current or prospective conversion condominium projects, but design documents ARE part of that package, and the more accurate and integrated with specialty consultants and subcontractors they can be, the less sole risk the architect carries.  BIM can increase that accuracy and integration.

Good reads:
Architect’s article on the Side Benefits of BIM
McGraw Hill’s Construction BIM Special Section
Randy Deutch’s blog BIM and Integrated Design


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