Architects are pioneering digital technology in the construction sector. As early as the 1980s, the use of CAD (Computer Aided Design) software was already going mainstream and ushering in the industrialisation of architectural plan design. You might think that all construction-related activities would have since embraced digital technology, but it has not worked out that way in reality.
The project management team is made up of one or more natural or legal persons chosen by the project owner to oversee the design of a building and monitor the performance of the work. The size and makeup of the team often depends on the type of work to be carried out and complexity of the building project. As such, while a single architect may oversee the design of a small house, a team of several architects and design offices will be given precedence for a high-rise building project. In the latter case, collaboration between the architects and design offices themselves already makes sense. More specifically, and as recalled in the French Board of Architects’ general clauses, the architect’s overall mission begins with preliminary studies enabling the owner to ensure the project’s on-site feasibility and compatibility with the budget. The job then continues with preliminary draft and final design planning which entails definition of the project’s volumes. The next step involves assisting with award of the works contracts, approving performance plans, overseeing the works and finally handover and compilation of the handover file.
It is clear, then, that production of plans in an office does not mark the end of the project management team’s job. And yet, in reality, architects often only use digital technology in the office. The fact that they do not continue to make use of it outside the office deprives the project of overall digital continuity. The aim of this article is to show how using a single platform like Kairnial can promote such digital continuity between the office and the building site and facilitate delivery of all of the activities governed by the French Board of Architects’ general clauses.
Preliminary planning: a key factor in building trust with the owner
Preliminary planning nearly always stems from a request made by the project ownership team. This is because, as its name suggests, this planning is a prerequisite for checking the feasibility of a construction project. During this stage, the owner will call on you, the architect, to ensure the viability of his/her project once all of the national and local urban planning and construction regulations have been taken into account. The rendering is typically in the form of 2D plans which ultimately show what the project’s future exterior will look like. This stage is also when discussions begin with the project ownership team – whether the latter is an institution or operating in the private sector. As such, it is essential that this communication process goes smoothly in order to shore up your future relationship with the project ownership team. In other words, your ability to produce documents and share them within the set timeframe will certainly go towards shaping the image that the ownership team has of your structure.
With that in mind, Kairnial has developed an EDM (electronic document management) module within its platform so that you can centralise and organise your interaction with your customer developers or the ownership team in general. Accordingly, right from the start of your relationship, you can create a dedicated project in your application where you share the necessary documents for the project to progress. In this way, all of your stakeholders have access to all of the project information, without the possibility of editing it for all that. You can communicate seamlessly, whilst securing the documents under your responsibility.
BIM: simplifying your application for planning permission
As you already know, planning permission is the prerequisite to any construction project. It is mandatory for any building with a floor area of more than 20 sq.m. What this means is that your attendance will be required in the vast majority of projects you work on. This requirement has implications, of course. The French Board of Architects recalls that, as project architect, you are responsible for coming up with a feasible architectural and technical response in line with the budget granted by the ownership team. This stage therefore has a number of challenges: keeping up a steady pace of production and approval of plans (preliminary draft and final design) with the ownership team, all the while avoiding technical disputes which might affect performance of the works and the initial budget.
This is where the merits of producing a BIM design model come in. BIM (Building Information Modelling) is both a collaborative working method and a modelling of the information concerning the construction components. Thanks to this modelling, planning permission can be applied for properly. For, in the same way as you draft your plans using a 2D CAD tool, you will model the building in 3D. By adding such extra information as durability of materials, you can move on to higher dimensions: 4D, 5D, etc. From this BIM model, you can extract sectional plans, façade plans or level plans in 2D and 3D. Finally, with BIM you can also incorporate the project into its environment exactly as required by the examining departments.
Another major advantage of BIM, on top of facilitating viewing of spaces and therefore demonstrations to the ownership team and potential buyers, is to be able to detect the aforementioned technical disputes in just a few seconds. Once your model has been “designed”, you can share it with the owner directly on the Kairnial platform. Incidentally, the owner does not need any particular skills to view and navigate the model – which can also be viewed online and on mobile devices.
EDM: optimising the tendering stage
Choosing which companies will build the project is a key stage for both you and the project ownership team as you assist with the award of services and works contracts. This selection step takes place during the tendering stage, in the form of a call for tenders. In practice, you help the ownership team to identify which companies are best suited to building the project to the proper professional standards and clarify all of the key points – special technical clauses, estimated costs of each work package, the associated schedule, etc. – to enable the latter to understand the construction project. All of these documents must be available for consultation by the companies wishing to bid for the call for tenders.
You can once again take advantage of the EDM module that you set up during the preliminary planning stage. This is because an EDM module the likes of Kairnial gives you complete flexibility in terms of adding users and the access rights you assign them. In other words, you can allow the companies that need to consult the tender documents to access the platform while preventing them from editing or deleting documents. This information is shared immediately and without wasting any paper (if we can also help protect the environment, so much the better).
Sharing and signing-off on performance plans
The necessary architectural plans for obtaining planning permission will be rounded off by performance plans. Their purpose is to provide an additional, technical, response to the architectural response. To give an example, let’s have a look at structural work. The architectural response makes provision for the construction of a series of structural components, such as walls and slabs. Even if everyone clearly grasps the need for correctly sized structural components, it is impossible to know the exact slab heights and exact thicknesses of the walls and beams with conceptual design plans. In order to overcome this problem, the performance plans will provide technical clarifications and guarantee that the project will not only be built correctly but also comply with current standards – as long as these plans are properly adhered to by the works contractors. These technical plans are not systematically produced by the architect who drafted the initial plans. Very often in fact, this task is assigned to another member of the project management team and to technical design offices. Some performance plans are also supplied by the contractors themselves when it is worthwhile having an extra level of precision for building one component of the project for example. As part of the signing-off mission, you will have to sign off on, i.e. approve, the compliance, with the initial recommendations, of the performance plans provided by the contractors.
Digital technology will have two key roles to play in this context. The first involves the transfer of and access to up-to-date plans for the teams. By storing all of the plans on your Kairnial platform, you are giving everyone the possibility of consulting the plans at any time. Since these plans comply with your classification, performance plan index B3 for example, the participants in the construction project always use the right plans. You can also upload a new version of one or more plans at the same time, to replace the previous version of the plan, in real time. When the project is being carried out with a BIM performance model, you will be able to upload your model on the Kairnial platform once this has been updated in the same way as you do with your 2D plans. If you are unsure about the changes made by the different versions of plans, you can use the application to compare the BIM model and plan versions. The second key role has to do with the signing-off mission itself. Thanks to the platform, you can sign off on all of the performance plans directly in the tool. When a contractor produces a plan, it stores it on the platform which notifies you that a new plan has been added. All you have to do is add your signature to the latter to ensure it is approved for performance.
Precise site monitoring to stay on budget and on schedule
All of the plans produced up until now of course have a purpose: to build the project. As you know, your role is not to pick up the drill or operate the digger, but to make sure, on behalf of the project ownership team, that the works progress as intended. This is the works performance oversight stage. Your duties as part of this mission include making regular visits to the building site and attending weekly meetings with the participants with a view to coordinating the work alongside the scheduling, steering and coordination roles. Once on-site, you check that the plans are being followed, note down anything that needs changing and look to see if all of the quality and safety regulations are being applied. You also use your mobile phone to take as many photos as possible to include in your future report. Some architects also use a digital voice recorder to record additional information that will then need to be listened to and written up properly in an email for example. The same applies for site meetings and the associated minutes. All of the information that you are going to record and that you want to share with the contractors will have to be re-entered once back in the office.
With a tool like Kairnial, you can start by touring the building site with all of the plans on your tablet or mobile phone. You no longer have to keep going back-and-forth between the different floors and the office to consult a plan: which will save you time. By working with a BIM model, you can filter your model in order to concentrate on a particular piece of information, such as the altimetry of one pipe compared with another. Incidentally, this is a tried and tested method of avoiding errors which can ultimately prove very costly when rework is required. If a box-out is not at the right height, you can report it immediately to the contractor in question. You will also be able to locate all of your observations and to-do list directly on the plans within the application. You can add photos or comments to your observations. And, if you use a BIM model, you can link your observations to the construction components of your model.
Finally, you write up your site meeting minutes as the meeting progresses. Using a specific Kairnial form, you can list the attendees and absent members directly in the tool. Then you can write your comments and link observations to shed light on the issue. Once completed, the form is accessible to all of the participants in the application and can be exported if necessary (for contractual reasons for example). By using your application to draft your minutes, you provide the project ownership team with complete traceability, as they will be able to consult the minutes whenever necessary.
Speeding up the handover stage and production of the handover file
Handover marks the completion of the construction project. Legally speaking, this is when liability for the project is transferred from the works contractors to the project owner. For everyone involved, this is when they check that the project does not contain any visible defects. Even if all of the project’s previous stages are aimed at minimising the number of defects, especially by leveraging digital technology, it is very common for defects to be mentioned in the handover report. Digital technology will have reduced the potential severity of defects, however: better to have to change a light bulb than move a sink…In any case, your role is assist the project owner with the handover, which will also gain from the benefits of digital technology, as we highlight in another article. As you will have understood, this assistance therefore involves producing the handover report. Drafting this report is just as cumbersome as writing minutes when adopting old-fashioned methods. You have to take lots of photos on the one hand, jot down lots of notes in an Excel spreadsheet on the other, and will hopefully remember everything necessary for re-entering all the information once back in the office. Unfortunately, this process often leads to errors and is very time-consuming as you then have to send the list of defects to the contractors, contact them, send them a reminder if necessary and return to the site to survey the defects.
With Kairnial, you can carry out the whole of this process digitally. You will complete your handover report in the application and locate the defects directly on your plans or on your BIM model. This means you use a single tool, which is already common to all of the teams, to centralise and share the defects appended to the report. Contractors can thus be notified more quickly of any defects to be processed and, where possible, intervene before the project is delivered to the end buyer. Finally, with digital technology you can retrieve the handover documentation immediately thanks to the project’s BIM model and the EDM module which hosts the remainder of the technical instructions and other documents. The BIM design model, which becomes a summary model and performance model once work has got under way, is updated throughout the project’s construction cycle. By the time the work is complete, the handover file is therefore almost ready to be forwarded to the project owner, the end buyer or the operator.
By deciding to use digital technology beyond the production of plans, you ensure digital continuity throughout your mission, from design to delivery of the handover file. Not only are you able to get tasks done more quickly, but you also bring added quality and safety to the owner and the project. Which will ultimately boost your reputation among the other stakeholders.
Stop asking yourself are you going to digitise the management of your projects and start asking when are you going to drive digitisation in your projects by connecting all the stakeholders to your Kairnial platform?