Building Information Modelling

BIM stands at the centre of our processes as a practice, and it is helpful to understand its relevance. What follows provides a glimpse into Archangel's 'engine room'…

Architects using artificial reality in Cambridge studio

What is Building Information Modelling?

Instead of producing drawings of a building, whether on drawing board or computer, BIM instead creates a digital model – a virtual building if you like – from which various outputs, including drawings, can be taken. 

So what? What are the benefits? Let’s look at four:

Floor plan of Downing Place URC remodelling


Client understanding

Interpreting drawings is a form of literacy; architects learn it from an early age, and builders and other professionals are used to it too, but clients rarely come to a project able to read drawings for all the information they contain. This means that in the traditional drawings-based process, the client is being asked to make choices – choices typically involving large sums of money – based on recommendation rather than understanding. Working blind in this way requires a great deal of faith – ‘Trust me, I’m an architect!’

Working with an architect

Well, we hope you do come to trust us as architects, but there is a better way. BIM creates a virtual building in advance of the real thing, a digital prototype which allows the client to be an equal partner in the development of the design, and thus to make much better informed choices. Our aim is that when the client stands in the finished building for the first time, it should already be familiar, because they have already experienced it virtually. 

The practical reality of the drawings-based process is that clients often change the design during construction – at the point when it is most disruptive and expensive to do so. But this is not a criticism of the client, because under the traditional process it is only then that the client ‘sees’ the building for the first time. 

Using BIM results in a more knowledgable, empowered and responsive client, which greatly improves the odds of creating a building that meets their needs and is a joy to occupy. What’s not to like?


Design coordination

Another key benefit of BIM is that it promotes teamwork. Without BIM, there is a natural tendency for consultants to work within professional silos, lobbing information back and forth between them; inevitably, some information gets lost in translation. With BIM the focus is on collaboration on the common model.

The traditional drawings approach demands meticulous co-ordination, particularly when changes arise, which easily leads to mistakes. By contrast, BIM allows the consultants and client to respond as the design develops, and clash checking should allow most discrepancies to be ironed out during the design development, rather than surprising everyone on site.



The much-improved design coordination made possible by BIM extends through to the construction stage, allowing the contractor to query the model and understand the design intention. We regularly take a tablet to site to allow for this interaction with the model, as for example with our recent Downing Place URC project.

Architect using 3d drawing model on site with ipad

But the logic of BIM goes further, encouraging the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), which allows parts of the new construction to be manufactured off-site. This has potential benefits both in terms of better quality control and much reduced construction periods, which in turn can reduce construction costs, depending upon the nature of the project. 

In 2020, we began working for the first time with an MMC contractor who was able to manufacture the components of a 240 m² community building directly from BIM files exported from our design software. For the right project, this will be transformative of the way the construction industry works in the future.


'They think it’s all over'

It can be easy to forget that the end of the construction process is just the beginning of the life of the building! Once completed, the building will need to be maintained, components replaced, perhaps alterations made to respond to changing needs. The BIM model can easily be exported for the clients to use as the basis of their long-term maintenance of the building. This is a huge benefit for facilities management, and improves safety for those maintaining the building into the future.

Architect on construction site with client

Each of the above four benefits is an example of how BIM adds value to the processes of design, construction and use of a building. Of course, not every one of these cannot yet be implemented in every case, but the direction of travel is clear. Any one of the above beenefits is enough to justify the use of BIM; taken together, the case is utterly compelling.

Finally, some history

BIM has been around for more than 30 years, though most people – including most architects – wouldn’t know it. Nigel was responsible for the implementation of BIM software for another practice as early as 1994, and Archangel has been built around the intelligent use of BIM from its inception in 2000. It’s encouraging to note the UK’s role in the growth of BIM – the international standard for BIM (ISO 19650) is based on UK standards developed from 2007 onwards. ArchiCAD, launched in 1987, was the first commercial BIM software for personal computers, and it remains Archangel’s tool of choice.