Building Information Modeling (BIM): Construction Disputes Expert Overview

This article provides an introduction to the basics of Building Information Modeling (BIM), design and project delivery methods and is a primer to the construction disputes found when utilizing BIM.

Construction Disputes & Building Information Modeling Expert

Construction Disputes and BIM: A Primer

During much of modern history, architectural designs were communicated through the medium of two-dimensional hand drawings and written specifications. These technical drawings were produced by applying ink or pencil to a medium of paper, velum or Mylar.

The 1990’s brought the advent of computer-aided design (CAD) as the popular medium to draw a building. In the 2000’s, Building Information Models (BIM) were introduced to the architecture and engineering professions as the latest medium for designing and documenting a building for construction.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) describes BIM:

The term BIM is generally understood to mean a digital representation of the Project or a subset of the Project. Because of this broad definition, the use of models on construction projects is becoming so ubiquitous that almost every project – large and small – uses BIM and, therefore, every project is subject to the risks associated with modeling. 

A Definition of BIM

BIM is a virtual construction model of building systems represented graphically by three dimensional elements that are embedded with non-graphic element/object specific attributes. Those attributes can be queried, manipulated, and edited globally within the model or at specific instances only. 

As an example, the following non-graphic information can be input and extracted from a single door in a model:

  • Construction phasing (existing, new, or phased construction)
  • Specification section(s)
  • Width/height
  • Material finishes
  • Frame size, type & material
  • Hardware
  • Insulation value
  • Acoustical Properties
  • Fire Rating

In the past, this type of information would be individually drafted into a schedule and would not require further drafting maintenance unless there was some design or construction impetus.  BIM has made construction documentation more fluid with model views and schedules on drawing sheets that update as the model develops.  

Available specification writing software can be added as a plug-in to BIM that will assist in generating specifications and project manuals. A table of contents for the Project Manual Specifications can be generated from the objects found within the model and provides a powerful tool in the design process for quality control between the construction drawings and specifications.

BIM also covers spatial relationships, lighting analysis, geographic information, quantities and the properties of the building components. 

Each consulting design team member produces a model of their design scope (architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, security, IT/AV, etc.) and they are linked together to form a complete virtual model of a project before it is constructed. Plan, section and 3D views are created and are placed on sheets to create the 2D construction documents that were once done by hand. 

BIM has the potential to be linked with construction scheduling software, and the non-graphic object attributes can be used for selecting and ordering materials automatically, providing cost estimates as well as material tracking and ordering.

Potential BIM Benefits

BIM has the potential to enhance design team visualization of the project and improve coordination. Contractors utilize the BIM model during construction to aid the contractor’s efforts in managing acceleration, avoiding delays, and minimizing disruptions. Better coordinated 2D drawings can potentially now be extracted from BIM models with improved collaboration techniques and model sharing protocols. 

Project teams typically coordinate projects and share models in one of two collaboration methods:

  • Separate Models – The Project Participants agree to use regularly scheduled file sharing intervals of separately developed Models and to update their Model Portions. 
  • Cloud-Based – The Project Participants agree to use a cloud-based Modeling software platform for live model development and sharing.

With the separate model method, each design team member (design firm) creates a “central model” on their server and references current consultant models. A central model is a master project file that stores all consultant models to form a representation of “the project” to develop their scope. Team members must be disciplined in updating all consultant models at each scheduled model share to form the most current virtual model.

With cloud-based model sharing, there is only one central model. That model is stored in a cloud server and each consultant model is linked in a manner that facilitates real-time modeling and documentation. Design development and coordination is greatly improved with this method.

Care must be taken on last-minute design changes.  If changes are introduced immediately prior to an issuance, deliverables can appear uncoordinated at worst, or at best become delayed if they are identified and corrected before submission. With proper team communication, cloud-based model sharing can provide efficient model sharing and development.

Coordination & Quality Control

Historically, 2D drawings were manually checked for coordination and accuracy. A quality control specialist spent multiple days reviewing two dimensional drawings attempting to make sure the architecture and engineering components blended properly into an integrated design. 

Available software assists with semi-automated quality control. When properly utilized, these programs perform coordination checks called “clash detection.” Design team members can identify clashes between any combination of disciplines such as structural and mechanical. The software can generate a report with a description of the clash, disciplines involved and include a snip image of the clash for easy identification.

When properly utilized, the clash detection can eliminate serious constructability issues before work has begun onsite. This can mitigate risk by providing greater accuracy and ensuring that building systems fit in the locations shown on the drawings. 

Properly executed clash detection has the potential to benefit the designer, contractor, and owner. It can reduce requests for information (RFIs) and change orders, thereby helping to keep the project on schedule, but it can also be abused by generating frivolous RFI’s for minor discrepancies that can be corrected in the field. Clash detection should be looked at as an enhancement to traditional quality control review, not a replacement.

BIM and the AIA

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is the leading producer of the design and construction industry’s standardized contract documents. Article 2 of the AIA Document B101 - Owner-Architect Agreement, explicitly states the standard of care to which an architect must perform. The B101 references AIA documents to facilitate development and sharing of BIM information that can help minimize risk. 

Originally drafted in 2013, these documents have been updated in 2022 to address risks found in what the AIA describes as the “knowledge divide” between those writing contracts and those producing the work:

The AIA Contract Documents Committee spent multiple years updating the 2013 BIM documents, which included the G201-2013, G202-2013, E203-2013, and C106-2013. The Committee interviewed and received feedback from scores of BIM experts to understand how this aspect of the industry was changing to determine what sort of language the new BIM docs should include. Throughout this years-long effort, the Committee elected to make a few significant changes to the BIM documents, discussed below. 

G203-2022 BIM Execution Plan – Model development protocol
G204-2022 Model Element Table
C106-2022 Digital Data Licensing Agreement
E201-2022 BIM Exhibit for Sharing Models with Project Participants – Model sharing protocol
E401-2022 BIM Exhibit for Sharing Model Solely Within the Design Team
E402-2022 BIM Exhibit for Sharing Model Solely Within the Construction Team

The G203-2022 BIM Execution Plan designates granular responsibilities to team members and describes the expected level of development (LOD) to be provided by each member. LOD is described with increasing levels of detail ranging from LOD 100 (basic graphic representation with little non-graphic information) to LOD 500 – (detailed existing as-built condition developed through observation and field verification).

The G203 in conjunction with the G204 and E201 lays the foundation for a level of responsibility defined as “model reliance”. Adhering to the LOD defined by these documents, a yardstick for measuring a standard of care is established.

This updated series of AIA documents expands the definition of how BIM will be utilized by the project team including:

  1. Who will be modeling what portions of the project including the architect, engineers and possibly the contractor;
  2. What levels of LOD will be provided in the model elements;
  3. If the model will be utilized for Planning, Design, Construction Management, Construction, Post-Construction or facilities management; and
  4. What facilities management responsibilities the architectural firm will have and how they will be compensated for these services.

It is through these documents and others that the AIA establishes a standard of care as it relates to BIM.

BIM and Construction Delivery

A traditional project delivery system is called design-bid-build. In this system the roles of designer, contractor and owner are clearly defined and separate. The architect and engineers design the building for the owner and create documents for use by the contractors. The contractors bid from the construction documents and ultimately build the building for the owner from them.

Another project delivery system that has become popular is Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR). This delivery method requires the Construction Manager (CM) to deliver the project within a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP).

It is intended to minimize risks for the project owner. This delivery system is highly collaborative and multi-participant in nature with contractor input during design and construction document development phases. In the BIM platform, Architects, engineers, specialty consultants, sub-contractors, building product manufacturers and the client’s out-sourced service providers all contribute to the BIM model.

Controlling each team member’s contribution to the BIM model presents challenges and must be managed properly.

BIM and Construction Disputes

Regardless of the evolution of design and drawing production, construction disputes continue to occur. BIM is a tool. All tools can be handled with varying degrees of skill.

The production of construction documents (CDs) has always required the coordination of multiple design entities. Likewise the construction of a project has always required the coordinated efforts of multiple contractors and trades. The use of cloud-based sharing increases the speed of design team model revisions and coordination, but its accuracy is only as good as the technicians translating the data.

In the CMAR delivery system, responsibilities are sometimes blurred. Contractors and manufacturers are now assisting the design team with various components of the building in the BIM model.

Who has the ownership and responsibility for each of the parts?
What level of detail is being provided by each team member?

The revised 2022 AIA agreements noted above seek to help define this changing landscape of design and construction, but they help only if they are properly utilized. Many future construction claims will be similar to those of the past but with the arrival of BIM and its increased capabilities there will also be new claims that arise.

Contracts will need to be carefully reviewed for duties and responsibilities. BIM models and extracted 2D drawings will need to be evaluated for standard of care and workmanlike performance including model ownership and clash detection. BIM, clash detection and cloud-based sharing provides the design and construction teams with a tremendous delivery platform. Unfortunately, if not properly managed; it will only result in another layer of construction disputes. 

Construction Claims Expert Investigations

There is nearly infinite diversity to the scope of our construction claims investigations. The structure of our firm allows us to meet our clients’ needs by way of our breadth and depth. Among our construction professionals you can find architects with decades of project experience and a broad variety of engineers specializing in the niche disciplines specific to your investigation.

Visit our Construction practice page for more information, or submit an inquiry to connect with an expert.

Featured Expert

Mark T. Sullivan, Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert

Mark T. Sullivan, AIA, NCARB, CDT, CXLT

Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert
Mark Sullivan is a Texas-based registered architect and construction administration professional with more than 25 years of practical experience. His architectural career began with single-family… read more.


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