Building Information Sketching: The BIM Era Guide to the Design Sketch Handoff

As certain generations embrace algorithmic design for pre-BIM ideation, for certain other generations the handoff of a quick floor plan sketch created by a senior-level staffer or principal to a production person for headlining is a long-standing architectural tradition. I’ve experimented with a modern take on this important sketch-based task to facilitate BIM workflows.

In an earlier article, I explained that I’m fine with either approach to early design work, but if you sketch, at least make sure you do it digitally — however, even sketching with pen and paper will still work with the guide I’m introducing in this article, it’s just…clunkier.

I came up with this workflow, which I refer to as Building Information Sketching, after seeing enthusiastic production staff get hung up on the Z-axis of the BIM while the designer was only working on the X-Y plane. None of that Z-axis was a concern in the CAD days, and it’s a good thing that it’s an issue today, because it makes us better designers. It all made me want to feed the production staff information for building the BIM that was relevant to the kind of data input the BIM authoring tool was looking for and still make that quick and easy for me to do. Of course there are workarounds for that production person aside from anything we cover here, but that often leads to a mess to clean up in the BIM at a less than ideal time during a later phase of project delivery. So why not embrace The BIM Curve when doing pre-BIM design? Let’s do this. Here’s how…

The Workflow

BIM authoring tools want you to tell them all sorts of details about walls when you are laying out a floor plan, so the designer can provide some guidance on walls via simple wall section sketches — not too much is needed here if you don’t want. For exterior walls, just give thickness, height, and if you’re designing elevations at this time, any information on relief in the exterior face of the wall is helpful. For interior walls, I’ll just provide a height to start with and leave it at that.

For multi-story buildings, you can provide a simple, diagrammatic wall section to explain the story heights or annotate them on each floor plan.

Doors, windows/storefront/curtain walls, fixtures, furnishings, and equipment are handled by letting the production person know which elements from the BIM template you want them to use. If there’s not a good fit in the library, then just let them know the basic parameters so they can place something, they’ll know what to use based on the parameters you specify. This requires the designer to know the content of the BIM template, which can be done by printing out the choices and their names for the paper-centric types or by giving them a PDF to reference if they’re a more digital designer. Having concise naming for BIM elements in the template is important to this workflow to make things fast for the designer.

If the designer is doing exterior elevation sketches, not much changes from what they’re probably used to providing the production staff as long as the designer is providing the wall section sketches noted above.

If you’re the designer about to do a sketch, and you’re in a time crunch and feeling the pressure, don’t be tempted to just sketch the floor plan. Resist temptation and get yourself into a habit of at least providing the diagrammatic wall section sketch(es) too. It really isn’t more than an additional couple minutes of time to get done, and it makes for a big time efficiency improvement on the BIM side of things.

Here’s what that BIM-aware sketch might look like…

This quick sketch captures enough to inform the production staff of design intent and BIM construction — it comes together quick!

You Just Made a Building Information Sketch!

That’s all there is to it! Nothing too difficult here, but it makes a big difference to the production staff in setting up their BIM for success as the project moves forward. Go forth and foster love between design and production staff.

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