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Building Services in the Digital Age – Widening the possibilities of digital design

The wealth of software packages available to any building services engineering team nowadays is quite staggering. Access to complex modelling and graphical database programmes is now almost universal. But are we really making the most of what these incredibly clever packages can offer us? I fear that incorrect training and consequent misunderstanding of complex software packages such as Revit are hindering their usage – reducing them to little more than inadequate 3D modelling tools, rather than realising that programmes such as these can offer the engineer so much more, right from the very earliest stages in the design process.


The methodology of building design is a key focus for my team currently. We are continually searching for software tools across the market to aid new and better design processes.  This can be from the simple everyday software use - such as incorporating Bluebeam to speed up and improve our communication - to more complex linking of multiple modelling packages to improve our process of detailed design.  To this end, right from the very birth of a project we are now using software and design skills to estimate whole building loads and size and model plantrooms / risers in 3D as part of our standard bid response.  

One of the software packages we often utilise is Revit.  It is undeniable that Revit plays a huge role in the modern design industry; it is clearly the current software market leader. However, in my experience it is often not used correctly.  Revit was never intended to be a detailed three dimensional modelling tool used in the latter stages of project design. Indeed, the fact that most contractors to this day deem it unsuitable for the production of their installation drawings shows in reality it is not yet capable of being used for this purpose, at least until further contractor-specific software development is carried out.  Rather, Revit was originally marketed as a graphical interface to database building information that could then be used for multiple functions in the design process – much more than pure three dimensional modelling.

When used correctly, Revit has a substantial part to play in the design process of a building; and when utilised at the very earliest stages of the design process, it can hold a particularly prominent role.  In my team we are using Revit actively at the first stages of design to transfer modelling information to calculation software, embedding calculations within the software, and communicating visually with clients and architects. This enables us to work efficiently and flexibly with the rapid change of a project in its feasibility stage.  We have developed in-house tools that take our feasibility models through the detailed design processes to provide speed of delivery and additional analytical data for integration with other disciplines but we, like so many others, are really just scratching the surface of what can be done.

As an industry, we need widespread and consistent training in modern software packages to ensure that our teams are competently educated to utilise them to our full advantage. In order to mitigate concerns over modelling accuracy within Revit, we need more active involvement from contractors at the outset in developing the libraries within the software.  It is my hope that, if we actively encourage the exploration and inclusion of software such as Revit in the design process from a projects’ infancy, these digital tools can become the cradle-to-grave assistants they were originally formulated to be.  By restructuring our use of software such as Revit and being willing to embrace the changes in best practice that this will inevitably induce, collaboratively we can really come to understand the benefits that software such as this can offer us. 

Peter Brickell is technical director for building services at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff