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Mind the Model: An Architect—Contractor BIM Sharing Agreement

On The level of development (LOD) of the BIM model determines how the model can be used. Architects should be careful in defining the terms and conditions of this use in E203 and G202, particularly when sharing the model outside the design team. The model has significant value as information for the contractor such as for estimating, logistics and trade coordination. However, in the current state of the industry, the model is not typically considered to be developed to the extent that it can be relied upon the same as signed and sealed construction documents.

In circumstances where the model is conveyed only as supplementary information and for convenience without reliance on the model content, Berkley Design Professional, a professional liability insurance carrier, has prepared a one page, plain language agreement that may be more efficient for these circumstances. Such a transaction is reminiscent of the electronic usage agreements architects drafted in times past for the contractor’s use of the architect’s 2D CAD documents for shop drawing backgrounds.

Please be aware, as with all agreements, that project requirements may vary, and the one-page agreement referenced here may not be appropriate for your project without revisions on advice of counsel. This agreement requires and/or includes the following:

  • Consultation with counsel for preparation
  • Specific use and limitations of the model by the contractor
  • Retention of copyright and intellectual property rights by the design professional(s)
  • Indemnity by contractor to owner and design professional(s)
  • Prohibition of BIM files for construction use.

An example of this one-page agreement is included with this paper, but be advised that it is for general informational purposes only and finalization of an agreement for a specific project requires legal counsel involvement.

The one-page agreement is in plain language and its size and simplicity is less intimidating than the published documents. However, it should not be considered as a substitute for the documents needed to produce a BIM project.

If an agreement such as this is developed for use on a particular project, its use on subsequent projects will require a review of applicable laws and regulations as well as any other legal implications affecting the agreement under its use conditions. It is unsafe to assume that the agreement will be appropriate for any future project.

Practice Considerations

Transitioning from a 2D CAD environment to BIM is more than purchasing new design technology software and learning how to use it.  When implemented properly, BIM represents a significant evolution of design practice in a data-rich environment with an integrated team approach.  The transformation to BIM involves significant investment by the design firm in the following areas:

  • Design and production process
    • Extensive and collaborative project planning amongst the design disciplines to establish common goals, uses, and procedures including process mapping, model management, permissions, access, measurement, coordinates, accuracy and tolerances, data exchange, file transfer, file maintenance, document delivery and production, quality control and model integrity checks, support– all defined in the BIM Execution Plan or BIM Protocol Manual
    • Training of staff is not only intensive initially but requires ongoing effort as the firm evolves in its capabilities in BIM use and delivery and adapts to annual software updates
    • BIM managers and/or coordinators should be devoted to leadership of the process on projects
  • Design and quality management content and systems
    • Creating a BIM content library of details, systems, families and components– the conversion of your well-established CAD libraries and procedures is time and planning intensive, requiring diligent engagement of QA/QC and design technology staff
    • Managing BIM content and procedures will evolve with project team experience. Communication amongst project teams to share lessons learned and best practices will facilitate consistent and efficient use of BIM across the firm in a manner consistent with your QA/QC policies and procedures
  • IT Infrastructure to address higher data volume, computing speed and file sizes
    • Computer workstations with sufficient processing speed and RAM
    • Servers with enhanced storage capacity including potential dedicated system for BIM content library
    • Local area network (LAN)
    • Wide area network (WAN) especially for multi-office firms
    • Data backup and recovery procedures
    • Network security systems and procedures
    • Incremental cost of BIM subscriptions compared to CAD licenses

The architecture firm needs to be committed to fundamental change to the approach and thought process and make the necessary investment in important aspects of project delivery, design and technology systems and training to enable efficiency and success in the implementation of BIM.

Keep Good Company

The rules for BIM apply as much they did for 2D CAD when it comes to the company that you keep. Experienced practitioners may remember the precautions taken with consultants when preparing for their first CAD delivered project.

  • Consultants you know well and have worked with before
  • Compatible software and approach
  • Not their first time at the rodeo; experience with the process and equipment
  • Reasonable expectations
  • Willing and prepared to do what is needed
  • Adequately insured

Similar rules of due diligence apply to the contractor.

  • Contractors you know well and have worked with before
  • Not their first time at the rodeo; experience with the process
  • In-house BIM capability
  • Reasonable expectations
  • Willing and prepared to do what is needed
  • Adequately bonded
  • Acceptable claims history

And you cannot leave out the owner.

  • Preferably an owner you have worked with before
  • Preferably not their first time at the rodeo
  • Fully aware of the risks
  • Reasonable and realistic expectations of the role and impact of BIM for the project
  • Acceptable claims history

Enough cannot be said about working with a team that is aware and is invested in the outcome. Most BIM projects are contracted traditionally, and the risk allocation is the same or similar to past traditional deliveries. However, your BIM model may generate more risks than your past 2D or hand-drawn drawings because of the extensive data embedded in the model and the potential that the contractor may gain possession and control of your work product. It’s like giving the keys to your house to an acquaintance who has an agenda; you just can’t take too many precautions.


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