Last year around this time, I blogged about a new report indicating that half of the construction industry was using building information modeling (BIM) on their projects.  Last week, the BIM community lit up in response to an article by Nadine Post, which was featured in both Engineering News-Record and Architectural Record.

A representative of XL Insurance provided to ENR the background to a recent dispute over the construction of a life-sciences building at a major university.  According to the article, this is the first known claim related to the use of BIM by an architect. 

On the project, the architect and its MEP engineer used BIM to fit the MEP systems into the ceiling plenum.  When the contractor was about 70% through assembly, it ran out of space in the plenum.  It came to light that the design team failed to inform the contractor that the extremely tight fit of components depended on a specific installation sequence.  In the end, everyone sued: the contractor sued the owner, the owner sued the architect, and the insurance carrier sued the MEP engineer.

The settlement was confidential and there is little information about the identity of the parties, the amount of settlement and the terms of the agreement.  But, based upon the ENR article, as well as best practices generally, here are some lessons learned when using BIM:

  • Communication within your own team.  Although not highlighted in the article, it goes without saying that most construction disputes are 90% fact driven and 10% law driven.  This may be a generalization, but lawsuits are about losses and responsibility for those losses.  The parties’ contract or the applicable law my allocate the risk to one particular entity, but often the dispute is fueled by the facts of the case.  Here, it becomes imperative that your own project team members (from estimating, to scheduling, to field conditions, to contract administration) regularly talk with each other to avoid miscommunication.
  • Communication among the project team. The primary lesson is highlighted by what Nadine Post calls "poor communication" on the project.  According to the insurance carrier, the "’design team never discussed the installation sequence with the contractor, and the contractor wasn’t sophisticated enough’ to understand the importance of assembling the components in a certain order."  As you would suspect with integrated projects, communication among all project team members can help avoid problems stemming from design to construction.
  • Communication per the contract documents.  If you follow construction industry trends related to contract documents, you know that both the AIA and ConsensusDOCS have a working set of documents focused on integrated project delivery.  Here is a comparison of the two groups’ documents related to IPD.  In the end, you should make sure your written agreements conform to your understanding and expectation of how the parties will communicate, what information will be communicated, and what happens in the event of lack of communication … or a dispute.

Image: kpcauchi