Building Information Modelling and Creativity

Matthew Hynam

BIM is a collaborative digital process used in the construction industry that allows built environment professionals to work together through a project’s lifecycle: inception – completion – operation – decommission. The digital process is carried out within a shared online digital model in which separate professional teams including architects, engineers and quantity surveyors can interrogate and develop the same model. The model is developed through software programs operated by each team such as Autodesk Revit which will be described later. BIM software has its roots in ‘Computer Aided Design’ (CAD) however it embraces an entirely new approach to the design process. (Garber, R. 2014) CAD represented a digitisation of a paper design process but still required information to be shared through the issuing of drawings at set stages within a project. (McAdam, B. 2011) This inevitably led to information clashes between teams where one team’s drawings would be out of sync with another teams. (Azhar, S. 2011) BIM looks to both modernise the drawing process and the information handling process by allowing professionals to share information through a 6 Dimensional computer model which embraces the 3 Dimensions of space but also include the ‘dimensions’ of time, cost and performance. The primary aim of BIM, according to the Government, is to unlock more efficient methods for designing, creating and maintaining projects. (Blackwell, B. 2012.) As such the Government has made the adoption of level 2 BIM a mandate for all publicly funded projects by 2016. (Cabinet Office. 2011) The BIM maturity diagram opposite shows the various levels of BIM starting at level 0, unmanaged CAD files and progressing towards level 3, a single 6D model stored online. Level 2 BIM requires practices to manage information in a 5D environment in line with various standards but does not require teams to share a single model online.

The requirement to use BIM has triggered a paradigm shift in the way that designers handle and store information during the design process leading to concerns that it is stifling architectural creativity. (Smith, D.K. & Tardif, M. 2009) This concern has also been voiced by current RIBA President Stephen Hodder who suggested that it ‘… could easily lead to less creativity in the design process,’ (Pitcher, G. 2012) Richard Garber in his book ‘BIM Design Realising the creative potential of BIM’ suggests that in order to tackle these issues architects need to embrace change and actively look for opportunities in technologies to assert a creative direction. (Garber, R. 2014 p.222)

The reason why it is important to actively look for opportunities to be creative is that creativity is highly valued by both designers and their clients. (Beveridge, W.I.B. 1957) William Ian Beveridge talks about the type of creativity that is important within the design process describing in particular the flexibility of the mind of the designer when thinking through a problem. It is clear that designers put real value on creativity however what is the perceived value of creativity outside of these professions? (Beveridge, W.I.B. 1957) The value and importance of creativity to governments around the world can be seen in the amount of money and research that is being invested into the field in order to reap the economic benefits. (DCMS, 2013; Montague, S. 2014) Within the UK it is estimated that creativity is worth more than £36 billion a year to the economy. (DCMS, 2013)

Research into creativity has uncovered a wide and complex academic field with an equally diverse range of definitions. Definitions of creativity range from those which focus on an individual’s genius, to those which define the levels of novelty and appropriateness of an idea or product. Creativity is sometimes stereotyped as an indefinable phenomenon that comes from an individual’s ability to let go. However creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson says: ‘…Serious creative achievement relies on knowledge, control of materials and command of ideas.’ (Robinson, K. 1999, p.6)

Within the context of this research into the design process it seems logical to form a definition of creativity around the creative process. Definitions of creativity based on processes are well established and as such are identified by James Melvin Rhodes as one of the four categories in which creativity definitions can sit. (Rhodes, M. 1961) The other categories identified being the person, press (environment) and product. A second reason for pursuing a creative process definition in this research is that the adoption of BIM is dramatically changing the process by which designers deliver buildings. (Garber, R. 2014 p.14)

As a working definition creativity in architecture is defined as the processes and creative leaps that lead to the creation of architectural design excellence.


  • Creative design is the careful balancing act between convergent and divergent thinking. Therefore creative design is neither standardised nor necessarily original. (Lawson, B. 2006, p.153)
  • Creative Leap is the moment within the creative design process when a designer bridges a gap within an otherwise convergent process by engaging divergent thinking. The cognitive act appears not so much as a leap but as building a bridge between problem requirement and solution proposal. (Cross, N. 2006)
  • Design excellence in architecture is defined as architecture that has been judged by design professionals against established criteria and other architectural examples to be excellent. An example of this is the RIBA who use judging panels to determine the creativity of a project. (RIBA. 2015)

Research to date has identified that there are a number of ‘issues’ with regards to existing BIM software and the creative elements of the design process. This includes current BIM software hindering the early stages of the design process and poor interoperability with other media5. (Pitcher, G. 2012; Park, H. 2008; Gu, N. & London, K. 2010) There are also a number of research sources that corroborate the need for tools to support creativity within the BIM process due to current tools being too visible and creating a gap between thought and action. (Smith, D.K. & Tardif, M. 2009; Banks, J. 2014; Jernigan, F.E. 2008) However prominent architect and academic Richard Garber suggests that at present research into creative tools for use in BIM has yet to be explored. (Garber, R. 2014 p.18) The majority of existing research has been quantitative research into how BIM can provide amplified efficiencies to the industry. Research into how BIM might be used creatively during the early stages of a project is currently unexplored. (Garber, R. 2014 p.18) This research seeks to bridge the gap between BIM and creativity and examine how tools can be developed to aid architectural creativity in the early stages of the design process. This is exported through the following research question:


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