Teamwork 2000’s designers are putting on the mantle of Egan and Latham and working together to create a 3D model of an office development. But are they ready for the real world?

On the first floor of the Building Centre, past the display of terrazzo tiles and cookers, there is a little-used back room. About 20 architects, engineers and services engineers are squashed into that small, hot space, all focused on one goal: to build a 3D model of an office development.

It is almost unheard of to find different design disciplines together in one room, but for one week only, this poky room is hosting a dry run in collaborative working. These designers are creating a 3D prototype of Globeside, an office building presently under construction in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. The model is unrelated to the real project, being merely an opportunity to try out a team approach to 3D modelling. The designers have been brought together by Paul Fletcher and the project is called Teamwork 2000.

After both Latham and Egan preached the benefits of teamwork, IT was mooted as the key to its progress. But no industry body has been prepared to take it up. “The problem is: who leads it on an industry-wide basis, because it has got to involve the qs and the engineer,” says Bob Dalziel, director of architect Geoffrey Reid. ”The RIBA and the RICS don’t understand the technology and they don’t have the resources to kick it off.” Which is where Fletcher comes in.

In March, Fletcher, a former Fitzroy Robinson architect, set up Rethinking Construction, a limited company dedicated to educating those interested in the benefits of working together.

Since last April, architects such as Geoffrey Reid and Llewelyn-Davies and engineers including Buro Happold and Oscar Faber & Partners have met regularly on a Monday afternoon under Fletcher’s leadership to build the 3D model of Globeside.

No funding was forthcoming, so Teamwork 2000 has used its own resources. The project members have all paid a subscription according to their company’s turnover. To make the dry run possible, Fletcher persuaded IBM to lend 13 computers, Bentley to provide the MicroStation Triforma software, and the Building Centre Trust to provide the room.

The dry run takes place once the model has been completed. The test is to see how the model and the team stand up to design changes.

On the first day, Monday 10 July, an excited Paul Fletcher “dons a client’s hat” and sets the group a task. “I no longer want the concrete frame I originally asked for,” he says. “I would prefer a steel frame.” The design team has a week to find the right solution and rebuild the model.

The group splits into groups according to discipline but with one structural engineer per group. Huddled in the corridors, they heatedly discuss which steel option – Fabsec or Slimdek – will work best.

“Once we had regrouped and seen the general implications, we split into smaller groups to draw up the pros and cons and decide a programme,” explains Gavin Urquhart, project associate at Llewelyn-Davies. Slimdek wins. By modelling Fabsec, the teams have discovered that the only way to resolve problems with the duct distribution is to construct a taller building, which will in turn increase the cladding costs. There are no such glitches with Slimdek.

“Typically, this is the sort of thing encountered when it is too late,” says Richard McWillams, engineer with Whitby Bird & Partners.

Meanwhile, the real scheme has run into its own problems. The subcontractors on site in Marlow claim the ceiling needs to be lowered by 50 mm because of a clash between the ventilation fans and the lighting. Colin Calderdale, the Geoffrey Reid associate director in charge of Globeside, decides to test the clash on the 3D model. The prototype solves the problem – and comes up with about 100 other clashes not related to the ceiling height.

“It was slight laziness of co-ordination. One discipline was moving ahead of another, so a fan unit and a lighting unit were scheduled to go on top of each other. All we had to do was move them slightly and that saved lowering the roof,” explains a very happy Calderdale.

Back at the Building Centre, the design changes and the construction of the model continue apace. At three o’clock, everything stops for the web conference, where a webcam has been set up so that the team can be viewed on the web site.

By Friday 14 July, all the design changes are complete and the teams are exhausted. But how useful has the dry run been?

“From this exercise, we have learned how easy it is to build a full model. Next time, I would like to start with an empty site and a brief, and build a project from scratch,” enthuses Nick Nelson, group director of Buro Happold.

Fletcher is already working on that. Teamwork 2001 is likely to involve several projects, including schemes that start from scratch.

The dry run has been a great educational process but to really hit the Latham and Egan targets, it needs to be taken out into the real world. Fletcher and his team are ready to admit that the Teamwork 2000 project is artificial in that there are no commercial constraints and the design team are in the same room together. The real test will be working remotely – where the services engineer cannot stick his head up over the computer to yell at the architect that the air-conditioning ducts clash with the lights.

However, for true collaborative working to take place, the technology for sending complex information needs to be quicker and more robust.

The firms themselves are keen to take forward the use of 3D models. Geoffrey Reid, Oscar Faber and Buro Happold are planning to work on a real model as soon as they find a 3D-friendly client.

The fact that busy firms such as Buro Happold, Geoffrey Reid and services engineer ZBP are prepared to put so much time into a virtual scheme says a lot about the potential of 3D modelling. Indeed, the 20 or so designers crammed into the Building Centre’s spare room may come to look upon that week as the start of something big.