They say Rethinking Construction is more than a report – and they’re right. For Paul Fletcher, it’s the name of the company he founded to promote teamwork using 3D modelling. Sir John would be proud …

Sir John Egan may be surprised to hear that Rethinking Construction, the title of his seminal 1998 report, is now the name of a company promoting 3D modelling. Paul Fletcher, the young architect behind the cheekily named enterprise, is hoping that he, too, can revolutionise the industry.

At the moment, says Fletcher, technology does little to create the integrated teams recommended by Latham and Egan. The disciplines stay within their professional ghettoes and, although they communicate using computer files, these are essentially electronic transcriptions of paper-based information. In fact, “the exchange of information in a file-based format increases the cultural barriers between consultants and contractors”, Fletcher says. By contrast, a 3D model of a project is only possible if the design team works together as more than the sum of its parts, pooling its skills to create a single multidisciplinary unit – with the payoff of fewer errors, fewer disputes, faster construction, lower costs and bigger profits.

The two main factors hampering uptake are the unfamiliarity of the concept and the relatively immaturity of the supporting technology. As yet, only a few well-resourced contractors, such as Laing, HBG and Taylor Woodrow, are using it.

The first of these problems requires an experimental approach to find out the best ways for the team to work together, so Rethinking Construction is organising Teamwork 2000, an Egan-style demonstration project that will take the form of a 3D model of the Globeside Business Park office development being built in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

This is scheduled to happen at the beginning of June. Once complete, the project will culminate in a live performance at the Building Centre in central London on the 10-14 July, where it will be used to show a live audience just what the technology can do – for example, by demonstrating the effect of design changes such as replacing a concrete frame with steel. There will also be seminars and an exhibition.

The exchange of information in a file-based format increases the cultural barriers between consultants and contractors

Paul Fletcher, Rethinking Construction

The team for the project is being assembled now, and has already attracted about 10 architectural and engineering firms that are willing to part with the annual subscription (between £500 and £7500, depending on the size of the company). Those signed up so far include Fitzroy Robinson, Geoffrey Reid Associates, Broadway Malyan, Whitby Bird & Partners and Oscar Faber & Partners. Although several contractors have expressed a keen interest in the project, none has yet joined.

The team will collaborate by logging on to a web site, (which goes live at the beginning of June), and working on the model using Triforma, MicroStation’s 3D modelling program. Any problems with this software should be eased by the presence on the team of Bentley Systems, the manufacturer of MicroStation. As Peter King, an associate at Fitzroy Robinson, puts it: “There’s a difference between those people who know about IT, and those who produce working drawings and know about working processes. Part of this exercise is to bring these camps together.”

As well as working out how to get the most out of the technology, the project is investigating the “soft” issue of team dynamics. “The problems are how we work together using a single repository. We don’t know what the technical and personality issues will be,” explains Bob Dalziel, director of Geoffrey Reid.

Fletcher agrees: “The focus is not on the product but on the way of working so we can start to explore the cultural issues.”

All the knowledge gained from the project will be collated by Michael Phiri, a senior research fellow in architecture at Sheffield University, and made available to the team members. After that, Fletcher hopes to launch Teamwork 2001, an extended series of demonstration projects that mixes schemes with designs in place and those in which the teams will start a design from scratch. He is also negotiating a tie-up with the Movement for Innovation, which was initially attracted by the company’s name.

Why 3D modelling is the future

Traditionally, architects have designed buildings on paper using lines that represent parts of the building such as doors, pipes and windows. This was repeated in CAD files. Three-dimensional CAD technology allows a designer to construct a prototype building as a computer file, which is an exact replica of the building to be created. The model is built from objects – representations of building elements such as walls, windows or ducts that contain information on the elements’ properties, including height, weight and cost. In effect, it is a database of information about each element. When the objects are put together, a duct that clashes with a door will scream at the designer long before the contractor on site does. One of the main problems at the moment is software compatibility. Architects tend to use Bentley Systems’ MicroStation products, whereas engineers design with Autodesk’s AutoCAD. The two are not compatible. What’s more, German software firm Nemetschek, the leading 3D software producer in Europe, is about to give Autodesk a run for its money with the UK launch of its own 3D modelling software. Many efficiencies can be achieved by using the 3D method. For example, there is less need for the professions to repeat each other’s work as, ideally, the engineer, architect and other designers are working from a single model. Also, elements of a building can be copied and pasted from project to project and the building should be easier to price. For more information, e-mail