Will Russia Become the North Star of BIM Technology?

by Kim O’Connell
- Sep 29 2016 - 4 min read
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Image composite: Brandon Au

As seen this past summer in Rio, the Olympics puts a bright global spotlight on both the world’s greatest athletes and the host city’s newly built sports complexes and infrastructure.

The same thing happened when the Winter Olympics came to Sochi, Russia, in 2014. The country pulled out all the stops in the development of the 40,000-seat Fisht Olympic Stadium, which is now being converted from a closed stadium to an open-air arena for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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One of the FIFA World Cup 2018 venues, Spartak Stadium, in Moscow, Russia. Courtesy AECOM.

Designed by Populous and BuroHappold Engineering, Fisht operates with help from BIM technology services provided by SODIS Lab, one of several Russian firms embracing this increasingly in-demand technology.

Today, Russia’s Ministry of Construction is seeking to position the country as a leader in BIM design and export its services around the world. Companies worldwide are using BIM as an effective means to communicate a range of building data—such as dimensions, features, functionality, and cost—among project collaborators near and far.

With BIM technology, “employees don’t need to be at the construction site or where documentation preparation is carried out,” says Andrey Belyuchenko, director of the department of urban planning and architecture activities for the Ministry of Construction in Moscow. “This is an undeniable advantage of the technology and, consequently, the ability to export BIM services. The number and volume of international projects in which Russian companies are involved is growing dynamically.”

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BIM model of the original closed-roof Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia. Courtesy SODIS Lab.

While several Russian firms are working with BIM on high-profile projects—including the 100-floor Akhmat Tower in Grozny, Russia and the mixed-use Lakhta Center in Saint Petersburg—there are still issues standing in the way of the country achieving its global vision. Chief among these are cost, education, regulatory barriers, and the lack of an internationally recognized BIM standard.

“Many companies are afraid of the costs related to implementation of the technology: the purchase of software and more powerful equipment, and staff training,” Belyuchenko says. “Implementation of BIM requires significant restructuring of many business processes . . . [including] new roles and positions, such as BIM managers and BIM coordinators. And here in Russia, companies face a lack of staff with knowledge and experience in using BIM.”

While implementing BIM within firms is certainly a big hurdle to clear, convincing clients to make the leap can be even more challenging. “The main difficulty lies in the need of changing minds of market participants,” Belyuchenko says. “A number of companies prefer to use conservative methods in their work, even if they are ineffective. But the state needs new technologies and efficient construction, so it sets the new rules.”

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Akhmat Tower under construction in Grozny, Russia. Due to be completed in 2020. Courtesy Gorproject.

To that end, the Ministry of Construction plans to establish a phased system, making BIM mandatory for all building projects as soon as next year. “We plan to establish a quota,” Belyuchenko says. “Let’s say 20 percent of federal contracts must be carried out using BIM next year. Later, the order will extend to local contracts. And if in 2018 a structure is designed using BIM, then in 2019, the construction of the structure will also be deployed with BIM. In five years, about 50 percent of public procurement at all levels of the Russian budget system can be switched to BIM.”

To support this, Russia will need to adopt an internationally recognized BIM standard, which will establish a common language for how information is conveyed. The Ministry has established an expert board and working group of BIM consultants who are looking at standards created by other countries, such as the UK, to develop one that would be an attractive model for Russia. Autodesk provided a BIM standard template for Russia that included general terminology, rules of quality assurance, and guidance on modeling milestones for a given project.

“The UK today is a leader in BIM,” Belyuchenko says. “It has become not only a pioneer but also achieved great performance. So their experiences—as well as those in European and Asian countries—should be studied and used. That’s why we are using the UK’s BIM standard as a model.”

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Lakhta Center in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to be completed in 2018. Courtesy Gorproject.

As Russia’s BIM standard solidifies, smaller local contractors and subcontractors will need to catch up in developing BIM capability and absorbing the costs. Fortunately, in addition to the phased BIM mandate, which allows time for firms to acquire software and training, the Ministry is working to increase educational opportunities.

One such resource will feature best practices, training courses, and other useful information gleaned from the global marketplace. And a number of universities, including the Moscow State University of Civil Engineering, have already begun offering BIM courses.

Politically and economically, Russia has faced negative opinions on the world stage. But the widespread adoption of a BIM standard and top-down support for its use in global building projects could present the nation in a different light to potential clients, while boosting the Russian economy.

“Strengthening our position at the international arena—and the expansion of BIM-services export—will allow us bring it to a new level,” Belyuchenko says. “This, in turn, will affect the perception of people. In the eyes of the international community, we will be a country that uses advanced technology for both internal growth and external collaboration.”

It’s an Olympic-level aspiration, to be sure. Stay tuned, as Russia’s BIM star is likely to get brighter.

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