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Fit for the Future: BIM Use in High-Rise Construction

Architect André Friedel from Drees & Sommer in Conversation

Complex high-rise buildings require perfect planning. BIM (Building Information Modeling) provides a remedy here and enables efficient and digitized collaboration between the various trades involved in construction. However, the BIM methodology also enables applications that go beyond the construction itself. For example, loss-free data management throughout the entire life cycle or the certification of particularly sustainable buildings.

In an exclusive interview with SKYLINE ATLAS, André Friedel of Drees & Sommer provides an insight into the potential of BIM, BIM fitness in the Rhine-Main region and the special features of high-rise construction. As an architect and planner, he was involved in the construction of the new European Central Bank in Frankfurt’s Ostend district from 2012 and has been a BIM expert at Drees & Sommer since 2017.


“It is particularly due to increased computing power and storage capacity that the BIM method has been able to develop so well over the past 10 years.”

– André Friedel

SKYLINE ATLAS: Dear Mr. Friedel, it’s nice of you to take the time for our interview here inside the European Central Bank today. You chose this location because this is where your professional career took off in the Rhine-Main region. Today, you are a respected BIM expert, have been a project partner at Drees & Sommer since 2017, and have been responsible for the content of BIM in project management there since 2020. To start with, can you explain the term BIM (Building Information Modeling) in more detail and highlight why and where the use of BIM is worthwhile?

André Friedel: Since I have focused my activities on the BIM method, I have been working on a phrase that describes the BIM method as succinctly as possible. My current attempt is: “BIM is a method for interdisciplinary digital collaboration and communication in a virtual data model of the building. Geometric and alphanumeric information is captured, coordinated, and documented across trades and phases.” The idea, or rather the need, is not new; the concept has been around since the 1980s. However, the method has only reached practical market maturity in the last ten years. This is mainly due to the fact that powerful computers and cheap memory are now able to make the large amounts of data available in a user-friendly and intuitive way. After all, the 3D model on the screen is just the graphical front end of highly complex databases behind it.

The routine use of the BIM method is basically worthwhile for every construction project in terms of planning and process quality. Even at Level 1, with cyclical, model-based coordination of planning, I have already achieved great added value for the project with minimal effort.

SKYLINE ATLAS: In conventional design planning, for example, with CAD (computer-aided drafting), the first thing that comes to mind is spatial data. What data is hidden behind the “I” in BIM?

André Friedel: That is the essential point: the geometric content is enriched with information, so the objects “know” something about themselves, so to speak. For example, in addition to the simple information that can be derived from its geometry (spatial location, height, width, volume, etc.), a body communicates that it is a load-bearing exterior wall made of reinforced concrete.

As the project progresses, the body becomes more detailed geometrically but also in terms of its information. For example, as the project progresses, the layered structure is added, and further information on concrete quality, degree of reinforcement, surface quality, exposure class, etc. is added. This information is linked to the body and can be used by all project participants.

If the project has further information needs, e.g. due to additional BIM use cases, this information is also maintained there. And this is the current, essential challenge for BIM management: The control of the information flow and data management: Who makes available to whom when which information in which form where and how.


SKYLINE ATLAS: BIM sees itself as an integral construction process. This also means that the same (BIM) language must be spoken between the various trades and players involved in construction. The various knowledge nodes and data must be standardized. What challenges does this pose for the construction industry?

André Friedel: At the organizational level, a good half dozen initiatives are working to standardize the understanding of BIM methods in Germany. In addition to government players, interest groups and standard-setting institutes, these also include universities and private-sector organizations. Each of the participants naturally tries to place its view of things and also its interests. Thus, several proposals compete with each other for interpretative authority. Parallel to this, however, we also observe that the understanding of methods in the market is harmonizing among the players through daily doing. There is a robust consensus on modeling guidelines or BIM coordination meetings. There is still critical discussion on the topic of basic and special, or advanced services and their scope.

On a technical level, the topic of data management, data exchange and, above all, standardization of data structures is a challenge. Here, too, there are various approaches to harmonizing these, e.g., via feature servers. In practice, however, the topic is also controlled pragmatically via proper BIM management and implemented by experienced BIM coordinators and authors.

In my view, this situation is one of the biggest obstacles to the spread of the BIM method. There are still too many stakeholders waiting for a manual to regulate en detail how it should be done and how much fee can be charged. And above all, what not to do. The market participants, however, who have already set out, are already applying the method to their own benefit and to the success of the projects. I can only encourage them to get started and get doing. However, this also requires appropriately trained capacities.


André Friedel on the Interchange Platform at the European Central Bank

SKYLINE ATLAS: Keyword capacities: what additional resources, both on the technical and on the personnel side, does the comprehensive use of BIM require?

André Friedel: If BIM is to be implemented more comprehensively, i.e. with multiple use cases, the AHO recommends commissioning BIM management, which sets up and controls the BIM project technically and organizationally at the project management level. In simple Level 1 BIM projects, this task is increasingly performed by a BIM-capable project management.

With regard to technology, project data rooms for exchanging models are a minimum requirement. However, these are usually available for project communication anyway and are therefore not really an additional resource. A major benefit is the use of collaboration platforms that organize model-based communication. The financial and administrative effort is negligible, but the added value for the BIM method and the project is enormous.

Basically, even for complex projects, the use of technical and human resources is very manageable and pays for itself at the latest on the construction site through the improved process and planning quality.


SKYLINE ATLAS: When it comes to digitization, Germany is always lagging behind other countries. Where does Germany, and the Rhine-Main region in particular, stand compared to other countries and regions when it comes to “BIM fitness“?

André Friedel: We have seen that the English-speaking world in particular, as well as some Asian countries, got off to a very early start with the BIM method and now have a head start in terms of a generally valid and recognized understanding of the method. However, it is important to know that the project delivery models in these countries are also usually much simpler than here in Germany, for example.

In the meantime, the methodology has basically become established operationally in Germany and Europe; as described above, there is a basic consensus between the active participants about the type and implementation, so that we can implement even very demanding BIM use cases quite smoothly in more and more projects. The quality of this implementation, in turn, can definitely be regarded as leading in an international comparison.

In our experience, the Rhine-Main region is well positioned in a national comparison, which is of course also due to the size and clout of the regional construction industry. Both the planning and engineering firms operating here and the companies carrying out the work have been implementing the BIM method for some time and are using it routinely. More recently, we have observed that project developers are also increasingly making themselves BIM-ready because they have recognized that BIM also brings advantages in the early project lifecycle phases, whether through virtual marketing or a faster start to realization on the basis of digital foundations.


SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s talk about the big issue of sustainability. Hardly any major project is still being built without the appropriate building certification, for example from the DGNB. How does BIM also help with regard to life cycle assessment in the certification of building projects?

André Friedel: BIM planning makes significant contributions in every criteria category of the known certification systems. This begins, for example, with model-based simulations of acoustic or visual comfort, continues with operationally optimized planning through model-based, planning- and construction-accompanying FM, and ends with the evaluation of deconstruction and recycling friendliness with the aid of the digital twin.

Regardless of the certification, digital processes can be used to plan buildings in a more sustainable and resource-saving way overall, also with a view to optimized, smart operation. From a BIM perspective, we summarize this approach as a whole under “Green BIM“.

SKYLINE ATLAS: BIM is closely related to another trend, modular construction. This means that individual components or modules of a building are no longer manufactured on site, but only have to be assembled on the construction site. Will it be possible in the future to realize major projects much faster than in the past?

André Friedel: At our own OWP12 project in Stuttgart, we have impressively demonstrated the performance of lean, digital planning with BIM and modularized prefabrication together with partners from industry. Not only do planning and production processes become significantly more efficient and streamlined through the standardized handling of recurring units and processes, but at the same time the quality of the modules increases through prefabrication under idealized conditions. On the construction site, it then only takes around 30 minutes to install a module of this type; in conventional production in trade trains, it would have taken around 1.5 working days. Even taking into account production times and construction site logistics, modular construction beats conventional production by a long way.


OWP12 in Stuttgart

SKYLINE ATLAS: What are the concrete advantages of digital design and construction with BIM for high-rise buildings? Can we expect completely new and innovative designs in the future?

André Friedel: Among other things, high-rise projects are distinguished by three characteristics that make the use of the BIM method a necessity.

First of all, the technical and geometric complexity, especially in the area of technical building equipment. Without information-based, computer-aided planning and coordination, such demanding planning tasks are definitely no longer manageable.

Secondly, in high-rise projects, a large number of internal and external experts have to be orchestrated over a long period of time. The complex communication and sustainable information maintenance makes a central management of the information indispensable. From software development, the term “single source of truth” has rightly established itself here.

The third aspect, as described above, is the repetition factor. Common areas and modules not only vertically across the standard floors, but also horizontally within the levels can really show their advantages through digital planning methods and modularized prefabrication.

For me, from an architect’s perspective, good designs are characterized by a simple and strong concept that is clearly reflected in all scales and details and that gives the project its character. Digital tools and processes not only increase the quality of planning; automated and accelerated processes can create free space for architects to focus on the spirit, the esprit of a design and to follow it through as consistently as possible.

On top of that, innovative, data-based tools and methods such as parametric and generative design can help to implement the design concept with innovative design approaches and constructions, but more important than a tool is the skillful application.


Planning masterstroke: FOUR Frankfurt

SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s take a look into the future. What else can the data collected and standardized by BIM be used for later? Will AI find its way comprehensively into the construction industry?

André Friedel: AI is a broad field and some aspects definitely have great potential, but rather in the medium to long-term future. The main focus at the moment is the intelligent coordination and use of data, the so-called data-driven decisions. In BIM management mandates, we can use a solid database to assess the performance of a project neutrally and on the basis of experience from comparable projects, and identify potential problems at an early stage.  This predictive use of data is already established in digital, smart building operations, where “predictive maintenance” is already an FM use case. Here, machine learning, one aspect of AI, can play a role. We are also proactively pursuing automated object recognition in point clouds.

Furthermore, I see great potential in the digital twin as documentation and cadastre for the completed building. Understanding buildings in terms of circular value creation as modular stores of raw materials and components and using them sustainably with the help of the digital twin is an approach we are pursuing on the way to making the construction industry more sustainable.

Looking to the future, I am pleased that the intuitive use of building data, whether in planning, construction or operation, will become increasingly simple and productive in the future thanks to steadily increasing computing power and storage capacity. And the bottom line is that it will also be more fun!

SKYLINE ATLAS: Thank you very much for the interview.

About André Friedel

André Friedel is responsible for BIM in Building Performance Project Management at Drees & Sommer.

Based on many years of practical experience, including international experience, in BIM-based planning, realization and management of office and commercial buildings, André Friedel and the BIM Solutions PM team focus on supporting challenging multi-projects as well as organizations and companies in the strategic and operational implementation of the BIM method.

After studying architecture in Aachen and Trondheim (Norway), André Friedel began his career in innovative and integrally planning offices, specializing over the years in office and special buildings through content work. In 2012, he moved to the Frankfurt office of Albert Speer + Partner to participate in the realization of the ECB. He joined Drees & Sommer in 2017 as a BIM expert and has been Senior Expert and Competence Manager since 2020.


André Friedel

More Pictures from the Interview in the European Central Bank's Skytower