Jason Howden is BIM technical manager at Warren and Mahoney.

He has over 20 years experience across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in the healthcare, research, institutional, commercial and residential sectors.

Howden relocated to Christchurch to contribute his expertise to the rebuild following the earthquake in the city.

Architecture and Design spoke to him about his interest in BIM, post-earthquake rebuilding and the future of BIM.

Where did your interest in BIM come from

I first become exposed to the concept of BIM in the UK way back in 1999. Back then it wasn't known as BIM but SME, or a Single Model Environment. Although the technology has changed massively the concept remains the same: to share 3D digital models around a common database or origin to produce a virtual prototype of the proposed building before it is built in real-life.

You recently located to Christchurch. What prompted the move to the city

I was born in the deep south of New Zealand in Gore, so I'm a southern man at heart. Watching the earthquakes on the news and Internet from Sydney and wondering if friends and family were ok was a pretty moving experience, combined with a sense of helplessness. So when an opportunity presented itself to come back and work on the rebuilding of Christchurch, especially with my knowledge of the construction industry’s adoption of BIM, it was just too good to pass up.

What are some of the challenges of the post-earthquake rebuilding process?

There are a number of challenges in the post-earthquake rebuilding process. The biggest from my experience has to be the supply and demand for people and material to build what is envisioned for the city. The second has to be how to coordinate all this energy into a choreographed construction programme that ensures deliverables and budgets are met and this is where BIM starts to play a big role. Being able to programme and schedule all the time and materials required to complete a building project is a huge advantage over more traditional methods. With BIM we can even align materials from sites adjacent to each other and look to optimise supply and delivery to both sites, thus removing some of the inefficiencies in ordering materials piecemeal.

There can be controversy about the best solution for rebuilding earthquake-affected cities. What approach do you think is best?

When re-building a city or everyone’s home and place of work you are going to get a lot of competing ideas and concepts. Some will naturally be better than others and others will just not be economic to realise. The key to making sure everyone has their input heard is communication.

BIM was designed from the ground up to provide a better way to communicate the process of design and construction more efficiency and effectively. When stakeholders and the public can see the proposed building in 3D and walk-thorough a virtual prototype of their future home or place of work, sign-offs and approvals can be streamlined and accelerated and ultimately get the city back on its feet sooner.

What is the future of BIM?

Technology associated with BIM is advancing exponentially at present. There is a lot of investment into researching new areas that BIM can be applied to across the globe and with this it’s hard to know what the future might bring. I once read the best way to predict the future was to invent it, and here in Christchurch we are doing just that! From new workflow methodologies and software to prototyping and manufacturing new building products, even the automation and day-to-day management of large complex facilities is being re-designed and re-engineered. The one thing I know is BIM is not going away so jump onboard quickly before it’s too late.

Which city would you like to work in one day?

My dream ‘city,’ is every city … My dream would see me working and residing in an idyllic highly connected location in the south-west of New Zealand, as long as I had access to high-speed fibre to the internet I could apply my skills and experiences across any large scale project anywhere in the world.

Recently Wanaka lost the Gigatown competition to Dunedin, which involved winning gigabit connectivity for the town at entry level broadband prices. I was gunning for Wanaka, but these types of innovations are at the heart of a new digital economy for New Zealand. Think of it as the digital farm, where green energy powers and supplies data centres and digital exports offshore and allows New Zealand to leverage one of its most important resources – its people – on a global scale.