UK university spearheads digital construction in China

Nottingham University’s campus in Ningbo, China has launched a research centre for building information modelling (BIM).

The move comes as the Chinese government has a set a target of 2020 for big construction and design companies to be ready to use BIM, a technique that uses software to create detailed, 3D models of structures to streamline construction.

Llewellyn Tang, head of the department of architecture and built environment at the Ningbo campus, said there was a huge shortfall in BIM training provision in China.

"We’re still testing the market, but we’re clear about what we can offer," Tang told GCR’s sister publication, BIM+.

"We recently got funding from the Ningbo government to train professionals, so that’s a good kick-off, and we can see this is a huge market in the future. Through the lab we can deliver a lot of stuff – not just in Ningbo but in lots of other similar types of cities in China."

The research centre, called D-CiTi, integrates research and innovation on BIM and related fields such as smart cities, the Internet of Things, Big Data and green building. It opened last month.

Dr Llewellyn Tang, head of architecture and built environment at the Ningbo campus

Construction firms such as Arup and software houses such as Bentley are involved.

Ningbo, a port city of about 7 million people south of Shanghai, currently has no BIM specialists, designers, or consultancies, said Tang, who worked in the UK for 20 years and, from 2008 to 2012, was a lecturer in construction management at the University of Reading.

Its new D-CiTi Lab is looking at the Level 2/3 BIM strategy globally, including standards, training, implementation and R&D.

"Most interest in Chinese universities is in software training," said Tang. "They think it’s just a tool. Chinese professionals think, if I learn all the software, that means that I can deliver BIM. But in the UK we’re talking about how we can use the tools to leverage best practice and use it to collaborate, which is a little bit different.

"It’s not just the software that needs to be brought in they also need to be BIM-trained – they need degrees from Nottingham," he said.

His team recently secured a grant worth $898,000 to help the Chinese construction industry use eco-friendly and "smart" building technologies.

He said China offers a virtually limitless market for advanced consultancy services, but warned that the vast Chinese construction industry will be difficult to modernise.

"It’s very, very different. Things like basic health and safety are below international standard," he said.

"I think if you want to really bring the whole industry to the next level – it’s more difficult than rocket science. The whole structure, the whole hierarchy, the whole supply chain is different."

He added that the government will require BIM to be used on all publicly-funded Shanghai schemes larger than 20,000 sq m by the end of 2017.

  • Read the complete interview with Professor Llewellyn Tang here.

Photograph: Ningbo, a bustling port city of 7 million south of Shanghai, currently has no BIM specialists

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