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Managing BIM in Architecture - Margarida Barbosa

Margarida Barbosa explains her career as a BIM Manager a ALab Architects. Learn how Margarida manages BIM on architectural projects.

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Managing BIM in one of Norway's leading architectural offices is no easy task.

This week’s interview is with Margarida Barbosa, BIM Manager at A-lab Architects in Oslo, Norway.

Margarida has a PhD from the Technical University of Lisbon which focussed on As-Built Building Information Modelling workflows and, since completing her PhD, Margarida has worked mainly in Oslo, but also Dallas Texas with Beck Group - an experience which we talk about in the show.

In this interview we talk all about how A-lab are innovating, specifically around Building Information Modelling and Computational Design.

Full Transcript

Okay. I'm here today in, quite overcast Oslo, and I'm here with Margarida Barbosa, who is working for A-lab Architects. Thanks for joining me today, Margarida.

Thank you for having me here.

How are you doing?


Good. Good. Yeah, thanks again for inviting me. And if you could just start by telling us how you first got into the world of architecture and building information modeling?

I started actually quite early. I was in the third year of university, and basically architecture was not my first choice. I was first in medicine, in dental medicine, and I was there for one semester and I hated it. And then I quit university and I did exams for to enter architecture and then I enter. And this means I'm terrible drawing because I never... All my education is scientific and math, so I didn't draw a lot.

So then I had these projects where I had to communicate to teachers what I meant by drawing and by doing the sections and the plans with my skills, and they were very little. So I start saying," Okay, this is not working," Because they don't understand what I am trying to say. So I was... I start researching how could I communicate in a better way, and I found Archicad. And I understood you could do this plan, and then you can do automatically section, and you could actually make drawings pretending you are drawing. And for me, that was mind blowing. So then I began using it as a 3D, not with quantities, not with the BIM parts, and with drawing so I could express ideas to the teachers and express what I wanted to do on the projects.

Right. Okay, and you've achieved a lot in your career so far. You've had a PhD in Lisbon and now, fast forward, we'll talk about that in a bit but fast forward to your role today as BIM Manager for A-lab.

Can you just talk about what that involves? What kind of day to day tasks are in this room?

I think it's still a little bit defined what it is, because you end up doing a lot of everything. But we have a plan, and the idea is that I spare 50% of my time being on a project. So I work has an architect 50% of my time, helping the project and doing wherever it's needed. And then the other 50% is subdivided in research and in support. This means that 25% of my time, I'm jumping into the projects and helping people doing some consultation on.. For example, they have these, "How should we model this or how should we organize this?," and we talk a little bit about what it should be for them to understand that the model will be differently according to the needs. So there's not one way of doing things but several, and it depends on what is the goal that they want to achieve with it. And also lot of doubts and, "this is not working," and "this got corrupted," and, you know, it's basically everything that is related to it and also a little bit of IT support.

And then the other 25 is research and that we are focusing a lot on VR, VR with multi users. We are focusing a lot in dynamo group in computational parametric automation. What are we doing more in research? We are researching point clouds and how they improve the workflow in the rehabilitation and how can they be used in computations like wind drawing, photogrammetry. And also further, we are trying to understand how can we have our projects more sustainable, with more sustainable? So how can we use the visual programming? How can you use new tools wherever it is to do an analysis in the beginning when the project is first being set up, so you have a better base for them -- the block, the project. So it's a little bit all over.

Lots of interesting work. You mentioned generative design. You mentioned point clouds, the VR...

Could you maybe talk us through one example of something you implemented on a project that's in any of those?

Let's see. We are now doing a collaboration with VREX, that is a VR software that can have multiple users inside and it can be just to see the design or it can be about seeing the clash detection issues inside the model. And a lot has this project that is the Teban in front of important. It's the metro and it's a collaboration with Zaha Hadid. And because we are here in Oslo and they are in London, we are testing and using the VR meetups to talk about the model and to have a... To test it how could it be more? What uses could we do more of this? And to try to have a better communication.

You ever get the clients involved in this?

With VR? Yes. They really react well. It's, like, fun for them. They mean moments.

Yeah, and do you ever have changes to the design that comes from these kind of conversations in virtual reality?

Yeah, it's pretty interesting because we also use Enscape and can just change it in a moment use design options on the moment, and it makes the communication goes faster. And I think people understand because you have things inside your head and you normally think, "Oh, that person is seeing exactly what I'm seeing," and rarely that's the case, right? Because everyone has a different way of thinking. So it's a really good way of communicating exactly what you're thinking.

And just to move a bit further down that path, talking about clients and BIM generally, is in Oslo or in Norway that the clients requesting or requiring certain BIM requirements for a project or is it driven by yourselves as architects leading the work?

I think it's different in every case. So you have clients that are very aware, and you have clients that actually hire you to stipulate. So I work with Angie Mendez, and she is a big part of the contracts part, and requirements, and making sure that what we promised delivery, we deliver it. And it makes sense because a lot of times, you have a lot of things that there should be delivered but they don't make that much sense, right? So we are focusing also on improving that part.

And you've worked a little bit in Portugal? Are there any main differences you've seen between the work culture there or maybe the technical? Anything?

That's a hard question. I just worked one year in Portugal, and it was because of that experience that I wanted to change and go to PhD so I might not be the right person to talk about working in Portugal. But as I understood, and but I'm away for a lot of years, so I have no clue how it is right now, but I decided to come here and to leave Portugal because of they were very delayed in the adoption of BIM and I had to go back to a way of working that I... It didn't interested me.

So maybe now it's different. I have very little contact with how the work is in Portugal now. But my idea is that it's still very, very delayed in BIM.

Okay. Interesting. And you mentioned now your PhD. I'd like to speak a little more about that 'cause that's taken up a portion of your career. You've become an expert in As-Built models and point cloud. Is that correct? Do you mind quickly tell us about what your PhD was about and what the conclusions were?

My PhD was using point clouds or tools to improve the workflows and efficiency when we are talking about existing buildings. And it was very focused on Portugal at the time cause I started in Portugal and I wanted to gather, basically, a state of art of what was there outside that we were doing with BIM that could be applied to rehabilitation. I worked... Then I came here with PhD to work in Oslo Dark Company.

After that, I moved to Dallas, Texas, to work with Beck Group. And then I come back to Oslo. And the goal of the PhD was to use what I was using daily and to basically sum up. Wherever I work with my colleagues or wherever the conversations we have or wherever the projects I was working on, I tried to just, you know, get their information. And then later, I would do something with it with the PhD. So it was a lot about showing to Portugal what other countries were doing with it. So how do we use the tools to improve the managing information in rehabilitation? Tools like BIM.

Are there any case studies that you found that were particularly, like, leading the way?

I worked with Harry and Sylvia, and they are the best in... They are amazing. It was amazing working with them. And the way Beck Group -- they were working there when I was there -- the way Beck Group has established a standardized way of creating the models of managing information, the level of accuracy, the methodic was very impressive.

It's not one specific, but it's the way they are able to create a standardized workflow and apply it to every single project. It was... I learned so much.

And are you using those principles in your day-to-day roles?

Yes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Definitely. We have some rehabilitation works here, and I tried to apply the same methodologies. Here it's a little bit different than United States. I think you have more rules and legal obligations, and the level of accuracy may be higher.

And it's interesting now when I'm with construction and trying in understanding that the model you produced from a point cloud from a design is completely different from model when you are in construction and it depends on what you're going to do, right? So not only you think, "Oh, let's see the point cloud," "Let's see the average of the height where the slab is, and that's where you place it." But if you are constructing and you want the highest point because on all the doors open, right? Then you will model according to the highest point, not the average. These kind of things are very interesting to find out.

Very good. And you talked a lot about the structured approach to managing data and organizing this information. How do you find working in an architect practice that's maybe more creative? They value creativity and they'd have a looser workflow. How do you find managing colleagues to move towards this structured approach to delivery?

I find it interesting. I find that that's where the real value is -- when you put two people who are so different together and each of us is pulling for one side, right? And say, "No, no, no, no. It has to be..." And then you reach the middle term. And I think that's where the value is because maybe sometimes it doesn't need to be super structured, and maybe sometimes it doesn't need to be super creative. With the middle, it will be maybe the most interesting and the best value for the client.

Yeah. On a related note, you talked about computational design and the visual programming elements. Some would say that these reduce the creativity of an architect but you could also argue that you can create some amazing forms with... How are you using, first of all, these products for geometry and design?

We are using for both, I think for efficiency of the projects. This means trying to remove repetitive tasks and trying to improve the tool, the software we use. And it helps with also the creativity. I don't think it will take away the creativity because that's on you. It will help you actually to be faster and to have time for that creativity. Because if you are manually changing one door 1000 times, I don't know how creative after that you are going to feel. Right? So I think it makes place to have time for other things that are more important.

And if you know how to use it... I think that's the thing. You need to know until where to use it and what to do with it. It's like, computer does not replace drawings by hand, right? But it really helps. This of just being one or another, it's a little bit extreme. I think if you merge both, if you find a way for complementing, then one doesn't need to disappear. It's just bringing the best of the two. And I think with visual programming or with programming, it's the same.

Okay, yeah. What kind of uptake has it had from architects in the office or technicians in the office? Are you seeing people trying to adapt their skillsets to learn these new tools, or is it hiring in different people with skill sets to complement what you've got here already?

I think when you have an office -- we are a hundred right now, so it's quite... It's not gigantic, but it's already some people. You will have a lot of different set of skills. And you'll have the people who absolutely hate computers. And you'll have the people who are completely in love and who are doing scripting. We have a girl here that's in school. She's... or she uses Python daily. She just creates scripts to make things faster. People come to her.

So what I'm finding is that the people who are not naturally passionate about learning about using computer about improving, they start to understand that they can talk with the people who are. And this is starting quite like a network that makes things happen. So right now, you start seeing that the people who don't want to use it, they know the person who likes to use it and go to her and say, "Hey, listen. I would like to do this. Is this possible?" or "How does this work?"

Now at A-lab, we have these Dynamo group, and basically it's by request. So, "We have this. Is this possible to automate?" Or "We have to do this." For example, now it was, "I have to do cell drawings. It's very worrying. Okay" and it was like, "No, we can create a script to automatically do it." And you just need them to do a retouch because we weren't able to do everything automatically yet. So, yeah. I think it's different from person to person.

Interesting. You mentioned that you have a user group for Dynamo and that can also come together and work on, I don't know, for example, Dynamo group.

There is, that I know, not a Dynamo group, you know. So there's Revit users. There's Solibri users. There's this now minority that's big bunch hackers. It's like hackers of, I cannot pronounce it, big brunch or something like that. It's basically organized by... the Bad Monkeys, and it has happened once a year. And you have, like, people who have interest on this getting together.

And you mentioned that you have Solibri and Dynamo. Do you have a particular set of tools that you use generally... You mentioned Archicad is the way you got into...

Yeah. I changed to Rabbit. Nowadays, I use Rabbit. I use Dynamo. I use Solibri. There's this Navigate Simple BIM tool that I use. What do I use more? I use Recap. I use CloudCompare. I use some daily MeshLab a little bit also. There's some I use daily.

Okay. Great. You've mentioned a lot of things here with A-lab ang the great work that you're doing. Do you maybe have one project example that you've done really incredible work on or the team's really picked up BIM in a great way or implemented some really intuitive techniques? Is there one example...?

One example. That's hard. I think all the projects have strong points and not so strong points. But I worked on it, so I maybe I'm not impartial. But I'll say there's this project that's called Throw a Cold on, and the team was really good and implemented Dynamo daily with scripts just to avoid everything repetitive and speed up the... Yeah. So I'd say that project.

A-lab is very good with the office and housing. So in a general way, I think that every time you do a projects and then with this, the housing and the office, the next one is a little bit better because you learn and you have more things standardized right. And since I arrived here at A-lab, the biggest part of my first year was to create standards and to create templates and to clean up everything and to push it to the next level. So I think all the projects in a general way will be better and better.

Absolutely, yeah. Especially if you're going down the route of dogma. You've always got those anchored scripts that you can start the next project from.

They say that that's the dynamic Python so let's see.

Okay, and so that was very interesting. Thank you very much. What I want to do before we finish up is a quick fire. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions and just the first thing that comes to your head, 30 seconds or less. Okay? Ready?


Okay. So if there's one thing you could change about the Norwegian construction market or architectural industry overnight, what would it be?

I guess it will be more flexibility in adopting new solutions because when you work in a certain way for many years, then it's a little bit harder to change it. So maybe, you know, adding a little bit more flexibility to new things.

Are you a reader? Do you read many books? And if so, can you recommend one?

I was. With a PhD, I stopped a little bit. I don't know. Maybe there was very interesting, and I'm still reading it. It's taking me a long time, but Sapiens. I think it's very interesting but probably a lot of people already reply this book. No, yeah. It's really interesting.

So what are your goals for the A-lab BIM team, and also your own career in the next three or five years?

I don't really know.

Take every day as it comes.

No, it's every time you do a plan, it goes a little bit off track, so but I definitely want to stay inspired, work with people who inspire me, work with visual programming, improving work flows. So I have a lot of interesting in the buildings. What happens after they are built? How can we use more the data we have while constructing the buildings are while rehabilitating into, and after they're done to maintain them and to have better buildings.

Yeah, I have a lot of things right now, so I cannot say, "Oh, it's these." But I can tell you it's these interests, these interests, these interests. So I hope I'll go. I'll continue focusing and researching on this stuff.

Okay. So, finally, last question. You must know a few people with international conferences. Who's the most innovative person working in architecture or AEC more generally that you think I should go meet and interview?

Oh, I don't have, like, one. And I think, I mean, there are so many people. What I can say is people who directly inspired and changed my way of thinking and the way I work. And not one, you decide who you are going to talk to. Smoke, Kelly Cone, Sylvia, and Angie Mendez -- the person I work now. Super interesting. Very interesting to talk to and great, great ideas.

All right, well, thank you so much for joining me today. Really interesting and thanks for hosting me here in the A-lab offices.

Thank you.