Building Design

Building Information Modeling Rolls Out in South Africa

14 Jul, 2004 By: AIA ,Rick Rundell

Where change is a way of life, firms jump head-first into new technology

This month we look at how architectural firms in South Africa -- a country known for its ability to effect change -- have adopted Autodesk Revit building information modeling. I explore the reasons for their easy transition to the new technology and what lessons we can learn from their success.

Situation on the Ground
South Africa's economy is climbing back from the worldwide slowdown and strengthening in the post-Apartheid era. Inflation there is down, property values are soaring, and the country's architectural and building industry is enjoying healthy growth.


Figure 1. A3 Architects, Johannesburg, South Africa, used Autodesk Revit for the $5.45 million Glynnwood Hospital expansion project.

The South African building industry traditionally is an early adopter of technology, propelled by independent thinkers and doers who can make IT work to suit their needs. An open regulatory process encourages investigating new approaches for building design. The country's dynamic political and social environment creates a can-do atmosphere that energizes the business sector, freeing it from the constraints of established -- and perhaps outdated -- ways of doing things.

Straight to Production 
Many firms in South Africa already use AutoCAD, so they saw little risk in trying out Revit, which integrates with AutoCAD, on a working project. As a result, designers elected to use Revit on sizable projects right out of the gate, foregoing the traditional approach of proving the technology on a small, trial project.

A3 Architects in Johannesburg is a good example of this. The company's first experience with Revit was on a $5.45 million hospital expansion project.


Figure 2. Glynnwood Hospital, courtesy A3 Architects.

Designers were adding a new wing to a four-story structure and enlarging the existing ground-floor emergency room and lobby. The firm completed the project in three weeks, delivering 3D images, plans, sections, and multiple elevations. According to A3 partner William Ackerman, "We've put Autodesk Revit through its paces on a very large project and it's come through with flying colors."

Smaller firms have also embraced building information modeling, implementing Revit directly into production to increase their residential project capacity without increased staffing. Johannesburg firm Sheer Architectural & Interior Design used Revit to design 11 residential projects in two months. Sheer architect Sean Couzyn reports, "Often people are concerned about the drop in productivity after introducing a new program. Autodesk Revit is very easy to use. I was producing acceptable working drawings a few days after my first training day."

Technology's Promises Delivered
Another Johannesburg firm, Bentel Associates International, first used Revit on a new building design project -- the 1-million- ft2 Thalia Galleria retail complex in Saudi Arabia. According to Edmund Batley, Bentel's director for Middle East projects, the vast Galleria demanded much more spatial exploration and 3D manipulation than other retail projects, which are usually more planning and layout oriented. "Autodesk Revit provided a digital environment that enabled us to view all spaces from any point, and for the very first time allowed us to explore the scale and nature of the design as a true 3D entity."


Figure 3. Autodesk Revit building information modeling is used on a variety of South African residential and commercial projects, such as this one from Site Architects, a firm that has used Revit to design this 250-unit apartment building in Johannsburg.

Firms using Revit for residential projects echoed this theme. Jurie van Dyk from Archilution, a practice in St. Francis Bay, is using Revit to design luxury vacation homes for his clients. "Financial and time constraints prevent architects specializing in residential projects from creating physical models," says Jurie. "With Autodesk Revit. I can quickly create an electronic model, which allows me to fully explore the design options."

Lessons Learned
What can architectural firms and resellers around the world learn from the experiences of their South African peers?

For many of these early adopters, Johannesburg-based Cadplan -- a registered Autodesk dealer and developer since 1988 -- was a crucial element in their implementation. Cadplan's CEO Marek Brandstatter credits the enthusiasm and implementation expertise of his staff, and the software itself, for the success of its Revit customers in South Africa. "Revit has handled everything we've thrown at it," states Brandstatter. "It's immensely rewarding to work with software that consistently exceeds your expectations."


Figure 4. Autodesk Revit image of 250-unit apartment building in Johannesburg, South Africa. Courtesy of Site Architects.

Firms that have been frustrated in the past by architectural design software, particularly model-based software, will be pleasantly surprised by the Revit building information modeler. The system is intuitive to learn and use, so staff training is minimal and implementation costs are significantly decreased. For firms already using AutoCAD, the move to Revit is a low-risk, natural progression.

And don't wait for a small side project to pilot Revit. Cadplan's Brandstatter offers this analogy: Using conventional CAD and geometry-based modelers for architectural design is like using a spreadsheet with the formulas disabled. Turn on the formulas and everything just works. That's Revit.

Comments or questions? Please e-mail me at

About the Author: AIA

About the Author: Rick Rundell

Rick Rundell

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