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Digitisation in Building Envelope Industry: From Concept to Completion


The architect’s never-ending artistic pursuit and the continued emergence of urban complexes and super high-rise buildings give façade design technology plenty of room to play a role in design, manufacturing, and installation, and the advent of BIM brings good opportunities for the development of façade design. BIM technology has become the unavoidable choice for the building envelope industry development.

Juan Tena Florez Regional Digital Design Manager, KEO
Juan Tena Florez
Regional Digital Design Manager, KEO

A façade component in BIM-parametric design is not only a virtual geometric component, but it also has additional geometric qualities, such as component material, thermal performance, cost, purchasing information, weight, installation number, and so on.

We have interviewed a few of the industry experts and presented their views in this cover story. In this cover story, we will look at how BIM is used in façade design, evaluate its benefits and drawbacks, and forecast the technological advancements that BIM will bring to the entire process of façade design, fabrication, and installation.



Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the use of a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction, and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions as per the ISO-19650 Part 1 definition. BIM is about more discipline and not more work, providing the correct information at the correct time, doing the work once, doing it right, and enabling those downstream to use the information effectively and efficiently saving time and costs with less waste being created, says Juan Tena Florez, Regional Digital Design Manager, KEO.

Abdulmajid Karanouh Head - Interdisciplinary Design & Innovation, Drees & Sommer
Abdulmajid Karanouh
Head Interdisciplinary Design & Innovation,
Drees & Sommer

BIM has supported the building and façade design industry into better collaboration, coordination, and communication across the life cycle of any asset, providing asset owners with better management and visibility of their supply chain as well. It has also helped with complex or large-scale projects where traditional methods would be more costly, less efficient, and subject to more errors and rework, which will cause more waste to be created.

Ahmed AbouAlfa, Digital Business Strategy & Transformation Specialist, AECO Industry says, nowadays we are witnessing a revolution in façade design. The complex, deconstructed, high-tech and a lot more façades are the outcomes of BIM implementation within the projects.

Abdulmajid Karanouh, Head – Interdisciplinary Design & Innovation, Drees & Sommer explains, BIM has provided the platform for project teams to work in a single virtual environment and has therefore improved their ability to coordinate their disciplines and scopes in a more visual and transparent way. The issue with most BIM platforms however is that they are still too heavy and rigid to act as reliable design tools that enable design teams to explore multiple options early on with the required level of agility and flexibility. BIM, therefore, remains more of a coordination and information production tool than a design tool. That being said, most BIM platforms used by architects have a long way to go before they become reliable for engineering and construction. Normally engineers and contractors re-build their own models using their own specialized technical digital tools like SolidWorks, Inventor, and Tekla for engineering analysis and fabrication, as the latter tools are rarely if ever used by architects.

Ahmed AbouAlfa Digital Business Strategy & Transformation Specialist, AECO Industry
Ahmed AbouAlfa
Digital Business Strategy & Transformation Specialist, AECO Industry


According to Juan, processes (Building Information Modeling) are implemented to ensure the support of the different stakeholders to speak the same language, and tools (parametric authoring tools) are implemented to facilitate the design iteration during conceptualization mainly. There are different objectives and goals to achieve its implementation accordingly. BIM is implemented by setting a set of standards, procedures, and workflows to enable coordination, communication, and collaboration by all parties involved throughout the life cycle of the asset. Parametric design is implemented based on tools (software) and people (skills) which enable the possibilities to iterate through several options quickly and effectively providing real-time feedback on its outputs.

BIM is increasingly adding to the design process starting from the initiation up to the handover process. By adding BIM factors along with parametric design aspects, the implementation of design became smoother, easier and lesser in discrepancies and issues, believes AbouAlfa.

The implementation of BIM and parametric modeling in the design process very much depend on the nature of the design team – starting with the architect of course – and the nature of the building design itself and its level of complexity, opines Abdulmajd.

Envelope Industry

He suggests that some practices like Zaha Hadid Architects need to do a lot of early ‘freeform’ design exploration and therefore prefer using tools like Rhino-Grasshopper and Maya as they offer the ability to manipulate geometry parametrically with a lot of ease while maintaining relatively lightweight and easy to handle models. This was then followed by very intense design post-rationalization exercises, starting with the architectural team, then the engineering team, and finally the contracting team, using BIM and other more technical digital tools as mentioned earlier. Technical parametric and BIM tools with more engineering design and construction features like SolidWorks and Inventor make it possible to technically simulate, analyze, evaluate, optimize, and develop and extract construction/fabrication information for very complex designs indeed.

Other practices that produce more predefined and subsequently more prerationalised designs may perhaps have a clearer idea early on of what the design should be like. Therefore, their approach to parametric modeling and BIM may be more focused on coordination and information production as opposed to design exploration and geometric manipulation.

Many design practices nowadays aspire for more creative and geometrically challenging designs, and therefore it is important to have the right mix of parametric modeling and BIM tools and to better understand the requirements for both parametric design and BIM modeling.


Dubai Metro in BIM Facade design
                                                                                                    Dubai Metro

Juan explains BIM is about the process, standards, and use of a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction, and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions, and therefore the requirements are the definition of standards, methods, and procedures to be met by all stakeholders during the asset life cycle.

Al Bahr Towers showcasing BIM Design
Al Bahr Towers


Parametric design requires tools that can generate 3D models with the possibility to easily iterate through several options quickly and effectively providing real-time feedback on its outputs in order to make decisions easily.

According to my humble point of AbouAlfa, we cannot compare BIM with parametric design, but we can say that parametric design can be implemented within a BIM framework.

He further explains parametric design is a process using some kinds of tools with the addition of some factors and parameters to achieve a consistent type of façade, building, or a model which depends on a single element that can be fit within any type of design or space. On the other hand, BIM is a framework in which we are building and managing our projects virtually before the actual execution on site.


Abdulmajid describes that the basic concept of parametric design and modeling – whether the design team adopts a pre-rationalized or post rationalized approach to the building design – is to break down the building design into a series of interlinked adjustable parameters (floor to floor height, slab thickness, wall thickness, window/ door size, etc.). These parameters are often based on a variety of architectural geometric ‘algorithmic’ design rules, and potentially quantitative and qualitative performance and construction rules are used that enable the design modification and optimization of the building in a parametric and automated fashion. The parametric design will, therefore ‘force’ designers to pre-rationalize their design, and the relationship between various building elements early on offer clearer guidelines for the design development and construction stages. Too much pre-rationalization however too early into the process can over-constrain the design making it either too difficult to modify without resulting in a lot of aborted work. Therefore, the design rules and associated parameters should be gradually built-up as the design develops.

He adds, the basic concept of Building Information Modelling on the other hand – as the name suggests – is to create a digital model in a virtual environment with all the information needed to simulate the whole lifecycle of the building, including the design geometry, materials quantities and specs, cost rates, and phasing and construction sequence among others. Parametric modeling is increasingly becoming an integral part of BIM in order to offer the ability to modify the building design while automating the process of updating all embedded information in the model. Therefore, plug-ins like Dynamo have been created in order to offer a higher degree of parametric design and geometric manipulation for BIM platforms like Revit. Like the parametric design, however, the information embedded into BIM models should be gradually built-up as the design develops in order to avoid the model becoming too heavy, rigid, and difficult to modify and handle without ending up with a lot of aborted work.


Therefore, the requirements for both parametric modeling and BIM in terms of selection of software and skills vary depending on the design practice’s approach to design and the level of complexity of the building design itself. The combination of both parametric design and BIM modeling can offer a powerful design, construction, and operation simulation platform that can save a lot of time and money during the design development and construction stages and can also offer major savings during the operation stage of the building if used in a balanced way.


One of the latest and more promising advancements is generative design. We can define generative design as a collaborative design process between people and technology. During this workflow, the user defines the design parameters and the hardware produces design studies (alternatives), evaluates them against quantifiable goals set by the user, improves the studies by using results from previous ones and feedback from the user, and ranks the results based on how well they achieve the user’s original objectives, Juan Explains.

He adds, using the generative design we could set for example, as objective to maximize the number of typical curtain wall panels, or to optimize the curtain wall shades orientation, or to minimize the energy consumption based on certain constraints, the use cases are endless and the limit is the level of optimization required. Other use cases, for using visual programming, which is the engine behind the generative design, is to randomize the position of curtain wall panels or to position a different panel type based on an attractor point. All of these different cases could be used as well for analysis and to make informed decisions despite being randomized.

According to AbouAlfa, off-site construction is the most used process in the past two years, in which BIM and parametric design are being used intensively.

Augmented reality and virtual reality are gradually gaining popularity where both the project team and the client are able to ‘walk through’ to explore the various design elements and browse related information of the BIM model and walk through it as if they are physical ‘inside’ the model. This will offer major advantages from a design coordination and construction standpoint, and will also offer a better way for both designers and clients to ‘feel and experience the design in a more realistic way, says Abdulmajid.

Digitisation in Building Envelope Industry


Abdulmajid strongly believes that it is very important for both parametric designers and BIM operators to understand the principles of algorithmic rules-based design and the objectives behind it, while at the same time it is important for parametric designers to also understand the capabilities and limitations of BIM to avoid over-utilizing it (too early into the process) or underutilize it (use it for information production only) and therefore miss the opportunity to maximize the benefits and advantages of this technology.

Bridging Gaps Between Parametric Design and BIM

By research, development, supply & apply:

We need to identify gaps and do our researches.

Develop a feasible solution that solution providers can work on it

Solution providers will work to supply the needed solution as mentioned above

Apply the solution within the BIM environment.

Additionally, we need to differentiate between the reflection of the design using parametric tools and the parametric design, what we are using right now is a parametric tool that can help us achieve the needed sketched design.

Ahmed AbouAlfa, Digital Business Strategy & Transformation Specialist, AECO Industry


Juan believes, in regards to BIM, there are no limitations as such, but there are definitions about its different maturity levels or stages from 1 to 3. Stage 2 maturity is also identified as “BIM according to the ISO 19650 series”. Stage 3 will be the evolution of BIM in the future to enhance collaboration even more, once the status of certain technologies and processes will allow for it.

In regards to parametric design, the current tools are quite advanced and there is good progress and developments in the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning engines to improve the outcomes and results of the user of parametric design.

AbouAlfa says, “I think in the present time we don’t have many limitations except integration between different platforms and software, additionally, regulations and mandates that need to be rolled out by governments and clients”.

Digitisation in Building Envelope Industry


Juan explains the advantages that the BIM process and tools bring to asset owners, architects, engineers, project managers, and constructors are extensive, they can explore and analyze the planned asset internally and externally before one sod of earth is turned. Master plans, infrastructure, buildings, and landscape assets, and the drawings produced to materialize its ideas, can be sometimes difficult to read, analyze and understand to make the appropriate decisions during the lifecycle of the asset.

3D visualization, including virtual reality and augmented reality, of a project, allows users to see the project in a more natural environment, regardless of the professional background. Clash detection and 3D coordination bring greater quality and more effective collaboration during design and construction. Linking projects to the construction programs provides an ability to virtually see the project’s construction, past, present, and future.

All of these outcomes and others not mentioned combined, provide a better environment for all project stakeholders which encourages more in-depth collaboration, communication, and information exchange to achieve an informed decision-making process.

A high-tech façade that implies different techniques starting from energy modeling, cost savings, parametric façade as well as coordination with slab edges and building different elements is one of the major of BIM, believes AbouAlfa.



Some of the projects we can find in the Middle East are unique and challenging at the same time, in terms of the complexity of their geometry or scale. Using advanced BIM authoring tools, as well as visual programming tools, like Dynamo or Grasshopper, the development of this complex or large-scale façade and curtain walls geometries is simplified and can be achieved in less time, effort, and with more consistency and quality, notes Juan.

That is achieved due to the nature of working not only with geometry but with data as well, which will drive the creation of parametric elements that can be easily updated and provide a quick interaction during the design process. We cannot, therefore, think of being able to be efficient and responsive, without using BIM authoring tools to achieve better and more sustainable curtain wall systems throughout the project lifecycle and as the outcome.

“Due to the tangible importance that had been noticed since BIM was used, with no doubts, I can say that more than 70% of consultants are implementing BIM using different procedures, tools, and requirements”, quotes AbouAlfa.



Similarly to any other stakeholder involved in the project lifecycle, façade engineering is one of the building components which needs coordination with other parties like architects for space planning and code compliance, or structural engineers to coordinate the loads and location of elements, or MEP engineers to arrange openings or other features required to ensure correct compliance with MEP equipment location and ventilation needs, or with sustainability in order to ensure that the energy consumption and other standards requirements are met, elucidates Juan.


“Given all of the above stakeholders involved, it is critical to communicate and coordinate effectively. BIM processes ensure that the coordination is effective and there is a communication exchange workflow using a common data environment, which will be the single source of truth for all the data exchanged”.

The 3D coordination of the design is enhanced as teams work collaboratively using a shared model which is checked and approved by other task teams involved so that the Façade model can be developed referencing other disciplines’ models. As new iterations of the shared models are produced, a federated model is created in order to aggregate all the 3D models into a combined model and to perform a clash detection to automatically detect elements clashing with each other based on a set of rules agreed and defined.

He adds BIM authoring tools are live information databases. Information on quantities can be utilized for evaluating the embodied carbon within the proposed components. Different concepts can be compared to an early design stage. Populated BIM libraries, with suppliers’ information, can be used to evaluate overall buildings’ materials environmental aspects, rather than on component by component basis. BIM libraries can also be used for reducing construction waste, by evaluating which systems could be manufactured off-site within a controlled environment.

Facilitate the way of how façade is designed, make it easier to design more fancy and complicated façades, and save a lot of time, cost efforts during the EPC process of façades notes AbouAlfa.


Juan opines that in every project, there are multiple iterations throughout the design process in order to achieve the desired outcome and to provide different design options to the asset owner. BIM authoring tools can assist to make that workflow more efficient, faster and provide more insights to evaluate them accordingly. Based on the understanding of working on a 3D parametric model which can be accessed simultaneously by multiple users, it can be created several options within minutes without losing any of the options designed and with the ability to compare and analyze them to make informed decisions.

Given that the production of the drawings is extracted from the 3D model developed, any changes or updates done in the geometry of information attached to the elements, the drawings will automatically update the contents providing consistency and quality assurance to the information produced, as well as an increased speed of production and elimination of abortive work.

AbouAlfa remarks, all clients are always seeking to cut and add, cut costs and time and add more in quality and value by implementing BIM and Parametric design, customer demands can be easily fulfilled.


Turning Torso in BIM
                                                                                                             Turning Torso

“In the AEC industry, we are all committed to improving and optimizing the environmental conditions, design, reduction of waste, undertaking carbon accounting, and supporting operations, among others. BIM tools can be used as a live platform where teams are working in parallel to optimize the design and provide time and cost benefits to any project, regardless of their scale or complexity”, says Juan.

BIM tools allow us to quickly implement design changes to be assessed against various environmental parameters to achieve your sustainability goals and reporting requirements. Commercial software in thermal energy simulation, energy consumption assessment, assessment of environmental conditions, and computational fluid dynamics are commonly used as part of the design development process.

He adds, “You will discover intuitive, outcome-driven insight into energy and environmental optimization, from design to operation with the BIM parametric modeling capabilities,

which can be used for the examination of various concepts of the design, modeling faster and more efficient. Real-time feedback can be visualized and interacted with key performance indicators, factors, and ranges to help make better design decisions”.

Using daylighting analysis, we can simulate, calculate, and visualize key daylighting metrics, like daylight autonomy and annual sunlight exposure. Also, we could analyze the total building heating and cooling load calculations.


With the advancement of building industry technologies and people’s persistent quest for sustainable structures, BIM has become a hotly debated and investigated topic in the construction business. BIM has inspired significant changes in the construction and building business. Thanks to its benefits of visualization, coordination, simulation, optimization, and drawing production – BIM has played a huge role in the construction of many complex projects in the Middle East.

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