Meet the Expert: Q&A with Stefano Converso

RIMOND’s commitment to leading in construction technology is second-to-none and evidenced by its engagement of some of the world’s leading experts. These include Professor Stefano Converso, RIMOND’s Innovation Advisor and Adjunct Professor and Research Fellow at Roma Tre
University’s Department of Architecture.

What have been your recent career highlights?
One was heading the 2014 Solar Decathlon success. I managed a team of 50 researchers, companies, students and expert specialists. Together they designed, engineered and manufactured a highly efficient housing prototype. Their combined performances were controlled by more than 40 sensors and validated by international jurors who represented the best in their fields.

Another high point was Rome’s ‘The Cloud,’ the amazing centrepiece of the Italian capital’s new convention centre. Designed by Italian ‘starchitect’ Massimiliano Fuksas, ‘The Cloud’ houses a main auditorium, food outlets and support services. It’s a new symbol of contemporary European architecture – a complex, steel-ribbed structure, which is covered by a 15,000 square metre transparent ‘curtain.’ RIMOND was awarded the constructive design, BIM management, geometry optimisation, verification, assembly and CAM production contract. It was an incredible task of mass customisation, requiring industrially-driven fabrication of unique components, all different from each other, with the highest level of precision, the same you would get from a craftsman but with the efficiency and speed typical of massive production.

How are you and RIMOND spreading and expanding new construction expertise and horizons?
In addition to advising RIMOND on Innovation, I lecture and conduct research at Roma Tre University and partner institutions to an average of more than 300 students a year. Working with a research team that bridges architecture, advanced manufacturing, building performance analysis, engineering, mathematics and software development, allows us to shape the next generation of professionals around a new form of practice. There is a great need for this next generation of professionals who can take on the challenges and possibilities opened up by advanced technology and convert them into successful projects. I have a passion for nurturing this whole new ‘possibilities’ mentality within my teams.

Define what ‘BIM’ is and what platforms can be used to carry out the process?
Too often people think of BIM as just a new software to be trained on – that’s a total misconception. BIM represents a profound change in the working methods in the interdependent architecture, engineering and construction industry, made possible by a broad range of software and hardware. The real issue is not the software, though it makes the change possible. It’s about the transformation it brings in methodology and the change that happens once we develop organisational management structures. This strategy has been successful in every project where it’s been applied. Management, software data-structures and technical issues must be considered together, only a whole new mentality can drive this change. That’s why we started a whole new company based on these new concepts. We live in an increasingly complex world, and must respond with the ability to address this complexity to achieve exciting results.

What advantages does BIM deliver over traditional working methods?
With our approach, BIM becomes the solver of complex problems. Today projects often require competencies and contributors at an international level and often this interaction has to happen within short deadlines and with a high level of efficiency. Traditional phased approaches are thrown into crisis by these challenges. Overlaps of information and phases can really affect the sustainability of the process. Management of these challenges becomes crucial. We have developed a whole new strategy to face these issues with BIM at the core. With BIM we can join forces and interact internationally in a previously impossible manner. We design the process, define it around a full simulation of the building and of all the data and people that are involved in its design, development, fabrication and management. We developed our own tools to have everybody involved at the right level. We have a new generation of professionals who address the challenges by combining management, software and technical issues and are trained to work in an international environment. All this leads to a ‘network’: we bring people together and collect all information in a single source: a full BIM simulation of the building that we manage and ensure it is updated in real-time. A client can, at any time, be updated on the project and view it digitally. We export our models to tablets, interactive Pdfs, to Advanced Virtual Reality devices that we use in the field to verify and pre-visualise construction progress. We learned from other industries, where a lot of the BIM software was born, and bring that innovation into architecture. We normally use platforms from the mechanical, automotive and aerospace industries and combine them with new tools.

It’s been claimed that, on average, BIM construction can save between 10-40% of project costs, is this true and where are the cost savings?
The major savings accrue from the capacity to anticipate future phases and associated costs. With advanced Virtual Reality tools we can foresee the results which prevents changes having to be made later on site. Unresolved issues and traditional design phase system clashes such as those between ventilation and plumbing or electrical, or structural/civil works and so on, are the biggest source of budget overspend. We solve these issues earlier in the process, with our streamlined organisational team structure which has delivered savings of between 10% and 40% and executed complex projects on time and budget.

What are the major challenges in the BIM field, and how can they be overcome?
The major challenges are in bringing the right people around the right table at the right time. There are two paths to achieving this: One is the network-oriented digital environment. We test all available platforms. We are development partners of software companies but also have a RIMOND-branded set of tools that we adapt and develop expressly for every single client. The second route is the development of new professional profiles. We are architects, engineers, managers and software developers. This means new professionals are hybrids who can work in a networked environment. We have trained, talented professionals and are developing more dedicated education programmes.

Please give us an example of a recent project where BIM overcame a problem that would challenge traditional management processes?
When a building’s form is complex, like in the pioneering era of digital architecture, BIM is the only way to go. Delivery of ‘The Cloud’ in Rome is a case in point. Our task was to jointly collaborate with a subcontractor on doubly curved envelopes in wood for the main auditorium. We took the design surfaces and managed all the process from bidding to final fabrication for each of the wooden panels and their steel substructure. Every piece was different. We set up a complex and fast process system that was able to produce quality Italian craftsmanship with an impressive number of units which would have been more complicated with a traditional method.

How can BIM adoption be smoothly integrated into the Middle East?
By adhering to best practices. Choose the new breed of hybrid professionals to deliver outstandingly successful projects. At the same time work on educating people.

What are the future trends?
Networks and augmented reality. We are conducting research in both fields and have prototypes already working on our current projects.

What are the next advances in BIM technology?
Future BIM is a web-based, live environment where design, manufacturing and field data is collated. It’s an exciting, multi-user, and interconnected domain that will evolve during different phases to make each stakeholder and participant feel they are part of the whole. Mixed and Augmented Reality will show this intimate and innovative combination of physical and digital.