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And in the Beginning...

Seymour Harris - U.K.

A well-established and widely respected multi-disciplinary practise, Seymour Harris was established in 1947 and now employs seventy-five staff across three U.K. offices. Never resting on its laurels, Seymour Harris has continually looked to innovate as a means of driving its business forward.

Seymour Harris has long recognised the importance that technology plays in its business and the significant benefits it can bring, but the practise has always been careful to select the best technology to support the achievement of its business goals.

During the late-80's Seymour Harris set-out a brief to review and enhance IT systems within the practise. Of the recommendations made the most significant was the adoption of ArchiCAD.

Haverley Hey Primary School, Manchester

Tim Johnson explains, "Like the majority of architects at that time, Seymour Harris was working predominantly from drawing boards with some 2D CAD but very much had an eye on the future. It was made increasingly clear, even then, that 3D offered countless opportunities for architects, not only in the way they worked but also in the same way they communicated with their clients. Buildings aren't flat, so why try and design them in two dimensions?"

As a result of recommendations, Seymour Harris adopted ArchiCAD for its 3D modeling. Subsequently, ArchiCAD has been systematically applied to the design, revision, documentation and co-ordination activities right across the practise.

"Staff skills took time to develop and although you can be designing in ArchiCAD relatively quickly, it takes time to fully explore its capabilities and start designing instinctively in 3D", continues Johnson. "There was also initial resistance. Although the move to 2D CAD was straightforward, this being little more than a drawing board on screen, when it came to 3D there were those who wanted to cling to tradition."

A change of culture

The recognition, early on, of the change in culture that is needed when moving to a new method of design is what has made Seymour Harris so successful today. For Seymour Harris, the adoption of ArchiCAD was far more than a simple "financial" investment, it meant a change in culture that had to resonate throughout the whole practise.

Brentside High School,
Ealing, London

Tim Johnson, Director, Seymour Harris, explains: "When looking to move into 3D, many practises purely focus on the upfront costs of the software and computers to run it. Now, clearly this is important and our selection of ArchiCAD was made after much careful consideration. However, where the real investment was made was in the change of culture that was required to make the most of the benefits ArchiCAD had to offer. If you continue to work with a 2D mindset, you will never fully realise the true potential of 3D modeling."

As well as formal training provided by Graphisoft and its Resellers, Seymour Harris undertook a series of internal briefings designed to instil this change of culture and ensure all of its employees understood the direction the practise was taking.

"Obviously it's vital to undertake the necessary training to ensure users are able to get the most out of the software. However, it's even more important that they understand the impact it will have on all parts of the business and the total level of commitment that is therefore required", comments Johnson.

"Working with ArchiCAD required some fundamental changes in mind-set so that the practise could create the best designs with a 3D environment. This meant looking at all parts of the business, not just the direct impact on the designer but also implications from an administrative, organisational and management point of view. You can't introduce a completely new way of working, without fully appreciating the affect this has throughout the company - indeed, failure to do so will ultimately mean the introduction of any new system will be, at best, less effective and at worst fail completely."

Brentside High School, Ealing, London

With this in mind, it was made clear through the internal training just how seriously the practise was taking this change and the expectations it had from employees as a result. The practise was aware that the key to success was managing the "fit" between the software and what it could do, and the ability of individual employees, based on their personality and style of working, to truly utilize it.

Tim Johnson continues: "There are always going to be those who find adjusting hard, and that has to be recognised and taken into account. However, through the training and briefing sessions nobody was left in any doubt as to the direction the practise was taking and how 3D design would sit at its heart. Working in this way was not a matter of choice for an individual; it was a strategic business decision that had been taken by senior management."

Following the briefings and training sessions, individuals were monitored to establish how well they were adapting to this new way of working. Those who embraced it were encouraged still further whilst additional help was provided to those who found the change difficult. Seymour Harris also took model-based design into consideration when setting its recruitment policy. Naturally, the practise wanted to attract designers with the vision and open mindedness to work effectively in 3D and produce the very best designs.

Design from Wright Robinson Sports College, Manchester

Working with ArchiCAD

Over 15 years later, and now with over 50 people using ArchiCAD, Seymour Harris' foresight and mature approach to 3D modeling has put them in a competitively advantageous position.

Mike Varlow, Project Architect, at Seymour Harris explains: "As the practise has developed and grown in experience, so has ArchiCAD. As our understanding of 3D modeling has grown and our expectations of what we wanted the software to do increased, ArchiCAD has not only kept pace but continually exceeded those expectations and given us the opportunity to work in ever more creative, efficient and effective ways."

Design study for classroom and
resource area in a primary school

Mike has been at Seymour Harris for five years and has been instrumental in developing the culture that now prevails. An extremely experienced ArchiCAD user, his understanding of the software's depth and capabilities is comprehensive.

"For me, rather than any particular feature or features, what makes ArchiCAD work so well is the feeling its been specifically designed for architects and buildings rather than feeling like an engineering platform that's simply been adapted", he continues.

"Once you've used ArchiCAD for some time, you appreciate how intuitive it is and how you can work instinctively. It almost gets to the stage where you don't "see" the software, you simply see what you want to achieve. When you start feeling like this, you know you are a true 3D modeler and have made the mental transition from working in 2D".

An education

Seymour Harris has been using ArchiCAD to great effect in its work within the education sector where the software has come into its own not only during the bid process but also during the construction phase.

This is illustrated by the work Seymour Harris has been undertaking in the PFI arena. One particular submission, consisting of three primary schools and one secondary school in London, perfectly shows how the practise has turned its experience in 3D modeling into a competitive advantage.

The bid was developed, and then won, in partnership with Kajima Projects and Kajima Construction. Kajima, also an ArchiCAD user and leading advocate of 3D modeling technology, has had a long and successful relationship with Seymour Harris on previous projects including work with schools in Ealing and North Tyneside.

Downe Manor was one of the primary schools that made up the bid. The school was completed in 2004 and opened by Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is a routine, but well practised, example of how Seymour Harris approaches its PFI work.

Colin Way, Project Director, Seymour Harris was part of the bid team and went on to work with Kajima following its success.

He recalls: "Downe Manor was a typical example of the lengths we go to as part of our PFI submissions. A fully rendered 3D model was created from which a full set of visuals were produced and presented to the client. It's so important that you can accurately communicate designs with your potential client - no matter how much work you put in, if the client can't "see" it, you've lost the bid before you've even begun. I've no doubt that ArchiCAD played a significant role in winning the work in the first place."

The right tools for the job

Colin Way has been working with ArchiCAD for a number of years and is able to appreciate the many features, some instantly noticeable whilst others are more subtle, which make it such a comprehensive design tool.

ArchiCAD's ability to make automatic updates to the entire model following a single change to the design is one feature which many users find particularly beneficial. The alternative is the long and arduous process of reviewing multiple drawings. Downe Manor, as with so many projects, called for multiple "detail" changes as the project progressed. Some bigger than others, but all of which affected wider parts of the design in some way.

Way explains: "During the project, the design for the classroom wings changed several times. These weren't dramatic changes but obviously every single change has an impact on the wider design, which then has to be updated accordingly. With ArchiCAD, this is achieved in a fraction of the time it would take to review individual drawings."

"ArchiCAD is the most important tool we use as architects - it really has transformed the way we work and as a result the practise is more successful than ever. I simply can't understand why practises hold back from adopting a 3D modeling approach, but from a purely selfish business point of view, I'm quite happy to see the competition losing ground." Tim Johnson, Director, Seymour Harris.

Schedules of Accommodation are also of key importance when working on school projects with Central Government providing specific design regulations on everything from classroom size to door height. ArchiCAD's "Zone" tool and use of intelligent object technology lends itself perfectly to assisting the architect in complying with these regulations and then producing scheduling lists that can be used during the construction phase.

Behind every object on screen - be it a door, window or wall - a high level of background detail can be added that includes everything from size and material to installation guidelines. Specific details relating to Schedules of Accommodation can thus be incorporated from the very outset to ensure compliance with Central Government requirements.

"Using ArchiCAD's zone tool, it's possible to set predefined parameters for any given part of a design. By executing an "intelligent fill", the predefined parameters can then be instantly applied to the given area", explains Way. "Furthermore, ArchiCAD has the ability to turn this information into scheduling lists that can then be exported and used by the contractor during construction to ensure the finished building is 100 percent compliant with Government regulations."

Another invaluable aspect of ArchiCAD relates to visualisation and the ability to review design detail in three dimensions on screen. This proved particularly useful when it came to the school's entrance canopy, which linked the nursery block and the main building. Here, the interface detail was all important.

"By examining the 3D model, it became instantly apparent where problems might occur with the interfacing between the canopy and the main structure - this ranged from checking interface alignment, detecting possible design clashes, through to details relating to the flashing. By reviewing the 3D model on screen, potentially costly mistakes were avoided," comments Way.

This approach continued throughout the development with Seymour Harris regularly giving model based presentations to Kajima and M&E contractors Buro Happold. The applications were endless with everything from light fittings to the positioning of junction boxes being examined and reviewed via ArchiCAD. This approach was also adopted by Kajima when presenting to the client. Not only did this allow the client to visualise the building and understand how construction was progressing but also enabled them to contribute and offer advice on layout based on their own professional experience.

Summing up, Way recalls: "The depth of ArchiCAD and its compatibility with other types of software, gave the 3D model we created a central role from the initial bid phase right through the construction phase. By combining with NavisWorks ®, and its clash detection capabilities, problems were avoided at the earliest possible stage whilst the addition of Buro Happold's engineering model added a further level of versatility. From presentation tool to construction tool, all we needed to do was update the original ArchiCAD model."

Going forward

Seymour Harris works and thinks like a market leader and, as a result, finds itself competing against the very best practises in the U.K. The practise has a very mature and forward thinking attitude when it comes to its business and the tools it uses.

This attitude lead to the original adoption of ArchiCAD, and then made sure the practise utilised the software to its full potential. As well as ensuring a comprehensive depth of knowledge about ArchiCAD's full capabilities, this approach has also instilled an attitude within the practise that allows the power of ArchiCAD's 3D modeling to be used in a creative manner in which it becomes a natural extension of the architect and his/her thought process.

Tim Johnson, Director, Seymour Harris concludes: "ArchiCAD is the most important tool we use as architects - it really has transformed the way we work and as a result the practise is more successful than ever. The more you use the software, the more you appreciate its depth and scope. I simply can't understand why practises hold back from adopting a 3D modeling approach, but from a purely selfish business point of view, I'm quite happy to see the competition losing ground."