Going Global with Teamwork

Since its introduction in ArchiCAD 5.1 in 1997 the Teamwork feature has been evolving constantly and now opens up the possibility of global working. This has been successfully used by Icelandic architecture office Batteríið Arkitektar who used it to go global with their business when Iceland’s economic climate was struggling.

In 2008 Iceland’s economy was hit hard. The collapse of the Icelandic banking system caused serious problems in financing and it was pretty much impossible to get a loan. For a long period of time no new construction projects started
in Iceland, with on-going projects being halted resulting in difficult times for the local construction industry. Batteríið Arkitektar, on the other hand, decided not be beaten by the financial crisis and took their business abroad. They targeted their business to countries which were least affected by the financial crisis such as Norway and Canada.

As Iceland is a remote country one may presume working globally would involve a lot of travelling, but in reality Batteríið Arkitektar carried out most of their work from their office in Iceland as most of the work could be done online, though some travelling was still required. Batteríið Arkitektar’s architect Zsolt Takács notes “It is absolutely necessary to represent the office personally in important meetings. No conference call or online meeting can replace the free-handed sketching together with the client, or the handshake after a successful meeting”.

How Does it Work in Practice?

Batteríið Arkitektar’s working methods vary depending on the nature of the project. They tend to follow other project participants’ workflow and quality assurance systems. This flexibility is a great advantage to Batteríið Arkitektar and it makes them great partners to collaborate with.

Batteríið Arkitektar works with ArchiCAD and they save all their data into the BIM server, which is accessible via the internet all around the world for all project parties.

Even though their business has gone global, all the Batteríið Arkitektar’s design work is still done in their own office in Iceland. This way they can brainstorm and evaluate design ideas face to face so the inspirational nature of human interaction is not lost. However international communication with other project participants is implemented mostly via email, phone and video calls.

Overall the difference between “normal” office work and online work is much smaller than one may first think. As architect Zsolt Takács says “Most of our staff work in almost the same way as if the project is being developed around the corner, except that we sometimes do not meet the other participants of the project for several months. Of course for the project managers – who have to travel more frequently – the difference is more significant”. So, amongst designers the biggest difference seems to be the lack of the presence by the other stakeholders. As interaction with the other stakeholders is limited all teams must know what they are doing, everybody in the project needs to know their role. ”With distance work the likelihood of not being able to reach somebody immediately is undoubtedly bigger than in normal office work, so it is crucial to have a well-organized workflow in order to avoid disruptions”, says Zsolt Takács.

Batteríið Arkitektar work in small 3–5 person teams, which makes project organisation and technical project management simple and transparent. To make things run smooth on a global-scale Batteríið Arkitektar try to solve most of the occurring issues locally, so they don’t have to bother other parties and go global with the problems.

The Two Sides of Working Online

Working via internet has its pros and cons like everything. One of the best aspects, according to architect Zsolt Takács, is the flexibility: one can work on the project whenever and wherever. This is especially beneficial in international projects where Batteríið Arkitektar work in different time zones than other participants of the project.

For drawbacks Takács mentions internet connection speeds. Working over the internet is often slower than working on your own office network (LAN), plus there is an increased chance of technical difficulties whilst working over the internet. Takács even has facts to back this up; “We use Teamwork
both on LAN and internet with two companies involved and the chance of crashes and technical difficulties in general doubles up compared to the projects worked only locally.”

Takács’ Tips

Batteríið Arkitektar has now worked for several years online using ArchiCAD Teamwork and Zsolt Takács has some tips to share; “Do not panic if there are some difficulties in the beginning – even the most organized systems need some extra adjustments and a bit of patience to make distance work run smoothly for all participants. This is especially true if there are two or more companies collaborating.”

It should be clear to everyone but Takács wants to underline the importance of internet connection: “Since ArchiCAD 15’s new Teamwork the amount of data transferred between user’s computer and BIM server has significantly reduced. Still, there will be large up- and downloads, so fast and reliable internet connection is essential when setting up Teamwork over internet.” Takács also recommends setting up VPN connection (virtual private network) even though it is not essential. Not only is a VPN a secured connection it can also be used as an online license enabling users without a “physical” ArchiCAD license to work with an online license protection key.

Takács also suggests that it is good idea to have somebody in the project who keeps the model file tidy. This “cleaner” supervises the model technically and makes sure that it is up-to-date as well as deleting unnecessary layers, layouts etc. This job is crucial in large-scale projects where Teamwork files often tend to grow in size. Big file sizes leads to an increased likelihood of crashes, which should be avoided because re-loading the file after a crash takes significantly longer time online. If crashes can be avoided by cleaning the model, it saves time and money in the long run.

Takács also advises to try working the BIM server from both the “outside and inside”: “Use the server name instead of the IP address in the connection setup. This way the access speed for internal users will not be limited to the lower speed of those connecting over the internet. However, it is essential that the connection setup on the BIM Server and the user´s computer are identical (IP address for both or server name for both), otherwise there might be problems accessing the libraries.”

Batteríið + LINK

When Icelandic finances were on edge of bankruptcy, Norway was instead booming, especially in and around the Stavanger area where the building industry has been growing for the past few years, and the need for Norwegian-speaking architects is constantly high. At this same time Batteríið Arkitektar was looking for partners in Norway to work with, and since both offices are the biggest ones in their respective home countries it did not take long for them to find each other and start a dialogue about the possibilities of working together. An agreement was quickly reached and collaboration started in the first half of 2010.

Kannik Park

Batteríið Arkitektar has now carried out several projects in co-operation with LINK arkitektur, especially with their team in Stavanger, southern Norway. Batteríið Arkitektar carried out these projects from Iceland with the help of a shared ArchiCAD Teamwork file which is saved on the BIM server online. Batteríið Arkitektar’s role in the project depends on the nature of the project itself: ranging from providing well-trained ArchiCAD modeling manpower all the way up to general architectural design. Project management is implemented together with LINK arkitektur with one project manager from both offices responsible for the project. In practice this means that at most of the meetings with the authorities both offices are represented by their own project managers.

The important task of communicating with the engineers also belongs to Batteríið, except in the cases when a personal meeting is necessary with very short notice, on these occasions the architects are represented by the project managers of LINK arkitektur due to the geographical distance.

Stasjonen Kjøpesenter

The project Stasjonen Kjøpesenter in Ålgård, Norway is a good example of LINK arkitektur’s and Batteríið Arkitektar’s co-operation. It is a multifunctional complex in Ålgård town centre which includes a shopping mall, offices and apartments.

The project is divided into three phases. The first phase, which has already begun, includes the shopping centre and one of the apartment blocks, the second apartment phase is being designed at the moment, whilst the design of the third phase will start later this year.

Stasjonen Kjøpesenter

There are three architects and one engineer working on the project at Batteríið Arkitektar responsible for the design work and detailing, plus one project manager from LINK arkitektur. LINK arkitektur has also hired external consultants like a shopping mall specialist, structural engineer and road designer, which all are working in Norway.

The main model is in a Teamwork file located on LINK arkitektur’s BIM Server in Stavanger and all the data received from consultants is merged into this model allowing Batteríið Arkitektar to then work on the model from Iceland. Everyday work is carried out over the internet, so there is no need for the team members to travel to Norway, with the exception of the Icelandic project manager, who participates in meetings in Norway twice a month.

Before setting up the BIM server Batteríið Arkitektar and LINK arkitektur had a short online meeting about the details, users, etc. before the new project was uploaded to the BIM server – this is the protocol when uploading a new project or re-sharing an existing one to server. This is to keep everyone up-to-date and to keep the communication transparent.

Projects which Batteríið Arkitektar & LINK arkitektur worked in cooperation

Bryne Kro og Motel – restaurant and motel
Eiganes Holberg – housing complex
Hinna Park – housing complex
Kannik Park – housing complex
Kvitsøygaten, Stavanger – office interior
Sandvedparken Terrasse – housing complex
Stasjonen Kjøpesenter, Ålgård – shopping center, offices, housing complex
Statoil IB-senter – office block
Tasta Senter, Stavanger – shopping center, office block

More about Batteríið Arkitektar: www.arkitekt.is
More about LINK arkitektur: www.linkarkitektur.se

This article was published in the 2/2012 issue of ArchiMAG in May 2012. Get your copy of ArchiMAG from App Store!

One Response to “Going Global with Teamwork”
  1. Cheers! Happy to spread the word about ArchiCAD 🙂