Getting into BIM in Kuwait: Implementation at KEO

From Europe to Asia to North America, I have experienced many different cultures and ways of life, and have worked on a wide range of projects from palaces in Brunei, iconic buildings in Hong Kong, to luxury hotel resorts in exotic locations. Always looking at ways to improve the efficiency in the life cycle of projects, leveraging BIM technology was an obvious choice. Working for KEO in Kuwait seemed a natural step, a multi-disciplinary company in the hot desert environment, another of life’s experiences to complement the challenges of the other parts of the world. How does the implementation of technology in a country surrounded by sand differ from the humid jungles of Asia, or the temperate climate of Europe?  Here’s my insight as to how BIM is used in KEO.


Kuwait is a small country the size of New Jersey, bordered by Iraq on the north, Saudi Arabia on the west and south, and the Arabian Gulf on the east (Figure 1). Most people know of Kuwait from the Gulf War and the Kuwait Investment Authority for their investments around the world.

Overview of KEO

KEO is a multi-disciplinary company with offices in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and some 20 other locations in the Middle East, covering macro to micro, from master planning, infrastructure, architecture and engineering, costing and estimating, through project and construction management. Founded in 1964 and based in Kuwait, KEO is led by Donna Sultan, who is ranked as one of the most powerful women CEOs in the region and who played a key role in growing the company from a few hundred people in the 1990’s to over 2000 today. KEO is one of the largest AEC/PMCM firms in the Gulf region and is consistently ranked in ENR in the top 200 International Design Firms as well as the top 20 International PM rankings.  Projects range in size from mega cities, road and railway systems, multi-function complexes down to villas, design of FF&E and fixed décor items.

CAD was a Red Herring

The beginning of CAD dates back to 1957 when Dr. Patrick Hanratty developed the first commercial CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software which required mini computers the size of rooms to operate. It was not until the early 1980’s when IBM developed the personal computer, that it became economically viable for architects and engineers to run CAD software. Unfortunately, “user friendly” was not a term that software development companies had yet mastered, and thus a new set of experts known as CAD specialists created a whole new industry. Converting paper based drawings to CAD created a methodology that was unnatural to architects and engineers.

30 years of CAD mysticism was replaced by a methodology called BIM and all those years of figuring out CAD went out the window. BIM software works the way we naturally “design” and put together projects, allowing us to share what we have visualized. Instead of other stakeholders “filling in the gaps” when presented with 2D CAD drawings, we can now show in 3D what we are “thinking.”

Not only can we show what we are thinking, but we can now add information that is used by other stakeholders and is related directly to specific items. For example, a model of a door can be seen from any angle in 3D and contains specification and costing information. Now, it is possible to generate estimates for a design in a fraction of the time it usually took.

I remember sitting on Jerudong beach in Brunei with my mentor and friend John Elliott, whilst working on site on a project in the early 1980’s. We were trying to figure out how to create an efficient system to integrate the interior design drawings, specifications, purchasing, logistics and installation of items ready for the handover ceremony that coincided with the independence celebrations of Prince Charles handing over control from Britain to Brunei. We needed integrated CAD software that was linked to a database and asked Ashton Tate to link their dBase program to AutoCAD v1.03 and were given an estimate of tens of thousands of dollars.

We thought that it couldn’t be that difficult. Armed with an IBM XT computer, AutoCAD v1.03, dBase III Plus software, and a programming student from Hong Kong polytechnic, within 2 months we created a program that extracted attributes from blocks in AutoCAD drawings, exported the information into a database program, linked it with a specification information created in WordStar, and created an FF&E database which fed into a purchasing database, allowing us to track items that started as a block in a drawing and ended up installed in the correct location on site. Any change that was made was reflected down the line. This is the same line of thought in BIM.

Back to the Present

For BIM to work at its optimum, the more disciplines that are willing to freely share information amongst each other, the more efficient and better coordinated the project, translating into fewer RFIs and changes during the latter stages of a project. Therefore, the way that contracts are currently written, a multi-disciplinary company has the most potential to carry out projects in BIM to its maximum capacity. With this in mind, in 2008 the decision was made within KEO to take advantage of BIM and implement its methodology.

Virtual Representation in Multiple Dimensions

Ensuring that each discipline’s area of responsibility is coordinated with all other disciplines is the key to the creation of the virtual project. This includes 3D graphical information, 4D time scheduling information, simulations and analysis information, 5D cost information, and further down the line, 6D operations and maintenance information. The virtual project is constantly changing and, in effect, is never complete. As the phase of the project changes, so does the virtual representation. The relationship between the various disciplines within KEO and the virtual project is shown in Figure 4.

Bringing All Disciplines Together

The virtual project is organised by the team managing the project, with input from the various specialised disciplines depending on the stage of the project. Bringing together even a few disciplines begins to give a picture of how for example, the architectural, structural and MEP elements coexist. Here’s an example of an atrium space in a multi-purpose project showing the relationships between the escalators, the floors, and the implications on the structural and MEP elements.

Standards, Procedures, Workflows and Discipline Interaction

Having all the disciplines as part of one company allows KEO to create standards and procedures to be consistent and to ensure smooth transition of reusable information throughout the life cycle of the project. Defined workflows ensure that input from various disciplines occurs in a timely fashion when required, allowing continuous dialog and communication.

The KEO BIM Manual sets out the standards for all disciplines. When modelling in BIM, one of the major concerns is the level of detail (LOD) relating to the various phases. Standards for LOD, therefore, are important to ensure that only the required information is created (see Figure 6). This also ensures that the file sizes of the models are kept to a minimum. In large projects, this can quickly become an issue.

Converting CAD into BIM

Many projects are still drawn in 2D CAD format, so one of the first steps is to convert this data into a 3D model. This exercise not only gives us a better understanding of the project but also highlights the areas of potential complexity, since the 2D drawings leave a lot to the imagination. Figure 7 show the stages of converting CAD files to Revit models for a project containing multi-purpose halls.


The most time consuming aspect of many projects is the coordination to ensure that each discipline’s work is fully integrated and functioning in the manner in which it was designed. 3D models are the best way to resolve clash detection issues. On a regular basis a designated team member of each project will review models from various disciplines and produce reports for items that require resolution. Figure 5 earlier showed some of the documentation used for resolving clash detection issues using Autodesk Navisworks Manage.


One of the elements within the virtual model is cost. From the Quantity Surveying and Cost Estimating perspective, quantities are generated at any time the design is changed, resulting in up-to-date data that is immediately used to update estimates. In this way, costs can be continuously monitored against the budget and should the costs start to exceed the budget, immediate action can be taken to remedy the situation.

In an era where budgets often drive project development, for the developer/owner to be able to monitor the costs as the design progresses is crucial and allows for actions and decisions to be made accordingly. Design changes and their impact on the cost can be monitored and decisions can be made whether or not to continue along the same path at a much earlier stage, rather than waiting until the cost impact of the changes only becomes known at the end of a predetermined phase.

Energy Modelling and Structural Analysis

As part of understanding the environmental impact on projects, KEO uses IES software in conjunction with 3D models. The top image in Figure 9 shows daylight studies on a mosque project.

When analysing structural components on projects, KEO uses ETABS with bi-directional links to Revit Structure, as shown in the lower image of Figure 9. The bi-directional link was developed and programmed in house together with an external consultant.

On Site

One of the latest technologies that KEO uses on site is the use of tablets including iPads with snagging software and bar code readers connected to HP Slates for inspecting MEP equipment. Devices are connected via Wi-Fi and data transmitted to a central database. When other parties require input, using the simple interface of a web browser allows instant access to the information required to resolve any issues. Figure 10 shows a KEO employee scanning the barcode on MEP equipment on a project site in Abu Dhabi.


The above are examples of how KEO uses BIM methodology on different projects by different disciplines using software that is currently available. Of course, BIM is more than just software. Processes and people are the other factors required throughout the life cycle of a project.

Finding the ideal mix of experienced and qualified people has always been the biggest challenge of any company regardless of size. The challenges of how staff adapt to new technology is, in my experience, the same the world over, whether in London, Hong Kong, Honolulu or Kuwait.

It has been said that BIM requires employees with greater experience than was the case with CAD. This may be true where one’s workforce is small and limited, but in a company with a larger workforce, it is more a case of how to fully utilize employee capabilities. As BIM is a more natural way or working, it is in fact not about teaching new tricks, rather, teaching old tricks using new technology. Breaking down BIM technology into different tasks allows employees regardless of experience, education, culture, or mind set to work productively. The key is, of course, to recognize a person’s capability and assign the corresponding suitable task.

The Road Ahead

BIM is working its way into the every day process in each of KEO’s disciplines. Some disciplines are more ahead than others and each has its own reasons for being where they are, not least because the software available differs depending on its use and the experience of the people using the software. What is clear is that BIM has refocussed the AEC industry to work in a more natural way—the natural way being the way we worked prior to the introduction of CAD—but now, with the assistance of technology. Not only will each discipline have the technology that they require, but also the technology that allows them to interact with each other. The mix of evolution and revolution in BIM is much like traffic—some drive slowly and carefully while others drive fast.

About the Author

Han Shi is Systems Manager at KEO Inc. With over 30 years of experience in the AEC industry, Han has worked for architects, interior designers, lighting designers, property developers, interior contractors, landscape architects, film producers and graphic designers in many parts of the world, spanning the continents of North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. His early years included studying at the Architectural Association in London under such iconic architects as Zaha Hadid. The cities Han has worked and/or lived at include Beirut, London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Athens, Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Honolulu, Toronto, Vancouver, Sweden, and now Kuwait, where Han and his family have been since 2008.

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