What’s in a Room: Room Data Sheets and the briefing process

DollhouseA room can be considered the container for interior design. The elements of an interior – walls, flooring, joinery, furniture, services, lighting, graphics and signage all belong to a room or a space. In the briefing process, room data sheets are the container for information about the room or space. Particularly for more complex architectural and interior design projects, room data sheets have long been a key part of the briefing process. I am a firm believer in a rigorous briefing process, and have long used room data sheets as a part of this process for all but the most simple of projects. Lately I’ve been thinking about how this process can be improved – both from an efficiency and automation point of view through the use of BIM tools, but also if room data sheets are in fact the best tool for capturing and communicating this information.

Within an architectural or interiors office you can frequently find a whole array of room data sheets depending on project types and client requirements. They may be in Word or Excel, or even occasionally Access. For larger projects there are a range of softwares such as Codebook, dRofus, Building One and the like dedicated to this space planning and briefing process. The dedicated software systems have extensive integration with BIM software such as Revit and ArchiCAD, but tend to be expensive and complex requiring dedicated staff and training. For this reason they are infrequently used for anything but the largest projects. However, for any size of project there would be obvious benefits in having some level of link between the room data sheets and the BIM model. Currently much information is entered (at least twice) – once into the room data sheet and then again into the model. As a simple example, room names and room numbers. If this kind of information could be linked, immediately time is being saved and the potential for errors is being reduced. An ideal use for BIM.

One on the interesting things I found when I first started to discuss the concept of room data sheets with BIM managers was that (depending on their background) many saw a room data sheet as being a document which listed everything in the model. However this isn’t the purpose of the room data sheet. The room data sheet is a briefing tool. The room data sheet is the document which records what has been agreed with the client. It is a work in progress throughout the early design phases, but at some point, the room data sheet is signed off by the client and frozen and becomes the final brief for all interior disciplines. The aim is that at 100% documentation completion the model contents will match the room data sheet contents. One of the biggest potential benefits of being able to link the room data sheet and the revit model is the ability to check for discrepancies. One of the challenges to checking for discrepancies is that the room data sheet, by its very nature, as a briefing document, will have a lesser level of information and development than the model. For example the room data sheet is not the place where colour schemes are usually proposed, although material types will be. So for example we need to check that the room designated in the room data sheet to have resilient flooring has some kind of vinyl or linoleum in the model – not a particular material type.

At the same time as I have been considering these technological and software issues, I was also wondering if room data sheets were in fact the best method for communicating with clients and the design team. The point of the room data sheet is to transfer information between the architect or interior designer to the client and then back to the wider consultant team. The problem is that you hand a client a stack of 50 room data sheets and ask them to review all the details and (unsurprisingly) many do slightly freak out at how much work they have to do to review all of this. It is also hard for people whose brains don’t seem to cope well with picking up small discrepancies and errors in a pile of data presented in this format (and I admit to being one of them myself). Whilst many clients have trouble reading plans, I find there are just as many who find the visual communication of the plan more effective than the numeric/data format room data sheet.

Another issue is that as rooms or spaces become larger and more flexible with multiple zones or activities taking place within a space, does a room data sheet work anymore? Is a room data sheet going to function for a whole or even half a floor dedicated to activity based working? The amount of information on the sheet and the level of uncertainty about where within the floor an object is required means that it is probably not going to work very well. I think the room data sheet has to become an activity data sheet, but I’m not quite sure yet entirely how this would differ from a room data sheet. Much of the information would be the same, but somehow it seems more flexibility might be required.

The risk with room data sheets is that such a process can sometimes be too regimented. Its not so difficult for a laboratory or a hospital room where the room contents are more rigidly fixed by the functions and understood by both client and designer. But in a fast tracked project or more design oriented projects, it can be hard to manage the process of sufficiently developing the design to the level needed for the client sign off on the room data sheets. At what point in the office fitout design is it determined that reception will have a lounge versus armchairs versus an ottoman. Is that level of detail to be included in the room data sheet? If its not it means that the client hasn’t signed off on the idea, but if it is some detailed decisions may be locked in too early compared to other parts of the design process. I have to say I don’t feel like I have the answer to this problem.

Anyway, over several months of thinking about these issues and discussing with colleagues, I decided that I would set myself a deadline for my exploration of the automation of room data sheets – I submitted a talk for Revit Technology Conference on this subject, What’s in a Room: Revit Models,Room Data Sheets and Interiors. You can download it here.

What’s in a Room? from Ceilidh Higgins

At the same time as looking at the linking of room data sheets to a BIM model, I explored how I could use this data in more visual ways, displaying room data via coloured floor plans. At this point, it would be quite an efficient process to be able to produce both plans and room data sheets as required depending on the project stage and client requirements. Its also probably a useful workflow for design and construct projects where full detailed documentation is not being produced by the architect. The process is pretty simple using Revit, BIMLink and Excel to create a bi-directional link between excel room data and the Revit model.

The outcome is that the workflow demonstrated in this presentation is a very practical one for the many projects that currently use room data sheets and a BIM model. Whilst its not a perfect solution to integration, there are many efficiency and accuracy gains. I don’t think I’ve come up with the perfect alternative to room data sheets though, and certainly haven’t solved the problem of managing more open design problems or larger activity based spaces.

I have added an extract from the slideshare presentation with a  room data sheet example after a request in the comments.

Do you use room data sheets? Do they work as part of your design process or do you think there is a better way? Would you like to integrate your room data sheets and your BIM process?

P.S. I’ve started work full time again after enjoying a long sabbatical. I’m at Daryl Jackson Robin Dyke Architects. The Midnight Lunch will continue, but posts may be a little less frequent than before.

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Acknowledgements: Original image by Shershe
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6 Responses to What’s in a Room: Room Data Sheets and the briefing process

  1. I am not familiar with Room Data Sheets. Can you post an example?

  2. Hi, I stumbled across this post searching for approaches to briefing. Interesting point of views you have and a good attempt to bring the brief into BIM. One thing I also liked was your idea of an activity data sheet. Room data sheet in briefs has currently a tendency to become a “shopping list” with little room left for actual design and innovation. You mention activity data sheets might be a way to loosen up this grip. That made me remember the term “activity data sheet” from an old paper in a conference proceeding from 1967: Design methods and development of programming. Here the author gives a nice example of a Activity data sheet. I like it and think this old piece of work might be relevant to dust off. It should be updated to todays standards but most of the content is still valid. I do not know if the picture is of sufficient quality but what do you think of this?

    • ceilidhhiggins

      Thanks for your comments Steffen – unfortunately the image was pretty fuzzy. What I could see was a description, diagrams of furniture (was one the required work area? As opposed to an actual desk size?) and I could also make out some sound requirements. Are you able to comment on what else was on there? The furniture seemed a bit specific for what I was thinking of. I was thonkin that an activity data sheet would be less prescriptive and more descriptive – for example describing what they were trying to store rather than the unit.

  3. Can i get a sample of room data sheet for commercial building please.

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