"It started with fear" – BIM expands in Estonia

If Finland is the spotty nerd of the BIM class, what's up with the neighbor desk, Estonia? In many cases, referring to a little brother doesn't hold anymore. How about in digitalization of the construction industry? I got to chat with Janik Siidra, who is undoubtedly one of the biggest BIM influencers in his country.

If we take a look at Estonia's post-Soviet era, it seems like a miracle. In just a few decades, poverty has turned into progress, and the Estonians have wedged themselves as part of the West economically, socially as well as technologically. Recently, they overtook the Finns in PISA scores – and year in, year out, their GDP has been growing by 5 % on average. And what's more, Estonia is already the number one in social digitalization. Should it be called E-stonia?

Digital salvation?

There are dark clouds, too. Finland's baby shortage and pensions crisis are trivial compared to the population development in Estonia. At the current pace, the headcount seems to almost halve during 1990–2050. On the other hand, the migration from Estonia to Finland has calmed down. It has flipped around, to be honest. Also, e-citizenship has been a success.

Even though the recent statistics hint towards a stumbling growth, Estonia is still flying high compared to Finland. Digitalization is a promising potion for productivity. Unlike in Finland, the Balts have been able to build their digital systems on a clean table.

The new epic administration building in the city of Saue, right next to Tallinn, will be completed in 2020.
© Karli Luik, Johan Tali, Mae Köömnemägi, Harri Kaplan

Estonia's vital economy reflects in its construction sector, too. The building information modeling (BIM) is spreading, being taught in schools, and standardized by the government.

One who shares the blame for the progress is Janek Siidra, who leads his own BIM consultancy firm 3D Ekspert. Backed up by his team, he has also brought Archicad to the Estonian market.

Nutritious soil

According to Janek, today's Estonian architecture is bracing. Their colorful architectural legacy is getting a solid new layer. The hotspot, naturally, is Tallinn. For example, vigorous glass towers have risen in the background of the medieval Vanalinn. Also, the remaining Soviet brutalism has gradually received more approval, and the new public buildings convince with their streamlined design. The quality of residential construction, for its part, is being invested more seriously.

Behind it all - Janek Siidra has been Estonia's Archicad representative for a quarter of a century. During that time, he has significantly influenced the local BIM development.

"Our architecture evolves and searches its identity. The Nordic countries, especially Finland, affects strongly. You give us some direction on good living. Our situation looks pretty nice, and our customers are busy," describes Janek.

Even though the Estonians and the Finns have some tribal bonds, we are now closer than ever – both mentally and physically. The train tube and Talsinki visions aren't utopic.

BIM is spreading

Janek is pleased with Estonia's alert for digitalization. He has observed it from a vantage point for over a quarter of a century.

On Rahvakoli tee in Tallinn, the new townhouse apartments have their own roof terraces and a shared Japanese garden. © Design: KMK Stuudio OÜ - Denis Merkulov, Mari Kallas and Denis Kolomenski, visualization: 3D Studio OÜ - Siim Tiigimägi and his team. In the background rises Estonia's tallest building (314 m), Tallinn's 40-year-old TV tower.

"BIM is more and more present. Many customers have been doing it for years, and it's starting to seem like no-one survives without it anymore. It's great that the government supports BIM with standardization. In 2021, the building permit will require an IFC file. We have a prototype already," Janek enthuses.


Janek started his business in 1995. For starters, he sold a bit clumsier CAD software, until in 1998 Archicad came around – a bit unwittingly.

"GRAPHISOFT was looking for a reseller in the area, and I got in their way," Janek summarizes.

The set wasn't all so glamorous. The newcomer was scary. With the price of one Archicad, you could've bought dozens of their former product! Suspicion cleared in two weeks, as the first customers came knocking. The rest is history.

A tight team

3D Ekspert's compact office is situated right next to the downtown of Tallinn, under a mile to South from Vanalinn. Initially, there was a large furniture factory in that historic hood, but now it's a mixture of new and old. 3D Ekspert's over a hundred years old office building has been fully renovated, with a conserving touch.

3D Ekspert's comfortable office is located in an old renovated industrial building.

The 3D Ekspert team has three members: Janek's wife manages all the current matters and paperwork. The power trio fills up with a developer, who bangs away at GDL code and IT infrastructure.

Money moves, but not by itself

3D Ekspert's business has grown steadily over time. The success didn't come by chance, but it has taken these entrepreneurs nonstop work. Of course, the product has been in shape, too.

Murika is a distinctive example of modern detached house design in Estonia.
© Timmo Lass and Sigrit Nasari

As a result, they have some four hundred active customers – offices using Archicad, that is. About half of these are SSA customers, also known as ArchiCLUB members. Just like its Finnish equivalent ArchiMAD user club, ArchiCLUB offers specialized training and additional support. The public member list guarantees that the mentioned offices have the skills and modern tools.

Archicad dominates

Archicad bites a significant slice of Estonia's AEC software market: around 60 % of the architects. The foot is reaching other corners of the field as well – Archicad is continuously developing into more and more integrated building simulator.

"I believe Archicad is a winning team. The product quality, as well as openness towards other systems, are its huge advantages. IFC is a de facto file standard, and Archicad is the torch-carrier of the whole Open BIM front. Wherever the road leads, I'm sure that GRAPHISOFT is up on its feet."

The new Delta Center of the University of Tartu brings together 3,000 students, teachers, researchers and business companies under the same roof. Opened in January 2020, the building is the HQ for Estonian digital technologies, analytics and economics. It's significant throughout Northern Europe. © Architecture: Arhitekt11 OÜ, landscape: ConArte OÜ

Naturally, 3D Ekspert represents other members of the Nemetschek product family, too, like Solibri. Along with the software sale, teacher-backgrounded Janek has always put serious effort into training and consulting. The next step is to certify as Estonia's official GRAPHISOFT Training Center. Even the best tool is worthless if you don't master it.

Janek's footwork has been effective in the universities, too, where Archicad stands strong. The rest of his working hours Janek spends in different workgroups of the BIM world and advises the authorities.

Take a break

Although BIM is dear to Janek's heart, everyone needs a breath. After being trapped in the business Matrix, Janek likes to return home to his family. When it's time for fresh thinking, walking in the woods or by the seashore works miracles.

Rooftop flat © Janne Jakobson

Until that time, it's time to keep up with the schedule: the Estonians are heading for a Solibri training. Nevertheless, Janek finds time to tell how happy he is visiting us.

"M.A.D. has always been our benchmark and a trailblazer. Now when the Nordic Archicad partners have united, I think it benefits us, too. Of course, our operational environments differ, but less and less every day," Janek concludes.

Estonia and Finland in comparison

Sources: Wikipedia, OECD
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About Ville Nikunen

Ville Nikunen is a Communication Designer & Educational Relations Manager at M.A.D. He is a creative mind and passionate about writing, architecture, graphic design and making music. For a decade, Ville's job at M.A.D. has been to create appealing visuals and interesting stories within the AEC industry and the BIM world.
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