AEC From the Ground Up-State of the AEC Industry

30 Apr, 2005 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

BIM implementation slow, but inevitable

Perhaps Because I'm So Close to the AEC industry, I often think that architects and engineers are more aware of industry trends than they really are. It amazes me how often I get a blank stare when I mention BIM (building information modeling) and information extraction. True, the AEC industry has moved to CAD, but that's really only electronic drafting. Few have pursued full 3D modeling with great vigor, and even fewer have embraced BIM and information extraction, even though the AEC software industry has spent much time and capital creating and promoting BIM software.

 Figure 1. Graphisoft new Constructor is a true BIM solution with interrelated modules to design, manage and price AEC construction projects.
Figure 1. Graphisoft new Constructor is a true BIM solution with interrelated modules to design, manage and price AEC construction projects.

I attribute this lack of adoption to the fact that 2D CAD systems are capable drafting tools and many know how to use them well. BIM software, on the other hand, is much more complex. Though it's more challenging to use BIM software, once mastered, BIM software solutions increase productivity immensely. They provide visualizations, sections and elevations virtually free, and incorporate information that can be culled for use downstream in the construction process.

Major Hurdles

In today's AEC climate, two major impediments block the widespread implementation of 3D and BIM. The first hurdle lies with the liability issue associated with the extraction of digital data directly to the product acquisition stream. For example, if the architect accidentally places two windows in the same location and the contractor purchases them electronically, the architect may have to pay the extra cost. Then there's the question of who will pay the architect for the additional information and the effort required to produce it.

The second problem lies not with the capability of the new BIM software, but with the need to train professionals in how to use these programs. BIM programs are complex, and professionals often don't have the time required to implement new software solutions. In addition, the new programs have created a need for a master builder operator—someone who has intimate knowledge of how buildings are built—but few exist.

Herein lies the conundrum—older AEC professionals know how to construct buildings, but generally not how to operate the software productively. New architecture college graduates are much more computer savvy, but are novices when it comes to construction practices. In addition, architecture schools sometimes don't have room in their schedules or knowledgeable professors to teach effective use of software.

Despite these obstacles, it's inevitable that the AEC industry will move to a 3D virtual or BIM modeling solution. The question remains open as to how long will it take and which software solution will become the industry standard. To boost 3D implementation, many companies and organizations have become involved with the 3D virtual model concept.

The GSA and its BIM Mandate

In December 2003, the GSA (General Services Administration; issued internal guidelines to its regional staff stressing the need for on-time, under-budget project deliveries in the capital construction program. It determined that new and emerging technologies such as 3D/4D and BIM have the potential to dramatically improve the outcome of projects and improve customer satisfaction.

As a result, earilier this year GSA/PBS solicited information on the use of IFC-based BIM technology from all firms in the design, construction, facility management and real property industries. According to GSA/PBS, the information will be "used to assist the government in establishing potential sources in the marketplace with knowledge and experience in the use and practices of this state-of-the-art technology."

GSA has indicated that, beginning in July, the delivery of IFC-based BIM will be required for the preliminary design phase of all new fiscal year 2006 projects.

What Are IFCs?

What exactly are IFCs (industry foundation classes)? These are data models developed by the IAI (Internation Alliance for Interoperability, to facilitate interoperability between 3D AEC objects. The IAI is a division of ISO (International Standards Organization), the body that controls the IGES and STEP data standards.

The IFC system is a data representation standard and file format for defining architectural and construction CAD graphic data as 3D real-world objects, primarily to enable architectural CAD users to transfer design data between different software applications. It uses the 3D object-based CAD concept, which AEC software developers have labeled BIM.

To illustrate the concept, imagine a 3D wall object made up of two layers of gypsum board on either side of a wood stud. In the IFC format, all this information, including areas, is stored in a particular location in a text file. Any software program that adheres to the IFC format can read and interpret this information, allowing it to be used in programs such as estimating and project management.

Autodesk Architectural Desktop, MicroStation Architecture and Nemetschek Allplan can transfer data through the IFC. Autodesk Revit Building 8 has received stage-one IFC certification, and Vectorworks Architect is investigating its use.

Green Studio

Once a model is created, it can be analyzed for a myriad of purposes, such as structural member determination, electrical and mechanical loads and recently, through Green Building's gbXML, energy consumption loads. Autodesk, Bentley and Graphisoft are all working to support gbXML with Green Building Studio, a free Web service that assists in the energy analysis of buildings in the design stage as well as with the selection of energy-efficient green building products and materials.


Tekla Structures is the first structural BIM system to cover the entire structural process from conceptual design to detailing, fabrication and construction. Its tools provide the ability to design and create an intelligent building model of any size or complexity. Tekla Structures allows real-time collaboration between users across industries and project phases. The 3D model contains all the information required for design, manufacturing and construction. All drawings and reports are integrated within the model to generate consistent output. The interoperable tools and open interfaces allow transfer of information from the design software directly to MIS (management information system) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. For concrete detailing, Tekla Structures contains a tool that reports almost all materials included in the model, such as concrete pieces, bending shapes and cast-in embeds. Predefined templates allow users to create a new report or change an existing report or drawing table.

1ST Pricing

1ST Pricing's mandate is to transform the $3.9 trillion building industry by streamlining the construction process from design to procurement. In April 2000, the company launched 1ST a Web site dedicated to online distribution of fenestration products. In the fenestration industry, few suppliers carry inventory—virtually every order is a custom order. Windows, in particular, are a complex product with dynamic, formulaic pricing because each manufacturer has a different approach.

With its extensive industry experience, 1ST Pricing was able to create customized databases with proprietary algorithms to deliver precision pricing. The site is free to registered members, who can receive comparative pricing at the click of a mouse from up to five different window brands with delivered-to-the-jobsite pricing.

The company next embarked on creating a CAD/BIM interface for its products. This interface begins at the design phase and ends with material jobsite delivery.

The 1ST Pricing technology links to parametric symbols that 1ST Pricing has developed. When a design is complete, the drafter enters the zip code for the project and clicks a button. The technology assembles a list of materials and sends the list to the 1ST Pricing Web site. In turn, the Web site sends a detailed bill of materials complete with comparative pricing. Each line item in the bill of materials has real, delivered-to-the-jobsite prices for up to five different brands that meet the precise specifications of the drawing. In the future, 1ST Pricing expects to provide pricing for up to 70% of the materials in a house plan.

Although the service is mostly limited to California, the company is working on licensing the technology with national distributors to provide pricing and fulfillment all over the country and, potentially, outside the United States.

Right now, 1ST Pricing technology is currently available within TurboCAD. Downloads are available at the company Web site for AutoCAD, Architectural Desktop and AutoCAD 3D Map, with more platforms on the way. 1ST Pricing currently requires users to insert its own blocks, but the company is working to implement the concept within the Architectural Desktop intelligent object system.


Constructor (figure 1) comprises three interrelated products. A virtual construction modeling system uses ArchiCAD designs to create accurate 3D construction models. A 4D Sequencer automatically links the construction model to the project schedule with connectivity to Primavera Engineering and Construction and Primavera Contractor. Finally, an estimator connector extracts, links and publishes model information to Graphisoft's Estimator 2005, which is also included with Constructor. This is a true BIM system meant to provide a designer with a credible cost estimate and project schedule directly from a virtual model.

Inevitable Implementation

The implementation of 3D modeling and BIM is inevitable, but the AEC industry still must jump several hurdles. Once those have been conquered, the full monetary potential of the 3D virtual model and BIM can begin to be achieved.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall; is now available. Look for the 2006 version this fall. Contact Ed for online Architectural Desktop training sessions delivered directly to the desktop. Visit for more information, or e-mail

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