BIM is Here. Now What?

1 Mar, 2006 By: Dennis Hall

Education and awareness is the best course of action for today’s AEC professional, says CSI

In the November 2004 issue of Cadalyst magazine, “AEC From the Ground Up” columnist and prominent architect H. Edward Goldberg described the technology of building information modeling and asked the question, “Is BIM the future of AEC design?

At the time, Goldberg reached two important conclusions. The first was that the answer to his question was a very definite “yes.” And the second was that the true potential of BIM would only be realized when the AEC community comes to understand what BIM can do.

Eighteen months have passed since then, and the article’s conclusions are even truer today. BIM is a computerized model that stores and links all information about any given project in a variety of forms: object properties, object-oriented graphic components and database entries. When it reaches its full potential, BIM is going to revolutionize the way projects are designed, engineered, constructed, maintained and ultimately reused. It’s absolutely crucial that members of the AEC community familiarize themselves with the technology.

The key to the BIM revolution is time. Even today, most BIMs are two- or three-dimensional programs that represent little more than an evolution from CAD systems that the AEC community has used for years (which in turn can be traced back to paper-and-pencil drawings). Once developers add the fourth dimension of time to BIM, the AEC community will be dealing with a brand-new design tool more powerful than anything experienced before. In 4D, BIM will provide object- and process-oriented building information from project drawings to decommissioning continuously over time. As just one example, data generated during design and construction will be reused and adapted throughout the life of a building to guide maintenance and repair activities.

Where BIM Leaders Go, Others Must Follow

Leaders in the AEC community are pushing us there fast. At the beginning of the federal government’s fiscal year in October 2005, the U.S. General Services Administration began to require all AEC firms to include BIM as part of its work proposals. The U.S. Department of Defense and other key federal agencies are not far behind. In the private sector, premier architectural firms such as Skidmore Owings & Merrill ( Freedom Tower in New York City) and Gehry Partners (Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) are using BIM and demanding the same of their subcontractors. In fact, Frank Gehry, one of the leading advocates of BIM, will deliver the keynote address on this topic at the Construction Specifications Institute’s 50 th annual CSI Show & Convention in Las Vegas at the end of this month.

As an organization dedicated for more than five decades to the sound integration of all data and information involved in creating and sustaining the built environment, CSI is particularly interested in BIM. It represents the next step in meeting the “4 Cs” of CSI: clear, concise, correct and complete construction documents that will reduce costs, improve efficiency and raise productivity. CSI, along with other key industry players, participates in an effort led by NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences) to standardize BIM. Standardization will be absolutely crucial to the development of BIM, and it’s a process that everyone in the AEC community should watch closely.

As the process unfolds, architects, specifiers, engineers, contractors, owners and managers need to think about what BIM is going to mean for their businesses. Sole practitioners, large international firms and everyone in between will have to make very important decisions about how and when to incorporate BIM technology in their product offerings. Some are already making large investments because of the nature of their work, but they are at risk if the final BIM standards render those investments obsolete. At the same time, should the investments prove prudent, these firms will have a leg up on the competition.

Best Course Today: Knowledge and Attention

So what are dedicated, committed members of the AEC community to do? Most importantly, you should familiarize yourself with BIM and where it stands today. Many sources of BIM information are available, including this very newsletter and other publications that closely follow CAD-related issues. The Web sites of the American Institute of Architects, CSI, and NIBS all provide BIM-related information. Commercial vendors, which supply differing versions of BIM at varying levels of maturity, are also always willing to talk.

The question is no longer whether BIM is the future of AEC design, but how and when the future will arrive. The path forward is a bit unclear, and no one knows exactly where BIM will take the AEC community. The best advice today is to heed Ed Goldberg’s advice from 18 months ago and embrace the revolution.

About the Author: Dennis Hall

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!