So what is this BIM thing anyway?

(Note this was originally posted 11-19-2009)

I recently asked a local agency director if they had any plans for requiring the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for their upcoming building program and he honestly responded that he did not even know what building information modeling was. What I realized is that while we as architects and designers are looking at and utilizing some of these newer technologies and processes to create better projects; the building owners and potential clients have no clue as to what these are and their added value. We need to do a better job at educating and making them aware of the advances within our industry and how these advances help them achieve better projects and their bottom line. Similar to how they now have a better understanding of sustainability/LEED and the impact that they have on the built environment. So what is this BIM thing anyway?

BIM – Building Information Modeling is a process that utilizes computer software and hardware technologies to not only document a building’s design, but also to simulate the construction and operation of a facility. The resultant virtual building model is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility from which various forms of information can be extracted to assist an owner, contractor and design professional in making reliable decisions from design through the building’s life cycle.

Creating a virtual building model is very different from making the more traditional 2-D CAD (Computer Aided Drafting or Design) drawings which is nothing more than conventional hand drafting, only performed on a computer. The 2-D CAD drawings are made up of lines whereas BIM or virtual building models are made up of intelligent objects that not only represent the geometry of the building and the items within, but also can store multitudes of data and information about each of those objects that can be later extracted into schedules and reports.

A few examples of information/data that can be gleaned from building models include:

  • More accurate material quantity take-offs
  • Project scheduling
  • Energy analysis (Assists with LEED documentation)
  • Lighting analysis
  • Building Life Cycle analysis
  • Equipment/furniture schedules (this can be updated easily through the building’s life cycle)
  • Rendered 3-D models and virtual building walk-throughs
  • Live plan, section, and elevation views (move or add items in one view and the items are moved/added in all views)

Some BIM benefits are:

  • Reduced conflicts during construction
  • Improved collective understanding of the design intent
  • Improved overall project quality
  • Better designed and coordinated projects
  • Reduced changes during construction
  • Reduced numbers of RFIs (Requests for Information)
  • Better cost control/predictability
  • Increased collaboration between all design disciplines, contractors, and owners
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