Building Information Models

By H. Michael Hill, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP Total Quality Management Director Torti Gallas and Partners Silver Spring, Md. June 1, 2006

From our June 2006 Specifiers Guide

Today a new technology, known as Building Information Models (BIM), is emerging that promises to change completely how we design buildings.

This technology goes beyond computer-aided design (CAD). BIM offers the opportunity to digitally build a structure from the start. Using BIM, all participants in a project have the opportunity to share information in a virtual environment—from plans to specifications to schedules.

The building design is created as a 3-D model that is stored as data in an object-oriented database. Drawings in two and three dimensions are generated from the BIM database. As data changes or as work progresses, the virtual building model is modified. BIM can reduce errors because everyone involved in the project can have access to the same information.

BIM’s exciting potential lies in 4-D, object- and process-oriented systems. Everyone on the team can have access to up-to-the minute schedules, reports, drawings and visualizations from design and construction to operation and maintenance.

With object-oriented BIM, a part of the building entered into the system is not merely a graphical representation, but behaves like an actual window or wall or door in relationship to other building components. When an object is changed, the other objects adjust in real time, reducing design contradictions. Architects and engineers can work on the design at the same time because they can have access to a central model.

With more accurate information, and building elements that interact with each other, BIM offers engineers and consultants a better way to validate design assumptions in a virtual environment. This method of virtual simulations is more efficient than conducting them in the field.

The Construction Specifications Institute is involved with BIM because for more than five decades the organization has been driven by its mission to organize and streamline storage and retrieval of information necessary for defining building projects. The need for efficient exchange of information contained in building models is why CSI is participating in standards initiatives like the National Institute of Building Sciences’ (NIBS) process to develop a National BIM Standard. A national standard will ensure that systems and applications can be interoperable. When the information for a project can be easily understood and communicated to all the participants, it can make the building process more efficient and cost-effective.

It took about 20 years for the industry to fully adopt CAD systems. BIM likely will be adopted much faster because the potential benefits are so compelling.