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Understanding BIM: what you need to know

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a term you’re likely to be hearing a lot these days. It represents a new approach to conceptualising buildings that is revolutionising the world of construction. From client and architect to builder and end user, BIM enables a holistic approach that makes it much easier to coordinate activities, monitor development and plan for the future. So, what exactly is it? How does it work? What are the capabilities of this software for construction and other related industries?

BIM Technology

What is BIM?

BIM is a concept which has been around since the 1970s but it has only become viable at a practical level with the development of more powerful computing technology. In essence, this process involves modelling buildings in virtual spaces, where their functional and physical characteristics can then be explored. Unlike traditional modelling, BIM makes it possible to observe these features side by side and see how they interact making it easier for the architect's vision to be interpreted by others. It also means that people with different types of expertise can quickly identify potential problems with the design or where improvements could be made.

Today’s building information models are generated using specialist software like ArchiCAD, Sonata and RECUPS. These produce three-dimensional models which are easy to navigate. Because each part of such a model is defined in relation to the other parts, changing or moving one section automatically adjusts the others. This means, for instance, that if you extend a wall in one direction you can immediately see the changes that will need to be made to other walls. You can even use this to recalculate the costs associated with the increased interior space. The level of detail required can be adjusted to meet the needs of project partners.

The Benefits of BIM

BIM is used extensively by governments, public bodies and large companies seeking to develop buildings that fit very particular specifications and can be useful over long periods of time. It’s ideal for heavily collaborative projects because it means different stakeholders can easily coordinate their priorities. For instance, engineers can work with the model to determine what is feasible, while architects assess whether it will allow enough light into key areas, and disability experts work out whether or not it will be fully accessible.

BIM doesn’t stop being useful when the construction phase is over. It remains a useful model for planning maintenance and addressing the impact of any proposed alterations in years to come. Dynamic information can be incorporated into the design to facilitate this process, so the building is looked at not just as a static object but as something which can change over time.

BIM example - showroom

An example of BIM technology in practice - Volkswagen Showrooms, Shanghai

BIM in Practice

The primary challenge associated with using BIM today is that there are several different software systems out there, with competing standards. This issue means that it’s necessary to choose one that not only provides the level of functionality required for a particular project, but that can be accessed and understood by everybody involved. The slightly different approaches taken by each team of software developers means that fluency with one system can make another feel counter-intuitive, so in some cases, each new project represents a new learning process. Different standards are now emerging in various countries, so it is international projects that tend to be the most complicated.

BIM In the Future

At the same time as this is going on, new approaches to data sharing are making some aspects of BIM more practical to use, and it is increasingly possible to access BIM models from anywhere, including on site. BIM is now also being used to calculate the energy efficiency of buildings, creating a dynamic relationship between the architecture (as it is visualised and developed) and the active life of the building. This means that, in the near future, we should see the demand for this technology in areas such as Facilities Management. With so many exciting ideas in development, this is a technology with a bright future and one that’s well worth taking the time to get to know.

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