Retrospective BIM Modelling of Buildings

Even with the challenges that are there in regards to retrospective modelling I feel the difficulties encountered in the process of actually attempting it emphasise the clear need for more efficient processes of data storage and access to building information, and isn’t that what BIM is all about? Having the information there, when you need it? Yes in this example I’m modelling a pretty old building with very outdated standards of data handover in the sixties, but the lack of available data has similarities to non-BIM’d buildings of today.

Over the past few months I’ve been extremely busy on some very innovative and intriguing projects which have been taking up a considerable amount of time, hence the lack of articles! I’ve finally had a few minutes to put aside to dedicate some time back into the site.

Over the past few 6 months I’ve been heavily involved in a European funded project Resseepe, which is focusing on the retrofit of large institutional buildings such as Universities, hospitals and schools. The project aims to establish informed and innovative solutions to optimise how we manage and develop refurbishment strategies for buildings.  Focusing not only on the innovative technologies that can be used and combined in refurbishment projects, but also on the processes and decision making procedures preceding retrofits.

The Building in Question

The Building in Question

Part of this project has led me to retrospectively ‘BIM’ modelling a large university building, around 5000m/2. Now having quite a bit of previous modelling experience I believed this would be a reasonably straight forward task. How wrong was I! Now modelling any building often takes a bit of technique refinement to get the software to do what you want, I’m talking a ‘new’ way to model a bespoke roof design, or massing a particular shape or form in a way that you haven’t done before. This kind of skills refinement is pretty normal as you progress through any existing or new software. I’ve always found that regardless of level of skill at any software with the commercial ‘new edition every year’ platform there is always something every year to brush up on. This process has been as usual invigorating, to keep pushing personal understanding and skills.

Now as I say, this level of skills evolution is normal, the real learning curve or hurdle has been the lack of available information on existing post war building stock. This is an issue that many Estates and asset management teams have to try to endeavour to overcome, in that much of the information on buildings is old, outdated and/or buried. For the building in question that I’ve been modelling there has been a close relationship with in house estates to try and muster up what information we can to give the best available current state and picture of the building. The challenge here is that this still leaves a lot of assumptions and estimations. For instance in a building designed in 1961, no one at the time considered the 3D modelling requirement of some BIM user when compiling the plans. The plans of the day were constructed with one criteria in mind; enough information to raise the building from the ground, in time and for the right money. Building handover or management was at best an afterthought, if that. In modern years the information being handed over to FM teams is greatly improving with initiatives like softlandings in the UK. Although, we don’t have to go too many years back’ looking at buildings where handover of data was an afterthought and still is in parts.  I’m thinking the rushed collection of building management and health and safety binder’s minutes before the impending deadline.

An early stage render showing BIPV refit option

Another key issue when retrospectively modelling existing stock is the accuracy of the details. In this case you can’t rely on existing original or CAD plans to hold accurate data because over
the years buildings evolve and often the records don’t show this in every detail. It may even be the case that when a plan reaches site, the detail was just not viable and the process or reality of the build altered slightly, this is where the need for ‘as built’ records derives, again this is key to BIM and softlandings. To counteract this there needs to be a process of model validation. Now this may differ slightly from the new build validation in that were not directly validating immediately against rule sets, such as in Solibri etc. The key here is to validate the accuracy of plans, CAD or assumptions so that the model is as close to ‘as-built’ as possible. Now what were encroaching into here is a level of detail aspect, much the same as any BIM new build, in that it needs to be established as to how accurate or refined does the model need to be. This all depends on what information will be required down the line, i.e. will the model be solely used for energy simulation or is there a desire to use the model for quantities asset management which will require far greater component and parametric data to be added. As with new builds, you can only draw off quality information when quality information goes into the model. There is a point where decisions have to be made on the practicalities of entering the detail and specification of every light fitting if that information is never going to be required.

Even with the challenges that are there in regards to retrospective modelling I feel the difficulties encountered in the process of actually attempting it emphasis the clear need for more efficient processes of data storage and access to building information, and isn’t that what BIM is all about? Having the information there, when you need it? Yes in this example I’m modelling a pretty old building with very outdated standards of data handover in the sixties, but the lack of available data has similarities to non-BIM’d buildings of today. The benefits that a BIM model can bring to new builds are very similar to those that are on offer in retrofit or building management. The challenge is to bridge that gap in retrospect. In years to come I envisage a FM process where it’s a lot more common for reasonably sized existing stock to be retrospectively modelled as the alternatives of traditional data management are far to cumbersome. In the case where a building retrofit is to take place I would go as far to say it’s crucial.   


What does openBIM, IFC’s and COBie actually mean for BIM?

This weeks article looks at giving a brief explanation of OpenBIM, COBie and IFC’s whilst also asking a few questions on what all this means for the future of software vendors. What does openBIM, IFC’s and COBie actually mean for BIM?. With Autodesk holding a 63% (NBS National BIM Survey) share of the CAD drawing market what affect will this have on open BIM for the future? What does open BIM actually mean and what are these COBie files that we keep hearing about? With these points in mind this week’s article will focus on open and closed BIM and the interoperability of BIM software as well as asking one or two questions about what all this means for the future of an open BIM collaborative working environment.

Closed BIM generally refers to when BIM processes are carried out on a single platform whereas open BIM refers to when the BIM environment crosses multiple platforms regardless of the software vendor, in essence an ‘open’ shareable design environment using open standard data.

To achieve an open BIM project environment information needs to be shared/exported to a non-proprietary format, such as IFC’s. Currently there are strong opinions and voices behind the drive towards open BIM with the Government specifying in the BIS-BIM-strategy-Reports that Maturity Level 4 BIM should achieve “Fully open process and data integration enabled by IFC/IFD.” Many individual BIM experts are also pushing for the drive towards an open standard BIM future.
Sourced from - BIS-BIM-strategy-Report (2011) BIM Data integration COBie IFC

Sourced from – BIS-BIM-strategy-Report (2011)

To briefly explain what IFC data formats are, they are in essence an ‘open’ and neutral data format which set a data standard which if utilised can assist in the ‘interoperability’ between software packages. As stated by BuildingSMART  “Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) are the open and neutral data format for openBIM.” The data standard which has been developed by Building SMART international, if adhered to enables for the exchange of models and information between multiple software types, in essence achieving interoperability.

Interoperability is a significant word which if involved in BIM already you will be more than familiar with, if not it’s something that you will begin to understand the significance as you progress further into the world of BIM. For files and models to be shared and merged amongst multiple analysis tools and offices they need to be ‘interoperable’. If software packages have the ability to be interoperable then it means that time can be saved through not having to continually redevelop new building geometry for each tool that you wish to utilise to carry out your various analysis.  The importance of this interoperability of files and models across all the teams involved within a BIM project is a pressing concern within BIM which is continually being intensely developed.  Interoperability is a key factor that needs to be drummed home when considering BIM and is seen as being a key component in the future success of BIM projects and needs to be carefully considered at every step.

If the work produced by varying teams is carried out and outputted in an interoperable manner then it allows for multiple teams to work collaboratively on a project without necessarily holding the same software skills and licences. When reading and encountering BIM these are key words that you will soon become familiar with; interoperability, collaborative working, shareable data, data integration, IFC’s, data sharing protocols to name a few….all of these words and terms hope to lead the construction industry to one place, a ‘fully open process’ and working environment.

COBie is another tool that is also vastly becoming synonymous with BIM. COBie is a tool which allows for a multitude of non-graphical data and information to be stored in an organised manner, in essence a spreadsheet. All of this data can then be handed over to the client/facilities management department allowing for easy access to a multitude of details post-completion without having the unenviable task of sifting through a mass of fragmented documentation looking for specific details such as the manufacturer’s contact details of a door handle! With COBie the intention is that all of this information can be kept in an up-datable database which can be easily accessed and kept up to date throughout the whole life cycle of a building, from concept through to demolition. Interesting further reading on COBie can be found at NBS by Stephen Hamil.

Sourced from BIM COBie Spreadsheet

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It is argued that this topic of interoperability of file formats and software packages will be a major factor in determining BIM’s success and whether it’s a smooth transition from isolated design practices to a truly collaborative BIM environment. Software programmes such as REVIT can sometimes be referred to as closed BIM, but I feel this is not a clear defined point as REVIT does have the capability to export file types in the ‘open’ BIM IFC format which allows for interoperability between designs and models. For instance REVIT can export all of the information and modal data from REVIT in the IFC data format which can then be imported into various other software packages, beyond the Autodesk circle of software.  So with this in mind you have to be careful when considering what is truly open BIM and what is closed BIM as the boundaries are not always clear.

The voices behind ‘open’ BIM are actively encouraging BIM practitioners to utilise the IFC data formats and open BIM standards, with part of the hope that no one software vendor will have a monopoly on the market. According to the recent NBS NationalBIM Survey 2013, within the scope of their research pool Autodesk currently hold a 63% share of the CAD drawing market so clearly they have a large proportional share of the market. What will be interesting over the years to come will be to see how this large market share affects the progression and evolution of BIM in the coming years. Will Autodesk’s share open up or close down the interoperability of BIM? Are Autodesk going to be happy to push forward with open BIM or is it in their interest to actually tie practitioners into their product package? This is something that will be interesting to see how it pans out and how far down the open BIM road BIM can progress with Autodesk and the other software contenders a clear defining factor in how ‘open’ BIM becomes.


To collaborate efficiently with a goal at reducing cost, time and carbon central to the ethos of BIM then in my opinion surely we need to push forward with an open approach to BIM sharing standards. I feel that with the research being continually progressed by the likes of BuildingSMART, NBS and the OPEN BIM Network as well as many others a collaborative open BIM future is possible and with the likes of the big guns within the software industry supposedly on board than surely it’s just a case of how do we get there rather than should we head in that direction?


Do you feel an open BIM future is or should be the only way forward for BIM or do you think one software vendor will end up ruling the roost and lock down the market? Please feel free to add to the discussion further.


Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.



The Challenges in Integrating BIM into Education

BIM will be a major aspect in the future of the construction industry I think that’s clear; I also feel that Higher Education will play a major part assisting to prepare Graduates with the relevant skills required. Is however, the current structure in place sufficient enough to provide the industry with BIM ready, or at least reasonably BIM skilled Graduates today though and if not what challenges may Higher Education face? The Challenges in Integrating BIM into Education;

This week’s article will be looking at the challenges that Higher Education Institutes will or may be facing in the near future. BIM is clearly on the rise within the construction industry as covered in my previous article on BIM maturity levels, which referenced that according to the NBS National BIM Survey 2013, 47% of you out there in the UK have already at some point reached BIM ‘Maturity Level 2’. But where do we really stand in education? With this in mind I’m going to be concentrating this week on Higher Education at an undergraduate level.

 Looking across the spectrum of Higher Education in the UK it doesn’t take long to establish that there clearly are some institutions that are ahead of the game in regards to BIM content and courses. This is at least true at Post-Graduate level, with an increasing number of Higher Education institutes offering BIM courses at Masters Level, with a selection of institutions beginning to offer some BIM content at undergraduate level as well but not as prevalent. It is at undergraduate level that personally I feel needs to be improved in the majority of cases.

To look at the challenges which we may face I’ve very loosely utilised a framework which was initially developed by Charles Hopkins (2006), which has been worked on and developed over a number of year looking at the ‘Challenges and Barriers to Education for Sustainable development (ESD)’. Even though the framework developed by Hopkins was focusing on the challenges faced by ESD, many of the issues identified are applicable to the challenges that will be faced in the adoption of BIM in education. I’ve took this base and then run with it! 
One of the first challenges I feel will be to increase the awareness of BIM amongst the existing teaching staff within institutions. If BIM is to be developed and integrated into undergraduate courses then members of staff who may not be directly impacted by BIM still need to be made aware of it and understand why institutions are pushing forward in the direction of BIM. Additional to this more specialised individual professional learning will more than likely be required by staff to ensure that all those involved in the delivery of BIM are competent and understand what they are preaching. This may sound like an obvious point but one I feel needs highlighting. This is an area where I feel government needs to work together with Education institutes and cohesively come up with and progress a clear plan which can then be rolled out and communicated to all Higher Education Universities and Colleges teaching Built Environment courses.
The next issue concerns how BIM is integrated across the Built Environment curriculum. Personally I feel that all construction students should at least leave university with an awareness of what BIM actually is and what it means to them; not only as an individual but also as a part in the overall spectrum of the industry. The difficulty will be in ensuring that the differing disciplines who are studying in their fields of expertise gain the appropriate amount of skills which are needed, beyond that of an initial ‘BIM awareness’. This is something which needs to be continually developed and accessed as BIM in the industry naturally develops, education should follow suit and adapt its processes to ensure that Graduates are leaving with the right skills.
Another issue in teaching BIM is dealing with the complexity of some BIM concepts.  It is paramount that the skills and theory that are to be taught do not confuse students more than when they started. When something is hard to define it can also be difficult to teach, an aspect which BIM can be guilty of on occasion! Teaching needs to be clear that BIM goes beyond that of the 3D model, with efficient information sharing a critical factor which needs to be adopted and understood.
Another challenge to be considered will be how far should, and could current courses be changed in regards to integrating BIM. Built Environment courses are set up carefully to cover many specific learning outcomes which are required to ensure that the courses have content within them that is education and industry applicable. One of the major issues which Higher Education institutes face is the congestion of courses. There a lot of content which already exists in specific courses which quite simply can’t be removed as the timetables are designed in such a way to cover discipline and accreditation content requirements which are generally clearly set out and defined.  Currently there is a lack of knowledge in regards to BIM which prevents clear standardised accreditation; once this is achieved or defined it may make it easier to incorporate BIM into courses. The solution or challenge, depending how you look at it may be for education to integrate BIM seamlessly within the structure of existing courses and modules rather than attempting to create brand new BIM specific courses or modules which will directly compete for timetable space with existing modules.  
Sourced from-

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An important criterion concerning the success of the adoption of BIM will be the sharing of the responsibilities. The adoption of BIM into an educational department cannot solely be the work of one BIM initiator, as experienced by many industry drivers in BIM’s early days. The correct framework and desire needs to be in place amongst all staff.  Support for BIM in education has to be provided right form the top down; through Government to university heads, department heads to lecturer’s and then dissipated from the lecturers to the students accordingly.  I feel a clearer path forward needs to be outlined by all parties on what Higher Education’s part will be in the integration of BIM across the construction industry, beyond that of ‘It has an important part to play’. This will ensure that everyone involved is pushing in the same direction, it’s no good education flying off with ideas and learning outcomes if it’s not what the Government, education or industry require. Education shouldn’t be solely designed to fulfil industry’s needs but it is part of Higher Education’s institutions responsibility to ensure that Graduates have a good chance of employability when they leave university, and if BIM is an industry required skill then it falls on education to assist in instilling this skill into their Graduates.  
To do this Higher Education institutes will need to continue to develop new ways of engaging students and improving their soft and hard skills, relevant to successful practice in a multi-disciplinary field of construction. The aim should be to teach more efficient design processes which lead to reduced costs and time whilst also enhancing student’s skills of design integration, analysis and collaboration.
The next steps for Higher Education should be to continue to develop new BIM integration strategies whilst at the same time continually assessing the effects of the current strategies that have been implemented. Is what we are teaching today sufficient? Personally I don’t think it is, at undergraduate level at least, but I do know first hand that big strides are happening across various universities who’ve adopted a progressive attitude towards how we teach BIM at undergraduate and post-graduate level which is a big step in the right direction. BIM will be a major aspect in the future of the construction industry I think that’s clear; I also feel that Higher Education can assist in preparing Graduates with the relevant skills and knowledge to be able to succeed within a continuously developing and collaborative industry. 


What challenges do you think Higher Education faces? Maybe you have first-hand knowledge of how you’ve succeeded in integrating BIM into you’re courses? Success’s or challenge’s; University Lecturer’s, Industry or Student’s, please feel free to comment with your thoughts below.
Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

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