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F A Q   --   W h a t   i s   B I M   M O D E L I N G  ?


Building information modelling (BIM) is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. Building information models (BIMs) are files (often but not always in proprietary formats and containing proprietary data) which can be extracted, exchanged or networked to support decision-making regarding a building or other built asset. Current BIM software is used by individuals, businesses and government agencies who plan, design, construct, operate and maintain diverse physical infrastructures, such as water, refuse, electricity, gas, communication utilities, roads, bridges, ports, tunnels, etc.

BIM origins and elements

The concept of BIM has existed since the 1970s.[1][2][3]

The term 'building model' (in the sense of BIM as used today) was first used in papers in the mid-1980s: in a 1985 paper by Simon Ruffle eventually published in 1986,[4] and later in a 1986 paper by Robert Aish[5] - then at GMW Computers Ltd, developer of RUCAPS software - referring to the software's use at London's Heathrow Airport.[6] The term 'Building Information Model' first appeared in a 1992 paper by G.A. van Nederveen and F. P. Tolman.[7]

However, the terms 'Building Information Model' and 'Building Information Modeling' (including the acronym "BIM") did not become popularly used until some 10 years later. In 2002, Autodesk released a white paper entitled "Building Information Modeling,"[8] and other software vendors also started to assert their involvement in the field.[9] By hosting contributions from Autodesk, Bentley Systems and Graphisoft, plus other industry observers, in 2003,[10] Jerry Laiserin helped popularize and standardize the term as a common name for the digital representation of the building process.[11] Facilitating exchange and interoperability of information in digital format had previously been offered under differing terminology by Graphisoft as "Virtual Building", Bentley Systems as "Integrated Project Models", and by Autodesk or Vectorworks as "Building Information Modeling".

As Graphisoft had been developing such solutions for longer than its competitors, Laiserin regarded its ArchiCAD as then "one of the most mature BIM solutions on the market"[12] but also highlighted the pioneering role of applications such as RUCAPS, Sonata and Reflex[13] (on 23 June 2016, the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering presented its Prince Philip Gold Medal to Jonathan Ingram, the developer of Sonata and Reflex, for his pioneering work on BIM).[14] Following its launch in 1987, ArchiCAD became regarded by some as the first implementation of BIM,[15][16] as it was the first CAD product on a personal computer able to create both 2D and 3D geometry, as well as the first commercial BIM product for personal computers.[15][17][18]


The US National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee has the following definition:

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.[19]

Traditional building design was largely reliant upon two-dimensional technical drawings (plans, elevations, sections, etc.). Building information modeling extends this beyond 3D, augmenting the three primary spatial dimensions (width, height and depth) with time as the fourth dimension (4D)[20] and cost as the fifth (5D).[21] BIM therefore covers more than just geometry. It also covers spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, and quantities and properties of building components (for example, manufacturers' details).

BIM involves representing a design as combinations of "objects" – vague and undefined, generic or product-specific, solid shapes or void-space oriented (like the shape of a room), that carry their geometry, relations and attributes. BIM design tools allow extraction of different views from a building model for drawing production and other uses. These different views are automatically consistent, being based on a single definition of each object instance.[22] BIM software also defines objects parametrically; that is, the objects are defined as parameters and relations to other objects, so that if a related object is amended, dependent ones will automatically also change.[22] Each model element can carry attributes for selecting and ordering them automatically, providing cost estimates as well as material tracking and ordering.[22]

For the professionals involved in a project, BIM enables a virtual information model to be handed from the design team (architectslandscape architectssurveyorscivilstructural and building services engineers, etc.) to the main contractor and subcontractors and then on to the owner/operator; each professional adds discipline-specific data to the single shared model. This reduces information losses that traditionally occurred when a new team takes 'ownership' of the project, and provides more extensive information to owners of complex structures.

BIM throughout the project life-cycle

Use of BIM goes beyond the planning and design phase of the project, extending throughout the building life cycle, supporting processes including cost managementconstruction managementproject management and facility operation.

Management of building information models

Building information models span the whole concept-to-occupation time-span. To ensure efficient management of information processes throughout this span, a BIM manager (also sometimes defined as a virtual design-to-construction, VDC, project manager – VDCPM) might be appointed. The BIM manager is retained by a design build team on the client's behalf from the pre-design phase onwards to develop and to track the object-oriented BIM against predicted and measured performance objectives, supporting multi-disciplinary building information models that drive analysis, schedules, take-off and logistics.[23][24] Companies are also now considering developing BIMs in various levels of detail, since depending on the application of BIM, more or less detail is needed, and there is varying modeling effort associated with generating building information models at different levels of detail.[25]

BIM in construction management

Participants in the building process is constantly challenged to deliver successful projects despite tight budgets, limited manpower, accelerated schedules, and limited or conflicting information. The significant disciplines such as architecturalstructural and MEP designs should be well coordinated, as two things can’t take place at the same place and time. Building Information Modeling aids in collision detection at the initial stage, identifying the exact location of discrepancies.

The BIM concept envisages virtual construction of a facility prior to its actual physical construction, in order to reduce uncertainty, improve safety, work out problems, and simulate and analyze potential impacts.[26] Sub-contractors from every trade can input critical information into the model before beginning construction, with opportunities to pre-fabricate or pre-assemble some systems off-site. Waste can be minimised on-site and products delivered on a just-in-time basis rather than being stock-piled on-site.[26]

Quantities and shared properties of materials can be extracted easily. Scopes of work can be isolated and defined. Systems, assemblies and sequences can be shown in a relative scale with the entire facility or group of facilities. BIM also prevents errors by enabling conflict or 'clash detection' whereby the computer model visually highlights to the team where parts of the building (e.g.:structural frame and building services pipes or ducts) may wrongly intersect.

BIM in facility operation

BIM can bridge the information loss associated with handling a project from design team, to construction team and to building owner/operator, by allowing each group to add to and reference back to all information they acquire during their period of contribution to the BIM model. This can yield benefits to the facility owner or operator.

For example, a building owner may find evidence of a leak in his building. Rather than exploring the physical building, he may turn to the model and see that water valve is located in the suspect location. He could also have in the model the specific valve size, manufacturer, part number, and any other information ever researched in the past, pending adequate computing power. Such problems were initially addressed by Leite and Akinci when developing a vulnerability representation of facility contents and threats for supporting the identification of vulnerabilities in building emergencies.[27]

Dynamic information about the building, such as sensor measurements and control signals from the building systems, can also be incorporated within BIM software to support analysis of building operation and maintenance.[28]

There have been attempts at creating information models for older, pre-existing facilities. Approaches include referencing key metrics such as the Facility Condition Index (FCI), or using 3D laser-scanning surveys and photogrammetry techniques (both separately or in combination) to capture accurate measurements of the asset that can be used as the basis for a model. Trying to model a building constructed in, say 1927, requires numerous assumptions about design standards, building codes, construction methods, materials, etc., and is therefore more complex than building a model during design.

BIM in land administration and cadastre

BIM can potentially offer some benefit for managing stratified cadastral spaces in urban built environments. The first benefit would be enhancing visual communication of interweaved, stacked and complex cadastral spaces for non-specialists. The rich amount of spatial and semantic information about physical structures inside models can aid comprehension of cadastral boundaries, providing an unambiguous delineation of ownership, rights, responsibilities and restrictions. Additionally, using BIM to manage cadastral information could advance current land administration systems from a 2D-based and analogue data environment into a 3D digital, intelligent, interactive and dynamic one.[29] BIM could also unlock value in the cadastral information by forming a bridge between that information and the interactive lifecycle and management of buildings.[30]

BIM software

The first software tools developed for modelling buildings emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and included workstation products such as Chuck Eastman's Building Description System and GLIDE, RUCAPSSonata and Reflex. The early applications, and the hardware needed to run them, were expensive, which limited widespread adoption. ArchiCAD's Radar CH, released in 1984 was the first modelling software made available on a personal computer.[17]

Due to the complexity of gathering all the relevant information when working with BIM on a building project some companies have developed software designed specifically to work in a BIM framework. These packages differ from architectural drafting tools such as AutoCAD by allowing the addition of further information (time, cost, manufacturers' details, sustainability and maintenance information, etc.) to the building model.

There is a BIM module in open source CAD software FreeCAD.

Non-proprietary or open BIM standards

BIM is often associated with Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) and aecXML – data structures for representing information. IFCs have been developed by buildingSMART (the former International Alliance for Interoperability), as a neutral, non-proprietary or open standard for sharing BIM data among different software applications (some proprietary data structures have been developed by CAD vendors incorporating BIM into their software).

Poor software interoperability has long been regarded as an obstacle to industry efficiency in general and to BIM adoption in particular. In August 2004 a US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report[31] conservatively estimated that $15.8 billion was lost annually by the U.S. capital facilities industry due to inadequate interoperability arising from "the highly fragmented nature of the industry, the industry’s continued paperbased business practices, a lack of standardization, and inconsistent technology adoption among stakeholders".

An early example of a nationally approved BIM standard is the AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction)-approved CIS/2 standard, a non-proprietary standard with its roots in the UK.

Anticipated future potential

BIM is a relatively new technology in an industry typically slow to adopt change. Yet many early adopters are confident that BIM will grow to play an even more crucial role in building documentation.

Proponents claim that BIM offers:

  1. Improved visualization
  2. Improved productivity due to easy retrieval of information
  3. Increased coordination of construction documents
  4. Embedding and linking of vital information such as vendors for specific materials, location of details and quantities required for estimation and tendering
  5. Increased speed of delivery
  6. Reduced costs

BIM also contains most of the data needed for building energy performance analysis. The building properties in BIM can be used to automatically create the input file for building energy simulation and save a significant amount of time and effort. Moreover, automation of this process reduce errors and mismatches in the building energy simulation process.

Green Building XML (gbXML) is an emerging schema, a subset of the Building Information Modeling efforts, focused on green building design and operation. gbXML is used as input in several energy simulation engines. With the development of modern computer technology, a large number of building energy simulation tools are available. When choosing which simulation tool to use, the user must consider the tool's accuracy and reliability, considering the building information they have at hand, which will serve as input for the tool. Yezioro, Dong and Leite developed an artificial intelligence approach towards assessing building performance simulation results and found that more detailed simulation tools have the best simulation performance in terms of heating and cooling electricity consumption within 3% of mean absolute error.

Explorations are underway to pair computer network users' personal, private and public authentication choices, geographic mapping systems and evolving cloud computing security architecture models, together, to offer customers of geospatial securitization services intuitive new ways to organize their personal, private and public applications and storage. For individuals, businesses and government authorities who generate and manage building information, new ways to discover, share and work on data, within the context of particular places on earth, will be offered. David Plager, AIA, conjectures that today's web will give way to tomorrow's geo-web where data will be structured first by place (e.g. a postal address) and then by space (Personal (one user), Private (a group of users) and Public (all users)).


  1.  Eastman, Charles; Fisher, David; Lafue, Gilles; Lividini, Joseph; Stoker, Douglas; Yessios, Christos (September 1974). An Outline of the Building Description System. Institute of Physical Planning, Carnegie-Mellon University.
  2. Jump up^ Eastman, Chuck; Tiecholz, Paul; Sacks, Rafael; Liston, Kathleen (2008). BIM Handbook: a Guide to Building Information Modeling for owners, managers, designers, engineers, and contractors (1st ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley. pp. xi–xii. ISBN 9780470185285.
  3. Jump up^ Eastman, Chuck; Tiecholz, Paul; Sacks, Rafael; Liston, Kathleen (2011). BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors (2nd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley. pp. 36–37.
  4. Jump up^ Ruffle S. (1986) "Architectural design exposed: from computer-aided-drawing to computer-aided-design" Environments and Planning B: Planning and Design 1986 March 7 pp 385-389. Abstract
  5. Jump up^ Aish, R. (1986) "Building Modelling: The Key to Integrated Construction CAD" CIB 5th International Symposium on the Use of Computers for Environmental Engineering related to Building, 7–9 July.
  6. Jump up^ cited by Laiserin, Jerry (2008), Foreword to Eastman, C., et al (2008), op cit, p.xii
  7. Jump up^ Van Nederveen, G.A.; Tolman, F.P. (1992). "Modelling multiple views on buildings". Automation in Construction1 (3): 215–24. doi:10.1016/0926-5805(92)90014-B.
  8. Jump up^ Autodesk (2002). Building Information Modeling. San Rafael, CA, Autodesk, Inc.
  9. Jump up^ Laiserin, J. (2002) "Comparing Pommes and Naranjas", The Laiserin Letter, December 16, 2002.[unreliable source?]
  10. Jump up^ Laiserin, J. (2003) "The BIM Page", The Laiserin Letter.[unreliable source?]
  11. Jump up^ Laiserin, in his foreword to Eastman, et al (2008, op cit) disclaimed he had coined the term, adding "it is my opinion that the historical record ... shows that Building Information Modeling was not an innovation attributable solely to any individual or entity." (p.xiii)
  12. Jump up^ Laiserin, J. (2003) "Graphisoft on BIM", The Laiserin Letter, January 20, 2003.[unreliable source?]
  13. Jump up^ Laiserin, J. (2003) "LaiserinLetterLetters" (see Laiserin's comment to letter from John Mullan), The Laiserin Letter, January 06 2003.[unreliable source?]
  14. Jump up^ "Prince Philip Medal for engineer behind revolution in Building Information Modelling (22 June 2016)"Royal Academy of Engineering. RAEng. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  15. Jump up to:a b Lincoln H. Forbes, Syed M. Ahmed, (2010) Modern Construction: Lean Project Delivery and Integrated Practices, CRC Press.
  16. Jump up^ Cinti Luciani, S. Garagnani, R. Mingucci (2012) "BIM tools and design intent. Limitations and opportunities", in K. Kensek, J. Peng, Practical BIM 2012 - Management, Implementation, Coordination and Evaluation, Los Angeles
  17.  Quirk, Vanessa (7 December 2012). "A Brief History of BIM"Arch Daily. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  18. Jump up^ M. Dobelis (2013), “Drawbacks of BIM concept adoption”, in the 12th International Conference on Engineering Graphics, BALTGRAF 2013, June 5–7, 2013, Riga, Latvia
  19. Jump up^ "Frequently Asked Questions About the National BIM Standard-United States - National BIM Standard - United States". Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  20. Jump up^ "4D BIM or Simulation-Based Modeling". Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  21. Jump up^ "ASHRAE Introduction to BIM, 4D and 5D". Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  22. Jump up to:a b c Eastman, Chuck (August 2009). "What is BIM?".
  23. Jump up^ [1] Archived November 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. Jump up^ "Senate Properties modeling guidelines". Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  25. Jump up^ Leite, Fernanda; Akcamete, Asli; Akinci, Burcu; Atasoy, Guzide; Kiziltas, Semiha (2011). "Analysis of modeling effort and impact of different levels of detail in building information models". Automation in Construction20 (5): 601–9. doi:10.1016/j.autcon.2010.11.027.
  26. Jump up to:a b Smith, Deke (2007). "An Introduction to Building Information Modeling (BIM)" (PDF). Journal of Building Information Modeling: 12–4. [unreliable source?]
  27. Jump up^ Leite, Fernanda; Akinci, Burcu (2012). "Formalized Representation for Supporting Automated Identification of Critical Assets in Facilities during Emergencies Triggered by Failures in Building Systems". Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering26 (4): 519. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CP.1943-5487.0000171.
  28. Jump up^ Liu, Xuesong; Akinci, Burcu (2009). "Requirements and Evaluation of Standards for Integration of Sensor Data with Building Information Models". In Caldas, Carlos H.; O'Brien, William J. Computing in Civil Engineering. pp. 95–104. doi:10.1061/41052(346)10ISBN 978-0-7844-1052-3.
  29. Jump up^ Atazadeh, Behnam; Kalantari, Mohsen; Rajabifard, Abbas; Ho, Serene; Ngo, Tuan (2016-03-01). "Building Information Modelling for High-rise Land Administration"Transactions in GIS: n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/tgis.12199ISSN 1467-9671.
  30. Jump up^ Behnam Atazadeh; Mohsen Kalantari; Abbas Rajabifard; Tom Champion (23 February 2016). "Filling the space" (PDF). RICS Land Journal. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.



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