BIM! BIM! BIM! - For Whom the Data Tolls

BIM Wordle

“A working drawing is a letter to a builder telling precisely what to build; not a picture to charm the client” Edwin Lutyens, over a century ago.

The prime cause of things that go wrong in construction is unclear or missing information. The aim of BIM (Building Information Modelling or Building Information Management) is to reduce this source of error. The objective is to provide relevant and accurate data about a building in design, construction and use accessible by all involved – not just a pretty picture.

“Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the process of generating and managing information about a built asset over its whole life.”  (Cabinet Office 2012, UK) 

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. (National BIM Standard - United States).

I recently joined architects and construction managers at a February 2012 AdaptCBE event held in Bidwell House, Cambridge. We wanted to learn how and why BIM is a natural progression in the evolution from 2D designs, via CAD to true project data in digital form for construction projects. These are some of the insights that I gained.

Bringing Order from Chaos

Keith Snook of BRE took us through a whirlwind tour of the history, philosophy and future underpinning BIM, suitably sprinkling humour in word and pictures amongst the information.

The progression of Concept – Design – Production – As Built – Handover in a project hides a complexity that arises from:

  • What is desired (Client and designer ideas and specifications)
  • What is required (Compliance with regulations, specifications like NBS and standards)
  • How the work is done (on-site, by sub-contractors)
  • Legacy (lifetime performance of building and adaptation)

An ideal BIM provides a shared repository of information about a project which maximises communication and minimises errors arising during a building’s/project’s lifetime.

BS1192:2007 (Collaborative production of architectural, engineering and construction information. Code of practice) already provides a foundation as a collaborative management process. It gives a standard method and procedure and provides a common data environment for:

  • Work in Progress
  • Sharing of information
  • Publishing Documentation
  • Archiving

Already, 50% error and waste can potentially be removed by applying the concepts of BS1192:2007 to 2D and 3D spatial coordination.

BIM data is much more comprehensive – it can contain information from multiple data sources, including specification, contracts, personnel, programming as well as geometry. CAD is not BIM, but BIM can present a part of its dataset as a CAD visualisation. Therefore, there will be future ISOs growing from BS1192:2007 to assist BIM.

Lonely BIM and Integrated BIM

Companies and organisations are setting up their own in house information systems in the spirit of BIM. Because they are local and fairly standalone systems (even though information is shared with throughout a project), they are often colloquially referred to as Lonely BIMs.  The ultimate objective is to have integrated electronic files that are web or cloud based, using a set of wider accepted standards such as:

  • Information for Construction - IFC (ISO/PAS 16739-2005)
  • Information Delivery Manuals – IDM (ISO/FDIS 29491-1:2009)
  • International Framework Dictionary – IFD (ISO 12006-3:2007)

BIM based on these concepts is termed iBIM or Integrated BIM.

Practical experiences

The other useful part of the AdaptCBE event were presentations by individuals and companies who had taken the plunge to embrace BIM – and their experiences. Elrond Burrell from Architype, a 40 strong company with offices in London & Hereford, gave an architect’s perspective. Interestingly, they fully committed to BIM without a fall back to 2D CAD and did not regret the change. The key message for me here was that most of their effort was spent in the design and planning process. After that things got progressively less time consuming, through documentation to coordination. This was in contrast to past experience with 2D CAD where most of the time was spent in documentation. BIM also seemed to require less time in total than the old system.

Rachel Bowen-Price of Morgan Sindall gave an interim 3 month update on current work into the delivery of the Exemplar Low Carbon Building in Norwich. Her insights were the importance of dynamic documents and models as well as thinking hard about internal and external communication.

BIM, BREEAM and PassivHaus

Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful (George E. P. Box).

The key feature of both BREEAM and the PassivHaus Planning Package (PHPP) is that they generate data. This means that both systems can work well with a BIM. Keith Snook advocated making BREEAM an integral part of BIM to ensure sustainability was right at the core of a project. Elrond Burrell gave some practical examples of how BIM for PassivHaus allowed both a visual interrogation and provided accurate live numerical data. It was straightforward to extract data on thermal and airtight fabric continuity. For example, BIM was useful in identifying thermal bridges in design and identifying heat loss area..

Making BIM part of your future

Currently (February 2012) 21% of survey respondents were neither aware nor using BIM, 48% were just aware of BIM and 31% were using aware and using BIM. In June 2011 the UK government published its BIM strategy, announcing its intention to require collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) on its projects by 2016.

So with real benefits in reducing errors, waste and in improving communication amongst parties in a construction project, plus a push by government to require BIM by 2016 for its projects – familiarity with BIM will be essential.

I could not condense the full half day program by AdaptCBE here! I therefore recommend that, if you wish to familiarise yourself in more detail with BIM, you look out for one of AdaptCBE’s events (free to eligible SMEs) at

As a last thought re BIM, I liked the cautionary words by Elrond Burrell, warning on “The Seduction of BIM”:

  • Software doesn’t design (sustainable) buildings, people do
  • Just because the software can, it doesn’t mean we should
  • Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean the information is actually useful


Chris Thomas is Tollé Green Architecture’s ambassador in the UK. Contact him if you have queries about our company and how we can help you.