January 09, 2008

BIM: What’s Cooking?

I took some time off over Christmas break, and at least from a food perspective the vacation was characterized by diverse types of bread making/eating. I made cream puffs, English muffins, bagels, pizza dough, and cinnamon rolls from scratch. These are different types of bread with sometimes very similar ingredients. Muffins, puffs, crust, rolls, all different words for essentially the same thing… bread. Arguably these required vastly different workflows for different food applications and sometime unique ingredients. I really want to make some more English muffins; I never thought they would be so easy to make, yum.

I attended a recent BIM Conference in DC. As an active listener at BIM conferences I am looking at how existing GIS applications that work with buildings are keeping pace with the emerging technologies and more importantly the emerging expectations of what may be called BIM.

For many BIM continues to hold the expectation of an over-arching technology where the building information models and their explicit definitions are the key to making better decisions for an ever-growing and seemingly unlimited list of applications.

I have a growing appreciation for the efforts of organizations promoting standards and starting conversations that can help put scope and context to efforts in the building industry to reduce waste and promote better practices. The standards themselves are not an information system, but they do serve as a powerful means to define the semantics of how to ask better questions and the context for new information systems applications. They challenge the building industry to consider new ways to improve how things are done.

I heard it said a number of times at this conference and at other conferences that workflows rooted in the trade guilds of antiquity, frustrate the modernization of the building industry. These hindrances are so strong that it was said productivity of designing and constructing buildings in the modern age has actually decreased rather than increased! Other industries such as manufacturing it is said have greatly increased their productivity through modernization, integration and automation. Messages directed to conference attendees suggest that if they do not heed the warnings, the building industry could be categorically replaced by what I will call “building manufactures”.

Consider a company that designs and builds airplanes or cruise ships… what software and workflows do they use to plan, design, construct, and build their structures? A cruise ship is essentially a city, with housing, shopping malls, security, restaurants, parks, sanitation systems, electrical production and distribution systems… take off the propellers and remove the requirement that it needs to float and what do you have…? Perhaps there are useful solutions that already exist in a number of places in slightly different forms.

GIS seems to be well positioned to benefit from the efforts of BIM data standards development as another well or poorly structured data source that can benefit from geospatial visualization, computing and management. If you consider a building can be a geographic feature then the GIS is a fine BIS (Building Information System) for many existing applications related to site selection, planning, operations and management of buildings. Assuming you have the tools to read/write and analyze the data for a given information system application there is nothing special about a building that disqualifies it as just another GIS system of data. As I see it right now GIS excels with geographic features to visualize, compute and manage all different types information system applications.
You can break-down the pieces of a building into individual features or ingredients. When you consider a BIM as a source of content, much like a CAD file is now only better structured; it becomes another useful source of data you can manage in an information system. GIS is not a BIM in any sense, any more than a cream puff is like an English muffin. I can cook up something worth while by using the ingredients in the BIM along with other spatial data in my geographic information system. How and what I mix together and what I leave behind on the shelf greatly depends on what I’m making be it a facilities management application or emergency response application, etc... In the case of the English muffin it was Eggs Benedict, and for the cream puffs it was sausage and cream cheese filled lunch pastries.


Blogger Melanie (Stone) Perry said...


This was really a well-written article, and put into perspective a few issues...

But, I have to admit... all I'm thinking about now is bread. I'm a fiend for bread... and now I'm a hungry fiend. ~sigh~

I might point out that my corporate overlords have recently issued a BIM decree. Eep. It's either going to be wonderful, or such a disaster that noone will ever want to attempt it again.

Cheers! :-)

5:35 AM  
Blogger Atanas said...

Re: Making dough from scratch. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, "If you want to make dough from scratch, you must first create the universe."

Cheers! :)

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was taking a look at the arcmap site and searching various topics when i stumbled upon your blog.

Good stuff.

I'm not actually a CAD developer(?) but I'm doing research for a client on a project that will involve CAD and maps. I'm hoping maybe you can steer me in a good direction or at least let me know if I am heading for trouble :)

My client has a plat for a housing development that they would like to bring online. In the past we have gotten a static export (usually a crumby PDF with an insane number of lines) that we convert into a series of fairly non interacting web elements. But after going down that road enough times I'm researching building a map on the fly from CAD data (via xml or json export?) I'm hoping to capture more of the contextual information like object groups regions, labels, actual lat and long coordinates, etc and build a CMS for managing / editing how / what / when information appears via FLASH and or Javascript.

My goal is to have a bit of a middle of the road solution that balances speed of loading with customization and some nice animation.

This messageg seems a lot longer than I was hoping, but basically I have a bunch of ideas floating around about this and no really good source of information. I've seen some websites that attempt to do CAD to web exports but all I have seen really lack the ability to to pull in object groups and add / manipulate content in meaningful ways. They seem like all fluff.

The stuff on your blog about GIS and CAD really appears to be quite comprehensive.

Thanks for any thoughts / advice you can offer.


10:36 PM  
Blogger don_phd_stevens said...


I am studying how GIS will interact with BIM at NASA this summer. If BIM has great energy analysis capabilities, what role will the GIS analysis support in terms of infrastructure.

If the trend is for facilities, new or renovated, to be partially ' off the grid', in terms of green initiatives (green roofs-drawing less water from an adjacent city municipal system, fixtures using less water and thus sending less waste water for treatment, daylighting drawing less electricity, geothermal energy drawing less cooling/heating from a power authority) off existing infrastructure would there be benefits to thinking of the BIM's being 'plugged into' a GIS. Disputes and discrepancies in usage from: (electric power, water, gas )authorities can more easily be audited and assessed if data from both BIM user of the resource and the GIS infrastructure serving that commodity could be measured. Especially with some of the new technologies delivering a surplus sold back to the authority, it would be important to account for what is 'coming in' and what is 'going out'. Could we consider the role of the BIM as the consumer within a center and the GIS the server of the commodity?

For new projects, during planning, this would allow further consideration for the placement of a building, partially sustainable, and its proximity to infrastructure. Any assistance you could point out from your perspective is greatly appreciated.

11:44 AM  

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