BIM ‘ The History of a Future Trend (Part 1 of 2)

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By Adam Lega, KAI Design & Build

Imagine a virtual world where an architect, an engineer, a contractor and a client are working simultaneously on a project. Their goal — to create the most cost effective, efficient and structurally sound building possible, all without compromising their artistic vision. Sounds impossible? Not any more. Welcome to the new world of BIM, where interoperability and Integrated Project Delivery is key.

BIM is an unofficial word with many different meanings:

BIM (n.) – Building Information Model. The building information model is the virtual representation of a project, built on the computer in 3D. This virtual model is typically comprised of multiple databases in which all of the information about the particular project is stored.
BIM (n.) – Building Information Management. This is the process of actually managing the databases in which all of the information about the built information model is stored. This process extends to managing the project team as well as the information in the model.
BIM (v.) – Building Information Modeling. Also known as Virtual Design and Construction. This is the act of creating the virtual model and implementing the management process.

BIM is revolutionizing the design/build industry today, but it is far from a new concept. In fact, BIM is simply a re-introduction of historical design/build practices, with a twist of technical advancement.

Throughout the history of architecture, scale models of projects have always been built. All of the great architects — Michelangelo, Leonardo, Calatrava, Gherry and Wright — built mock-ups of their projects before beginning construction in order to resolve unforeseen design issues, check for constructability and even have an excuse to charge the client more for the project. Ask a struggling architecture student centuries ago how much he/she has spent on basswood and chipboard and they’d likely show you their empty pockets.

The simple fact is that we have always “built” our projects before we constructed them in actuality. BIM is a virtual extension of this process that takes us from the macrocosm to the microcosm. Now we can build everything. From the studs in the wall to the anchor bolts in the floor, the shingles on the roof to the panes in the windows, everything can be modeled in this virtual world. As a direct result of BIM technology, we can now build the “guts” of the building along with the form. Structural engineers can build their stick frames, columns, bracings and beams; Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing engineers (MEP) can put in their fixtures, panels and diffusers; architects can build the skin of the building; and contractors can cut plans, elevations and sections. The main benefit of BIM is that all of these parts of the building puzzle are now tied in to a single database where each party can see any changes to the plans live as they are happening. No longer are they working from an outdated set of print documents.

With BIM, the client reaps the most benefit, knowing that the architects, structural engineers, MEP engineers and contractors are all working from a common set of data, designing the best project that can be designed and getting to visualize what he/she has commissioned.

The result of working simultaneously is less error and waste. Additionally, all of the documents are coordinated, the construction is better planned, visualization of the project is better realized, there is more buy-in from all parties involved, and ultimately there is a higher profit margin on a better project all around.

BIM is about collaboration. Multiple people now come together to work not just for the benefit of themselves but also for the good of the project as a whole. We started with a 3D model and ended up with a collaborative team effort. That is just the tip of the iceberg. In the next article, we will talk more in-depth about the process of BIM.
Visit next week for Part II of Adam Lega’s article on BIM.

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