What Is BIM

What Is BIM, and How Can It Help Architects?

In April 2019, Holy Week had just begun when a fire broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral. Pedestrians watched as flames quickly tore through the structure and ripped down its iconic spiral, destroying 850 years of architecture in less than 24 hours. Notre Dame was nearly lost to future generations, but it will live on thanks to a relatively new concept known as BIM

Architect and contractor Michael Johnson called BIM “the biggest disruptor that anyone in the current architecture, engineering, or construction industry has ever seen,” but what is BIM, and why is it changing so much of modern architecture and how we come to know our everyday spaces?

Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is a design process that involves creating virtual models of structures and spaces, usually in 3D, for architectural projects. BIM facilitates collaboration between team members during a building’s lifecycle — from planning, to construction, to renovation — by providing all data and models in a single space. Think Google Docs meets “The Sims.” This increases accuracy and efficiency, which saves architects and project stakeholders serious money and lets clients step into their space before construction even begins.

History of BIM

In the ’60s, early computer programmers saw the need for more flexible, digital models when designing buildings. Sketchpad, a BIM predecessor, let designers define geometry and adjust objects with an electronic stylus.

Applications like Sketchpad first appeared on personal computers in the ’80s, and designers began using early BIM programs for larger, more complex projects. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, BIM programs could handle more complex data and better understand how each project piece related to the whole structure. 

Is BIM a Software?

BIM is not a software, but rather a process available under different software companies, and unlike 3D CAD, BIM looks deeper into the relationships between building components to search for possible conflicts. It lets architects and other stakeholders like engineers and contractors collaborate with each other virtually by allowing each team member to simultaneously access the same data and the same model. 

Each BIM model has individual components (e.g. building materials and structural pieces) called BIM objects that make up the entire 3D model. Each BIM object has geometry and data that lets designers see how it will interact with the real world. For example, an architect or engineer can place a 3D bicycle rack model (the BIM object) into their BIM model to see how the rack’s size and function will work with the overall structure:

Saris BIM configurator

Can Architects Download BIM Objects From Suppliers?

Yes. Some suppliers offer BIM Objects for download into BIM models, similar to 3D CAD files:

How Can Design Teams Use BIM?

Project team members can use BIM for design, construction, and post-project building management. During design, team members can find errors virtually rather than at a construction site, and they can access specific data (e.g. materials, costs, and logistics) from anywhere. 

Once construction begins, designers can convey design intent more easily to those at the physical job site, giving builders better visualizations of the project. Post-construction, building owners and operators can use BIM to access building data and models for future renovations and repairs. For Notre Dame’s restoration, experts compared pre and post-fire scans of the structure to create BIM models and restore the Cathedral as close to its previous image as possible.

What Are the Benefits of BIM?

  • Better visuals/Happier clients
  • Higher accuracy
  • Less waste
  • Higher efficiency
  • More money

a. Better visuals/Happier clients

Clients often have difficulty understanding their future space through simple, 2D drawings, but with BIM, architects and engineers can build detailed, virtual models with physical and functional data for every piece of the project. This lets clients more easily visualize and understand the projects.

b. Higher accuracy

BIM models store more accurate data, which means less human error in calculations and less time making adjustments. A door frame that isn’t up to code or doesn’t please a client is easier to fix on a computer than at a job site where builders have spent time and money. BIM also accelerates restoration projects by letting designers store the existing building’s data, meaning they’ll spend less time at job sites gathering measurements.

Additionally, as architect and engineers edit the model, the BIM system automatically adjusts measurements and elements of the design and alerts designers of conflicts, AKA clash detection:

c. Less waste

With BIM, teams can find clashes and fix problems virtually rather than at the physical construction site, and they can test different materials to find the most energy and cost-efficient design.

BIM gives teams easy-to-access, accurate data for every piece of a space, which means teams spend less time calculating and fixing data and more time improving spaces. For example, when teams aren’t worried about transferring files and ensuring accurate data, they spend more time improving safety and energy efficiency. 

d. Higher efficiency

Traditional 3D CAD usually involves transferring data among different team members. Since departments often use different software programs, key data is sometimes lost in translation when team members transfer CAD models between each other. 

With BIM, each member of the architecture, engineering and construction teams can access the same data and models simultaneously during each stage of the project. This lets team members virtually collaborate with each other to quickly make changes without the need to transfer files and potentially lose key data. 

e. More money

With higher accuracy, less waste and higher efficiency, BIM can save teams serious money. Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia used BIM during the planning phase of a new facility and saved approximately $1,995,000 in two weeks by using BIM.  

How Does BIM Change Our View of Spaces?

With BIM, architects, engineers and stakeholders can finish projects faster and cheaper, all without sacrificing quality. BIM is changing the way we come to know our everyday spaces by letting us step into those spaces before construction even begins and allowing existing spaces to live on. We can create better structures for the future and maintain the historical structures of our past. 

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Kelly Obbie

Social Media Coordinator at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A 2018 graduate of The Media School at Indiana University, Kelly studied journalism, public relations, English and Spanish and has experience in news writing and editing as well as social media writing and management. She also has professional and personal experience in videography and photography. She currently lives in Ohio but has lived in four states, and in her free time, she enjoys running, hiking, learning languages, and watching Disney movies.