What Is BIM?

One of the most up-and-coming, interactive tools available in Computer Aided Architecture Design of the 21st century is Building Information Modelling, or BIM.

BIM is a multi-dimensional tool that allows designers, contractors and clients the opportunity to virtually realise their architecture designs without having to physically lift a single stone. It may look like an upmarket second life video game to the uninitiated, but through sophisticated programing incorporating all conceivable dynamics, BIM can be used to forecast a building’s life cycle and requirements from site planning to demolition.

Not just limited to calculating costs for labour and materials, BIM software integrates geographical information, light pattern analysis, internal and external geometry, and projected climate effects to allow the designer to plan for every possible condition or situation the building will have to function in. This allows substantial savings to be made in unnecessary materials and transportation, wasted labour, and reworking.

A case in point: A national supermarket chain, who shall remain nameless, recently decided to increase their local petrol forecourt facilities by adding a Car Wash. Planning permission was obtained, the forecourt was cordoned off and the foundations were dug. Only then was it discovered that the erection of the Car Wash would pretty much preclude any cars from accessing the fuel pumps. The foundations were subsequently filled in, tarmac re-laid and, we assume somebody was sacked.

Whether BIM or any type of CAAD was used on this project is unclear but we would guess no, as this is the kind of fundamental error Building Information Modelling is such a powerful tool in helping to avoid. It’s a fairly ridiculous example granted, but it does qualify BIM’s usefulness in a neat story that makes a nice mockery of those with more money than sense.

The real usefulness of BIM can be shown through its capacity to allow all branches of the construction and design team to input their data into the model, theoretically eliminating any conflict in process when it comes to the practical build, saving resources and maximising profits. This is mainly down to the 4D aspect that uses time, or rather scheduling, as the fourth dimension enabling the users to accurately schedule the workflow and avoid clashes.

While tracing its roots back to the 70s, BIM became a widely used term after Autodesk released their Revit software in early 2000, adding to their line-up of CAD products. Various other versions are available, such as ArchiCAD from Graphisoft and Bentley’s different programs, while NBS has recently launched its National BIM Library for the UK. The NBL is continually updating source of digital BIM objects and materials, compatible with all BIM software, which provides users with even more accurate 5D details to help with planning. The fifth dimension being cost.

Designers passionate about BIM are able to make astonishingly accurate forecasts into a buildings life and costs, and it’s always impressive to be able to offer a client virtual 3D walk through of a building before the first hole has been dug.

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