Just wondering about BIM

Last week I went out to drinks with an architect friend and after covering the ups and downs of personal life, we got to talking about architecture. We went covered spec’s, drawings, firm living, and firm dying before settling on BIM.

I have written before about how BIM or more accurately 3 dimensional modeling programs awakened a spatial sensibility in me that I didn’t know existed. The ability to see your ideas represented in 3 dimensions on the computer was a wake-up call for me. After working with modeling software in school and in firms, I began to wonder about the untapped potential in the building models I was making. Lots of ink has been spilled and pixels arranged over the potential of BIM but I think the conversation I had with my friend might be a new wrinkle.

BIM allows you to virtually construct a building and everything that goes along with that. Depending on how well you model things, a BIM file can tell you how much drywall is in your project and how much it is going to cost to purchase. It can tell you much area is you can rent, lease, or sell per BOMA’s byzantine guidelines. It can even estimate future energy use of a building, coming closer and closer to our engineers energy modeling programs with every passing day. This is all common knowledge and is utilized to varying degrees by architects the world over.

The new wrinkle the came up in my conversation was the following. Architects create these models and if their client is tech savvy enough, hand the BIM files over. The client then takes the file and mines it for all the useful data. They take that data and in some form hand it over to their facilities person who in turn uses it to learn how to maintain the building. This seems reasonable enough but to my friend and I, it seemed that in that process, there were a few unnecessary steps.

If the architect built the BIM file using software that is specifically designed to allow for information mining, wouldn’t they be the best people to manage this file as the building operates? They already know the file, the software, and the building intimately; to me that seems to qualify them as a manager this virtual file of the building.

I realize there are some problems but let’s explore the potential first. Imagine that as the building is constructed, the architect adjusts and corrects the model to mirror the built project. This would include wall location changes, material and product substitutions, etc. Then once the building is completed, the architect in conjunction with facilities, begins to record information about the building. What the life expectancy of that light bulb and when should it be changed. The BIM file becomes a mirror of the building itself expect unlike the building, it can talk back. Scheduling maintenance based on product information that already exists within the model.

To me this represents an extension of the architects’ role, one that puts him directly in touch with the actual performance of their design. It offers the potential of a new revenue source for architects as well and putting architects in much closer contact with their work.

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