AECbytes Feature (May 9, 2012)
There is no doubt that BIM adoption in the AEC industry has come a long way since the term was introduced in 2002—most of the larger firms are using BIM on many of their projects, and it has come part of the standard lexicon of the AEC industry. We would be hard-pressed to find anyone working in the industry who has not heard of BIM. But most of us have a rather myopic view of BIM, quite naturally so; we are aware of what’s going on with BIM implementation in our own countries, but not that much about what is happening in other countries. This article is an attempt to capture the key developments in BIM implementation in different countries around the world, so that we have a better global perspective on BIM. We are all aware that the pace of globalization is rapidly increasing, so it is helpful to stay informed about technological developments elsewhere and be better prepared in case they also have an impact on us.
The main organization governing the construction industry in Singapore is the BCA (Building and Construction Authority). Singapore was one of the earliest countries to realize the potential of model-based design, and this was before the term BIM was even introduced. As early in the 1990s, Singapore had a CORENET project, which was a system for automatically code-checking a design. This, of course, could only be done for a building that was represented using a model rather than drawings. In 2005, I wrote a detailed article on CORENET, describing how it worked. At that time, it was still in a test phase and was going to be applied to some pilot projects before a full public release.
In the intervening years, I didn’t hear much about the CORENET project and assumed it had been stalled. In the meanwhile, BIM instead has taken off in Singapore, and the BCA has a roadmap for BIM that pushes its construction industry to be using BIM widely by 2015. While the BCA is not going so far as to mandate the blanket use of BIM on all building projects, it does have various strategies for promoting it as outlined in a roadmap. These include developing BIM submission templates to ease the transition for the industry from CAD to BIM—architectural and structural templates were introduced in 2010, while the M&E template was introduced in April last year. In collaboration with buildingSMART Singapore, BCA is developing a library of building and design objects, as well as project collaboration guidelines. To incentivize early BIM adopters, it introduced a S$6-million BIM Fund in June 2010 to covers costs on training, consultancy, software, and hardware. An important part of the roadmap is also to encourage Singapore universities to offer courses of BIM, and organize BIM workshops and seminars regularly. While there was surprisingly no mention of CORENET in BCA’s roadmap, it does call for mandatory regulatory submissions using BIM starting in 2013. The BCA is also working with Singapore’s public sector agencies to specify BIM requirements for all new public sector building projects.
While the BCA is to be commended for recognizing the potential of BIM and pushing for its widespread adoption in Singapore, and actually having a roadmap outlining its strategies, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed that more progress had not been made, particularly given the early introduction of a forward-thinking initiative like CORENET for automated checking. Given also that there is mention of CORENET in BCA’s BIM roadmap, does that mean that it was too forward-thinking for its own good, and has not kept up with recent technological developments? I could not find any further information on the templates, library, or project collaboration guidelines developed by the BCA, indicating that things are obviously moving very slowly, even in a small country like Singapore. Also, it was not clear what BIM deliverable the BCA had in mind. While there seemed to be no public data on which BIM application is leading in Singapore, a slide I found in a BCA presentation showing the Submission Template and Guidelines looked a lot like Revit.
China operates upon a series of five-year plans, each of which lists the social and economic development initiatives that are considered most critical for the development of the country during that time period. The first plan period was from 1953 to 1957; the eleventh ran from 2006 to 2010. Thus, we are currently in the middle of the twelfth five-year plan period, which runs from 2011 to 2015. While the plan lists several initiatives to rebalance China’s economy, shift development from urban and coastal areas toward rural and inland areas, enhance environmental protection, and accelerate openness and reform, one of the key construction-related initiatives in China’s twelfth five-year plan is energy-efficient buildings, which ties in with the overall goal of sustainability. This, in turn, is absolutely critical to China, given that it has the world’s largest population and its economy is developing rapidly, putting a severe strain on its existing finite resources.
While I couldn’t find any specific mention of BIM in China’s latest five-year plan manifesto, it would very difficult, if not impossible, for any AEC firm operating in China to meet targeted levels of energy efficiency in building design without resorting to a model-based representation of the design that allows accurate and thorough energy analysis. Thus, by cracking down on energy-profligacy and setting firm energy targets for buildings to meet, China is indirectly advocating the use of advanced AEC technologies like BIM, even though it is not mandating BIM outright.
In contrast to most countries, the UK Government has actually mandated the use of BIM. In May 2011, the UK Cabinet Office published a “Government Construction Strategy” document that has an entire section on “Building Information Modelling,” within which it specifies that Government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM as a minimum by 2016. The document also acknowledges that the lack of compatible systems, standards and protocols, and the differing requirements of clients and lead designers, have inhibited widespread adoption of BIM, a technology which has the capacity to ensure that all team members are working from the same data. Therefore, the government will also focus on developing the standards that will enable all members of the supply chain to work collaboratively through BIM.
This government mandate for the use of BIM is supported by an AEC (UK) BIM Standard Committee that has, to date, released the AEC (UK) BIM Standard (in Nov 2009), the AEC (UK) BIM Standard for Revit (in June 2010), and the AEC (UK) BIM Standard for Bentley Products (in Sep 2011). It is working on similar standards for other BIM applications such as ArchiCAD and Vectorworks, as well as updated versions of the standards that have already been published. All these standards aim to provide practical protocols and procedures to AEC firms in the UK for transitioning from CAD to BIM; for example, what to name models, what to name objects, modeling of individual components, data exchange with other applications or disciplines, and so on. The product-specific standards are intended to interpret and expand the concepts in the generic standards with specific reference to that particular BIM application, for example, using worksets, linked models, families, parameters, and so on in Revit. The committee members writing these standards include AEC professionals that are using BIM in their day-to-day work, so the standards are not simply theoretical but can actually be applied when implementing BIM.
AEC firms in the UK are already quite advanced in their BIM implementation, with London being home to many of the leading firms in the world such as Foster and Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, BDP, and ArupSport, as well as the European headquarters of firms such as HOK, SOM, and Gensler, all of which are well known for their cutting-edge use of AEC technology. In such a milieu, a government-issued mandate for BIM can only thrive and bring the rest of the AEC firms in the UK more rapidly up to speed compared to the average AEC firm located elsewhere in the world.
The Nordic countries of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are home to some key AEC technology vendors such as Tekla and Solibri, and also rank high in the adoption of ArchiCAD that originated from neighboring Hungary. As a result, these countries were among the earliest to adopt model-based design, and also pushed for interoperability and open standards in AEC technology, embodied primarily by the IFC. The long snowy winters in these countries made prefabrication in buildings very important, which in turn is greatly facilitated by the data-rich, model-based, BIM technology, resulting in the early deployment of BIM in these countries. (Please see the AECbytes article from 2005, Prefabrication of Timber Buildings based on Digital Models: A Perspective from Norway.)
Thus, while these is no official government mandate on the use of BIM in these countries, it seems to have grown on its own in response to the need of AEC firms for a more advanced technology than drawing-based CAD files for designing and constructing the kind of buildings that were needed in this region.
In the US, the official use of BIM is synonymous with the GSA’s BIM initiatives. The GSA (General Services Administration) is responsible for the construction and operation of all federal facilities in the US, and in 2003, it established a National 3D-4D-BIM program through the Office of the Chief Architect of its Public Buildings Service. Thus, the GSA is not only endorsing BIM, but also the application of 3D and 4D technologies as a transition from 2D technologies. It recognizes that a 3D geometric representation is only part of the BIM concept, and not all 3D models (for example, those created in 3D modeling applications like form.Z, 3dsMax, and even SketchUp) qualify as BIM models. Yet, even 3D models are much better at communicating design concepts than 2D drawings, so if BIM cannot be implemented on a project, at least 3D modeling technologies should be used on it. 4D is where the added dimension of time is added to a 3D model, which is most useful for construction sequencing and scheduling. A 4D model can be created from any 3D model—it does not have to be a BIM model. Thus, the GSA is taking a more pragmatic approach to its building projects, recognizing that it may not be able to commission firms that are BIM experts for all of them, so it is encouraging the use of 3D and 4D technologies that are at least more advanced than drawing-based 2D technologies.
The GSA, however, has mandated the use of BIM for spatial program validation to be submitted prior to final concept presentation on all its projects starting from 2007. This allows the GSA design teams to validate spatial program requirements such as required spaces, areas, efficiency ratios, and so on more accurately and quickly than traditional 2D approaches. As it owns over 300 million square feet of space, this concept design stage validation helps the GSA to better manage it over the long term. The GSA has provided more details about how to create this Spatial Program Validation BIM for its projects in a special Guide that is available on its website. This is one of a series of guides that the GSA has made available for different aspects of its 3D-4D-BIM program such as laser scanning, energy performance, circulation, facility management, and so on.
In the US, the GSA is a very active presence in AEC technology conferences such as the AIA-TAP, and its projects are frequently nominated in the annual AIA BIM Awards. Therefore, its strong advocacy of BIM is bound to influence the entire AEC industry in the US and enhance its overall technology adoption.
This article has not referred to the BuildingSmart initiative (formerly known as the IAI or the International Alliance for Interoperability) and the considerable influence it has had on the widespread adoption of BIM globally. While there is still some skepticism about the efficacy of the IFC—the open standards for the exchange of model-based building data between AEC applications that were created and continue to be developed by BuildingSmart—the fact that this standard exists and is supported by most AEC applications has been a good incentive for AEC technology vendors to continue to further develop their individual BIM applications. After all, what’s the point of having a standard for exchanging building data if there is no data to exchange?
Recently, several AEC technology vendors including Graphisoft, Tekla, Nemetschek, and Vectorworks came together to launch an “OpenBIM” initiative under the aegis of BuildingSmart, which would allow their applications to exchange data even more seamlessly with each other. At the moment, the initiative seems to be more about marketing than any real technological development, but it is worthwhile keeping an eye on it and seeing if it yields any additional benefits over and above what the IFC currently provides.
In conclusion, I must say that while I thought it would be relatively easy to research and write this article, in reality, I was surprised by how little information was actually out there on official BIM policies in different countries. It seems as if many individual AEC firms are way ahead of their governments when it comes to BIM implementation. Also, for the most part, BIM seems to be growing organically in most countries rather than in response to any official mandate. However, the fact that BIM is now also being recognized and promoted by governments in different countries only serves to reinforce that it is undeniably replacing CAD as the de facto standard in the AEC industry world-wide.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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