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AECbytes Newsletter #5 (February 5, 2004)

What's in a Name? The BIM Acronym

In Cadence AEC Tech News #108 on the AIA-TAP conference, I described how several presenters and attendees at the conference expressed their intense dislike of the acronym BIM (Building Information Modeling) for describing the model-based approach to building representation. In that article and in AECbytes Newsletter #4, I invited readers to share their views on the BIM Acronym, and if they didn't like it, to suggest more appropriate and better-sounding alternatives.

I would like to thank all those who responded to my invitation. While it is impossible to list all the responses I received, a select few reflecting diverse viewpoints are presented here, along with my own thoughts on this issue.

What's Wrong with CAD?

Some readers wrote in to express their preference for the term CAD and did not think a change was needed, as evidenced by these responses:

  1. "If you think that BIM will replace CAD then I would suggest that the technology behind CAD is simply expanding and that what we are doing is still CAD. So let's stick with a term we all understand, Computer Aided Design." -- John S. Rogers, Architect

  2. "BIM (Building Information Modeling) is just another term for part of what people who are seriously engaged in architectural CAD (Computer Aided Design) have discussed for four decades. The vendors are still attempting to catch up with ideas that were generated decades ago. In their inability to do so successfully, they changed the terminology from CAD--which is about design--to BIM--which is not about design. Sure, design may not be the largest part of building industry activities, but it is the source of it. If BIM is about modeling what has been designed already or is there already, then it remains to be about documenting rather than creating. The earlier re-definition of CAD as Computer Aided Drafting attempted to convince us that CAD had been delivered to us. For a couple of decades, CAD tools were pretty much confined to that disappointing two dimensional and uncreative paradigm. Three dimensions and supposed creativity were the realm of '3D modeling' tools.

    Even as the paradigm formally shifts into three dimensions with the concept of BIM, which is the only redeeming value of this changed terminology, the underlying concept of documentation rather than formation of ideas remains, in my opinion, unappealing to the architectural profession. At least at the technologically leading edge, architects want to be able to design aided by computers. In the design activity, data is generated that needs to be an integral part of the data life cycle. The design activity generates more value on the project with less effort than any later phases. If we shift from dumb electronic 2D documentation to somewhat more intelligent--or informative--electronic 3D documentation, we still do not achieve Computer Aided Design. With 'BIM' we implicitly remove the demand for design tools from our CAD vendors. They could not deliver CAD to us, but maybe they will be able to deliver BIM. Once we get an intelligent data model, we will hopefully revisit CAD in order to allow us to finally design that model in the first place!" -- Volker Mueller, Design Technology Manager, NBBJ

Readers Suggest Alternatives to BIM

Several readers expressed their dislike of the term BIM and sent in their suggestions for more appropriate and better-sounding acronyms:

  1. "I prefer any of the following: Building Lifecycle Modeling, Building Simulation Modeling, Virtual Building, Digital Building Modeling, Digital Building Simulation. 'Building Information Modeling' is wrong because we're not modeling information, we're modeling a building and all of its systems. By the way, I don't think there is any single product on the market that 'is' BIM yet. More important than the name itself would be a precise definition of what it is, so that it is more useful than a marketing buzzword." -- Jonathan Cohen, Architect and IT Consultant

  2. "I, like the others you have mentioned, hate the BIM Acronym. I know this is shallow, but maybe at the core of my dislike is something as simple as the ring of it. BIM just sounds stupid. These are my suggested alternatives: VCM--Virtual Construction Modeling, or CDM--Construction Design Modeling. " -- Ronald A. Powell, CAD Technician

  3. "Just as CAAD was an awful and confusing term (already confused with CAD and CADD) that has faded now into non-use everywhere but Europe, in preference to the far more clear and descriptive term 'architectural CADD,' I believe that BIM, similarly, must fade away in favor of what it really is: 'virtual building.' Unfortunately, the various software developers that create architectural CADD software shy away from the term partly because Graphisoft apparently put a copyright on it long ago. However, the alternative terms--smart buildings, parametric modelers, database/systems driven CADD--and others I have heard all create even more confusion, as such terms already refer to other things as well, and a real term is better than yet another acronym. Graphisoft should be encouraged to give up their proprietary rights to the term--acknowledge that they now have colleagues developing in the area--and let the whole new genre be known properly as virtual building." -- Geoffrey Moore Langdon, Architectural CADD Consultants

  4. "I don't necessarily care for the 'BIM' term. But after trying a few out for myself, I realized it wasn't that easy to come up with a catchy acronym. Nonetheless, here are a few that I came up with in the remainder of my lunch hour.

    Augmented Data Structure ADS
    Augmented Data Entity ADE
    Augmented Data Building Entity ADBE
    Intelligent Building Model IBM
    Intelligent Structure Model ISM
    Intelligent Structures Initiative ISI
    Intelligent Architectural Model IAM
    Intelligent Data Entity IDE
    Intelligently Augmented Building IAD
    Intelligently Augmented Model IAM
    Intelligently Augmented Building Model IABM
    Simulated Intelligent Building Model SIBM
    Building Digital Model BDM
    Digital Building Model DBM
    Intelligent Digital Building Model IDBM
    Intelligent Building Representation IBR
    Building Augmented Model BAM
    Data Augmented Model DAM
    Building Data Augmented Model BDAM
    Building Augmented Data Model BADM
    Intelligently Augmented Building Model IABM
    Intelligently Modeled Building IMB
    Building with Augmented Data Structure BADS
    Building with Intelligent Data Structure BIDS" -- Jim Cope, Senior CAD Administrator

Analysis

While I agree with the readers who pointed out that the information modeling approach to building design still falls under the broad scope of computer-aided design (CAD), so a new term is not needed, I also think that the term CAD is too generic. Many of the other industries using CAD have come up with alternative acronyms to it that are specific to their industry. A good example is Electronic Design Automation, or EDA, which refers to CAD for the computer chip design industry. The mechanical engineering industry refers to their CAD tools and processes as MCAD. It would be useful, therefore, for the building industry to have a specialized acronym for its CAD.

Also, because the building industry has been slow to move into the 3D model-based approach, the term CAD will always be synonymous with 2D drafting to many in the industry despite the fact that it actually stands for computer-aided design, not computer-aided drafting.

And finally, I think a new term is needed because the technology underlying traditional CAD applications is very different from the technology underlying building-specific modeling applications. As I pointed out in Cadence AEC Tech News #90, the data model of general-purpose CAD applications deals primarily with geometric entities (points, lines, planes, and so on), while the data model of building modeling applications deals primarily with building entities (walls, doors, slabs, and so on). A new term is needed to refer to the latter category of applications, and the initial label of "3D, object-oriented, AEC-specific CAD" is too long-winded.

With regard to a new term to replace CAD, no readers wrote in to defend the term BIM, suggesting that it is not wildly popular. While it is great that all the vendors, at least, have agreed upon the use of the term, it is unfortunate that so many professionals in the AEC industry find it unappealing. Personally, I like the phrase 'building information modeling,' as I think it appropriately describes a representation that captures building data and not just geometric data. But the translation of this phrase into the acronym BIM is not as great. Like CAD, BIM is easy to say, and I prefer to call it "Bim" rather than "B.I.M." (each letter read separately) as I have heard many people do to avoid saying "Bim." But BIM doesn't sound half as elegant and professional as CAD, in my opinion.

With regard to the suggested alternatives, I have to agree with the reader who realized that it is tough to find a good acronym. Many of the suggested alternatives, say Digital Building Model (DBM) that was a suggestion common to two readers, sound fine as an entire phrase, but don't make for a great acronym. I think an acronym with a vowel between two consonants, like CAD and BIM, is easier to say and we need one like that. This rules out many suggestions such as BLM, DBS, IMB, VCM, CDM, and so on. Graphisoft's "virtual building" is nice, as a reader pointed out, but it doesn't reflect a process like CAD or BIM does. I did my share of pondering on alternatives, but couldn't come up with anything that's as easy to say, and at the same time so apt, as CAD.

In conclusion, my prognosis is that the acronym BIM is here to stay, simply for the lack of something better.

None of this, however, should detract from the potential of BIM-based technologies and processes to radically improve the state of the art in the building industry. If a rose would smell as sweet by any other name, as Shakespeare put it, then BIM represents a more intelligent and effective way of designing, building, and operating buildings, whatever it may be called.

About the Author

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 lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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