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AECbytes Book Review (August 28, 2008)

BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors

BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors

by Chuck Eastman, Paul Teicholz, Rafael Sacks, and Kathleen Liston
Wiley, March 2008, 504 pages, ISBN: 978-0-470-18528-5

Book Summary

BIM Handbook presents the technology and processes behind BIM and how architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors, construction and facility owners can take advantage of the new technologies.

List Price: $85

Amazon Link

The last book review that was published in AECbytes was in November 2004 and was of the book, “Architecture's New Media: Principles, Theories, and Methods of Computer-Aided Design,” which aimed at helping readers understand the principles, theories, and methods that underlie the application of information technology to architecture. From that time and up until recently, while myriad books have been published on various individual AEC software applications, students and professionals in the field would have been hard-pressed to find any books dealing with AEC technology at a more general level.

But with BIM (building information modeling) taking off with such unprecedented momentum in the last few years, it was only a matter of time before we would start seeing books on BIM. Within the last year, several books on BIM have been published and more are in the works, as you will see if you go, for example, to Amazon.com and do a search for “Building Information Modeling.” It is only befitting that AECbytes returns to doing a book review by exploring the BIM book that has the most distinguished set of authors. This is the “BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors” published by Wiley earlier this year and authored by a team of leading academics and researchers including Chuck Eastman, Paul Teicholz, Rafael Sacks and Kathleen Liston. (The same team had previously contributed the Viewpoint article "Managing BIM Technology in the Building Industry" to AECbytes.)
 
What immediately places this book at the top of the list of the BIM books that have been published is the fact that its lead author is Chuck Eastman, who is currently Professor in the Colleges of Architecture and Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and Director of the College of Architecture Ph.D. Program where he leads research in the area of building product models and IT in building construction. He has been working in the field of building modeling since the 1970s at universities including UCLA and Carnegie-Mellon, and I referred to his papers and books extensively during the course of my own Ph.D. work in building modeling while I was at UC Berkeley. In 1999, he published the book “Building Product Models: Computer Environments Supporting Design and Construction,” which was the first and only book to extensively compile and discuss the concepts, technologies, standards, and projects that had been developed in defining computational data models for supporting varied aspects of building design, engineering, and construction. (I had the privilege of reviewing this book for the journal “Automation in Construction” in 2002.) In addition to his research and teaching work, Chuck is extremely active in industry associations such as the AISC, NIBS, FIATECH, and AIA TAP, and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. Given his credentials and those of his co-authors including Paul Teicholz, who founded the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University and directed that program for 10 years, Rafael Sacks, an Associate Professor in Construction Management at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), and Kathleen Liston, also from Stanford University, the “BIM Handbook” promised to be an extremely authoritative resource on BIM.

Overview of the Book

The BIM Handbook aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the technology and processes behind building information modeling, the business and organizational issues associated with its implementation, and the advantages that effective use of BIM can provide to all members of a project team, including architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors, construction and facility owners. The book is targeted towards both practitioners in the industry as well as students and researchers in academia. For practitioners, it provides not just a deeper understanding of BIM but practical information including the software that is available, costs and needed infrastructure, case studies, and guidance for successful implementation. For students and researchers, it provides extensive information on the theoretical aspects of BIM that will be critical to further study and research in the field.

The book is organized into four sections. The first section provides an introduction to BIM and supporting technologies, and includes a discussion of the current state of the building industry, a definition of what BIM is and what it isn’t (a very interesting discussion on this topic evolved on the AECbytes Blog earlier this year with the last conclusive post coming from the authors of the BIM Handbook), the benefits of BIM to all parties and across all phases of a building project, an overview of the major BIM model generation systems, the relationship of BIM to parametric modeling, and a detailed look at interoperability, most notably the IFCs. Some of the topics I found particularly useful in this section were those related to the trickier aspects of the development of BIM tools, such as the need to explicitly represent the space enclosing by building elements (which is critical to analysis), the need for object libraries for standard objects as well as custom parametric objects, the file size issue and the difference between memory-based BIM applications such as Revit and ArchiCAD and file-based systems such as Bentley and Tekla Structures, the inherent complexity of BIM tools and why they cannot be simplified, and the development of building model repositories or model servers which would allow a building model to be shared and updated from a potentially heterogeneous set of applications.   

The second section provides discipline-specific perspectives of BIM, with separate chapters devoted to owners and facility managers, architects and engineers, general contractors, and subcontractors and fabricators. This allows readers of the individual disciplines to dive directly into the chapter relevant to them and get the detailed BIM information they need, including the many benefits of using BIM, the different applications that are available, and guidance on implementation. Thus, from the owner’s perspective, there is a discussion of BIM estimating tools such as US Cost and Exactal’s CostX, model checkers such as Solibri Model Checker, model viewing and review tools such as Adobe Acrobat Professional and NavisWorks, model servers such as Enterprixe and EPM’s EDMserver, facility and asset management tools such as Autodesk FMDesktop and Vizelia FACILITY, and operation simulation tools such as Legion Studio and buildingExodus. The chapter for architects and engineers discusses conceptual design and modeling tools such as SketchUp and form.Z, space planning tools such as Facility Composer and Trelligence Affinity, environmental analysis tools such as IES and Ecotect, and the many disciplinary design tools including ArchiCAD, Tekla Structures, Revit Systems, Digital Project, and so on. The chapter for contractors discusses the information that should be available in a construction BIM model and technologies such as clash detection, quantity take off and estimating, and construction planning and analysis using 4D models. The chapter for subcontractors and fabricators discussed the growing trend towards “engineered to order” components as opposed to mass produced components and how the extensive range of BIM tools for modeling and detailing can help to achieve this more efficiently and effectively.

The third section discusses potential impacts and future trends associated with the advent of BIM-enabled design, construction, and operation of buildings. It describes and extrapolates current trends through the year 2012, foreseeing the broader adoption of basic BIM tools, the use of BIM for a higher degree of prefabrication, greater flexibility and variety in building methods and types, fewer documents, far fewer errors, less waste and higher productivity, better performing buildings thanks to better analyses and exploration of more alternatives, fewer claims, and fewer budget and schedule overruns. The books also attempts to forecast potential longer-term developments and identifies the drivers and obstacles in the development and adoption of BIM technology in the timeframe leading up to 2020.

The final section of the book presents a collection of ten case studies highlighting the use of BIM with varied applications in different ways: for feasibility studies, conceptual design, detailed design, estimating, detailing, coordination, construction planning, and operations and maintenance. Many of these are projects that have already been widely recognized for their use of BIM such as the Flint Global V6 Engine Plant Expansion by Ghafari Associates, the Beijing National Aquatics Center by Arup, the San Francisco Federal Building by Morphosis, and the Federal Courthouse in Jackson Mississippi by H3 Architects.  A compilation of these and other projects including an apartment building, a medical office building, a parking structure, a high-rise office building, a mixed commercial and retail development, and a coast-guard training facility provides a useful snapshot of the current state of the art of BIM and how it is being implemented.

Review

The BIM Handbook is an extensively researched and meticulously written book, showing evidence of years of work rather than something that has been quickly put together in the course of a few months. It brings together most of the current information about BIM, its history, as well as its potential future in one convenient place and can serve as a handy reference book on BIM for anyone who is involved in the design, construction, and operation of buildings and needs to know about the technologies that support it. The need for such a book was indisputable and it is terrific that Chuck Eastman and his team were able to step up to the plate and make it happen. Thanks to their efforts, anyone in the AEC industry looking for a deeper understanding of BIM now knows exactly where to look for it. There were many sections of the book that contained information that was new and useful even to someone like me, who has been analyzing and writing about BIM for close to eight years now—which helps to gauge how much value the book would bring to a practitioner whose prime focus would be on the actual process of design, construction, or operation of a building rather than a full-time study of the technologies supporting it.

The book is well organized with an executive summary at the beginning of each chapter providing a synopsis of its content and a list of relevant discussion questions at the conclusion of each chapter targeted towards students and professors. In addition to a bibliography, it includes a very useful Company and Software Index towards the end of the book that lists all the different software applications that were discussed in the book and the corresponding page numbers, not only making it easy to find the sections where a particular software is discussed, but also to get an at-a-glance overview of the extensive range of BIM and related applications that are currently available.

Since this is a review, I am forced to look at the book critically and see how it could be improved. The only real issue that I foresee with its use is that while the book attempts to cater to both the professional and the academic communities, its style is more like an academic text—which, given the overwhelmingly academic background of all its authors does not come as a huge surprise. The extensively researched and written content of the book, while serving to provide a deeper rather than superficial understanding of BIM, does get very detailed and technical and might be intimidating to a practitioner. It is by no means a quick or easy read, and it is difficult to read too much of the book at a stretch. Thus, while the BIM Handbook would make an excellent textbook for teaching and researching BIM at universities, its style makes it a little less accessible to a professional audience for which typically “lighter” books are written.

With respect to its content, while the book covers an amazing amount of ground, there are a few topics that I thought were worth discussing but which I did not find a mention of. To start with, there is a whole realm of collaboration, project management, project information management, and construction administrations solutions such as Buzzsaw, Constructware, Prolog, Proliance, CMiC, Newforma Project Center, and so on, which are a critical component of AEC technology, but which are still drawing-centric for the most part. How should these applications integrate with BIM solutions and processes as they go forward? Are model servers the only alternative? It would have been helpful for the book to weigh in on this issue. Another important issue, in my view, is that of model integrity for BIM. While the book does discuss the use of a model checking solution such as Solibri Model Checker, it would have been useful to highlight the importance of BIM authoring solutions having built-in checks for model integrity so that they enforce the creation of a correct model. The book does emphasize that no current BIM solution meets all of the BIM technology criteria, but a clear picture of which criteria are not met by which solution did not emerge. It would also have been great to see a discussion of the legendary AES system developed by SOM that was supposed to be an extremely sophisticated building modeling system but which was ultimately shelved as it was ahead of its times. AES is an important part of the history of AEC technology and it would be helpful for AEC professionals and students to have a better awareness of it.

Other minor omissions include the complete lack of reference to the application VectorWorks Architect, which Nemetschek North America has been marketing as a BIM application. It would be useful to know if this application qualifies as a BIM application based on the criteria that the authors have defined. Also, while the IFC is extensively discussed, it would have been helpful to know more about the more recent NBIMS effort and what the authors make of it. Hopefully, some of these topics can be covered in future editions of the book.

The only other limitations of the BIM Handbook that I found were aspects that are endemic to the book format. Many of the illustrations in the book were of building projects and they would have been best seen in larger size and in color. While the book does have a four page color insert, that doesn’t fully make up for seeing most of the images in a reduced size and in black and white, greatly diminishing their impact and elucidation capability. Another problem with a book, particularly a technical one, in these times is how it is difficult to stay current, given how fast the technology is moving. The BIM Handbook was completed in early 2007 and is therefore missing key industry events such as the acquisitions of Ecotect and Green Building Studio by Autodesk, the launch of Autodesk Seek, the interoperability agreement between Autodesk and Bentley, the acquisition of Tectonic Network by Reed Construction Data and its subsequent re-launch as SmartBIM, and others. Hopefully now that the first edition is complete, future editions will take less time to wrap up and can be more current, but there will probably always be some things that the book has not fully caught up on.

Still, the theory behind BIM, the underpinnings of the technology, and the rationale for it remains a constant and the BIM Handbook does a terrific job of capturing that and presenting it in meticulous detail. It is the must-have text book for BIM for all academic institutions who would like to teach or research this subject. And those AEC practitioners who refuse to be daunted by its academic style will find their efforts very well rewarded with a deeper understanding of all aspects of BIM that are relevant to their work.

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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