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Last edited 12 Jan 2016

BIM - it’s about the Planet - Part 5

Author: Keith Snook (with funding from BRE Trust)

This is part 5 of a 5 part paper. Click below to read the other parts:


[edit] Summary

So what we have is:

  • A realisation and acceptance that the way we are using the planet is not sustainable and that buildings and infrastructure must play their part in preserving valuable and exhaustible resources.
  • A latent realisation that relatively new found powers of mass data collection, exchange and analysis can help determine where activity and measures might be best focused in order to most effectively address sustainability issues.
  • An industry, and that is the extended industry including suppliers, manufacturers and those responsible for managing facilities, that has historically failed to perform optimally due primarily to its fragmentation and management issues and within those particularly issues of information management. Information is made up of data.
  • A market that has accepted the poor performance of the industry as the norm and has exacerbated and promoted that poor performance through its procurement and financing processes.
  • Products from the industry that are sometimes stunning in their contribution to the landscape and exemplary in terms of design and function but which, across the entire range, are habitually an opaque mystery to those that use operate and maintain them.
  • A catalogue of proposals from authoritative bodies (many external to the industry) that are thematically similar enough as to not be competing, contradictory or confusing that thoroughly address many of the issues but which have been largely ignored by both the industry and the market as they question customs, norms and historic vested interests.
  • A set of technologies – broadly labelled ‘BIM’ – that both demand the application of some of the previously ignored proposals to operate optimally and helpfully make it easier for that to occur.
  • Driven by social use as much as scientific or business use, a blisteringly rapid movement towards a world of pervasive data. Indeed the speed and intensity of this is such that at times distinctions between social, scientific and business become blurred.
  • In the UK particularly but with similar elsewhere also; a client body large enough to demand a phase-change in procurement parameters and committed enough to invest in formal guidance, systems and protocols to a published timetable.
  • Encouragement that, led by early stages of this phase-change, the UK is reckoned to have taken the lead in meaningful BIM implementation [22].

[edit] The future - “Level 3?”

Relating back to the levels of the maturity diagram (fig 8), what about level 3?

A part of the success of the UK initiative is concentrating minds on the presently doable, and more importantly useful, in order to make progress in manageable step changes. Because of this it has been difficult to get any firm information on level 3 and what it will look like. However, on 26 February 2015 the launch of Digital Built Britain, the UK Level 3 Building Information Modelling program was announced by Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable. The press release said: “The work will build a digital economy for the construction industry in support of dramatically improving delivery, operations and services provided to citizens. The programme will build on the standards and savings delivered by the BIM level 2 initiative which has been central to the £840M savings achieved on central public spend in 2013/14.” A new website has been established at

Many in the industry had filled-in the level 3 void using their own imaginations as to what it might be and some even claim to be already ‘doing it’. However, in the government task force and among experts close to it there has been a feeling that anyone saying that they are doing ‘level 3’ is misguided. The two primary arguments for this are:

  • Requirements for level 3 have not been formally defined but we now know the proposed mechanism for doing this.
  • Secondly, and more pragmatically the (standard) legal relationships and process protocols do not exist and this is high on the agenda for then new organisation.

Heretofore the closest to the thumbnail sketch on the maturity diagram (fig 8) of what level 3 might be like is probably examples where the entire process from land holding and developing through design and construction and including asset management rest within one singe company or family of companies in a kind of benign dictatorship. What this facilitates is a very prescriptive approach to the ownership and use of technology so technical aspects of coordination might be resolved but, by definition, it is not an open system. More importantly, however, it is not representative of potential varied business relationships that ‘level 3’ will eventually have to service. Hopefully without falling into the trap of inventing a definition ahead of the official word on it from Digital Built Britain ; ‘level 3’ will have to service any forms of business relationships and allow them to contract with each other in a way that will create, retain and preserve legal security for the individual parties whilst allowing (encouraging even) total cooperation and collaboration.

Fig 10 Digital Built Britain.gif

Fig 10 The logo to look out for on ‘level 3’ (and beyond). (from Govt. BIM Task force web site)

Some early work on level 3 is looking beyond (level 4?) in order to set the scene for Big Data engagement. The BIM agenda has methodically considered the cycle of development transition from Capital Expenditure (CAP EX) to Operational Expenditure (OPEX) (Fig 9). Connecting the data that drives this process into the immediate environment and then beyond that brings forward the concept of Total Expenditure (TOT EX) which is inclusive of many other issues such as social, economic and sustainability at a community level as is included within BREEAM and in particular the BREEAM Communities scheme [23] which has been developed to find sustainable ways of addressing 21st century challenges like urbanisation and climate change. It covers economic, social and environmental sustainability – assessing issues like housing provision, transport networks, community facilities, and economic impact. It makes sure that sustainability is considered at the very early stages of design where site-wide solutions can have a big impact. BREEAM Communities and indeed the family of BREEAM schemes, can potentially be developed to be both provider and user of data in the quest for continual improvement through feedback, assimilation and application loops.

Fig 11 BREEAM Communities Coverage.gif

Fig 11. BREEAM Communities coverage which can provide a ready basis for the concept of ‘Tot Ex’

[edit] Conclusion

This paper is based on historical and signposts current activity in the UK but does, where appropriate make reference to developments and parallells elsewhere. It starts with and acknowleges the realisation that we must do something about the depletion of our planet’s resources and finishes with a suggestion that by joining the appropriate data together we stand a better chance of doing that. In terms of the construction industry it moves from a quote from a leading architect made around 90 years ago through to a world where we are enveloped in data and undergoing an attitude change that proposes that as much data as possible should be freely available to enrich lives socially and in enterprise collaboratively. The role of the built environment and particularly the construction industry that produces it is the main focus of the paper, tracing that industry’s relative failings in communications, teamwork and adoption of technology. BIM is the current push and there are high expectations for its capacity to enable the changes necessary and the UK is taking this very seriously, so much so in fact that the eyes of the world are now turned towards it and by considered measures it is now generally considered to be leading with it being highly likely that Standards and guidance prepared for the UK market will become internationalised. It will be up to the industry to capitlaise on this situation.

This paper started with an iconic photograph from the 1960s so it might be fitting to end with the final passage from a poem that, albeit written some time before and was never quite so iconic, became popular with the new ‘environmentalists ‘ of that era.

From “The Beaks of Eagles” by Robinson Jeffers 1887 -1962

It is good for man

To try all changes, progress and corruption, powers, peace and anguish,

not to go down the dinosaur's way

Until all his capacities have been explored:

and it is good for him

To know that his needs and nature are no more changed in fact in ten thousand years than the beaks of eagles.

[edit] CPIc definition for BIM

Building Information Modelling is digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility creating a shared knowledge resource for information about it forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle, from earliest conception to demolition.

From paper “Drawing is Dead – long live modelling”

This article was created by --BRE_Group

From the author:

I’d like to thank:

  • BRE Trust for funding my time on preparing this
  • Bill Manion of O’Neil and Manion Architects in the US. I had the pleasure of supervising his thesis work on the Interdisciplinary Design in the Built Environment (IDBE) course at Cambridge University and much of the forgoing was inspired by conversations during that and since.

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