36 Arguments for the Existence of BIM

After riffing in this blog for over 18 months on the subject of BIM and Integrated Design, and after conducting extensive research for my book by the same name, I’ve become convinced that the world of design and construction is made up of two kinds of people:

1. those who see BIM as an evolutionary tool and

2. those who see BIM as a revolutionary process.

Or in more familiar terms – despite this blog being vendor agnostic – there are

1. BIM atheists and

2. BIM apologists.

One doesn’t need to be a person of faith when confronted by the fact that their copy of Autodesk Revit Architecture 2011 takes up 560MB of space in their hard drive.

And one doesn’t need to be an angel to long for the day when we’ll free ourselves by computing in the cloud.

The thing is, no one uses BIM.

Not really.

And no one learns BIM.

They learn, use and implement software.

I can see and touch Revit. I can only imagine, envision and sermonize about BIM.

I can laud the praises of BIM to high heaven.

But only ArchiCAD, Revit, Bentley and Vectorworks can deliver results.

So what then does BIM do?

Ask yourself this: If there was a BIM then why wouldn’t ArchiCAD – that has been around for decades – have been called a BIM program?

ArchiCAD was 3D and object-oriented and building-product modeling.

ArchiCAD 14 may be as close to heaven as some of us will ever get. But it was never BIM.

To look at how BIM is defined you wouldn’t necessarily think it exists.

BIM is 100% aspirational. Something that may happen, that we can wish will happen.

But isn’t happening now – not now, nor any time soon.

BIM is faith-based as much as it is virtually-based.

How can this be?

Here’s how:

  • More than half of what it says it does nobody is doing.
  • More than half of BIM’s benefits aren’t being recognized.
  • More than half of BIM’s promises, it doesn’t do yet.

If we were to base our beliefs on facts, on Evidence-based BIM, the evidence is scarce.

All rise and turn to page 12,236,489 of Wikipedia. Let’s read in unison:

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the process of generating and managing building data during its lifecycle. BIM is a digital technology and a business process for life-cycle facility management, from concept thru disposal.”

Addressing the building’s lifecycle was deemed today in SMARTBIM and Reed Construction Data’s webcast Lessons in Integrating BIM “the Holy Grail.”

Unfounded and like the holy grail, unfound.

“BIM provides the potential for a virtual information model to be handed from Design Team (architects, consulting engineers, etc.) to Contractor and Subcontractors and then to the Owner, each adding their own additional discipline-specific knowledge and tracking of changes to the single model.”

The potential? BIM has…the capacity…the possibility. Even likely, but may not come to pass.

“As computers and software become more capable of handling more building information, this will become even more pronounced than it is in current design and construction projects.”

Not there yet.

“BIM goes far beyond switching to a new software. It requires changes to the definition of traditional architectural phases and more data sharing than most architects and engineers are used to.”

Still not there yet.

Interoperability of all and for all – through the creation of IFCs – is the goal.

You get the idea…

BuildingSMART describes the BIM model as a “single operating environment.”

As appealing as that would be, very few – if anyone – today would consider working off of a single model a good idea.

Six years ago Jim Bendrick of Webcor Builders wrote: “What building information models allow us to do that we couldn’t do effectively before is what Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering (CIFE) calls Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). In a nutshell, this is the use of models coupled with analysis and simulation tools to prototype the building on the computer—to simulate the building, its performance, and its construction before breaking ground.”

BIM for testing and building simulation is still a ways off.

My goal here isn’t to shake your faith in BIM, nor to confirm its existence, but to help make you a believer in the power of BIM.

Can BIM do all we say it can? Does BIM live up to its potential?

How long must we argue for BIM’s existence?

Revit and ArchiCAD exist. I can see them (and feel their presence) on my hard drive.

Whether or not BIM exists, in moments of transcendence, we who labor away at our BIM models all feel we are working at, for and toward something beyond ourselves.

And this ought to be enough.

At least for now.

BIM is our best hope.

BIM is our best chance.

BIM is the right way to design and construct buildings.

BIM is the best way for us to work together, compatibly, civilly, toward mutually shared outcomes.

I don’t know how it’s likely to go better.



Filed under BIM, defining BIM, Integrated Design, modeling, process

18 responses to “36 Arguments for the Existence of BIM

  1. Mike Bordenaro

    I laughed out loud when I read the title of this piece – good job. And cried at some of the content.

    Like the human brain, the power of BIM is not being fully used at this time by the majority of the building industry. But to deny the obvious, stick-your-finger-in-the-hole success of so many BIM projects is misguiding the flock.

    The percentage of converted BIMsters is still very low when you look at the entire building industry congregation. However, there is no denying the award-winning, spectacular success that so many are experiencing since their conversion.

    We won’t win over everyone. And there is no predicting when the pews will be filled, but more is being done with BIM than most people realize. BIM in the Cloud is already being used very effectively by many large operations. And the AIA BIM Awards, the AGC BIM Forum, the DBIA award winning projects using BIM are all testament to how much is taking place.

    Despite all of the blood-drenched proof of BIM’s existence, I still think you are right in saying that we are dealing with a faith-based belief in BIM. It takes a leap of faith to use new business tools like telephones, fax machines, computers and now BIM. Only when the BIM pews are full will we see the huge societal benefits of reduced energy use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced water use and improved cost efficiencies that right now can only be explained in spiritual terms.

    So yes we need 36 Arguments for the Existence of BIM to help improve conversion rates. But we also need to acknowledge the existing BIM faithful who a delivering real results that keep us all hoping – and praying – for more.

    Keep up the thought provoking and entertaining discussions.

    Mike Bordenaro

    • Mike,
      Comments like yours make blogging worth what ever time and effort goes into it. I enjoyed reading what you wrote so much that, if I can figure out how to do it, I’d make your comment the blog post and my post the comment! Thanks for having a sense of humor and perspective about this, for writing so well and for being such a close reader. I count myself among the fortunate,

  2. Pingback: 36 Arguments for the Existence of BIM | Jarod Schultz

  3. Enjoyed reading this. Work processes are hard to change; though processes are even harder to change. Designer’s spend a life time developing it and are not willing to change. If you are having this level of difficult with BIM (whose benefits are obvious) what about even more cutting edge technologies like generative design ? Do we have to wait for a compete generational change ?

    • Thanks Sivam for stopping by and commenting. If I understand you correctly – if designers developed the tools and not engineers – I don’t think we’d have as many of the difficulties with BIM. And you are also correct in pointing out – BIM is not the end all and be all – any more than CAD was. There are other technologies on the horizon that we’ll have to contend with. Until we’re all comfortable working collectively and collaboratively in BIM, I’m going to leave the more cutting edge technologies, as you call them, to the next generation to work out.

      • Hi Randy, architects design space. Then they want to build cases to enclose it. Don’t blame them for this. But this creates serious problems. In contrast, take a look at Mechanical Engineers. What they design is what they build. There is very little mess that this left behind for others to sort out?

        Also, it is wrong to assume that designers of buildings are good at designing work processes. They are not. They are very conservative and their creativity is focused on design of objects. This has been my experience in trying to change work process based on generative design. I have shared it in my blog article : http://wp.me/pLMZs-9r

  4. Randy,

    You always do a great job in your thought provoking posts.

    As the cynical lawyer I don’t see us fully leveraging IPD, BIM and innovative Lean business processes until the underlying legal agreements mirror the collaborative mechanisms required to make IPD, BIM and Lean work. That will not happen until owners, contractors and designers agree, in the framework of an integrated agreement, how the economic risks and rewards associated with IPD, BIM and Lean business processes will be allocated and shared.

    The Design-Bid-Build delivery model is based on classic risk shifting strategies and the legal instruments executed at each phase of a Design-Bid-Build project are crafted by lawyers to shift and allocate risks away from their clients and onto others and the rewards a doled out bit by bit to role players in blinders and the project progress from planning to design, to construction, to operations and on to maintenance. Absent a new generation of legal instruments that support, reward and facilitate collaborative and lean processes BIM will continue to be leveraged by bright role players at the bottom of their silos.

    Integrated agreements are designed to bring all those players to the table and to support and enable BIM-based planning and design processes on the one hand and Lean-driven construction, operations and maintenance processes on the other. Until owners, designers and constructors invest the required time, energy and resources in the creation and negotiation of new generation integrated agreements the full benefit of BIM will remain unfulfilled.

    If anyone encounters clients or team members interested in assistance crafting, drafting and negotiating effective integrated agreements that support and enable IPD, BIM and Lean business processes please contact me. My email address is JamesLsalmon AT gmail.com

  5. I loved this piece!
    One problem area that isn’t mentioned is the Architectural Culture. Architects love to be the author/star of the show and in an open all-inclusive, data-driven building team, that approach won’t work. It is difficult to check your ego at the door when starchitects get all the press and attention–starting at the University and continuing through FAIA status.

    • Thanks Paul.

      Architectural culture – and firm culture – can be a huge obstacle for change. It is for this reason that I made it one of the main themes addressed in my book (coming out this summer.) Even in our current economic climate when starchitects are perhaps getting the short shrift, there’s a level of expectation and preference that design professionals have about control and ownership that need to be addressed before BIM and Integrated Design can truly catch on.

      Thanks for chiming-in and for subscribing to this blog.

    • Spot on Paul.

      BIM sucks. There is no facility for ego mamangment.

    • Thomas Donalek

      Hmm…. You’re not totally off, but I need to partially rebut this outside-looking-in view of what’s going on. First of all, don’t bother yammering about “starchitects”. Given that there are maybe 8 of them on the face of the earth, it’s extraordinarily improbable that you deal with any of them on a day to day basis, so don’t worry about it. (Creaky old FAIAs, on the other hand, you’ve probably got a point… But then, give me a few more decades, and I may just be there myself ;^) )

      The flipside to “ego” is that as the architect, the client blames YOU if something isn’t right – from design to budget to schedule to even leaky soap dispensers (seriously!). That puts just a little weight on your shoulders to make sure things get done right. Architects also tend to shepherd a project from conception to beyond completion. This can make us much more attached to the project than, say, an SE who comes in at some point in the CD process, sizes some beams and footings, and details some connections, then moves on to the next project. As architects, we are often involved with single projects over the course of several years, and deal with the owners/clients face to face constantly during that time. That contributes to being a bit possessive. Lastly, the design and quality of the building is a crucial part of how we get future work. Very few clients care about how “data-driven” you were with the rest of the team in-and-of-itself.

      As Randy pointed out, firm culture (and firm politics and firm internal financials) can play a huge role in creating problems. As James Salmon pointed out, a whole set of legal issues also put architects in sub-optimal positions when you’re dealing with real world issues and projects, and these can make “change” or “new and different” very difficult to get implemented. These issues can put architects in the position of looking like egomaniacs, when they are partially trying to avoid having unreasonable risk placed on their shoulders.

      Also, don’t forget that there are plenty of good architects who simply don’t have the CS/IT background to grasp what you’re talking about when you try to explain how important some data class is in IFC2x3. BIM is still pretty raw technology, but it will get smoothed out and better integrated eventually, making its use easier for normal users. A lot of what you’re saying is a rehash of conversations that folks a generation or two older than you had when CAD became common. “Geeze, it’s 1983 already – that damn architect’s ego is too big for him to understand how important this LISP routine is!!!”

      Finally, plenty of folks blame “architect ego” when an architect is simply fighting for a better design and solution. Thinking back to the “CAD wars” days, there were countless situations where “cheaper faster” folks used CAD as an excuse to try to ram through cheap, crappy solutions in the name of efficiency. Today, some of those “data driven building-team” discussions (but by no means all!) are the same cover-language to push for lousy design and poor solutions because they are cheaper/faster/easier, rather than better.

      Since I rambled on about “ego”, I’ll try to sum up a comment about the article itself. I think I understand Randy’s point to be: let’s worry less about getting to “BIM Sugarcandy Mountain” and focus on what tools we have now, today to get better buildings built in the world we live in today. Yeah, there’s “bim-ier” grass on the other side, but we have to mow this grass right now, so let’s do the best we can of it.

      • randydeutsch

        Thanks Thomas for your thoughtful comments and observations. And, yes, your summary of the blog post’s message at the end comes pretty close. Very helpful to see it through someone else’s eyes, especially someone with as much experience as yourself. Much appreciated.

  6. Here’s the danger, of course, in using religious analogies in BIM posts: ping backs!

    Just received this one from “Images of Jesus. Youth Ministry Resources. Teen Life Ministries,” who wrote:

    “For more on this topic you can read: http://itsthequestionthatdrivesus.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/whats-your-favorite-childhood-bible-story/
    and you may also find this relevant: https://bimandintegrateddesign.com/2011/02/24/36-arguments-for-the-existence-of-bim/


  7. anne whitacre

    actually… its some of the “starchitects” who embraced BIM first — and one of the technologies not listed is Gehry Technology’s “Digital Project”.
    I wasn’t at that office for very long (2 years ) but what I saw when it worked is that the contractors got on board early and actually helped develop the design based on their criteria and skills. If the contractor didn’t take advantage of the various skills of the model, then we would get estimates based on 2D drawings, with additional upcharge for conversion to the 3D set.
    If modeling is used for some of the things that it does : provide piece counts; coordinate with exterior panel fabrication; provide dead-on estimates — it will help hold costs to where they should be — because the piece count and sizes remove the contractor’s risk for these issues.
    Building contracts (as stated above) are about transfering risk, and these tools if used appropriately, do remove a lot of risk from some parts (not all) of the process. And, they remove risk in ways that other software does not.

    Contractors have learned that using modeling does save them money: clash detection is the obvious example, and also the routing of zillions of utilities through a ceiling space. It hasn’t been my experience that the BIM effort saves the architect money though, and I think that folks who expect that — are fooling themselvs. What modeling does is help make them better at their job.

    And finally, I want to squash that stupid analogy that because airplanes (ie, Boeing) are built using BIM and 3d modeling, that this provides the example for a building: airplanes are built inside buildings. Buildings typically are built outside and they are anchored to the ground (again, unlike airplanes). the persistence of a small group of people who are trying to make a good building into a factory built object seem to be oblivious to these two issues.

    • Chris

      AIrplanes is built using PLM not just 3d modelling. The business processes evolved from 3d modelling to DMU then now for the most advances airplaines companies into PLM including lean manufacturing. In terms of collaborative processes shared in a collaborative environment among owner and tier n suppliers, there is analogy with building. The challenge within AEC is cultural. How to adapt the best process coming from other industry to building process. And BIM alone is not sufficient.

  8. In Spain, I think, we are a bit behind in technology than other places and BIM is not well known although it starts to grow and these type of blogs inspire me to continue on it.
    As many of you say, BIM is not a matter of a Sofware that you have installed on your PC, is more a concept that will help architecs and construction processes to improve. Therefore I don’t think that we’ll ever have single tool that would be able to manage the complete concept through the whole life cycle of the building (Design, simulation, maintenance…) but we’ll have to use many different tools to do it. This is why collaboration among team members, experts in different areas, is a must when trying to develope a BIM project from beginning to end.

  9. Pingback: BIM and Integrated Design Top 10 Posts for 2011 | BIM + Integrated Design

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