Smart Buildings

Building Information Modelling (BIM) will become Mainstream for Smart Buildings

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is being described as a game-changing information and communications technology (ICT) and cultural process for the construction and smart buildings sector.

It is a collaborative way of working, underpinned by digital technologies, which unlock more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining assets. BIM embeds key product and asset data into a 3D computer model that can be used for effective management of information throughout a project lifecycle – from earliest concept through to operation.


Originally introduced to support design and construction efficiency, and the reduction of construction costs for building structures and mechanical, electrical and plumbing plants and networks, BIM is now being used as a basis to support specialist simulation analysis such as people movement and occupancy, microclimate and carbon reduction.

Computer-aided design (CAD) techniques have been in use by the construction industry since the early 1980s. BIM represents the next paradigm shift in the field of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC).

In fact, the change that BIM offers the construction industry has been seen as even bigger than the transformation CAD brought to traditional drawing practices. While CAD was simply a new tool for producing engineering drawings, BIM requires a greater change. “With BIM, we are putting information at the heart of the project, Everyone who consumes that information within the project environment is changing the way they work”.

With the emergence of smart building technology, which embeds many spaces with smart objects to enhance the building’s efficiency, security and comfort of its occupants, there is a need to understand the challenges BIM faces and the opportunities it brings in the design, construction and management of future smart buildings.

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There will also be a need to recognise the importance of the building design in the smart building context. A high performance building façade, for example, should be at the heart of a well-designed, low energy building and there is a common acceptance in sophisticated markets that spending more on the building envelope reaps greater benefits than spending on the building services systems.

The industry is beginning to integrate this opportunity with BIM modelling in conjunction with geo-spatial databases, real time sensors and social networks. It begins to highlight that traditional approaches to design, construction and operation will evolve to become more fluid and adaptive relative to the environment and users, as well as support overall carbon reduction during the lifecycle of the building.

A designer’s job during built environment design will be to think of and enable the building to be a learning entity that, once operational, will improve its own efficiency through the experience of operating the building itself and through interaction with people. In doing this, the building will apply experience to information and acquire knowledge about itself and its surroundings, with and without human interaction. This is the concept of the Building Internet of Things, which we have written extensively about in our research – Big Data for Smart Buildings: Market Prospects 2015 to 2020 & The Transformation of BAS into the Building Internet of Things 2015 to 2020.

To enable this leap forward specialists from outside the construction industry will need to be integrated into the design, construction and operation of a smart building. Design and operational teams will need to enhance their core engineering skills by partnering with IT experts, in order to create a virtual, or information architecture that overlays the physical building architecture and design.

In 2011, the British government stated its intention that, by 2016, it would require “collaborative 3D BIM on all government projects”. This announcement was part of the government’s strategy to invigorate the construction industry, with the ultimate aim of achieving a 20% reduction in costs in the construction and operation of new buildings. Central to achieving this goal is the employment of BIM in the smart buildings sector to create a more efficient construction sector and a smarter built environment.

While the UK has made strong moves to be a world leader for BIM implementation and development, a number of countries globally are starting to realise the opportunities BIM brings and have begun investing heavily in developing their own capability. BIM processes are becoming ‘mainstream’ to both new buildings and have further potential in ‘retrofit’ and ‘refurbishment’ projects when complementary workflows such as laser scanning and rapid energy analysis are employed.

BIM technology should be seen as a ‘collaboration’ between the construction sector and the software industries and creates an environment in which there are opportunities and synergies for both.

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