buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD)


Communication is a challenge at the construction site

“You say ‘potato’, I say ‘potato’, you say ‘tomato’ and I say ‘tomato’, oh let’s call the whole thing off” – you have probably all heard this popular song form ‘Shall We Dance’ starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In the 1937 movie the language as well as culture differences cause an initial rift between the characters who most obviously fit together perfectly.

Taking this off the big screen and into our daily lives, we couldn’t help but wonder, is multilanguage construction data causing similar problems for the construction industry? Nowadays we use a variety of software tools in our daily work that often times happen to call the same things different names. In order to have them understand each other, we need to create a common "digital language" that will put these differences aside and ensure smooth sailing for our construction data.

There is much talk about BIM and what it is and isn’t, but before anything else, we must define what exactly we are talking about. In today's globalized world we normally use, at least several different languages in a construction project. After all, in the global world we live in today, there are, more often than not, several languages used within a construction project. There are multinational manufacturers who provide the products and there are different software products dealing with multilanguage data for the convenience of their users.

For example, an architect using ArchiCAD, Revit, DDS or other software will name in a different way the fire safety or sound performance requirements. If that happens, one must see what characteristics or "properties" are defined in each program. Here comes the buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD), which ties all this up together neatly, so now, no matter which software you are using, everyone will know exactly what you are talking about. Then the manufacturer’s data could be also linked together and distributed easily and without anything ‘lost in translation’.

 Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD)

Efficient building is all about information sharing between the players in the building process and across the different software platforms. Today, this information sharing, however, is largely limited to the geometric data supplied from ArchiCAD, Revit, DDS etc. through which one can perform clash detection, energy calculations etc. As much as this has helped the construction industry, the truly big change will come when builders and contractors can obtain data that can be used in purchasing, scheduling and operation and maintenance. To achieve this, one must create attribute sets that we at coBuilder are now busy making, in close cooperation with key players in the UK. It is here that the mapping of data and data sets is done using the bSDD and the relations between manufacturers' data and Revit, IFC and classifications are linked. The work of buildingSMART Norway is also crucial if we are to succeed, because we need open standards and good processes to move forward.

 Language, interaction and BIM

What is the importance of having “multilingual data” in the light of BIM – a buzzword that many people will get to know in the future? If we take a look at the players involved in the construction projects today, we will notice that there is a big change compared to who they used to be 15 years ago in terms of internationalization.

"When I was a carpenter in Norway, back in the 1980s, most of the people we used to work with were the Swedes and the Danes, whereas now we have workers from so many different countries. When it comes to products used by these actors the picture is the same." says Lars Chr. Fredenlund, CEO of coBuilder Norway.

Products manufactured in Europe and beyond are here to stay and there is an apparent need for multilingualism when it comes to the construction product communication. The properties of the construction products are defined in a series of CEN standards, which means that those properties must be compliant with what has been defined by those standards in terms of U-value, compressive strength or resistance to wind load.

These data should be then translated and understood by humans and machines, and it is precisely here where the bSDD plays its key role. To give a practical example, let’s take the definition of the word "window", by establishing a common identity code or "GUID" in the bSDD, so all can understand what a window is, see example here.

If you want to define a property such as "reaction to fire" and translate this into Norwegian then the translation would be "egenskaper ved brannpåvirkning", which is a term defined by Standard Norge and thus the official translation of “reaction to fire”. As long as you prefer to use the same "GUID" it is possible to have your own language, naming or classification. This is possible in the bSDD and all stakeholders benefit from this, see here.

Language Confusion – what are skylights anyway?

So let us look at case that language could be seen as an impediment to BIM. If you go to the US you may hear the contractor on site talking about skylights. The architect of the building who is in the UK however will be talking about roof windows and in Norway there are three different terms to choose from – “overlys”, “kupler” and “takvinduer”. It turns out that everyone is talking about the same thing – the windows that you put on the roof so that more light can come in. You can see that even in two locations that use more or less the same language there can be some misunderstandings. And even when the word is known to both sides there is the problem with the definition. Similarly, some countries treat a “door” as the leaf and the framing while others – see it as only the leaf. So to equate the meanings one has to link the concept “a complete unit consisting of a door frame and a door leaf“ to the equivalent terms in two languages – “door” and a “door set”. You get the point.So how do we solve this?

The solution comes in the form of the buildingSMART Data Dictionary that connects terms and concepts and the relations between them. These relationships are the same all over the world e.g. the roof window (skylight) is always on the ceiling. While this makes the model language-independent it doesn’t mean it cannot work with normal human language. On the contrary – it guarantees that people are talking about the same thing. So any system that can make a reference to the bSDD content can have its output in the language desired by the user, including IFC. And that’s exactly what a common technical language for openBIM means – enabling all parties to work with multilanguage data in the languages they know, not learning an entirely new common language that is foreign to everybody.

On step closer to collaboration.

Differences in language and culture have long been the reason for the failure of many of the business ‘marriages’. With the perfect collaboration and communication that openBIM promises this must not be allowed. In order to link multilanguage data to the right terms and concepts, the bSDD is creating a common ‘world’ for AEC technical terms so that they can be all interconnected regardless of their language origin. With the help of the bSDD, when a designer in the US specifies a skylight, an FM in the UK will be able to query his systems for a roof window and find and replace the same instance.

“In my work in coBuilder, I have since 2009 worked for the development of the buildingSMART Data Dictionary by financing the platform and entering data and translations. We have helped with the enrichment of the open data that anyone can use and it has all been in the name of helping the industry buy the products that satisfy the requirements set. It's easy to be tempted by products that are cheap, but you have to keep in mind that those products do not always fulfill the requirements set by the CPR or by the client” explains Lars Chr. Fredenlund.

Cobuilder’s use of the bSDD

Today, coBuilder the only software provider who has fully and completely integrated all their systems and data with the bSDD. What is more, if there are properties, definitions, translations or other instances missing from the dictionary we constantly make sure to add them in it. There are of course other players who have chosen to make a "copy" of bSDD and build their own little world of definitions. We do not think that this is a good solution because no one is able to continuously contribute, translate and avoid duplicates. In our tools, and our new platform we want to simplify and improve the construction process by using the bSDD. Among other things, it will open up new markets to us and help our internalization process. Things always work out when you work hard and have faith.

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