BIM: being lost or becoming lost


When Oceanic Flight 815 from Sydney to Los Angeles crashed on a mysterious tropical island in the South Pacific, none of the survivors were aware that they were actually LOST in their own lives. Instead, they were concerned with being physically LOST on an abandoned island. In fact, after 5 years of the TV Show and over 100 episodes, viewers became to realize that these ‘Losties’ could only become aware of their difficult and mysterious situation after spending several years in and out of the island.

Although a fictional TV show, similarities can be drawn from when the term Building Information Modeling (BIM) was coined through the 1990s with a similar path of destiny for the users of the digital building models in the AEC industry beginning to emerge, leaving the industry (the BIM Losties of 2010) with many questions to be answered, such as:

  • Were we not actually Modeling the ‘Building Information’ in the 2D CAD era, before the term ‘Building Information Modeling’ was brought to our attention?
  • When working on BIM, are we trying to establish a standard shared digital building model, a new collaborative methodology for managing projects, or are we chasing to achieve a paradigm shift for the traditional processes of the industry?
  • Will BIM help us to transform the production processes in a form that is leaner, greener, and where industrial functions can be digitally managed or will it only cause us (the users/stakeholders of BIM) becoming ‘LOST’ between the complexity of real-life industry processes and modeling phenomena of the AEC universe?

Questions such as these have motivated us in a hopeful search for understanding Building Information Modeling, from its roots to its functions, from its capabilities to its possibilities.

In the late 1990s, Building Information Modeling was prescribed as a remedy for the illness of ‘Data Interoperability’ in AEC industry. However, it is now apparent that this ‘magic remedy’ can cure much more ‘illnesses’ than it was originally prescribed for. It can also facilitate so many different functions of the AEC industry and even beyond, such as in Urban Management. In addition, BIM is now becoming a key vehicle for transforming the paper-based and heavily fragmented processes of the AEC industry.


Having discovered the ‘magic’ that this new remedy can provide the industry is now heavily concerned with implementing it in many different fields. Despite the enormous amount of effort that is being carried out, it is still not very clear whether BIM will lead the industry to find its way and transform work practices to the desired collaborative form or it will just cause the industry to become ‘LOST’ in the AEC Modeling universe till eternity.


As readers of this book will be quite familiar with, the AEC industry is highly fragmented and thus integrated ways of working are always an apparent need for the industry. The Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach which recently emerged in the US reflects the perspective on the future of project life-cycle management and project delivery. IPD encourages early contribution of knowledge and experience and requires the proactive involvement of key participants.

The IPD Working Definition (2007) states that Building Information Modeling is essential in efficiently achieving the collaboration required for IPD. Input from the broader integrated team coupled with BIM tools to model and simulate the project enable the design to be brought to a higher level of completion before the documentation phase is started. Thus, the project is defined and coordinated to a much higher level prior to the start of construction, enabling more efficient construction and a shorter construction period.

From an Integrated Project perspective Building Information Modeling can be defined as:

The information management process throughout the lifecycle of a building (from conception to demolition) which mainly focuses on enabling and facilitating the integrated way of project flow and delivery, by the collaborative use of semantically rich 3D digital building models in all stages of the, project and building lifecycle.

BUILDING INFORMATION MODELS as mentioned earlier, the Building Information Modeling process is unique as it is based on digital, shared, integrated and interoperable Building Information Models. Thus, Building Information Modeling can be defined as the process and facility that enables information management, while Building Information Model is, the (set of) semantically rich shared 3D digital building model (s) that form(s) the backbone of the Building Information Modeling process.

Based on a review of a variety of academic and industrial resources, Isikdag et al (2007) have identified the definitive characteristics of Building Information Models as being;

1. Object Oriented: The models are defined in an object-oriented nature.

2. Data-rich / Comprehensive: Models are data rich and comprehensive as they cover and maintain all physical/functional characteristics and states of the building elements.

3. Three dimensional: Models always represent the geometry of the building in three dimensions. 4. Spatially-related: Spatial relationships between building elements are maintained in the BIMs in a hierarchical manner (allowing for several geometric representations such as Constructive Solid Geometry, Sweeping and BRep),

5. Rich in semantics: Models maintain a high amount of semantic (functional) information about the building elements. And finally,

6. Models support view generation: The model views are subsets or snapshots of the model that can be generated from the base information model. The model views can be automatically derived with respect to the user needs.

Although BIM is the key enabler of the IPD process, BIM goes beyond the management of information in the IPD process in that the process concludes with the closeout stage following construction, while the BIM process continues even beyond the demolition (disposition) stage, i.e. as a process of knowledge management for future projects.

Depending on the environment they are used, Building Information Models can have different functions such as being a Space Linker that links macro and micro urban spaces, an Interoperability Enabler which facilitates information sharing between various stakeholders and the software applications they use, a Data Store which stores the building information throughout the lifecycle of a building, a Procurement Facilitator that facilitates several procurement related tasks in the building lifecycle, a Collaboration Supporter through enabling the use and management of shared building information in real-time, a Process Simulator by facilitating the simulation of construction processes (i.e. @ nD), a System Integrator which enables the integration of several information systems across the industry, a Building Information Service which can serve real-time on-demand building information over the internet, a Green Builder that enables advanced analysis supporting the design and construction of environment friendly/energy efficient buildings, and a Life Saver which facilitates emergency response operations. 

For more information:  Handbook of Research on Building Information Modeling and Construction Informatics: Concepts and Technologies focuses on providing an up-to-date comprehensive and collective perspective of both the latest leading-edge research along with the current understanding and practice in the area of BIM and Construction Informatics within the global construction industry. 

Thanks for reading!

Please enjoy a limited number of articles over the next 30 days.

For total access log in to your The BIM Hub account. Or register now, it's free.

Register Sign in