History of Building Information Modelling

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November 24, 2014

From discussions with various industry bodies, companies and software vendors, one could be forgiven for thinking that BIM is a “new craze”.  Use of BIM as a buzzword has snowballed in the past few years.  I even had a reviewer of one of my papers telling me that “BIM is a trademark owned by Autodesk and should be recognised as such”! This is totally untrue but a web-search yields many mentions of Phil Bernstein (an Autodesk VP) being behind the acronym (you can’t trust everything you read on the internet).

In reality, the processes and technologies behind BIM have been evolving for at least 40 years. Yes – 40 years! Well before many of the current crop of “BIM gurus” were born. Early researchers included Chuck Eastman (then at CMU, now at Georgia Tech), Tom Maver at Strathclyde University,   Arto Kiviniemi in Finland (now at Salford University), and John Mitchell and Robin Drogemuller (QUT) in Australia.  All five are still invested in driving research and industry forward in this area.

Eastman’s 1975 paper “The use of computers instead of drawings in building design”  described a working prototype “Building Description System (BDS)”, which included ideas of parametric design, deriving 2D drawings from a model, a “single integrated database for visual and quantitative analyses” and he also suggests that “Contractors of large projects may find this representation advantageous for scheduling and materials ordering”.  Eastman was describing “BIM” seven years before Autodesk was founded, and 25 years before the first version of Revit was released!

During the 1970s and 1980s development continued around the world.  The BDS approach tended to be described as “Building Product Models” in the USA, and “Product Information Models” in Europe.  These phrases them merged to become “Building Information Model”. Robert Aish (who was a creator of Generative Components but is now a member of Autodesk Research) first documented the term “Building Modelling”, in the sense we use BIM today, in 1986.

The term “Building Information Model” was first documented in English in a paper by van Nederveen and Tolman (1992), from TU Delft in the Netherlands.

Many websites, papers and books claim that Jerry Laiserin coined the term “BIM”.  However, Laiserin himself in his introduction to the BIM Handbook (Eastman et al, 2007), denies this.  He states that he attempted to popularise the term in 2002 and 2003 (though as described above the term had been coined at least 10 years before then).  Laiserin states:

rather than “Father of BIM” – as a few well-meaning but over-enthusiastic peers have labelled me – I prefer the unattributed epithet “godfather of BIM”, in the sense that a godfather is an adult sponsor of a child not his own. If anyone deserves the title “father of BIM”, surely it is Chuck Eastman (Eastman et al, 2007, pxiii).

Still, instead of fighting over rights to buzzwords, we should be focusing on what the original researchers intended, which is a much more collaborative construction industry utilising the best available technologies to improve information flow, reduce errors and therefore increase efficiency.

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