Page T1.1 . 09 September 2009                     
ArchitectureWeek - Tools Department
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Toward a BIM Paradigm

by Dana K. Smith and Michael Tardif

A systems approach to building information modeling should not be confused with the notion of a single building information model. Implementing BIM does not mean that all of the information about a building must be compiled into a single data file, reside in a single physical location, or be maintained by a single business entity throughout the life cycle of the building.

The notion of a comprehensive life cycle building information model — while conceptually appealing — is problematic from a business point of view. Often cited as one of the primary goals of a BIM implementation strategy, the single building model is beyond the reach of any end user today for the same reason that it has been out of reach for 30 years: neither the technology nor the market conditions needed to support it exist. To the best of our knowledge, not one viable comprehensive building information model residing within a single data file has ever been created.

No commercially available software application or technology platform is capable of containing all of the information created about a building throughout its useful life and making it accessible to appropriate stakeholders in real time on demand. More significantly, none is in development. The unmistakable trend in building information modeling software is toward distributed building information models created by highly specialized software tools that are designed to work together. A number of factors may have contributed to this trend:

  • The entire building life cycle of business processes and workflows is too complex to be modeled effectively within a single software application.

  • Business processes and workflows vary too much across the industry and across the building life cycle to fit neatly within a single workflow paradigm.

  • Working within a single building model environment requires too great a change of existing information-management infrastructure and business processes to support viable migration paths from existing workflows to new ones.

  • The cost and technical challenges of developing a software application capable of meeting the needs of all users throughout the life cycle of a building are prohibitive.

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This article is excerpted from Building Information Modeling by Dana K. Smith and Michael Tardif, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.



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The continuity of information and workflow that BIM fosters provides a powerful incentive for early and intensive collaboration of designers and constructors.
Image: John Wiley & Sons

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An idealized representation of the way that use of BIM changes the interactions between project stakeholders. Rather than signifying a "single building model," the central object in the diagram represents the "industry exchange standard" that allows reliable sharing of data.
Image: John Wiley & Sons


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