BIM: Integrating Environmental Intelligence at Landmark


Next month sees the arrival of the deadline for the mandated adoption of BIM Level 2 for all centrally procured projects. I read a great statement from RICS, which I felt really summed up just what BIM Level 2 represents:

“Level 2 BIM is effectively an enabler towards a more digital, data-driven industry – one which is smarter, leaner and more collaborative and dynamic. Level 2 BIM effectively promotes sharing, analysis and reuse of information. The models offer a better visual representation of design/construction and can, therefore, be used to help inform decision making.”

Already our eyes are however being drawn to the next stage – BIM Level 3 – which is following with a deadline of 2018. This will take collaboration a step further, so instead of sharing isolated files and data, all data will be fed concurrently into a single model, which can be assessed and adjusted by all parties centrally using open data standards, and importantly, in real-time.

In time it will achieve the original objective which is to extend beyond just the pure construction process, but take into account the full lifecycle of a building (or road, site, bridge or other such forms of infrastructure). This would include general operations, maintenance and facilities management, through to restoration, redevelopment and even demolition.

As I’ve said before, I truly believe that the data that is fed into BIM is the linchpin to its overall success.

By this, I mean all data relating not only to the construction, but essential geospatial information that provides context to the surrounding of the building, campus or site; technical documentation; legal conveyancing search documentation; environmental risk analysis and reports, such as flood, land contamination or ground instability; utilities information and much more.

All of this data bridges the information gap between the construction or redevelopment phase and the ongoing building operation and asset or facilities management requirements. It is therefore vital that all data is fed into the model to capture the complete picture of the building or site in question, and not get caught up on purely the construction elements.

To give an example – before any new development project occurs, a wide range of due-diligence checks are undertaken to determine not only the suitability of the site in question from a planning point of view, but to understand the geology of the soil, the historic use of the land, whether there is any potential land contamination, land use constraints, underground utilities or environmental risks.

Having access to such information as part of BIM will ensure that every stakeholder involved in the lifecycle of the building, site or infrastructure will be fully aware of any potential issues or features that affect the site. For example, if the area is prone to flooding, this will enable designs to be adapted so they are appropriate to mitigate flooding, and will ensure that appropriate defence products can be put in place or managed in the future.

Everything from geological data, historical maps and environmental intelligence can be analysed to reveal past land use, land stability or potential environmental risks. This ultimately reduces the potential for uncovering any nasty surprises later in a project’s lifecycle.

Another example of this is sinkholes. At the end of 2015, a number of sinkholes were reported in the news, included one in a residential road in St Albans. Having carried out a Ground Stability assessment on the address, it identified natural or man-made cavities within the 250m search area. Historical mapping also identified that the area had been used as a brick field and clay pit, which brings with it extra instability risks.

While sinkholes are fairly rare, they typically occur when the ground below the surface has been dissolved and are therefore usually found in areas underlain by chalk, limestone, gypsum and salt. They can also occur as a result of ground collapse over man-made voids in the ground, such as mine workings or historic quarries.

By feeding ground stability due diligence into the BIM process, it means all stakeholders are fully aware of the geology or past land use of the surrounding land, they can see what investigations have already taken place, and it ultimately means they can make more informed decisions on future changes.

What is clear is that it pays to undertake thorough research at the outset of any project, which can then be fed into the BIM model. It is the quality of the data that will make BIM a success. Without the correct data being recorded, shared and maintained, you ultimately run the risk of plans, drawings, or other project documentation being based on outdated, inaccurate information, which may impact on the overall validity of the model.

Feeding Environmental Intelligence into BIM

1. Land Contamination

Historical mapping is one way of deducing what past activities may have taken place on the land in question. By having access to historical maps, you can identify places of worship, former industrial buildings, military activities, quarries or similar. A wide range of OS maps, Goad maps, aerial photography and old military maps can look back through almost two centuries to identify past features.

In addition, both local authorities and commercial entities hold electronic data regarding historic land use; planning history; pollution incidents; details of closed landfill sites; site-specific reports outlining investigations and remedial actions, and other related matters, providing a clear picture concerning any potential risks that may have been (or may still be) present.

2. Flooding

With extreme weather conditions threatening to become ever more prevalent, the ability to accurately determine associated risk is increasingly important.

Specialist flood data is available from a range of expert sources to clarify what level of risk is posed to a particular area of land. The data is exhaustive and by analysing risk rather than susceptibility, reports can provide accurate due diligence, so preventative measures or an appropriate action plan can be put in place, as needed.

3. Unexploded Ordnance

The risk from Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) continues to pose a potential risk in the UK. It is estimated that 10 per cent of bombs dropped in World War II on London did not detonate. In addition, areas of land have also been used for military training and again, unearthed ordnance could be discovered as a result. Desk-based reports are today available that help identify potential risk posed by UXO.

4. Coal Mines

Past coal mining activities may not be visible on the surface but if in place may present a potential risk to the area in general. The Coal Authority is responsible for dealing with public safety related to any potential damage that may occur as a result. As such, digital coal mining searches are available which are of considerable use to anyone planning a development or project on any land where you suspect mining activities may have previously taken place.


Paul Blewett

Head of Sales & Product

(Environment and Mapping)

Landmark Information Group


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