What’s new about BIM?


Nick Nisbet, Director at AEC3 Ltd and Technical Coordinator for buildingSMART asks whether BIM is so new, after all… 


Last year I was challenged to say if I thought AEC3 could claim to be the best BIM consultancy in the world. Let’s just add ‘probably’ and look at some history.

AEC3 has been helping industry, researchers, governments and clients get to grip with BIM since 2002. But long before that, we’ve been involved with some of the key moments. So when did BIM start? Certainly long before the acronym was coined, and long before the launch of Revit or ArchiCAD, Let’s rewind to the late 70’s. Four decades ago, BIM was a reality in the UK. Before Jeff Wix and I got together I was involved with three of the earliest commercial implementations of BIM. The Scottish Special (i.e. social) Housing Association was using an application that held a full 3D description of low-rise housing estates, producing accurate 2D drawings, space schedules and bills for tendering. Thanks to the system, 1 in every 25 of those houses was free*. Another application was OXSYS which was dedicated to the design and production of hospitals, including detailed analysis of the circulation routes and the automated selection of roof-light details. But the application that proved to be the most long-lived was Rucaps. Later it evolved to become Sonata and Reflex but first it proved its worth producing all the GA architectural plans, elevations and sections for the largest building on the planet, Riyadh University. It also handled the biggest building in the UK, the British Library in London. The architecture by Colin St John Wilson & Partners and the MEP by SVM Ltd wasn’t just federated together, the models were fully merged every fortnight, making sure that every set of production drawings were fully coordinated in 2D and 3D. I was responsible for the DXF export of the entire drawing set for delivery to the client, and Jeff Wix extracted the objects to ensure that the British Library Facility Management led the world. Jeff and I also worked on linking building design to thermal modelling. Whilst I developed algorithms to read conventional scanned and drafted drawings, Jeff developed the first versions of sharable object models using AutoCAD 13 and tools that inspired Architectural Desktop and later Revit.

When Jeff and I got together he was just completing the development of IFC2x2 and the implementation of the Singapore ePlanCheck system. IFC files from any application could be uploaded to the Building and Construction Authority server, visualised, and checked for the requirements from 16 different government departments. The results were available in less than 30 minutes. We worked to generalise the ideas for checking Health and Safety advice, and then we began to develop the tools that could make any regulation, advice, requirement or environmental assessment checkable. We started with the US ICC codes, knowing that with over 3,000 different jurisdictions, it had to be efficient and convincing. Working with the US Army we helped develop the COBie schema and tools. Working with product manufacturers we have radically revolutionised the accuracy and speed of capturing their product data to make the BIM. In 2008 we authored a report for the UK Government on the potential benefits of adopting BIM for its central departments. Sadly Jeff did not get to see the report evolve into the UK Construction strategy two years later.

It’s a good history, and we’d like to talk to you about how we can help you plan clearly for your next steps in BIM. There is a good chance there’s one we did earlier.

* In 2014 the UK Government Cabinet Office estimated that 1 in every 7 schools was effectively free.

Nicholas Nisbet

Director, AEC3

Technical Coordinator

buildingSMART UKI

Tel: +44 1494 714933




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