Out of BIM Chaos, the Road to Structured Data
By Stephen R. Hagan, FAIA
These days, much is being written and hyped about Building Information Modeling (BIM). To my count, at least 10 initiatives (either ongoing or in start-up mode) focus on BIM and various interoperability and industry process issues:
• National BIM Standard
• National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) International Alliance for Interoperability—North America (IAI-NA) and its buildingSMART initiative
• GSA requirements for Industry Foundation Class (IFC)-based BIM submissions for design starts in Fiscal Year 2006 and beyond (see Section 3.4 of the GSA Public Buildings Service CAD Standards)
• Virtual Builders Roundtable
• NIBS Facility Maintenance and Operations Committee
• National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) effort on the Capital Facilities Information Handover Guide
• FIATECH Capital Projects Technology Roadmap
• Federal Facilities Council (FFC) Emerging Technologies Committee focus on BIM and Interoperability
• AIA TAP’s own focus on three inevitable technologies: BIM, interoperability, and collaboration
• Construction Users Roundtable focus on A/E productivity
• Various international efforts in Finland, Norway, Singapore, and Australia.
I’ve probably missed a few in my list above, including TAP’s own “Building Connections: The 2nd Congress on Digital Collaboration in the Building Industry,” which convened on November 10, 2005 (see related article in this issue of EDGES).
We can elaborate on each of these efforts at another time. However, they all seem to have energized members, created a flurry of activity (at least as evidenced by e-mail and listserv traffic), and contributed to a growing excitement and buzz about BIM and the future of our industry.
Nonetheless, this flurry of excitement and activity also has the potential to explode into a fragmented effort if all of these individuals and organizations run in different directions and with different agendas.
Can this fragmentation be prevented?
One topic not yet fully aired is an underlying classification and/or taxonomy structure to what we call BIM. If BIM is as much about data as it is about geometry, then it is essential to ensure that this data is structured.
Robust industry classification systems have the potential of forming the essential underlying BIM foundation. In fact, if all objects in a BIM conform to the same underlying classification system and industry taxonomy, that in itself is arguably a fundamental form of interoperability.
Why Classification Systems and BIM?
So what is so exciting about classification systems? Do you remember elementary or high school and walking into the school library? What confronted you first? Rows and rows of card catalogs—the “search engine” to thousands if not millions of books. And what made all of these documents searchable and retrievable? A universally accepted classification system! First we had the Dewey Decimal System and later the Library of Congress classification system for books. Of course, newer search technologies (deployed, for example, by Amazon and Google) are changing the playing field, but classification systems remain critical in all industries and professions
UniFormat, MasterFormat, and the newly developed OmniClass are three of the foundational classification systems of the design, construction, and facility/real-estate industries.
The original UniFormat was developed jointly by the General Services Administration (GSA) and the AIA in 1972 for estimating and design cost analysis. UNIFORMAT II, which ASTM first issued in 1993, is an enhanced version developed by a task group that included the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), GSA, AACE, the Tri-Services, R.S. Means, and others.
Elements are traditionally defined as “major components, common to most buildings, that perform a given function, regardless of the design specification, construction method, or materials used.” In practice, an element may be considered any logical component of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). From a project management perspective, the UNIFORMAT II classification is the ideal WBS for the design phase of a building project to control scope, cost, quality, and time. For more information about Uniformat, see the following:
• NIST UNIFORMAT II Elemental Classification for Building Specifications, Cost Estimating, and Cost Analysis (PDF)
• UNIFORMAT II home page
• “ASTM Standard E1557 and CSI Practice FF/180: New Design Management Tools for Project Managers.”
Also developed by CSI, “MasterFormat™ is the specifications-writing standard for most commercial building design and construction projects in North America. It lists titles and section numbers for organizing data about construction requirements, products, and activities. By standardizing such information, MasterFormat facilitates communication among architects, specifiers, contractors, and suppliers, which helps meet building owners’ requirements, timelines, and budgets.
The MasterFormat 2004 Edition is the most significant in the product’s 40-year history and reflects the growing volume and complexity of information generated for commercial construction projects.”
CSI developed OmniClass (formerly known as the Overall Construction Classification System [OCCS]) in collaboration with other industry partners: “Having recognized a need for classifying the majority of construction subjects, the increased use of electronic information technology, and the expanding focus on the complete life cycle of construction, the concept of an Overall Construction Classification System (OCCS) was born.”
What do you think? Are consistent industry classification structures and taxonomies crucial to the notion of Building Information Models? Weigh in with your thoughts by sending an e-mail to Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen R. Hagan, FAIA, is 2006 chair of AIA TAP Advisory Group and director of the Project Knowledge Center, GSA Public Buildings Service, Washington, D.C.
via Out of BIM Chaos, the Road to Structured Data.