BIM – a discussion about oranges

I was recently a speaker at the inaugural BIM Summit Africa, where I was privileged to hear not only the presentations of all the other speakers, but the comments of several delegates during the Q&A’s and in the breakout sessions. I was struck by a very common thread, which I did not expect:

  1. almost without exception, it was the submission and impression of this group of people, that BIM is a 3D modelling process of building and infrastructure projects, predominantly for the purpose of “visualising” clashes and design errors
  2. there is an awareness of the need to adopt BIM, but not an understanding why, which I suppose is fuelled in part by point 1
  3. BIM is seen as an isolated event, limited in consideration to the activities of one discipline, not as a project wide and full life cycle tool to collaborate ideas, aid design and deliver accurate information to every participant

I was surprised by these three issues, as I believed that BIM was an internationally understood and appreciated concept by now, it is 2012 after all! Nonetheless, I was wrong. There were many other misconceptions about BIM, that struck me, such as the notion, that you could complete an entire BIM based project design, documentation, construction and management of a building project in the software of a single vendor, in a single file. This was soon dispelled as pure myth, as the “owners” of such BIM software packages, although proud of their investment, soon pointed to several problems experienced in their workflow, resulting in 2D CAD “bailouts” and non transferable data clashes between various disciplines.

The outcome to it all in my opinion is as follows:

  1. in Africa, certainly in South Africa, there is a growing need for BIM, fuelled from developers, contractors and clients, where the accuracy of the completed design and as build information is of interest
  2. there are already in South Africa, a range of successful BIM projects, encompassing the entire process from design to facilities management
  3. BIM is not an orange, but a fruit salad (more about this below)

During my own presentation on day 1, I presented the following (abbreviated here) in regards BIM:

a discussion about oranges, presented by André Strauss

My brief BIM history:

  • 18 years of BIM, since 1994
  • 1996 – simple architectural BIM exploration, model use to generate sections, elevations, areas – GATEWAY 300,000sq/m
  • 2005 – advent of further analysis – Pearls – area comparisons and scheduling up to 48 storeys, visual impact studies, shadow studies
  • 1995 – first stages facilities management – UKZN – 3D documentation of
  • now running full BIM service on large and complex research and medical facilities, all services fully coordinated (inclusive of automated clash detection), commissioning procedures (all element data captured, from serial numbers to sign-off agents and required servicing intervals) and facilities management (BIM model based, automated systems for scheduled and breakdown maintenance, element event history tracking, inclusive of live BMS input and asset tracking)

Topic 1: WHAT IS BIM?

This will not be a definition as we find on the internet, please read that independently.

In my opinion, BIM:

  • is not an orange
  • BIM is a fruit salad

What on earth does this mean? Well, let us look at what BIM is required to do in a project, or where does BIM start and stop on a project?

  • it starts with conceptualisation, or even earlier, if the prospective developer or owner can use it to asses the property for a project, it should include all input data, such as GIS, weather, locality, etc.
  • it continues with all design disciplines: architecture, engineering, quantity and cost estimation, it must therefor be equally adept at visualising spacial aspects, as it should be calculating structural loads or mechanical ventilation requirements, etc.
  • it further includes peripheral disciplines such as suppliers & governing bodies, typically hosting their data in cloud based solutions and seldom in the formats utilised by design consultants
  • it certainly does not end with, but includes facilities management of the building’s full life cycle, which should include disciplines such as tenant management, asset management, maintenance scheduling, etc.

The question that springs to mind, after listing SOME of the requirements that BIM has to meet on any given project, is:

  • Do all these stages and disciplines live in a single BIM?

I believe the answer is no. I believe that BIM is not an orange, rather a fruit salad. BIM means Building Information Model (I did say I would not give the internet definition – I apologise). It therefor suggests that at any given stage of a building’s life cycle, a model, containing as much information as is available, should be at hand, allowing the next stage to be attended to as best possible with all such information available. This can therefor not be housed in a structural design specific “BIM” oriented software, or any other discipline specific software for that matter.

Some examples of discipline specific BIM software solutions that are available in the market place are:

  • ArchiCAD – BIM based architectural design and documentation
  • ArchiFM – BIM based facilities management
  • CostOS – BIM based cost estimation, quantity take off and specification
  • Tekla, Strusoft, DDS – BIM based structural and mechanical

The question then is, what is a real BIM for the entire project life cycle? I believe it is something called: OpenBIM

Topic 2: OpenBIM

We are aware that the project design, bid and build process and time scale have changed from the traditional expended sequential, to the modern condensed simultaneous, which has pressurised design teams in time, but more so in the need for simultaneous design exploration and solution development, in many cases, whilst construction has commenced. This situation requires the sharing of more information, more rapidly – enter BIM. HOWEVER, the situation does require each discipline to be more efficient, more accurate and faster, this can only be done in a dedicated solution for each discipline. The question then is, how does each discipline use the best software for that discipline, whilst sharing enough information with other disciplines to do the same on their side – enter OPENBIM! exit – TRADITIONAL WORKFLOW

Again, we should address the question, why can we not just share the same model between all disciplines? The answer: the information needed by each discipline is different, although it may pertain to the exact same element within the building. Let us review a column and slab, as handled by a structural engineer and an architect. Clearly very different. What is the solution – OpenBIM!

Each trade to use the best global/local BIM solution available in every project…


Open BIM is a universal approach to the  collaborative design, realization and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflowsOpen BIM is an initiative of buildingSMART and several leading software vendors using the open buildingSMART Data Model.

concept 1: Reference Model

Benefits of reference models:

  • Clear ownership of models
  • Workflow compatibility
  • Change management

concept 2: Model Filtering & Classification

concept 3: Change Management

Requirements for the BIM technology to offer a solution:

  • System independence
  • Workflow transparency
  • Ownership of BIM data
  • Information classification
  • Reference model concept

Using IFC to deliver OpenBIM:

  • Commit to:  the utilization of open standards such as Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs)
  • Engage: any vendor with similar strategy to participate (even competing products)
  • Attract: users of BIM solutions to join the workflow, without giving up their production tool


  1. Work with the best-of-breed solutions
  2. Maintain full control over software upgrades
  3. Reduce coordination errors
  4. Create BIM for the entire building life-cycle

Some BIM Software packages that support the OpenBIM concept:


Open BIM is supported by various organizations that host related information in their own domains. Please visit any of the following pages for further information:

To participate in the Open BIM program please contact buildingSMART at


About bimblogsa

Registered Consultant, BIM
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6 Responses to BIM – a discussion about oranges

  1. Pingback: GRAPHISOFT sponsors the inaugural BIM Summit Africa « ArchiCAD SADC

  2. Ninah Briggs says:

    Interesting article Mr. Strauss, touches on a number of things certainly unique to our (African) experience. We’re REVIT users based in Nigeria and avid BIM-discussion followers. The problems you identified are certainly well placed but it’ll be an incomplete appraisal where the issue of BIM (use, understanding, and implementation) is considered independent of context. The ‘non-linearity’ of society, and societal culture (at least over here in Nigeria) maps across all levels and spheres of endeavor. It’ll certainly take a significant overhaul of policy (political and polity wise) to deliver on the extensive potential of BIM as you’d certainly find in more ‘developed’ economic and social systems. The AEC industry here’s very much affected by and dependent on this ‘policy’….as such the real conversation’s much much wider than your paper’s able to capture

  3. I completely agree Mr Strauss, BIM is much more than visualisation… At least the building industry has caught up with other industries, e.g. the car and aeronautical industries who have been using systems engineering for many years. The key is to view a building as a system – how to set up interfaces to other systems, facilitate information exchange across the life cyle and so much more…

    • seeheartype says:

      Kirstin it’s interesting that you suggest that the building industry has caught up with aeronautical and automotive industries. I am a recent civil graduate working at a multi-disciplinary company which has a recently embarked on implementation of BIM/VDC in which I am heavily involved. We have a large Aeronautical department and were given walkthrough of the software and workflows of the department by a senior member of staff. In short I was stunned by the capabilities of catia but more so by how client driven the whole process was. The controls that the client was able to put into place ran through to the finest detail, such as the software not allowing the use of a steel washer with an aluminium bolt due to corrosion. While the building industry appears to be making steps in the right direction I do not know if it will ever truly catch up with other disciplines until the clients drive the use of BIM/VDC as they do in other industries, an example of this being the client specifying the software used to allow easy collaboration through the whole process from design to analysis to machining to fitting and construction. We have a long way to go and if we don’t realise that we will never get there.

  4. Pingback: K-rith Tower – from 3D model to BIM | ArchiCAD SADC

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