It’s Time for Building Information Modeling

We are in an interesting place at Sealander Architects: We have a pretty mature BIM (Building Information Modeling) platform, and we know it can provide value to an entire building team. We just happen to be an outlier in our geographic area.

To provide some context, BIM is the idea that a database is a really powerful design tool. Databases are multi-dimensional (3, 4 or very many dimensions) that allows one to build a coherent model. Think of a spreadsheet with cells on a grid. Each of those cells can contain data. More importantly, the data in one cell can be linked to the data in another cell. One cell might contain the number 5, and another the number 6. A third cell contains the number which is the multiplicand of the 5 cell and the 6 cell. So, this third cell does not contain a hard-wired number 30, it contains the mathematical relationship “Cell A * Cell B” Change Cell A to 4, and the third cell automatically updates to 24.

For years, CAD drawings of buildings were collections of lines and circles that represented views of a building. You had plans, elevations and sections. If you decided to change your floor plan, you then had to change your elevation, and perhaps your section. Each drawing was a hardwired representation. The labor cost of making changes to a set of drawings increased as the design matured. One might have a particular door which was depicted on a plan, an enlarged plan, an elevation, and a section. If that door grew in size or moved due to a design change, then every drawing depicting that door needed to change in order for the drawing set to remain coherent.

That is really the power of BIM. All those things we want to do to make our buildings better but take too much time, we can do them now.

BIM models contain doors, but these doors exist as software objects in a database cell. The graphical representations of the door are fed to plan, section and elevation drawings generated from the database. If a user has created five view representations, all five are database-created views. They simply show what is in the database: a bunch of walls, doors, windows, floors. If a door location is updated in the database, the views that depend on that database are updated on the fly.

This is the first order of progress with BIM. Because the BIM database is the source of all graphical building representations, all representations are coherent with the model. There is no chance that an elevation does not match with a plan, or that a section does not match with an elevation.

This ability to draw rather complicated designs (more accurately, to construct complicated database representations of buildings) means a whole set of three-dimensional issues that are prone to drafting mistakes no longer exist. One need not worry that some design might work in plan but not in section. While it is possible to lie with a two-dimensional drawing, it is impossible to lie with a three-dimensional BIM model. The advantages to perfectly faithful drawing sets cannot be easily overestimated. Particularly with complex buildings, BIM provides a huge advantage in making sure a design works in three dimensions.

Let’s go back to the spreadsheet analogy. What if, attached to that cell with the door in it, is another cell that contains the U-value for the door? What if every cell in that spreadsheet could contain a U-value? What if every cell in that spreadsheet could contain a cost? What if every cell in that spreadsheet could contain a “responsible trade” or “CSI Masterformat number”? What if the materials, costs, trades, Masterformat numbers, colors, whatever, could be related to the size, area, volume, quantity of the entire model? If I put four doors in a wall, and each door had an R-value of 3, and the wall had an R-value of 20, what if the spreadsheet could determine the energy performance hit from that?

That is really the power of BIM. All those things we want to do to make our buildings better but take too much time, we can do them now.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:


Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.