For most, BIM is associated with the construction of new buildings, but what of the refurbishment of existing buildings, and in particular, heritage assets?
As Building Information Modelling increasingly becomes mainstream, one very important part of the sector is at risk of being left behind. For most, BIM is associated with the construction of new buildings, but what of the refurbishment of existing buildings, and in particular, heritage assets?
In the historic built environment sector, BIM has huge potential. Not only does BIM enable collaboration, improve efficiency and drive up quality, but it can reduce the costs of complex build projects and ongoing repair and maintenance programmes. This is vitally important in the heritage sector, as so many of the clients are public sector organisations or charities for whom budgets are tighter than ever and scrutiny of spending is intense.
But despite the obvious benefits, the potential of BIM has yet to be fully realised in the heritage sector. That is partly due to a lack of knowledge and understanding, but also because there are real barriers preventing its implementation.
Old buildings, to give just one example, quite clearly resemble nothing like the clean rational lines of the offices and residential blocks that we see rising around us. Rather, they are complicated shapes, full of nooks, crannies and kinks. That of course is what in part gives these buildings their character, but it presents a problem when you are trying to capture all the idiosyncrasies of a heritage structure through BIM software, which can only produce straight lines, (for example when modelling walls). Despite recent advances, the software can’t cope.
But despite the obvious benefits, the potential of BIM has yet to be fully realised in the heritage sector
This is just one barrier that the cross-industry BIM4Heritage Group has been set up to tackle. BIM4Heritage, which was launched in September, is comprised of a range of organisations spanning the built environment that have experience of working in the heritage sector. It has been formed within the BIM4Communities Group in order to provide a forum for organisations and industry professionals to share knowledge and lessons learnt on BIM as it is applied to historic structures.
There are already some fantastic projects to learn from. At Lendlease, for example, we have been working with the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Academy, the Imperial War Museum to develop the application of BIM technology, while Manchester City Council has all been leading the way in the application of BIM technologies in the historic environment with its ongoing programme of work on the magnificent Manchester Town Hall.
But there is still a long way to go before the full potential of BIM in the heritage sector is realised. To help ensure progress is made BIM4Heritage has set out some key goals. These are to:
- Provide leadership in establishing how BIM can be used for heritage conservation, repair and maintenance processes
- Develop consistency of messaging, support and standards of BIM implementation within the historic built environment
- Provide opportunities for communicating best practice, and debating issues concerning the adoption of BIM in both private and public sectors, and with increasingly advanced applications of BIM.
- Collaborate with other BIM4 Communities to advance knowledge and influence understanding in the broader context of the industry and built environment, and to initiate the culture change necessary to fully benefit from digital and information technologies and processes.
- Promote historic structures BIM case studies to demonstrate best practice
- Establish collaborative links to academia
- Ensure that the group activity and outputs are coordinated and integrated with the other BIM4 community groups and CIC regional hubs
Applying BIM to the heritage sector is not about ironing out the kinks from old buildings, but preserving them
These are our goals and we welcome anyone from across the industry who would like to contribute their learning to the group. In the initial phase, the group will be identifying the problems that emerge when current BIM technology and processes are applied to historic structures – such as the absence of straight lines.
We will then be workshopping solutions and inviting in experts to help resolve the issue. To overcome the idiosyncrasies in old buildings, for example, that will mean bringing in software developers who will be challenged to provide solutions.
Applying BIM to the heritage sector is not about ironing out the kinks from old buildings, but preserving them. And it will ensure that complex programmes of improvements, repairs and maintenance are delivered effectively and efficiently, making our much-loved heritage buildings accessible and relevant to future generations.
For more information about BIM4Heritage and to get involved, visit bim4heritage.org