Relating BIM to GIS

Listening to ESRI Founder and President Jack Dangermond’s infectious enthusiasm during his keynote address during last month’s 2010 EcoBuild America Conference, it was easy to get excited. Titled “The convergence of BIM and GIS,” Dangermond’s emphatic explanations of computational geography and the evolution of science-based, quantifiable approaches to solving global problems were intriguing. Geographic information systems (GIS) — defined as any system that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location — is the merger of cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology. Use of the technology is prevalent in all types of industries to analyze all kinds of data including quantity, density, change, location, and relativity. While I won’t recap the many fascinating uses for GIS currently, what is most exciting about the technology is what Dangermond described as the next big step. According to the expert, geodesign is the integration of what “is so” — as measured by science — and what “could be” — the process of design — and could change the way we design, build, operate, and use buildings.

Geodesign is becoming possible in the AEC industry because building information models (BIMs) are becoming part of the GIS. Furthermore, as more data is created and added to the existing GIS infrastructure, GIS analysis will become another tool for architects and engineers to use to inform their designs. And, as more and more of what is considered during design depends upon conditions outside of our domain, GIS becomes a powerful tool for analyzing those environmental downstream, and external impacts such as sustainable design, facilities management, and security.

Of course, when considering the union of any technologies, interoperability becomes part of the discussion. As a profession, we know this because we still are solving interoperability issues between BIM platforms and analysis engines. It is no surprise that when considering use of BIM data into larger GIS databases, the challenge exists there as well.

The good news is that many industry organizations are working to solve this issue. The buildingSMART alliance — a council of the National Institute of Building Sciences — created the GIS/BIM IFC-Based Information Exchange to address BIM-GIS interoperability challenges. Among others, identifying the best business practices for BIM-GIS information exchange is a high priority for this organization. The active group is eager for input; visit to join its efforts.

More good news is that we do not need to rely on one platform, vendor, or system. And, similar to working with the many disciplines within building design and construction, not all data is relevant or needed by all stakeholders. Per Dangermond, “BIM data can be thinned and incorporated into a GIS database then exploited to learn more about that building.” The vision of readily available BIM databases — online via the Internet — for use by designers and planners is just a handful of years away, according to Dangermond.

“We are creating a new language and framework for how we communicate,” Dangermond summarized. BIM and GIS worlds are operating in seemingly separate spheres, but each has value to the other if they could exchange data effectively. By leveraging the strengths of the data-centric systems of BIM and GIS, we are on the cusp of a monumental shift in the way our infrastructure is conceived, designed, built, managed, and ultimately used.

Jennifer Goupil, P.E.,,

Posted in Uncategorized | February 19th, 2014 by

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