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On an architectural forum recently someone asked "What's BIM?"

This is a reasonable question and one which many in the industry would now in 2005 be hearing often. This is the reply:

It is a buzz-word,  jargon which takes ownership of what modelling buildings and the general direction of CAD has always been about - Modelling (and managing) Building Information..

I say that because it takes no effort whatsoever to see huge potential for CAD and ALL that potential resides in collection and holding information and modelling and managing built outcome. The idea that it is something new is ludicrous and the idea that any could own it likewise. What will be owned are the keys for co-ordination of different systems.

The unfortunate dichotomy is that just as the DWG or DXF pseudo-standards have been a long-term challenge, while the freshened focus on what CAD should be focussed on will lead to improvement it will work also to exclude other worthy approaches.

BIM disguises a small group of CAD provider's, particularly AutoCAD's attempt to up the ante for the others. If it is, as one respondent says, a nightmare, that will only be because of obstacles in inter-application translation.

The term is a tribute to AutoCAD's marketing prowess. It encompasses and attempts to own the whole future of where CAD had to go anyway. It is presented as if it was something new. I welcome the renewed focus but can see advantage in having the tools to turn the hype back on the hypsters. Why do they think they have something new? Have they only now grasped what  most  of us (for a very long time) have thought the obvious future; a future which just takes much longer to approach than we expect.

CAD is simply a tool which keeps documentation and management in the  development/construction industries up-to-date with the technologies and pace of the world around. A blip (but a powerful one) in the continuum of documentation and management of the built environment from time immemorial.'

The sentiment is timely however. It concludes a long period where key Computer Aided Design and Drawing developers have positively shunned development of the tools in anything more than drawing board type advance or mere lip service to approaches which make the host computer truly do the type of information processing legwork which is its strong suit.

This malaise may have been user-led. A usership true to its manual drawing heritage have clamoured mercilessly for drawing board improvements showing little support for claims that more intelligent software would lead to more thorough documentation and better correspondence between the idea and the constructed form. It is a conservative usership and this conservatism has been supported by the diversity of user types which key developers have supported. Alternative views have been effectively divided.

Regardless, of general direction, some developers have slowly worked toward smarter product raising a supportive following with them. Microstation made mild early efforts hampered in my view by a large application having insufficient flexibility. AutoCAD made no laudable attempt short of purchasing and now supporting Revit (one of the strongest performers) and short of now attempting to take ownership of BIM as a concept. It's Architectural Desktop never seemed a serious player in the intelligent application stakes. ArchiCAD from a weak but well publicised start has moved quite strongly and Spirit has maintained a strong interest.

The writing is on the wall now however. There are too many elements in building documentation and control now manipulated and recorded by computer not to have them interact in a model. The model is the primary source of building documentation and management. In a sense it always has been. That it may not appear a 3-dimensional recognisably built form does not negate that. The usership as a whole never failed to see that, they just did not recognise the CAD relationship with it and potential. That is fast changing.

We can expect vast and varied improvements from CAD. Far more manipulable, more responsive applications at the heart of design and co-ordination of the built environment.

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