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BIM and Futuristic Smart Cities

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As we gear up for the 2nd edition of the Future BIM Implementation Conference in Doha, Qatar, as associate partner for the event, we train our focus on futuristic and sustainable smart cities. We look especially at BIM and its role in the development and management of smart cities of the future, being created today. We are keen to see technology enable the creation of highly functional communities and spaces for habitation and working that promote the idea of coexistence, while the structures are themselves responsible citizens, contributing to preserve the environment and the planet.

Future BIM Implementation Conference in Doha

When we say that we are looking at BIM in the light of futuristic & sustainable smart cities, we say that with the awareness that by now, volumes have been written about this subject – both, by experts, as well as novices. The idea of a smart city, however, is rooted in planned urban development: the UN estimates more than 50% of the world’s population to live in cities by 2050; in this light, it becomes imperative for governments and civic bodies to consider planned communities built using accessible technology, and becoming models for efficient urban administration.

The grand failure of the Masdar City project is among the first things one recalls when thinking of smart cities being developed with a sustainability goal. The Masdar City project was initiated in 2006, scheduled for completion in about 8 years. Impacted by the Global financial crisis, the project completion is now projected for 2030. The 6 square kilometer development would be home to 45-50,000 people, with an additional 50, 000 commuting for work every day. Foster + Partners, the design architects for Masdar City have, since, won a flurry of awards for the sustainable design practices implemented. Far from completion, the project is nowhere close to achieving even a fraction of its carbon neutrality goals.

Smart cities are, however not limited to their sustainability goals alone. Civic amenities, ease of access to quality medical facilities, intuitive design that takes into account the needs, evolving ones at that, of the inhabitants, are just some of the factors, coupled with efficient waste and water management, and energy goals that gravitate towards zero to minimal carbon emissions. Add seamless connectivity to this equation, both, in terms of the internet and transportation, and public safety & security, and we’re talking about our ideal smart city.

The role for BIM isn’t one that is clear-cut, since BIM itself is not limited to software or a piece of technology, it is a methodology, with its well-defined sets of standards, followed across disciplines. Implementing BIM has been helping architects make informed design choices, and constructors minimize waste and complete their projects on time, saving on expenses incurred due to avoidable delays. Projects that implement BIM open up doors for collaboration and a free flow of standardized information across disciplines. BIM isn’t meant for an environment that has individuals and teams working as silos independent of each other.

Comparing the idea of a smart city and BIM, the single largest common factor, is information and easy access to it. 3D models have existed in the world of architecture for a long time, but when they are empowered with relevant non-graphical data sets attached to them, they tell the viewer, whether she is a stakeholder or a collaborator, more than what the building will look like; these intelligent models enable her to make informed decisions that impact the longevity and performance of the structure.

The materials she uses, the building systems she installs, she records into the building model. At the time of the project handover, the owner receives an as-built that also has a record of system maintenance information and warranties and details for relevant contact persons.

A building or an infrastructure project in BIM can never be considered in isolation. It will have the ready context of its environment – other infrastructure and utilities. A notable example of BIM at work in a context much larger than that of a building, can be seen in the UK govt.’s Crossrail project which is utilizing one of the biggest BIMs ever created, “As construction of each facility is completed as-builts are collected by point-cloud survey using laser scanners.  The point clouds captured in the survey are compared to the design and divergences that need resolving are recorded for fixing. The detailed asset data and documentation add an additional 5 terabytes.  This represents one of the World’s largest BIM model.”

In the age of IoT and Big Data, taking BIM to city planning and management only seems to be the logical next step.

Bhushan Avsatthi
About the Author: Bhushan Avsatthi is a BIM expert, a certified Sustainable Building advisor, and an associate director with more than 15 years of industry experience. He leads a team of architects, Structural & MEP engineers, LEED consultants and energy modelers. Bhushan strives to make his organization a cohesive resource for sustainable building design. He regularly participates in green initiatives like tree plantations, and promotes using bicycles for everyday commute.