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From 2D to 3D and beyond: Using BIM to navigate complex projects

Many years have passed since architects, designers, engineers and fabricators used their bare hand to materialize their designs. While for some, the first traces of a project might still be devised using plain old pen and paper, the transition to the computer now happens almost immediately. The design undergoes a series of transformations—now on the digital realm—to help a project rapidly evolve towards completion.


While drawings have existed as far back as cave paintings, the history of drafting spans several centuries and mirrors the advancements in human thinking: from basic techniques based on Euclidean geometry by 1300 AD, to methods that played an increasingly instrumental role starting in the Renaissance, with the discovery of perspective. It is hard to believe that some of the most amazing structures in the world, many of which are still standing to this day—think of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Egyptian Pyramids, or the Roman Coliseum, to name just a few—were conceived and constructed at a time when computers were nowhere near in sight.


However, the passage from idea to paper, and then reality, acquired greater sophistication in the 20th century with the advancements in computer-aided design (CAD), yielding faster turnaround times and improved productivity. The origins of CAD date back to the 1950s, allowing graphic mathematical processes to form shapes by means of a digital machine tool. In the 1960s, in the context of the automotive industry, and in parallel, in MIT, the idea of CAD was further refined to allow designing 3D surfaces, and developed into a prototype for a graphical user interface (GUI) which would later become a staple of computer-aided design.


The advent of CAD made it possible to do in just a matter of seconds that which would take minutes, or even hours, to do by hand. This allowed saving drawing templates and summoning detailed architectural elements to be incorporated into the drawing with just one click. In addition, CAD is frequently combined with digitized manufacturing processes or CAM (computer-aided manufacturing). While CAD allowed streamlining the designer’s workflow, CAM made the designs a reality by preparing the model for machining, using the CAD files as instructions—or toolpaths—to guide the machines. These abilities, both in 2D or 3D, have assisted the designer/manufacturer in their day-to-day tasks. At least until now.


While the idea of BIM (Building Information Modeling) has been in the making since the 1970s, it has become ubiquitous in the fields of architecture, engineering and construction over the past 20 years. The technology behind BIM is complex. A BIM model (a “digital twin of its real-life counterpart”, as we’ve described it before in this article), not only incorporates the geometrical information that allows it to be accurately built in space, but also includes information on the nature of the materials involved in its construction. This allows preserving the relationships between elements: when one of them is adjusted, all the rest follow suit. Rather than having to manually alter the model (or worse yet, adapt every view to the change introduced, as 2D CAD would have designers do), since it is working with live components, the methodology updates all elements and views all at once. This makes it possible to have real-time 3D renderings of a project you were just working on less than 5 minutes ago. BIM is especially good at finding conflicts between elements, making clash detection and avoidance one of its most sought-after features. Having the systems, the structure, the enclosure, as separate components (in a manner similar to the layers in CAD, but operating with elements that contain much more information), allows for interconnected independence. This respect for each component’s integrity—that is, the precondition that no two objects occupy the same space at once—prevents from having to find workarounds later on in the process, when introducing changes becomes far more expensive.


In addition, the Building Information Modeling methodology introduces a time attribute to the components, associating a “fourth dimension” to the building model. This “4D” element gives contractors the ability to generate construction schedules—“5D”—for complex projects based on the BIM model. It also provides real-time cost estimations at any point in the process (an additional, “sixth” dimension), so the client can have a greater awareness of what any changes to the project might entail. These various dimensions of the methodology prove to be especially useful in coordinating tasks between the different parties involved—architects, engineers, parts manufacturers, contractors, consultants and so on. Through the use of agreed upon standards, the information can flow back and forth with ease, facilitating communication over a common, shared ground: the BIM model.


As the next step in the evolution of the design methods we have covered in this article, BIM is capable of simulating the entire construction process and minimizing the effects of unforeseen changes, giving the client a greater degree of control over the project. Biminglabs is well aware of the importance that the BIM methodology is acquiring internationally, and has the skillset needed to help you navigate your future projects.

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