Can BIM help save the planet?

17 November 2017

By Jon Williams - Chief Specialist, Project & Digital Delivery, Beca

Beca: BIM – Building Information Management – can help us create places that use less power and water, have a smaller carbon footprint and enhance our enjoyment of them, all at the same time!

It’s widely accepted that buildings account for around 40% of all energy consumption, but what isn’t so commonly known is that approximately 80% of buildings that the current developed world will occupy in 2050 are already built! So whilst we mustn’t lose focus on seeking improvements in the design, construction and operation of new facilities, the greatest opportunity actually lies in the improvements we can make to existing building stock.

And that’s where BIM becomes exciting. By leveraging the BIM process to address the challenge of improving existing buildings, we can have a real impact by changing the environment around us. There are three key strategies for existing buildings that can benefit from using BIM data – Refurbishment, Optimisation and Repurposing – and we need to start thinking about these now to have the most positive effect on our future.


Want to know the impact your refurbishment plans will have on energy usage, thermal performance or seismic resilience? Improvements in laser scanning, point cloud manipulation and scan to model applications now mean it’s possible to economically create a very accurate and intelligent model of your existing facilities. The skill is in selecting what needs to be modelled and what can remain as ‘dumb’ surfaces or solids. The more that is modelled the more complex and costly the process becomes.

Once you have a model of your building and its key systems, you can analyse multiple options for refurbishment and modification. Generative design, utilising cloud based computing, allows you to analyse hundreds or even thousands of options quickly and efficiently, meaning the previous time and cost of modelling and analysis can be redirected to the much more valuable process of option definition and review. Once set up, non-technical users can adjust targeted outcomes and see which design delivers the best solutions – simple!


You want to manage and improve something? You need to be able to measure it. Mass sensoring of new buildings is becoming more commonplace, allowing us to monitor quantitative and qualitative data to understand the physical and human systems operating in a space. And with line powered, Wi-Fi connected IP based sensors, it’s now economical to retrofit sensors into existing facilities.

Sensors can track all physical aspects of a building’s operation, and by utilising blue tooth tracking, you can also map individuals, locations and movements within a facility. Social media can be mobilised to obtain qualitative feedback from occupants, giving an authentic picture of how a building is operating.

Getting information from a single building is a useful start; however, more powerful still is the ability to deliver this across an entire campus or portfolio of properties. Analysing this data can help to inform owners, operators and designers about how varying facilities are really performing. The impact of any changes made can be assessed and, if positive, be applied across the remainder of the portfolio.

On-going fine tuning of existing assets can be predicted and measured in real time, ensuring both the needs of the users and operators are being met.


The benefits of standardisation have been apparent since before Henry Ford made the Model T car, yet the building industry has been very slow to adopt these mass production techniques. New unitised buildings (hotels, student accommodation) are beginning to use the process to great effect. So, couldn’t we apply the same thought process to existing buildings that are being refurnished and repurposed? Retail and entertainment facilities, for example, are often significantly upgraded or modified every five years or so. The structure remains, but much of the architectural fit-out and services end up as landfill.

A change of mind-set is needed. Designers need to think about, and demonstrate with models and visualisations, how to relocate standard components to create different configurations in the future. Owners need to think about investing upfront in reusable components, and sell that configurability to their tenants. There is a downstream cost benefit to tenants by reducing large rebuild costs each time they take up new space, and this cost saving could extend lease periods if true flexibility of space is achieved.

Many new build project/BIM briefs have minimising the total cost of ownership as a targeted outcome. This needs to be applied as a key metric to existing buildings and taken beyond energy consumption to include the financial and environmental costs of current and future modifications.

In most countries, BIM is being used to raise the performance and productivity of the new build construction industry. For the 80% of buildings that will still be operational in 2050, each of the three BIM Worlds (Design, Construction and Operation) should look to leverage the tools, processes and, most importantly, the information that BIM is unlocking to improve our use of current building stock. By doing this, we’ll end up with more efficient, more liveable and more sustainable places than we have today.

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” - Winston Churchill.

Jon has written two further BIM articles - The 3 worlds of BIM and BIM - one size fits no one.




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