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January 13th, 2015
With new tools for modeling and measuring impacts of plans and designs, are GIS and BIM converging?

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Many speak of the impetus of building information modeling (BIM) as the application of geographic information systems (GIS) thinking to buildings. There are definitely parallels to the two approaches, with features and classifications cataloged and the ongoing maintenance of the model leading to better management practices.

Now that many GIS tools have added city-scale modeling, even down to building details, there’s a convergence taking place. Where does GIS stop in terms of scale and detail and give ground to BIM? Conversely, where does the BIM model stop and GIS take over? Is there a division at a certain scale and level of detail? The answers to these questions are important ones, and this space between these two toolsets has become a battleground among many companies and their product suites. 

This brief overview focuses on a few of these products and functionalities to discuss where and how this convergence of BIM and GIS is taking place, and highlighting some existing and upcoming functionalities that users can expect. As with all technology battles, the user stands to benefit with greater capabilities that are more widely accessible, but there may be a bit of chaos along the way. 

Esri and Geodesign

With the sixth-annual Geodesign Summit taking place in Redlands later this month, we’ll have a clearer picture about the progress of the geodesign toolset and the state of practice immediately after the event. The geodesign framework is a unique extension of planning principles with more holistic thinking that guides projects to be more connected to their outcomes and benefits. The context of a project extends beyond its borders to factor environmental impacts as well as economic.

The idea and framework of geodesign are taking root at academic institutions worldwide, where the next-generation of planners and designers are being taught to embrace a transdisciplinary approach for collaboration. The toolset adds sketching and parametric modeling to GIS functionalities, with much more rapid creation of city-scale models. The models contain a certain amount of intelligence in this creation process, and also become further informed about the details of their context through GIS data aggregation such as the demographic makeup of the region or the infrastructure networks it will connect to.

Autodesk InfraWorks

Autodesk has been making good inroads in large-scale modeling of project sites and plans, and even the building of detailed city models through their InfraWorks product suite. This modeling tool has become one of the more rapidly adopted technologies that Autodesk has ever offered thanks to solving the pain point of bringing many different data types into a 3D visualization environment both quickly and easily.

Autodesk has built analytical extensions to this core visualization capability with tools to help design and analyze road building projects or wastewater modeling, with more capabilities for specific workflows or vertical markets to come. The cloud has been effectively harnessed to handle compute-intensive operations such as spatial analysis or rendering assistance when it comes to city-scale models. The tools have a GIS flavor in terms of large-scale, but with underlying connections to the Autodesk engineering tools and workflows such as Civil3D, AutoCAD or Revit.

The idea with InfraWorks is that it provides that large-scale model to view a project within its context and also adds a conceptual capability early in the design phase in order to understand underlying conditions and impacts. Some extensions to analytical engines through the cloud allow for energy modeling and other performance factors so that there is a better understanding of costs and benefits.

Bentley SiteOps

Bentley Systems has their own suite of tools that combine BIM and GIS functionalities for projects at all scales. While there are foundational functionalities in the MicroStation toolset, there are also analysis and simulation tools to analyze the outputs as designs come together.

Bentley recently purchased SiteOps, a truly compelling technology that helps engineers and developers to understand the site preparation costs from building siting to earth moving to stormwater engineering to roadway and parking design. The preparation workflow isn’t simply a more automated design tool, it combines design with costs so that stakeholders can instantly see the cost of different design choices as they layout the site and progress through initial planning. This real-time feedback mechanism is perhaps where this all is headed, but factoring in other design implications as it relates the whole host of impacts.

GIS has become a common tool at large engineering firms over the years, and it certainly has a role to play in compiling site characteristics and helping to evaluate and understand larger-scale implications. BIM is certainly making inroads, particularly when the BIM model scales to a city size, and at a resolution and computing performance that is both useful and immersive.

There is certainly room for GIS and BIM to play side-by-side for many years to come as we gain a greater understanding of the nexus between our build environment and the environment. The key for vendors and users alike is to push for this greater understanding and not get caught in turf wars and incompatibilities that prolong the understanding rather than speeding it up.

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