Thursday 26 July 2012

The Visualisation of Well-Structured Data

The free "InMap" tool that is part of LinkedIn is pretty cool...
- inMap example within LinkedIn Labs

Click on the first screenshot below to see larger images...

All of my connections on LinkedIn
The orange people are those grouped around the NBS side of things
The blue people seem to be the UK BIM gang (lower down in purple) is the international BIM gang
...and on the edge of the visualisation are small clusters of connections with smaller correlations
Quite an interesting thing to have a play about with if anyone has a spare 10 minutes.

Within NBS Create we have a basic visualisation view that allows the user to visualise a particular system. I can only see this sort of visual user interface becoming more and more common as we all need to understand structured data in as easily as possible.
Visualise the structured information in your specification

Tuesday 24 July 2012

In Praise of - Bradley Wiggins at Le Tour de France

I used to do get out and about cycling quite a bit twenty years ago, this year's Le Tour has certainly reminded me why I love it so much. Also, I've quite enjoyed some of the cycling related banter from the BIM crew on Twitter.

I knew Wiggins had a fair chance of doing well this year, so I made a point of watching Le Tour each night for the last three weeks. The first time I have done this since the days of Lance Armstrong. My favourite three moments of Le Tour have been...

#1 - Stage 7 
Champion Cadel Evans attacks Wiggins and Froome again and again. Wiggins holds his wheel and takes the yellow jersey. Froome puts the marker down that he's the best climber by winning the stage. I love the picture below of Froome powering over the final hill and over the finish line with Wiggins attached firmly to Evans' wheel.
Stage 7 - Wiggins gets the yellow jersey
#2 - Stage 17 
Any questions about whether Wiggins will win or not are put to bed as Froome and Wiggins ride the whole field off their back wheels on the final climb. Great Britain one and two. Le Tour is over.
Stage 17 - Froome and Wiggins ride away from everyone on final climb
#3 - Stage 20
If this had been Indurain or Armstrong the yellow jersey would have been coming into Paris safely in the pack with a glass of Champagne in-hand. Wiggins on the other hand led out the sprint from the final 1km over the cobbles and coming out of the tunnel. A fantastic sight to see the Yellow Jersey leading the whole Tour de France homes.
Stage 20 - Wiggins leads out the sprint for his team mate Cavendish
And now it's time for the Olympics. What price for a Cavendish road race win and a Wiggins time trial win?

...also, maybe I'd better use my bike a bit more than simply to amble the 5km to the train station each day?
1992 - a young geordie teenager on the slopes of Alpe D'Huez

Monday 16 July 2012

The architecture behind the 2012 Olympics

If you are in London in the next few months I can definitely recommend the "Architecture Behind the 2012 Olympics" exhibition.
Velodrome - Hopkins Architects
Aquatics Centre - Zaha Hadid
Aquatics Centre - Zaha Hadid
Water Polo - David Morley Architects

Sunday 15 July 2012

The National BIM Library - the first four months

It's been a busy four months since the launch of the National BIM Library at ecobuild in March. The quality and quantity of content is now starting to look quite impressive:
  • 368 objects in buildingSMART IFC format
  • 368 in Autodesk Revit format
  • 192 in Vectorworks format
  • 190 in ArchiCAD format
  • 122 in Tekla format
  • 80 in Bentley format
  • 218 shared, consolidated, property objects that have been taken from international IFC, COBie UK 2012 and our own National BIM Library objects
  • 103 material objects
March 2012 - Launch of National BIM Library with BIM Vendors and UK BIM Task Group
All of these objects can be downloaded for free and are listed at the URL below. Each objects also has associated user guide documentation.

An overview of these objects is below. A technical article by Architect/Technical Author Stefan Mordue about the most recently released BIM content may be read at:
26 Ceilings
20 Doors
39 Floor finishes
42 Floors
18 Hard landscaping systems
8 Panel partitions
3 Panel cubicles
42 Roofs
12 Accessible sanitary installations
55 Sanitary appliances
21 Signs
31 Wall cladding systems
49 Walls
2 Configurable windows
We're currently working on pulling together a sample building that contains these objects, we'll provide this in a number of different file formats to show the BIM process (including NBS, COBie and IFC) and put the National BIM Library objects in context.
Building built using National BIM Library objects
Finally, stay tuned to this blog and our linkedin group for news on our plug-in developments and also the manufacturer objects very soon. The Revit plug-in in addition to the already available ArchiCAD plug-in is going through final testing now. And we're working on a few case studies to showcase some of the first manufacturer content. So some more good stuff is on its way.
Linkedin Group -

Wednesday 11 July 2012

thinkBIM - Beyond Design - Facility Management

Today I attended the thinkBIM “Beyond Design” event. I scribbled this blog post down as the day progressed – so apologies for any for any grammar or spelling which is worse than usual... :)

First up was Deborah Rowland from the UK Cabinet Office. Deborah chairs the FM workstream reporting into Mark Bew and David Philp as part of the UK Government’s BIM Task Group.

The Government Soft Landings policy is out for draft at end of July and looking to be ready for September. Soft Landings has been around for many years, just not called “Soft Landings”. 

When looking at after-care, they don’t want a “box of manuals”, sometimes they don't even get a box of manuals. Traditionally this is something that is poor. So we need to focus on the handover documentation and then quality post occupancy evaluation so that we can have a feedback loop to influence the design next year.

One thing that is critical is that the BIM data/the COBie data feeds into the CAFM software tools for the FM professionals that already exist within the public sector and their supply chain partners.

Another critical item is to get the FM professionals involved at the briefing stages and to set the FM budget. To look at OpEx as well as CapEx. This will work best if the FM industry gets on board now.

Discussion at the end was around can the BIM software and CAFM software work together? But surely BIM is the process and the data flows between?

I then stayed with Deborah for her 'round table'. The first discussion was on how we can work backwards from the FM data to go back to the design team so they can set up their data with the occupier as the ultimate end user of the data. Deborah explained how the government trial projects will be monitored and lessons will be learned to tighten the processes over the next few years.

Deborah Rowland from the Cabinet Office
The criticism of COBie is it is being perceived is that it is 100’s of thousands of lines of information about everything that is no use to everyone. When you buy a car, you want a nice concise car manual. Not a big spreadsheet of every property of every component. I personally see that there is a lot of confusion around COBie at the moment. My take on this is that there is a lot to be gained from clever software to hide this information behind the scenes. The software must then easily provide the information that is needed intuitively at the right time. Is there an analogy here with Google Maps? There is a huge, huge, huge amount of information hidden away – as you zoom in on a premise, then you get information you need (phone number, web address, reviews of food/service). We need the same for a building – zoom in on room, then system, then pipe – then get the spec. The user doesn’t need to care about the complexity behind the scenes.

The absolute fundamentals are 1. Receiving a good brief, 2. Designing to the brief, 3. Building to the design and then 4. Handing over well structure information so the building can be operated efficiently and future briefs can improve.

One of the big challenges will be keeping the model up to date. Three years to design, three years once complete – what will the data structures and software capabilities be six years from now?

Next item of question for Deborah is how hungry are the government to look at OpEx and not CapEx? Pay designers more, spend more on real quality systems and products – that is the way that real money is saved over 70 years. But "does a government with a 5 year term care about this?" Will they spend more in the short term? Deborah’s experience in the private sector says that you can reduce both by learning the lessons from previous similar buildings.

My conclusion on this is that we have three broad challenges:

  1. Where does the information come from?
  2. Can the software hide away this structured data so that you just get what you want when you need it?
  3. How is this data updated over the years – as soon as it goes out of date it’s useless.

What about post occupancy evaluation tools? All goes quiet. Educating the users is also important – don’t open the windows else the Air Con works twice as hard. Then change of subject – what about “crystal ball time”. Ten years down the line the building receives a major refurbishment and alteration. Can the structured data be round-tripped back into the design package and then merged together? Who knows?

For a big refurbishment job now, why not get a 3D cloud model instead of 2D – then use this as a base for the refurb work in the main design model. No real difference to new build? But if users already have existing CAD DWG files – will they really spend the money for the point cloud?

And after a quick tea break it was time for the second session. I chose the “BIM and Asset Management” with Jason Allen from IBM (BIM Lead in the Asset Management division) – Maximo is the main software package they use.

Jason Allen doing the roundtable - @EEPaul working the digital magic
What information is needed for FM? And what information is not needed? “Is anyone out there actually handing over an as-built model that is full of data once construction is complete?” is the question. Nobody around thinkBIM Roundtable 3 is doing this. One suggestion is that at the end a point cloud survey is done. But this will just give the geometry surely? Who is putting the as-built data in?

When speaking about the Government MoJ trial project “Two cells and a corridor give 15,000 lines in an Excel spreadsheet” – surely this is not right? Ten type components with Fifty attributes each – it’s only 500 lines in a database? Maybe it’s the instance attributes that are bloating the model? If this is the case then some sort of consolidation is required to make sure the database/spreadsheet does not explode? Again, the confusion over COBie is definitely there at the moment. At NBS we are working on a sample integrated model showing this process off – it’ll take a month or two to finalise but I think it will really help.

Functionally what is needed is a big COBie button in ArchiCAD or Revit or Bentley which allows the users to specify what objects they wish to export – these have to be pre-linked to the spec – the many objects not in ArchiCAD/Revit/Bentley model but in the spec then need picked – then it generates a *concise* COBie database (Excel or openOffice or SQL or Access or XML) automatically.

To date there are currently two excellent resources for COBie 2012 UK:

James Allen suggests that the BIM and the FM database are not different things – it’s the same data just further down the line. The physical asset should even update this BIM as to how it is operating (energy use for example). Allows Asset Managers to actually monitor their portfolio of buildings.

It doesn’t matter where the data is – doesn’t matter which database it is in – what matters is that is all hooked off the “master model” through open standards. And then it was time for the adventurous bit – a live web stream from America from Marty Chobot VP of BIM Initiatives FM Systems in the USA.

@FairSnape makes the web streaming from the USA work
What do owners really need? Again was the question that was asked. From design to construct to operate – the importance of the graphics diminishes and the importance of the attributes increases. Now the problem is that there is a ton of data out there. This information needs to be presented in a useful way to the client.
Marty then goes through a few BIM and FM case studies. For one facility it took two person years to digitalise the information they wanted. That’s not a fun task if it has already changed by the time you have finished. By integrating the FM information into a master BIM they calculated they could save 4-6 months Xavier uni asset management database.

Similar to the FM presentations at BIM Academy last month, the level of detail of the information you are going to store and *maintain* has to be agreed and pragmatically assessed. If you try and maintain too much information you will fail and it will go out of date.

MathWork’s Apple Hill 4 Project was the next case study – where a new building was being built with the intention of getting it perfect for digital information for FM. Marty suggests the same idea that was floated earlier in the day that the BIM deliverable to the operator needs agreed at day 1. Also identify what information is needed – what attributes for what systems and what components. Insist these are delivered and in what format (sounds a lot like the UK COBie iniative).

What really, really matters is that you agree your numbering and naming conventions early. Get the FM involved throughout. And look out for BIM savvy sub-contractors wherever possible.

The day always ends with Pecha Kucha. Three really nice ones from @StefanMordue from NBS, Jon Moorhouse from Constructive Thinking Studio and Olli Aro from Clicks and Links.
@StefanMordue - It's not just hard FM (lollipop) but soft FM too (ice cream)

London Shard - Laser Show Launch

Cool video below from the RIBA Journal's video website - put your headphones on too as there is some music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Shard Laser Show from on Vimeo.

I personally cannot wait to get a viewing from the platform at the top when it opens to the public.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

NBS Construction Contracts and Law Survey 2012

Following the National BIM Survey 2011, the National Specification Survey 2011 and National BIM Survey 2012, today the National Construction Contracts and Law Survey 2012 was published. The report is completely free to download from the URL below:
NBS Construction Contracts and Law Survey 2012
A number of organisations helped NBS by circulating the survey to their members. This helped us get over 1,000 respondents which helps give real substance to the findings.
Organisations that supported the research
Some of the headline findings as reported by the NBS Research and Analysis Manager Adrian Malleson are as follows:
  • “Our findings suggest that the time when ‘pen gets put to paper’ [with respect to signing the contract] is a real cause for concern… Most alarmingly yet, 4 per cent either never sign a contract or only do so after completion. This can’t be best practice.”
  • "Of the two most popular contracts, as we would expect, the JCT suite is more commonly used for lower value projects, whilst the NEC suite is more commonly used for higher value ones."
  • "In some responses, we can see a real desire for construction to be a collaborative, team-based enterprise where extra value is generated through co-operation. But for others, Latham’s words still ring true, and the industry is still far from the team-based ideal.”
In addition to Adrian's analysis and an introduction from RIBA Enterprises Chief Executive Richard Waterhouse there are also a number of articles from construction industry experts:
  • Nick Deeming, Partner, Faulkner Browns Architects asks "Why is collaboration so hard?"
  • Ann O'Connell, Partner, bto solicitors asks for "A bit of common sense"
  • Matthew Molloy and Jonathan Cope, Directors, MCMS look at current trends and practical tips for UK construction adjudication
  • Koko Udom and Roland Finch, Contracts and Law team, NBS go "Back to the basics"
Koko pictured recently, Roland pictured circa 1982 :)
As with all of the surveys, it is our intention to repeat them each year so that trends can be analysed.

On a related subject, check out our new Contracts and Law blog at:

This follows on from our recently published Sustainability blog:

Sunday 8 July 2012

First North East Revit User Group Meeting

NBS were asked to speak at the first North East Revit User Group (NERUG) Meeting on Thursday 5th July. I unfortunately could not attend, but Stefan Mordue from NBS has written a few notes about the event in a guest blog below...

Stefan writes...

I was delighted to be part of the first North East Revit User Group that took place on Thursday. The evening which was held at the Toffee Factory in Newcastle had a fantastic turn out and only highlights the interest and passion that the North east region has for the developments in technologies, workflows and best practice in Revit.

Up first was Dr John Henderson and I representing the NBS, show casing the National BIM Library and the developments we have been making to link the specification to the BIM. Other speakers included George Mokhtar from the BIM Academy and Ben  Bennett of eBIM.

Following on from the BIM Academy’s recent win at the 48 hour build London live competition, George gave a fascinating insight into the team’s submission and use of a multi-disciplinary BIM and use of interoperability.  Not wanting to simply pay ‘lip service’ to processes a great emphasis was placed on the IFC file as a way of exchanging data.  Another important point made was the importance to maintain a steady stream of information. By using a BIM Execution Plan, the team were able to agree guidance, share an understanding of processes and structure data paths and exchange gates. The document also mapped out the teams technology strategy, formats for information exchange and also 'who' will receive 'what', from 'whom' and 'when'.  Although only a competition and not a real life situation, BIM in this instance proved just how much can actually be achieved in such a short space of time.
George Mokhtar - no sleep for 48 hours
The final speaker of the night, was Ben Benett of eBIM. Digital Surveys have been working on scan to BIM workflows for the last 2 years but last year launched their eBIM (Existing Building Information Modelling) service.  The presentation looked at point cloud modelling and illustrated the constraints of modelling existing buildings within Revit. Using the Timet Titanium Factory in Birmingham as a case study, Ben showed how they completed the survey without disruption to the plant. 
Timet Titanium Factory
The completed 3D as built model was then created to allow the engineers to virtually carry out design work and simulation of the installation of 2 new furnaces.  Ben also showcased the technologies currently being used within existing building surveying. Their survey of The UWE Bristol Conference centre and its piping and ductwork could simply not have been achieved with conventional surveying methods.
UWE Bristol Conference Centre survey. eBIM
The evening was rounded off by some BIM beers across the road in the Tyne pub in which is hoping to be a bi-monthly event. 
Stefan is an Architect and Technical author at the NBS.
Join Stefans LinkedIn network:

Monday 2 July 2012

The End Of Babel - IFC promotional video

I managed to get a copy of the first ever IFC promotional video "The End of Babel" from 1994 *. Fascinating to watch it nearly twenty years on. The Tower of Babel biblical story states that the building failed as those working on it could no longer communicate properly. This theme is developed into the need for a single object orientated database language in the AEC industry...
Part 1 of 2 - the first ten minutes

Part 2 of 2 the last seven minutes

Some selected quotes...

"The Tower of Babel, one of the biggest construction projects undertaken. Designed to reach the heavens. But the engineers couldn't finish the job. Halfway through everybody working on the job was stricken with inability to understand what the other fella was saying. They were all still talking...
...but they weren't communicating.
That incident was supposed to have taken place in around 5,000 BC. And we've been trying to understand each other ever since."

Patrick MacLeamey
"The important thing about the alliance [AT&T, HOK, Honeywell, Carrier, Tishman and others] is that it represents a cross section of companies that deal across the cycle of the building industry. People who design. People who engineer buildings. People who build, manage, maintain and then recycle buildings... order for this to be successful, we all have to be participants.
If you really think about buildings, and things in buildings, furniture, equipment and so forth. You are really talking about objects not lines on paper."

Jeol Koppelman
Primavera Systems
"For our customers, interoperability means that they'll be able to take information and expand and enlarge on that information as the process moves forward. So as information is derived from design that moves into detailed design then that information can be moved forward... as changes are made along the way then those changes can be incorporated, quantified, schedules adjusted and everybody informed as to what is going on."

Further reading:
- buildingSMART website -
- IFC Wikipedia page -

* Thanks to Keith Snook from BRE who made me aware of this video. I was really impressed with the activities that BRE are working on and at NBS we hope to continue to work closely with them.