Beyond Business as Usual: BIM and the Future of Public Works

Building Information Modeling (BIM), at its simplest, is a “Google Docs” of architectural production.1 Allowing many hands to work simultaneously on complex building projects, BIM is an industry-strength digital modeling ethic that generates drawings, schedules costs and components, simulates construction sequences, and coordinates global teams—all from a shared information database.2 Leading global software provider Autodesk defines BIM as “a process that begins with the creation of an intelligent 3D model and enables document management, coordination and simulation during the entire life cycle of a project (plan, design, build, operation and maintenance).”3 Emerging out of the US military-industrial-academic complex of the 1960s, BIM is today extolled as the twenty-first-century automated successor of Computer-Aided Design (CAD), and it is used not only for buildings, but also for complex public works such as underground tunnels, public utilities, highway projects, and other urban-scale infrastructures.4 BIM’s militant spreadsheet managerialism comes from combining model geometry with calculable volumes of data; it has become a staple software on the desktops of most architecture, engineering, and construction firms in the world.

Diagram of the "future of constructuion" showing different stages of the construction process. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is considered one of World Economic Forum's "top 10 disruptive technologies in construction"—alongside autonomous construction, big data, wireless sensors and cloud collaboration technologies.BIM is considered one of World Economic Forum’s “top 10 disruptive technologies in construction”—alongside autonomous construction, big data, wireless sensors and cloud collaboration technologies. (World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group)

BIM has been put to both private and public use. Since 2003, the US General Services Administration (GSA) has fully integrated BIM into their workflows for procuring public buildings.5 The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Air Force have BIM requirements written into military construction contracts.6 Lauded for its unmatched remote collaboration, time and cost savings, and all-in-one project management, BIM has been identified by the World Economic Forum as “the centerpiece of the industry’s digital transformation.”7 It is becoming an ultimate productivity machine for the built environment, linking to the Cloud and to the Internet of Things for mobile construction management and remote building operations.

The managerial persistence of BIM, and indeed, its role in remote digital collaboration and uninterrupted business operations, resonates all too acutely with the present reality of a pandemic-stricken, remotely working world. BIM is business as usual is increasingly received as a given, with renewed technological faith.8 Yet even as digital ways of working preserve existing modes of productivity, the world finds itself at a critical inflection point of deep, intersecting crises and compounding uncertainty. It is now impossible to ignore the stark realities of floods and bushfires, or inadequate public healthcare facilities, or the effects that fossil fuels and extractive technologies have wrought upon bodies, communities, and ecologies. Upon emerging from the COVID cave, the world will find itself in a larger cavern of crisis from which there is no option of physical or social distance—that of climate change and its attendant social inequalities. There is no returning to business as usual. Proposals in the US such as the “Green Stimulus” are currently being petitioned to completely restructure and decarbonize national infrastructure, which calls for massive federal investments in redistributive justice, for transitions from fossil fuels into renewable energy, and for countrywide maintenance, repair, and construction of essential public infrastructure.9 It is at this crossroads that crisis will meet computer-aided design, where built environment professionals (architects, engineers, contractors—the “AEC” industry) and their digital tools meet at a precipice of potentially radical change toward large-scale public service. While “BIM” is not explicitly mentioned in such proposals, it is clear that its technical management of buildings and infrastructure will accelerate rebuilding of the post-COVID economy and will, too, need to reflect a just transition.10 Therefore in it, there is an opportunity to go beyond business as usual.

What follows is an examination of BIM’s place in this uncertain future. How might the project of BIM productivity compel fairer distributions of power and empathy across infrastructural life, rather than merely reinforce existing networks of accumulation? What techno-ethics, coordinated action, and care can be cultivated with these machines of management, beyond the metrics and rhetoric of growth, savings, assets, and returns on investment? The inevitable proliferation of BIM as major organizational force for public works may either continue to contribute to business as usual logics of large-firm capital, or—and one urgently hopes this is the case—be reconfigured by skilled professionals everywhere, toward a just transition of infrastructure across the planet.

Public Works

Building Information Modeling of the ERDC headquarters building created by the Yates Construction teamPartial BIM model of the USACE's Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) headquarters, designed by USACE and built by Yates Construction, 2017. (US Army ERDC)

Partial screenshot from the default COBie spreadsheet template, designed by Bill East of the USACE. Data is fastidiously categorized by model author and time stamp, object categories, etc. Sample COBie files of USACE Duplex apartment models are available for download from the National Institute of Building Sciences.Partial screenshot from the default COBie spreadsheet template, designed by Bill East of the USACE. Note the fastidious categorization of data (model author and time stamp, object categories, etc). Sample COBie files of USACE Duplex apartment models are available for download from the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Standardized yet variable space plans from 3D BIM room templates generated for the Department of Veteran Affairs.Standardized yet infinitely variable space plans: 3D BIM room templates generated for the Department of Veteran Affairs. (SEPS2BIM)

The strength of connection between BIM and federal building projects cannot be overstated. In a 2019 Civil + Structural Engineer article, “Atkins Takes BIM to the Infrastructure Level,” BIM implementation in the design and maintenance of water infrastructure is seen to “fit neatly with the USACE mission of protecting lives and property through its network of civil works projects.”11 In 2005, with funding from NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the USACE developed the Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie)—essentially the architect’s building model exported in spreadsheet format, for paperless facility management.12 BIM lends projects (literally) military-grade efficiency, logistical speed, and direct data exchange between different teams, projects, and stages of construction. This degree of management and consistency is possible because in BIM, the building model is “smart.”13 It is a collection of machine-readable walls, floor slabs, roofs, appliances, pipes, and other ready-made 3D objects whose blueprints can be dynamically edited and exported as schedules, tallies, and reports. Government agencies such as the USACE, (the?) Department of Defense, and (the?) Department of Veterans Affairs have collated their own off-the-shelf BIM objects such as medical facilities, restrooms, maintenance bays, arms vaults, or conference rooms for department-wide deployment.14

The GSA and USACE’s BIM investments show how smart modeling could play a central role in the transitioning of national energy infrastructure from fossil fuels to renewables. The Corps was an integral actor during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the production of affordable alternative energy sources such as hydroelectric dams.15 In “Design and the Green New Deal,” Billy Fleming calls for a “revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy” that also works to undo the structural inequalities reinforced during the first New Deal’s urban renewal programs.16 With today’s technology, standardized infrastructure no longer invokes tabula rasa thinking. Parametric 3D objects of wind farms, solar arrays, and smart grid substations can be designed to achieve national environmental standards, while remaining highly customizable to local site contexts, state needs, and local construction timing. If the Corps remains a model for procuring public works, and if its modus operandi is now BIM, then building information technology becomes a key agent in reformatting architectural work toward something like an activist design corps, in planning large-scale projects with site sensitivity, and in staging works over time without imposing erasure on the ground.

Supply Chains and the One-Stop Shop

In recent months, governments under COVID-19 pressure have grappled with major vulnerabilities in production supply chains, inventory planning, and resulting national shortages of locally manufactured Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ventilators, and test kits. Supply-chain reliability and production speed are, too, major concerns of a construction industry bound by time and costs, for which BIM is seen as a technical solution. By managing agonizingly accurate building information (from material properties, dimensions, and quantities, down to real-time site labor and equipment logistics) through a central model database, it is possible for design and construction firms to directly communicate with—and track—supplier networks, fabricators, and manufacturers. For example, if the designer wishes to change a building material during construction, “the information contained on the BIM system can immediately drive a set of revised requirements down the supply chain, notifying all affected suppliers.”17 While the technologically-enabled supply chain seems to achieve transparent and uninterrupted productivity, its current market adoption portends an Amazonification of the construction industry, where warehouses, trucks, and bodies can be tracked and tabulated as though they were all inventory to be managed.18

A diagram of Katerra’s end-to-end building services. "Katerra acts as a one-stop supplier for every category of building products for our materials clients…In support of fulfillment for materials customers, Katerra is building a world-class global supply chain infrastructure.” The company website uses Amazon-esque terminology of “fulfilment” and “just-in-time delivery” to describe their architectural supply chain services.A diagram of Katerra’s end-to-end building services. "Katerra acts as a one-stop supplier for every category of building products for our materials clients. . . . In support of fulfillment for materials customers, Katerra is building a world-class global supply chain infrastructure.” The company website uses Amazon-esque terminology of “fulfilment” and “just-in-time delivery” to describe their architectural supply chain services. (Katerra)

Katerra, a design–build prefabricated construction company, has recently taken designer architecture into vertically integrated territory. The Silicon Valley start-up uses BIM technology to coordinate “end-to-end building services” for prefabricated housing and “ensure ease of ordering, tracking, and manufacturing” in its global supply chain.19 In a future wrought by supply chain fragility, major public works and crisis-related construction may be increasingly assigned to one-stop shop firms, who can provide rapid design, build, and fabrication services and command their own supply chains. The one-stop shop would mean that big firms get bigger, precluding smaller practices from competing or participating in the procurement process.20 Instead of leaving the entire supply chains of production to corporate determination, a federal design-build agency or national construction corps could take on the “one-stop shop” model of full in-house services, this time using integrated technology to maintain labor equity, uphold environmental standards for building materials and products, and track trade integrity. In the drive for productivity, every link in the construction chain should be equally strengthened, not stretched into ever leaner forms of optimized capital.

Diverse Practices, Not Diversified Portfolios

In industry terms, “diversification” does not typically refer to making professions and trades more pluralistic, fair, or equitable, but rather to corporate growth—that is, it is the enlargement of a private business by expanding its product and service offerings. Since the 1970s, Architecture, Engineering, and Construction practices have merged into variously potent permutations of “A&E” or “AEC” megafirms: these are large global practices that amass financial resources, employee experience, and expertise in specialized project types such as high-density public transportation, “smart city” technology, and infrastructure risk assessment.21

Much like their software, global firms are diversifying their services to accommodate a building’s full life cycle. According to a 2018 Los Angeles Business Journal article, AECOM’s cumulative acquisitions of other companies (such as its $6 billion purchase of URS in 2014) were strategically “aimed at creating a one-stop shop for building and infrastructure projects—from concept through engineering/design, financing and construction and on to operation and maintenance of the finished projects.”22 Simply clicking through the websites of the top companies listed on Engineering News-Record’s 2019 Top 500 Design Firms list (Jacobs, AECOM, Fluor Corp., KBR Inc., and Tetra Tech Inc.), one realizes that companies of this scale do not simply do “design” as is its traditionally known to architecture—they offer up a vast platter of expertise, engineering, software engineering, construction, facility operations, data analytics, cybersecurity, risk management, and even capital investment.23 Thanks to big capital and global worker capacity, multinational construction companies tend to win large federal transportation, risk assessment, and post-disaster rebuilding contracts during national states of emergency—multi-million dollar agreements that can roll on for years.24

Redistributing Public Works

Imagining a greener, more just post-COVID future, Fleming and his collaborators call for the large-scale repair, maintenance, and building of public infrastructure: this means subways, parks, streets, bus stations, power lines, channels, sewage pipes, solar and wind farms, to name a few.25 Who typically builds this gamut? Public works contracts are frequently outsourced to private firms, and BIM expertise is increasingly vital (if not mandated) in the awarding of those US federal funds. In February 2019, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYJ) and Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) issued a call for “experienced firms/consultants that can provide expert professional Architectural and Engineering services, on an ‘as needed’ basis for projects for which federal funding is anticipated.” The solicitation, verbosely titled “Request for Proposals for Indefinite Quantity Contracts (IQCS) for the Performance of Expert Professional Architectural and Engineering Services for Federally Funded Major Capital Projects on an ‘As-Needed’ Basis During 2019 Through 2022,” clearly states that firms must meet four minimum requirements in order to qualify for the job. Here are two pertinent criteria:

A. Firms shall have a minimum of ten (10) years’ experience, at the time of proposal submission in providing professional architectural and engineering services for a variety of transportation and infrastructure projects within highly congested urban metropolitan areas for all stages of a project from planning through closeout, including design and construction.

D. Firms must have a minimum of five (5) engineers/designers proficient in AutoCAD/BIM/REVIT.26

This tells us three things, at least in the NY/NJ context: (1) public transport infrastructure contracts are procured by time period rather than per project (i.e. whoever wins one contract wins an “indefinite quantity” of projects), (2) firms must have both engineers and designers (i.e. larger A&E firms), and (3) firms must know BIM. It reveals how larger firms with accumulated expertise and technical skill continue to win public projects. Ultimately, the existing and imminent planetary crises in which we live call for nothing short of big infrastructural change—the question for architects is whether this must only occur under the rubric of corporate practice. If we are to justly transition the construction industry and redistribute its wealth, private multinationals surely cannot be receiving all the contracts. Instead, the millions, if not billions, in federal stimulus funding could be directed towards a national, equal-opportunity AEC bureau with state chapters under which in-house projects are locally distributed to highly skilled public service professionals.

Remote Management and the Biopolitics of 7D

One of many BIM lifecycle diagrams peppering PowerPoints and white papers across the construction industry. It indicates how building data can efficiently circulate in a closed loop from design through demolition. Slide taken from Krisztián Hegedüs, "BIM – Lifecycle management starting from Scan," Autodesk, October 24, 2012, via FARO_Europe on slideshare, https://de.slideshare.net/FARO_Europe/bim-lifecycleOne of many BIM lifecycle diagrams peppering PowerPoints and white papers across the construction industry. It indicates how building data can efficiently circulate in a closed loop from design through demolition. (Krisztián Hegedüs)

As AEC disciplines merge, and one-stop-shop business cultures emerge, so do the offerings of software. The building model now encompasses the entire life cycle of a project (plan, design, build, operation, and maintenance). Even building contracts have begun to absorb the full building life cycle: from the now common “DesignBuild” (DB), to the absurd “DesignBuildFinanceOperateMaintain” (DBFOM) public-private partnership.27 Engineering, procurement, and construction multinational company SNC-Lavalin has called BIM “the proverbial glue that holds building projects together . . . from start to finish.”28 It can be said that today’s software not only coordinates expertise and labor, but also time itself. Beyond 2D projections and 3D geometries, the BIM model now accommodates up to 7 dimensions: 4D simulates time, 5D estimates cost, 6D models sustainability, and 7D aids facility management (“life cycle”). The labor that occurs at the “7D” end of the building project, well past the architect, is being integrated even further with smart software such as BIM, GIS, and augmented reality for construction sites and facility maintenance.

A facility management software using a building information model to manage real-time room assignments and operations, “leverage 3D visualization, analytics and enterprise data for strategic planning and management of capital assets over their lifecycle processes."ARCHIBUS facility management software uses a 3D BIM model to manage real-time room assignments, building analytics, and capital asset management. (ARCHIBUS Web Central 3D Navigator)

ONUMA’s BIM Genie, a cloud-based Facility Management application for monitors and mobile devices shown on a desktop, phone, and tablet. The BIM Genie organizes work orders (e.g. "water on the floor") for facility managers and maintenance staff, through an interactive color-coded 3D model of a single room, a whole building, or an entire campus. Source: "Building Information Management The Easy Way," ONUMA, http://www.onuma-bim.com/system/fmONUMA’s BIM Genie, a cloud-based Facility Management application for monitors and mobile devices. (ONUMA)

An asset management dashboard showing not just the detailed workings of a single facility, but a financial and occupancy analysis of an owner’s global property portfolio. Screenshot from ARCHIBUSAn asset management dashboard showing not just the detailed workings of a single facility, but a financial and occupancy analysis of an owner’s global property portfolio. (ARCHIBUS)

Computer-aided facility management and integrated workplace management software such as ARCHIBUS, Ecodomus, Geomap FMS, and ONUMA use 3D BIM models to render physical property with increasingly comprehensive, navigable, and portable digital properties. The real-time optimization of building information invites a diverse array of managerial interfaces. Handheld digital interfaces track the service life of every piece of building equipment, from warranty history to live work orders. And "Enterprise Information Modeling" combines BIM, geospatial, HR, and financial data for a full dashboard view of an organization and its processes—scaling swiftly from a pipe to a property portfolio.29 In this entrepreneurial worldview, everything is a remotely controlled asset, and a building’s life is managed according to economic returns.

A facility manager using ARCHIBUS software on a computer desktop. From the “About Us” page of ARCHIBUS software.A facility manager depicted at the desktop. (ARCHIBUS)

A maintenance worker navigating the labyrinths of Melbourne’s Crown Casino building following tablet-issued instructions and a GIS map.A maintenance worker navigating the labyrinths of Melbourne’s Crown Casino building following tablet-issued instructions and a GIS map. (ZDNet)

Not all workers are made equal in the turn to remote management. The facility manager assumes a godlike desktop position (not unlike the architect), handling complex architectural models and capital asset dashboards, while the roving maintenance worker is remotely dispatched, tracked, and directed through those labyrinthine buildings by geolocated mobile device. In an article on IBM's Maximo asset management system at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, "the average maintenance officer travels over 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) per day—mobile access helps them better target their efforts to reduce wasted time and effort.”30 The article adds that through IBM's companion Maximo EveryPlace application, “iPhone-wielding staff [gained] mobile access to current maintenance jobs—particularly important in optimizing the work of the nighttime skeleton crew of just seven people.”31

Patent US 9,881,276B2 showing figure using smart wearables , Amazon Technologies “Ultrasonic Bracelet & Receiver for Detecting Position in 2D Plane”. From Google Patents https://patents.google.com/patent/US20170278051A1/en.vPatent US 9,881,276B2, Amazon Technologies “Ultrasonic Bracelet & Receiver for Detecting Position in 2D Plane." (Google Patents)

Spot-r by Triax Technologies seen on a belt as a wearable device for construction sites. It allows owners and managers to “Gain critical visibility into site safety, security and risk” by tracking “Real-time worker and equipment location, utilization and safety data”. From Triax Technologies Inc., https://www.triaxtec.com/.Spot-r by Triax Technologies, a wearable device for construction sites. It allows owners and managers to “Gain critical visibility into site safety, security and risk” by tracking “Real-time worker and equipment location, utilization and safety data." (Triax Technologies Inc.)

One is reminded of other devices that optimize bodily activity, from Amazon’s infamous employee wristband, to Triax Technology’s wearables for construction workers that "alerts supervisors to falls, injury, or other incidents in real time,” doing double duty of making jobsites safer and “[logging] key data for insurers on when and where incidents occur."32 The optimization narratives driving building management can, again, take on a biopolitical dimension, one that is not captured by the “7D” framework. In a bid to restructure and optimize the industry with technology, workers must not be recorded as exhaustible subjects or liabilities in an optimized system, but instead recognized as rights-bearing workers often placed in precarious and strenuous situations. If COVID-19 has taught us anything about the myth of remote work, it is that it is not remote for all. Maintenance workers risk their lives daily cleaning streets, collecting trash, transporting materials, and maintaining city infrastructure; their lives and livelihoods should be justly protected by our post-COVID systems of frontline organization rather than simply monitored for their productivity.33

Expertise & Management

As infrastructure markets grow and ecological disasters accelerate, extra-large firms are adding “resiliency” to their professional services through technology investments, asset assessment services, PR, and smart modeling.34 Interestingly, AECOM's definition of infrastructural “resilience” can pertain more to business continuity than environmental protection, such as its “Converged Resilience” services, which address “vulnerabilities and risks associated with unanticipated disruptions, disasters or other anomalies that can impact clients’ ability to operate normally.”35 Jacobs's resiliency efforts include "cloud-based flood modeling, geo-location mapping, natural infrastructure, digital intelligence and biosecurity systems to address various types of threats."36 Tetra Tech offers water resources modeling, hazard assessment, and mitigation models as part of their core services.37 As more complex data can be extracted from real and digital environments, firms who can capture and wield that data in accurate, skillful visualizations and simulations are able to prove design worth, attract funding, and assert decision-making power. Technological expertise is defining the terms of “resilience” and industry solutions to climate change preparedness, and at present the emphasis appears to be on sustaining economic resilience.38

It also appears that industry leadership does not solely rely on the possession of technical expertise, but also in the management and maintenance of infrastructure contracts over time. Recent history, even prior to smart computing, offers insight into the politics of such powers. At a 1980 society dinner in Los Angeles, the founder of one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world, Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs, delivered a speech on the history of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.: “Technical expertise is a cheap commodity. . . . Our real expertise is in managing engineering, design and construction of plants.”39 He announced his firm’s development of “contract maintenance as another facet of our services” and that its “H. E. Wiese division in Baton Rouge is one of the larger maintenance contractors in the United States.” To illustrate, Jacobs mentioned a seven-year contract the firm had with Arab Potash Co. to operate a potash plant they were already building in the Dead Sea. He remarked: “In developing countries . . . the needs are overwhelming. How many sophisticated new plants that have been exported from here are lying rusting and corroded because of inadequately trained operators and an infrastructure incapable of absorbing the subtleties of operating these highly complicated plants?”40 Like technical expertise, building management is an uneven technical force able to be “exported” and exerted over distant geographies, and often not without a dose of Western paternalism. In an increasingly “smart” built world, the those-who-operate-it-best-should-drive principle speaks to the hold the North has on the home currency of technical knowledge, skills, and systems upgrades, and on continuous value extracted from long-term contracts, through advanced infrastructure projects.

Forty years after Jacobs’s speech, industry tools have become organizers of both things and data. It is no longer just the management of buildings themselves that is a locus of control, but also the (proprietary) management of building information. Firms that offer maintenance services overseas are governing through infrastructure from their seat.41 The remote managerial hand is extending into the digital domain: virtual replicas of physical infrastructure called “digital twins” boast cloud-based building operations, occupancy data harvesting, and “real-time insight should a building ever need to be evacuated or locked down”.42 For now, AEC management continues to be imbricated in day-to-day geopolitics, not only in order to expand and control, but also to allay industry decline in times of political withdrawal: the UK’s digital building leadership is framed by software vendors as something of an industry lifeline in a post-Brexit world.43

BIM Beyond Business As Usual

“Overview of Global BIM Adoption” as of 2017. Multiple countries shown in pop-ups, color-coded to show levels of BIM adoption. From Barry McAuley, Alan Hore and Roger West, "BICP Global BIM Study - Lessons for Ireland’s BIM Programme," report, Construction IT Alliance (CitA) Limited, 2017, doi:10.21427/D7M049, 6.“Overview of Global BIM Adoption” as of 2017. (Construction IT Alliance)

Zooming out from the North American desktop, BIM processes and protocols are being systematically installed into state construction practices and public works standards around the world, from Singapore to Sweden.44 The government of the United Kingdom is regarded as a global leader, having mandated all new public projects from 2016 to be designed in BIM.45 BIM is considered part of the business continuity plan during and after COVID-19; the “uninterrupted workflows” of cloud-based modeling have become a requirement for homebound firms.46 But the business of building must change if environmental crisis and equitable infrastructure are to be prioritized. In early April, AECOM called off a massive “megafirm” merger with industry giant WSP Global due to coronavirus uncertainties.47 Instead of forging a future designed to pre-pandemic industry logics, this isolation period offers a moment of collective reckoning amongst architects, engineers, constructors, and practice managers to reassess the environmental and social values of their projects, pool together technical smarts, and forge new non-market means of cooperating at scale. It is time to build major public works capacity and work together outside the precincts of corporate growth. In other words, the building industry needs consensus without hegemony; BIM beyond (big) business as usual.

In the relentless game of parameters, BIM has been both glorified and disparaged for turning architecture into a monotonous menu of fully compliant, value-engineered, discretely modeled parts. Having been likened not only to Google Docs but also to Lego, Minecraft, and the Sims, designers fear that BIM will kill the building.48 BIM-savvy scholars like Danelle Briscoe are currently working on breaking BIM object normativity and providing non-default architectural designs.49 But it is also precisely the overwhelming constructability of BIM models that makes them all the more “shovel-ready.”50 Parametric models, thanks to their cold numerical calculation, effectively display the “working-out” of architectural proposals and communicate reliability. BIM’s spreadsheet aesthetics speak the economical language of public planning budgets, and for that reason may gain currency in boardroom discussions around economic policy and project viability where aspirational renderings or speculative drawings may not.

Diagram of the “collaborative” BIM model is a shared information database pertaining to a project. 3D modeling software has become a common denominator of communication between typically discrete industry professionals, manufacturers and tradespeople.The “collaborative” BIM model is a shared information database pertaining to a project. 3D modeling software has become a common denominator of communication between typically discrete industry professionals, manufacturers and tradespeople. (Building in Cloud)

Instead of working-from-home on designing luxury apartments and other paused, non-essential typologies, might coalitions of designers, planners, engineers, and contractors start remotely working on best-case public infrastructure projects for their towns and cities, right now?51 These designs don’t have to be architecturally punitive—beautiful public buildings and renewable energy utilities could be modeled and live-edited while under isolation, ready to be approved as soon as federal funding is ready. When 3D buildings were first added to Google Earth, citizens and municipalities began accurately modeling their own towns and neighborhoods, if anything out of a desire to be digitally recognized, and accurately represented, on Google’s global map.52 Today’s expanding array of modeling software, GIS, and digital photogrammetry tools have taken architectural representation to Borgesian proportions, with ambitions to collectively measure, map, scan and model the built surface of the earth.53

The architectural model has always organized publics. While computer-aided citizen modeling may be used for Silicon Valley world-making projects such as Google Earth, it may also gather momentum around changes in infrastructure policy. Activist architects and planners could take to their screens, jointly designing and modeling real decarbonization projects in their own towns. Future bus stops, solar building fit-outs, generous public housing, reforestation landscapes, and carbon-sequestering urban works could be thoughtfully designed, community-negotiated, costed, and pitched to local authorities as shovel-ready projects. Engineers under quarantine might embark on renewable utilities simulations for their cities. Project files, new templates, and revised product environmental standards could be shared with fabricators and suppliers further along the chain, many of whom also use BIM. Unlike renderings, which operate at the level of desire but not building economics, and unlike esoteric graphs and tables, the spatialized spreadsheet of a BIM model holds both building image and numerical calculations together in plain view. Turning BIM on its bureaucratic head and using it from the bottom-up, an abstract “decarbonization” plan could start to take shape in tangible, calculable and buildable projects. Holly Jean Buck emphasizes the role of architectural visualization in shaping imaginations and choices around a carbon-positive or carbon-embodied world. In “On Carbonscapes by Design,” her words could well apply to BIM:

[T]he visualization work that architects do could be transformative. Most people, and most policymakers, have little idea about how carbon removal will physically manifest or grasp the scale of transformation required. . . . Without being able to imagine this world, governments and publics are ill-equipped to deliberate it. Visualizations of the possibilities could make a tremendous difference right now, while the imaginaries of carbon removal are still being shaped.54 

Post-COVID, public works procurement will need to be sustainable in a double sense: projects must quickly mitigate and adapt to climate change while also being able to sustain consensus, action, and equity over time. Just as governments administer critical resources on behalf of their publics, a new design-build bureau funded by a Green Stimulus and supported by united architects, engineers, and contractors could direct urgently needed public infrastructure on behalf of environments and future generations. If today’s “7D” BIM model really offers untold industry-wide efficiencies and collaborations, if it so effectively commands building supply chains, and if it seamlessly coordinates labor and infrastructure from a building’s design through its operational life, then there remains a significant opportunity for BIM workers everywhere to leverage their expertise in solidarity. Navigating a troubled future requires far more than economic calculation—it requires a collective rethinking of “productivity” as a profit-making end unto itself.55 For better or for worse, BIM and its cadre of integrated technologies are accelerators of production, and they could be put to work restructuring the industry for climate justice and labor equity, rather than simply acquiescing to a business as usual of global construction.


I would like to thank Rice Architecture for the opportunity to pursue this writing during the course of my fellowship.

  • 1. Tom Cheshire, "BIM's 'Google Docs for buildings' is transforming architecture – but could it kill creativity?," Wired, January 10, 2017, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/architecture-software-creativity.
  • 2. Note that “ethic” refers not to morality but to general principles for practice. After media theorist Alexander Galloway: “The machine is an ethic because it is premised on the notion [of command;] that objects are subject to definition and manipulation according to a set of principles for action.” For Galloway, the critical question to ask of technology is not which interface is better, but rather, “how flows of signification organize a certain knowledge of the world and a commitment to it.” Alexander R. Galloway, The Interface Effect (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2012), 22–23, 45.
  • 3. Founded in 1982 at the rise of personal computing, American multinational corporation Autodesk, Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) is a household name in the global construction industry, best known for its AutoCAD and Revit software. Other flagship products include Civil 3D and Navisworks for engineering, and 3DSMax and Maya for 3D animation. Autodesk, "WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BIM?" https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/bim/benefits-of-bim.
  • 4. BIM historian Daniel Cardoso Llach has observed a key historical shift in computer-aided drafting around the 1960s and 1970s, from a pictorial representation of geometries (the domain of CAD), to what he calls “structured images,” or “enlivened artifacts enabling calculation.” For a history connecting BIM to Cold War era military-funded projects, see Daniel Cardoso Llach, “Architecture and the Structured Image: Software Simulations as Infrastructures for Building Production,” in The Active Image: Architecture and Engineering in the Age of Modeling, eds. Sabine Ammon and Remei Capdevila-Wering (Cham, Switzerland: Springer Verlag, 2017), 23-52; Autodesk, "IMPLEMENTING BIM FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: A GUIDE TO THE ESSENTIAL STEPS," https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/bim/hub/bim-for-infrastructure-implementation-guide.
  • 5. The GSA established a National 3D-4D-BIM Program in 2003. After 2007 it required the use of BIM for the design of all new buildings procured through its Public Buildings Service. Today, it is working toward full building life cycle capability. See Office of the Chief Architect, "GSA BIM Guide Series 01," 2007, from BIM Library, U.S. General Services Administration, https://www.gsa.gov/real-estate/design-construction/3d4d-building-information-modeling/bim-library.
  • 6. "In all, the US Army is leading the field of federal government owners when it comes to driving transformation through BIM implementation.  As is evident in their robust planning, organizational change, and research efforts, BIM has a strong foothold in their current and future operations." Patrick C. Suermann and John Sullivan, “BIM in the Federal Government 2009-2010: Evolving Roles and Deliverables” (speaker handout, Autodesk University, 2009), 6; and Shawn Foster et al., "A Dissection of the USACE BIM Contract Requirements" (lecture, Autodesk University, November 15, 2012), https://www.autodesk.com/autodesk-university/class/Dissection-USACE-BIM-Contract-Requirements-2012.
  • 7. See World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group, "An Action Plan to Accelerate Building Information Modeling (BIM) Adoption," (industry report, World Economic Forum, February 2018), 4, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Accelerating_BIM_Adoption_Action_Plan.pdf.
  • 8. BIM is broadly seen as business as usual. According to one technologist: “There will come a time, perhaps within a decade [where] ‘BIM’ [and] ‘digital’ will just be business as usual, the way we work, as simple as breathing.” In the words of another: “In Scandinavian countries, BIM is almost business as usual. My colleagues from Norway said that asking why you use BIM is like asking why you use email." Aarni Heiskanen, "How BIM Becomes Business as Usual – An Interview with Marzia Bolpagni," AEC Business, May 2, 2018, https://aec-business.com/how-bim-becomes-business-as-usual-interview-with-marzia-bolpagni/; and John Enyon, "BIM as usual: A brave new world!," pbctoday, September 3, 2018, https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/bim-news/bim-as-usual/46150/.
  • 9. Green Stimulus Proposal, "A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy," Medium, March 23, 2020, https://medium.com/@green_stimulus_now/a-green-stimulus-to-rebuild-our-economy-1e7030a1d9ee.
  • 10. According to the UN Environment's Global Status Report 2017: “Buildings and construction together account for 36% of global final energy use and 39% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions." Decarbonization through infrastructure would thus mean not just more new buildings, but also an ethics of management and repair (such as upgrading existing building stock, heating and cooling systems, and building operations), and would involve a durational choreography of technical practices from design and construction to real estate and facilities management. Thibaut Abergel, Brian Dean and John Dulac, "Towards a zero-emission, efficient, and resilient buildings and construction sector," (Global Status Report 2017, UN Environment), https://www.worldgbc.org/sites/default/files/UNEP%20188_GABC_en%20%28web%29.pdf.
  • 11. “The USACE understands the importance of digital modeling in the design and maintenance of water infrastructure and has recently mandated that all its civil works projects use BIM by 2024. With a changing climate bringing more intense storms and longer droughts, the benefits of using BIM to protect lives and property from flooding and other natural hazards cannot be overstated.” Edward Beadenkopf and Matt Walker, “Atkins Takes BIM to the Infrastructure Level,” Civil + Structural Engineer, March 21, 2019, https://csengineermag.com/atkins-takes-bim-to-the-infrastructure-level/. This article is also republished on Atkins’ parent company SNC-Lavalin’s website, “Taking BIM to the Infrastructure Level," SNC-Lavalin, https://www.snclavalin.com/en/beyond-engineering/taking-bim-to-infrastructure-level.
  • 12. William E. East, "Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie)," National Institute of Building Sciences, 2012, http://www.nibs.org/?page=bsa_cobie. COBie “was devised by Bill East of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and has been adopted by a number of government departments around the world, primarily in the UK and US. It is a data format that allows for sharing a subset of building information for the operation of an asset. It helps with the capture of product information, warranties, spare parts and maintenance requirements through the design and construction process.” RIBA Enterprises Ltd., NATSPEC, and Construction Information Ltd., “International BIM Object Standard Guidance Notes - Consultation Draft” (draft guidelines, 2016), 23, http://bim.natspec.org/images/NATSPEC_Documents/Guidance_Notes_International_BOS_Consultation_Draft.pdf.
  • 13. BIM modeling software such as Revit and ARCHICAD are considered "smart" because their 3D elements (doors, stairs, walls) are parametric and dynamically related to each other inside the model. For example, a door can be told to remain at a specific distance from a stairwell, no matter where it is in the model, ensuring egress clearances are always met. “The entire model contains information, not just the objects in it.” For a primer, see Rick Rundell, "1-2-3 Revit: Not All BIM is Parametric," Cadalyst, February 15, 2005, https://www.cadalyst.com/aec/1-2-3-revit-not-all-bim-parametric-2929.
  • 14. BIM objects are literally considered Government Off-the-Shelf (GOTS) products, created in house and ready to use for planning and design of Department of Veterans Affairs (DovA) and Department of Defense (DoD) Health Agency healthcare projects. The DoD and DoVA’s Space and Equipment Planning (SEPS) platform “has about 2,100 pieces of medical equipment maintained in the online MILSTD 1691 database” in BIM object format. See “Objects,” SEPS2BIM, https://seps2bim.org/objects.html. Akin to a Sweets catalog for the digital age, the USACE BIM Object Library (UBOL) is a database of 3D objects (e.g. doors, furniture, street lights) to be used, shared, and standardized across USACE districts and projects. In a 2006 plan for BIM integration into USACE military and civil works: “A module is a collection of objects required for a specific Corps of Engineers space. . . . The purpose of a module would be to reduce redesign effort by reusing previous modeled space modules. Examples might include restrooms, maintenance bays, arms vaults, conference rooms, and kitchens.” "USACE BIM Object Library," CAD-BIM Technology Center, https://cadbimcenter.erdc.dren.mil/default.aspx?p=a&t=1&i=114; and Beth Brucker et al., "Building Information Modeling (BIM)" (article ERDC TR-06-10, US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center, October 2006), https://erdc-library.erdc.dren.mil/jspui/bitstream/11681/8491/1/1998.pdf, 17.
  • 15. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: A Brief History," US Army Corps of Engineers, accessed November 10, 2019, https://www.usace.army.mil/About/History/Brief-History-of-the-Corps/Multipurpose-Waterway-Development/.
  • 16. “The revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy is necessary to the success of a Green New Deal.” Billy Fleming, “Design and the Green New Deal,” Places Journal, April 2019, https://placesjournal.org/article/design-and-the-green-new-deal/.
  • 17. Mary E. Shacklett, "BIM Takes on the Supply Chain," GeoDataPoint, February 8, 2019, https://www.pobonline.com/articles/101566-bim-takes-on-the-supply-chain.
  • 18. According to John Fingland, a general manager at Trimble, “If we can take the data that is already resident in the BIM system and use it to drive material and labor requirements, all the way through a supplier network, everyone engaged will have clearer visibility of all that is going on in the project.” This could mean that “IoT (Internet of Things) tracking sensors can be used in warehouses, on trucks, and even on the labor force so that a manager of a large construction project can see where all of his/her labor and materials are at any given moment. . . . Workers, materials, and equipment can be monitored and tracked so that project managers know where they are at all times." Shacklett, "BIM Takes on the Supply Chain.”
  • 19. In an interview with Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture: “Through our global supply chain of curated, high-quality products, we eliminate middlemen, passing savings directly to our clients. We also integrate Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools and computational design with our global supply chain infrastructure. So, plans go directly from design to the factory floor and to the construction site.” Antonio Pacheco, "Katerra's approach could make factory construction a model for the future," Architect’s Newspaper, April 18, 2018, https://archpaper.com/2018/04/katerras-craig-curtis-pushes-standardization-customization/; Robert Nieman, "Katerra promises to transform the construction industry without sacrificing design," TECH+, March 29, 2018, https://techplusexpo.com/katerra-promises-to-transform-the-construction-industry-without-sacrificing-design/; and "Our Vision," Katerra, https://www.katerra.com/vision/.
  • 20. The potential impacts of one-stop shops such as Katerra on the industry: "Many architecture firms would likely close down or become studios within construction companies. . . . Trade unions would probably give way to all-purpose building unions, like the one that represents Factory OS workers." Amanda Kolson Hurley, "Can Silicon Valley Disrupt How We Build?," CityLab, June 25, 2018, https://www.citylab.com/design/2018/06/can-silicon-valley-disrupt-how-we-build/562334/.
  • 21. Aaron Cayer has written extensively about corporate diversification of architectural services in late capitalism, including the ability to outpace competitors through mergers and acquisitions. His dissertation focuses on the rise of Los Angeles-based architecture and engineering firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson, & Mendenhall (DMJM) to its current multinational instantiation, AECOM. See Aaron F. Cayer, "Design and Profit: Architectural Practice in the Age of Accumulation" (PhD diss., University of California Los Angeles, 2018).
  • 22. Howard Fine, “All About Strategy: How Aecom’s Michael Burke Built a Behemoth," Los Angeles Business Journal, March 23, 2018, https://labusinessjournal.com/news/2018/mar/23/all-about-strategy-michael-burke-bhof/.
  • 23. See "ENR 2019 Top 500 Design Firms," Engineering News-Record, https://www.enr.com/toplists/2019-Top-500-Design-Firms1.
  • 24. For example, AECOM, "AECOM joint venture awarded FEMA contract for flood and other risk data services with a contract ceiling of US$600 million" (press release), accessed April 26, 2020, https://aecom.com/us/press-releases/aecom-announced-today-that-a-joint-venture-it-leads-has-been-awarded-a-contract-with-a-ceiling-of-us600-million-from-the-u-s-department-of-homeland-securitys-federal-emergency-management-ag/.
  • 25. Billy Fleming and Alexandra Lillehei, "To Rebuild Our Towns and Cities, We Need to Design a Green Stimulus," Jacobin, April 18, 2020, https://jacobinmag.com/2020/04/green-stimulus-new-deal-infrastructure-buildout-coronavirus.
  • 26. The Port Authority of NY & NJ, “REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS FOR INDEFINITE QUANTITY CONTRACTS (IQCs) FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF EXPERT PROFESSIONAL ARCHITECTURAL AND ENGINEERING SERVICES FOR FEDERALLY FUNDED MAJOR CAPITAL PROJECTS ON AN “AS-NEEDED” BASIS DURING 2019 THROUGH 2022” (RFP # 56447, February 27, 2019), https://www.panynj.gov/content/dam/port-authority/pdfs/bid-proposal/RFPDOC_56447.pdf.
  • 27. "Types of Partnerships," The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, accessed February 18, 2018, https://www.ncppp.org/ppp-basics/types-of-partnerships/.
  • 28. BIM’s "accurate digital modeling of a project from start to finish enables firms to design and build quality projects efficiently, saving time and money during the construction phase while enhancing operations & maintenance (O&M) and facility management applications, ensuring a project is not only well-built but also sustainable for the long term.” See “Taking BIM to the Infrastructure Level."
  • 29. “[B]uilding information models and data are incorporated directly into the larger ARCHIBUS Enterprise Information Model (EIM™) for a holistic lifecycle view of design/build, operations and strategic planning for the entire asset portfolio.” “Web Central 3D Navigator,” ARCHIBUS, https://archibus.com/products/extensions-framework/web-central-3d-navigator/.
  • 30. David Braue, "Geopositioning, augmented reality to boost Crown maintenance," ZDNet, June 14, 2013, https://www.zdnet.com/article/geopositioning-augmented-reality-to-boost-crown-maintenance/.
  • 31. Braue, “Geopositioning.”
  • 32. Triax's Spot-r location technology “operates on a closed mesh network that cuts through steel and concrete and automatically clocks workers on the jobsite, so supervisors will always be able to see where each worker is located.” Lauren Shanesy, "New smart wearable protects workers on the job," Builder, May 25, 2017, http://www.builderonline.com/building/safety-healthfulness/new-smart-wearable-protects-workers-on-the-job_o. Construction sites aside, the Wi-Fi-independent tracking system is also marketed for use on energy plants, oil and gas, and other industrial work environments. In response to COVID-19, Triax recently launched "Proximity Trace™," a trace tag worn by workers that emits real-time alerts if social distancing is not maintained, and collects worker interactions (including duration) for virus contact tracing. "Solutions" and "Industries," Triax Technologies, https://www.triaxtec.com/.
  • 33. See the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s list of essential workers for public works during COVID-19, for a sense of who is works on the maintenance and construction frontline during crisis. For example: bridge and dam operators, plumbers, electricians, materials manufacturers, and "maintenance of digital systems infrastructure supporting public works operations." Christopher C. Krebs, "ADVISORY MEMORANDUM ON IDENTIFICATION OF ESSENTIAL CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE WORKERS DURING COVID-19 RESPONSE" (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, April 17, 2020),  https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Version_3.0_CISA_Guidance_on_Essential_Critical_Infrastructure_Workers_4.pdf.
  • 34. On the term “resiliency,” Orit Halpern asks readers to "contemplate the ethical and political implications of a world where derivation, extraction, and resilience are wed in a manner that has turned the planet and all its forms of life into a massive medium for the development of ‘smart’ technologies.” Orit Halpern, “Hopeful Resilience,” e-flux Architecture, April 19, 2017, https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/accumulation/96421/hopeful-resilience/.
  • 35. "Resilience refers to deliberately designed and engineered redundancy, continuity and flexibility that spans the converged delivery areas. We have achieved an impressive track record of success within industries such as: Oil and Gas." “Converged Resilience,” AECOM, https://www.aecom.com/services/converged-resilience/.
  • 36. “Our Resilient Future,” Jacobs, https://www.jacobs.com/resilient-future.
  • 37. “As rapidly growing cities in developing countries become key frontiers of international development, urban areas require dynamic, local urban management solutions to build resilient cities and sustain inclusive economic development.” “Resilient Cities,” Tetra Tech, https://www.tetratech.com/en/markets/international-development/integrated-approaches/resilient-cities.
  • 38. As Halpern puts it: “Combined together, resilience and technology create a form of preemptive infrastructural governance that naturalizes precarity, sacrifice, and violence as a necessary economic value [emphasis added], rather than as a politically derived option.” Halpern, “Hopeful Resilience.”
  • 39. Joseph J. Jacobs, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.: A Story of Pride, Reputation and Integrity (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), 19.
  • 40. Jacobs, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., 21. This quote speaks to the problematic idea that disrepair of overseas “higher-tech” plants are attributed to incompetent “third world” maintenance.
  • 41. "From providing O&M for small sites in the African jungle to servicing large bases in Afghanistan, Fluor offers effective solutions tailored to Client needs." Many overseas projects are by US (military) clients, indicating the physical establishment of control bases. Other modes of expertise can also be exported, such as work-safety culture, site security measures and environmental plans, as described in Fluor's milestone Khor Al Zubair power plant project in Iraq for the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity. While many Iraqi staff and workers were trained and employed, "the Fluor team [was requested to] stay onsite to perform plant operations and maintenance consulting for Iraqi Ministry of Electricity employees" upon completion. “Fluor Provide Operations & Maintenance Services (O&M) to Government Clients Globally,” Fluor, https://www.fluor.com/client-markets/government/defense/facilities-equip-om; and “Khor Al Zubair Power Plant – EPC,” Fluor, https://www.fluor.com/projects/government-iraq-power-plant-epc.
  • 42. “Digital twins are not only able to map out every floor, wall, stair, lift, door handle in a building, but instead extend far beyond an online blueprint. They also capture real time data from sensors about the health of assets, monitors the location of people in a building, and also acts as a repository of data about the building—holding everything from the original architect’s drawings through to the warranties and service histories associated with plant and equipment.… In an emergency, the digital twin provides critically important information to building managers and first responders to ensure rapid and complete evacuation or lock down.” "Digital twin transforms property sector with safer, smarter cloud solution," Microsoft News Center, November 6, 2018, https://news.microsoft.com/en-au/features/digital-twin-transforms-property-sector-with-safer-smarter-cloud-solution/; "Azure Digital Twins," Microsoft Azure, https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/digital-twins/; and "Digital Twin Cloud Services for Infrastructure Engineering," Bentley, https://www.bentley.com/en/products/product-line/digital-twins.
  • 43. Allplan, a Nemetschek Company specializing in AEC life-cycle building software, sees “BIM as the answer to Brexit.” “If the British wish to secure a stable position in the EU building sector as a non-EU member, their high level of BIM expertise will become an invaluable added value. . . . As far as BIM in Europe is concerned at least, Brexit would actually be considered as an opportunity.” "The significance of Brexit for BIM in Europe," Allplan, July 6, 2017, https://blog.allplan.com/en/brexit-for-bim-in-europe.
  • 44. Ishveena Singh, "BIM adoption and implementation around the world: Initiatives by major nations," Geospatial World, April 5, 2017, https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/bim-adoption-around-the-world/; and Shimonti Paul, "BIM adoption around the world: how good are we?," Geospatial World, December 15, 2018, https://www.geospatialworld.net/article/bim-adoption-around-the-world-how-good-are-we/.
  • 45. "The BIM Process," UK BIM Framework, accessed August 11, 2019, http://https://ukbimframework.org/.
  • 46. "Reviving the construction sector post COVID-19," KPMG, April 2020, https://home.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/in/pdf/2020/04/reviving-the-construction-sector-post-covid-19.pdf.
  • 47. Debra K. Rubin, "AECOM and WSP Halt Talks to Create Megafirm, Sources Say," ENR, April 2, 2020, https://www.enr.com/articles/49083-aecom-and-wsp-halt-talks-to-create-megafirm-sources-say; and Catherine Kennedy, "Aecom/WSP merger talks spark competition concerns," New Civil Engineer, January 23, 2020, https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/aecom-wsp-merger-sparks-competition-concerns-23-01-2020/.
  • 48. For example, Cheshire, “BIM's 'Google Docs for buildings' is transforming architecture – but could it kill creativity?”; Sarah Lorek, "LEGO and Minecraft Can Teach You About BIM," Constructible, December 21, 2017, https://constructible.trimble.com/construction-industry/lego-and-minecraft-can-teach-you-about-bim; Louis B Smith, "Viewpoint: How BIM is Crushing the Art from Architecture and How to Stop It," architosh, November 4, 2013, https://architosh.com/2013/11/viewpoint-how-bim-is-crushing-the-art-of-architecture/; and Jared Banks, "Unconscious BIM and Ugly BIM," Shoegnome Architects, June 12, 2014, http://www.shoegnome.com/2014/06/12/unconscious-bim-and-ugly-bim/.
  • 49. See Danelle Briscoe, “Queering BIM: A Changing Narrative to Digital Objects,” Journal of Architectural Education 73:2 (October 2019): 203-210.
  • 50. In politics, “shovel ready” refers to "a construction project that is considered to be at an advanced enough stage of development for building to begin soon” after an economic recovery bill is approved—typically public infrastructure projects that offer “the most immediate impact on employment and the economy.” As described in the Green Stimulus proposal, "we can do all the preparatory work now to make green projects 'shovel ready.' Right now, legislative action as well as planning work . . . ensure that physical projects can commence as soon as it is feasible to restart major in-person work across the economy.” See Daniel Liberto, "Shovel Ready," Investopedia, June 16, 2018, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/shovel-ready.asp; and Green Stimulus Proposal, "A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy."
  • 51. As a “Google Docs” of digital modeling, BIM allows multiple people to work from the same digital database and collaborate simultaneously on complex building projects. While such software is being used by firms to maintain business productivity while under isolation, design teams could also take this opportunity to remotely collaborate.
  • 52. For example, an early initiative by Google to collect user-made 3D building models Google Earth’s 3D view. Mary Holden, then-mayor of Madison, NJ, said in the promotional interview: "We can bring people into our downtown through the models. . . . We hoped to start with one block . . . and then the project grew. Adding the 3D aspect really gives a feeling for walking around the downtown.” Google, “Why create 3D models for Google Earth?," YouTube Video, 3:25, August 19, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSynol0bQzE.
  • 53. Sarvesh Mathi, "How Google Earth Mapped 98% of the World," Medium OneZero, January 30, 2020, https://onezero.medium.com/how-google-earth-mapped-98-of-the-world-7cf0445690ae. For a more BIM-specific connection to virtual world making, see Stephen Conschafter, "The race to digitize the globe with 3D imagery," Building Design + Construction, June 13, 2016, https://www.bdcnetwork.com/blog/race-digitize-globe-3d-imagery.
  • 54. Holly Jean Buck, “On Carbonscapes by Design,” special issue, Log: Overcoming Carbon 47 (Fall 2019): 55.
  • 55. In “Lobbying for Value,” Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió regards the means to “specialization/accountability . . . [as] an eminently political – not technical – question” and asserts that “we need to find other ways of accounting for the complex specialization required by modern enterprise." This specialized accountability surely includes the mundane yet pervasive technics of BIM. See The Architecture Lobby, “Lobbying for Value - A Dialogue," ARQ 97 (December 2017): 26.
In many BIM stock images, the 3D building model is always surrounded by paper documents (indicating the automated generation of 2D drawings and reports), and shown under construction (indicating an ability to simulate construction time).

In many BIM stock images, the 3D building model is always surrounded by paper documents (indicating the automated generation of 2D drawings and reports), and shown under construction (indicating an ability to simulate construction time). (Adobe Stock)

BIM is considered one of World Economic Forum’s “top 10 disruptive technologies in construction”—alongside autonomous construction, big data, wireless sensors and cloud collaboration technologies.

BIM is considered one of World Economic Forum’s “top 10 disruptive technologies in construction”—alongside autonomous construction, big data, wireless sensors and cloud collaboration technologies. (World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group)

Partial BIM model of the USACE's Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) headquarters, designed by USACE and built by Yates Construction, 2017.

Partial BIM model of the USACE's Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) headquarters, designed by USACE and built by Yates Construction, 2017. (US Army ERDC)

Partial screenshot from the default COBie spreadsheet template, designed by Bill East of the USACE. Data is fastidiously categorized by model author and time stamp, object categories, etc. Sample COBie files of USACE Duplex apartment models are available for download from the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Partial screenshot from the default COBie spreadsheet template, designed by Bill East of the USACE. Data is fastidiously categorized by model author and time stamp, object categories, etc. Sample COBie files of USACE Duplex apartment models are available for download from the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Standardized yet infinitely variable space plans: 3D BIM room templates generated for the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Standardized yet infinitely variable space plans: 3D BIM room templates generated for the Department of Veteran Affairs. (SEPS2BIM)

One of many BIM lifecycle diagrams peppering PowerPoints and white papers across the construction industry. It indicates how building data can efficiently circulate in a closed loop from design through demolition.

One of many BIM lifecycle diagrams peppering PowerPoints and white papers across the construction industry. It indicates how building data can efficiently circulate in a closed loop from design through demolition. (Krisztián Hegedüs)

ARCHIBUS facility management software uses a 3D BIM model to manage real-time room assignments, building analytics, and capital asset management.

ARCHIBUS facility management software uses a 3D BIM model to manage real-time room assignments, building analytics, and capital asset management. (ARCHIBUS Web Central 3D Navigator)

ONUMA’s BIM Genie, a cloud-based Facility Management application for monitors and mobile devices.

ONUMA’s BIM Genie, a cloud-based Facility Management application for monitors and mobile devices. (ONUMA)

An asset management dashboard showing not just the detailed workings of a single facility, but a financial and occupancy analysis of an owner’s global property portfolio.

An asset management dashboard showing not just the detailed workings of a single facility, but a financial and occupancy analysis of an owner’s global property portfolio. (ARCHIBUS)

A facility manager using ARCHIBUS software on a computer desktop.

A facility manager depicted at the desktop. (ARCHIBUS)

A maintenance worker navigating the labyrinths of Melbourne’s Crown Casino building following tablet-issued instructions and a GIS map.

A maintenance worker navigating the labyrinths of Melbourne’s Crown Casino building following tablet-issued instructions and a GIS map. (ZDNet)

Patent US 9,881,276B2, Amazon Technologies “Ultrasonic Bracelet & Receiver for Detecting Position in 2D Plane."

Patent US 9,881,276B2, Amazon Technologies “Ultrasonic Bracelet & Receiver for Detecting Position in 2D Plane." (Google Patents)

Spot-r by Triax Technologies, a wearable device for construction sites. It allows owners and managers to “Gain critical visibility into site safety, security and risk” by tracking “Real-time worker and equipment location, utilization and safety data."

Spot-r by Triax Technologies, a wearable device for construction sites. It allows owners and managers to “Gain critical visibility into site safety, security and risk” by tracking “Real-time worker and equipment location, utilization and safety data." (Triax Technologies Inc.)

The “collaborative”  BIM model is a shared information database pertaining to a project. 3D modeling software has become a common denominator of communication between typically discrete industry professionals, manufacturers and tradespeople.

The “collaborative” BIM model is a shared information database pertaining to a project. 3D modeling software has become a common denominator of communication between typically discrete industry professionals, manufacturers and tradespeople. (Building in Cloud)

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