Get the best from the 3D explosion

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The building information model (bim) strategy of using a virtual 3D model to coordinate the design process and generate 2D drawings and schedules has obvious attractions

But what about the virtual model itself? What is the potential to use that directly?

Ideally, in a fully integrated design and construction team, all parties would directly access the virtual 3D model to view and interrogate the embedded information. The most comprehensive way of doing this would be to use the same software with which the model was created. But with the multiplicity of solutions available, this is not always going to be practical.

Bim software attracts a high cost and also a relatively steep learning curve. If the virtual model is to be more than the preserve of the core design team, then a means of publishing the model itself in an accessible form is required.

Autodesk has tackled this issue with Navisworks, a specific bim model interrogation tool that offers sophisticated viewing, mark-up and comment and clash detection features. It can readily be used for project planning combining 3D visualisations with traditional Gantt charts.
Bentley’s offering in this arena is the similarly named Navigator software. It offers similar features to Autodesk’s product but aims at creating an industry standard for bim information interchange using the i-model file format. A key aim of the i-model format is that it can preserve change history, and thus facilitate the use of the file
format in “round trip” data exchange.

A plug-in is available to allow i-model creation direct from Revit as well as from built-in export from Bentley’s own products. Free software for viewing i-models is available in the form of Bentley View.

Such competition between two of the giants of software for architects can only be to the advantage of the rest of us as they battle to outdo each other.
At the other end of the development spectrum, much smaller software development companies are democratising the access to virtual building models by leveraging the technologies developed by the computer games industry.

Gobim is an evolving project to bring bim access to everybody’s fingertips. The iPhone and iPad are in a unique position of availability and sophistication to provide a highly portable platform for interacting with the bim model. This iPhone app is designed to be used in conjunction with custom file exporters that are currently available for Revit 2011 and Rhino 4.

Another intriguing entry into the ground floor of the market is Archi-me. It aims to bring the speed realism and familiarity of spatial experience in the gaming environment to bim models. Currently available as a “build-to-order” model conversion service, it is also in development as a standalone software solution. The potential ease of spatial exploration that it offers for non-professionals may mean it finds its home in a sales or public consultation arena.

Hugh Davies is a co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies. www.lomasdavies.net

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