BIM and urban planning: “We need more details”

BIM is a computer-aided work methodology that is in the process of revolutionizing cities and urban planning. The next step will be to make smart cities with intelligent infrastructure a reality.

The construction world is being transformed – by BIM. Building information modeling is a computer-aided methodology that connects everyone involved in a construction project via a digital model of the building. It’s designed to make construction faster, safer, more affordable, more environmentally-friendly, and – above all – better. BIM is set to revolutionize not only the planning and construction of buildings, but the entire process of urban planning. Alar Jost shares this firm belief. He is head of BIM at Implenia, Switzerland’s leading construction and construction services company. He believes that “in the future, our clients will expect us to meet even broader and more complex requirements. They won’t just be calling for the kind of BIM model that can be used to plan a building; they’ll expect a model that can capture all the relevant urban planning and infrastructure aspects as well. And this will range from an investment model to the relevant operating model, which is vital for the entire life cycle of a building.” 

In the future, our clients will expect us to meet even broader and more complex requirements.
Alar Jost, Head of BIM, Implenia

With cities as living and working environments set to become even more complex in the future, urban planners are going to require new technological tools and approaches. But are cities really prepared for this great leap forward? Most cities are too old, too small, too cramped, too loud, not agile enough, and too wasteful of their resources. They’re poorly equipped for the future. While back in 1930, most people still lived in rural areas, 2014 figures put the share of the world’s population in cities and urban agglomerations at more than 50 percent, a figure the United Nations predict will rise to 66 percent by 2050. So cities have to prepare. Construction companies, urban planners, and architects will have to rethink if they want to keep pace with this explosive development and make cities fit for the future.

The possibilities of BIM are almost limitless in terms of urban planning

“Issues such as building automation and the role of buildings as suppliers and consumers of energy are becoming more and more relevant. At the same time, in the future, everything across the board, from the nationwide grid through the city, the areas around buildings, the buildings themselves, and individual housing units, will be planned in consultation with the users,” Jost believes. “It’s clear that these links can be forged only with the help of BIM.” This is no pipe dream, says Jost: “Already today, the data we get goes beyond the geometry and the costs of the planned building. We can also access data on the building’s future primary energy requirements and use this information to align its energy management with that of the surrounding area.”


The growing number of conferences on BIM and cities of the future all over the world is a sign of BIM’s increasing relevance as an urban planning methodology. Software developers and general contractors have already discovered the BIM market. Countries such as the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Norway, and Germany, as well as the EU at the supranational level, are lending political impetus to BIM with plans to adopt the methodology as standard in the years to come for publicly funded construction projects for buildings, tunnels, and transport infrastructure.

We can use data on a building’s primary energy requirements to align its energy management with that of the surrounding area.
Alar Jost, Head of BIM, Implenia

The possibilities of BIM are almost limitless in terms of urban planning. In addition to data on energy or water supply and wastewater management, it’s possible to process data on traffic and transportation flows, waste disposal, internet access, the use of green spaces, and green buildings. The key concept is that of smart cities: cities that, thanks to the availability of data, will have better management, administration, and utilities.


To make these smart cities feasible in the first place, however, there has to be the realization that BIM must become the basis of urban planning of the future. An example: In the future, old buildings in downtowns will have to be demolished or modernized more frequently to enable cities to cope with population growth and urbanization. Construction sites are a source of noise and dirt, and create major traffic problems that impede mobility. Therefore, construction will have to be done more quickly. That requires better data on the building site as a basis for more efficient planning and building.


In Singapore, a city whose very survival depends on BIM because it has only limited geographic space available for future development and therefore has to plan very efficiently, owners and contractors already have to provide building data to a municipal server. Global corporations such as Disney are also joining forces with prestigious universities to develop BIM in such a way as to generate improved data and information on specific aspects of construction.

Digital modeling and integration of infrastructure and construction data will become standard practice

In the long term, using BIM as an urban planning tool will save construction firms delivering major turnkey projects a lot of work and money. But they’re already under great pressure to innovate to be able to meet future client requirements. Jost is convinced that this development will happen much more quickly than we can currently imagine. And he believes that the main drivers will be companies and private clients who see BIM as a means of operating more profitably and cost-efficiently.


Jost describes a project in which he was involved under his previous employment for pharmaceutical company Merck in Darmstadt, Germany: "Merck is investing up to €1 billion in the coming years in their corporate headquarters with a new innovation center at its heart. In addition to looking at the urban expansion plans and incorporating the relevant geometry, building codes, and functional data in their BIM models, they also took a great many infrastructure issues into consideration.” 

If you want to know what function you can place where in your city, you need data for the surrounding infrastructure.
Alar Jost, Head of BIM, Implenia

And this, according to Jost, is where you have to start “if you’re planning a city or facility and want to know what function you can place where to achieve a specific effect in terms of energy management or transporting employees. To do that, you need data for the surrounding infrastructure.” Jost explains that while it’s not yet common practice to simulate specific aspects of the urban and infrastructure environment when planning a construction project, “we as a company already do it for certain projects so that we can learn from the results.” Jost is convinced that the complex digital integration of many individual aspects of construction and urban planning will soon become standard practice.


Author: Ingo Petz, journalist
Picture credits: Implenia AG


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