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Hand-drawn No More: A Brief History of BIM

History of BIM

Since the 1970s, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become as ubiquitous as pen and paper in architectural design and it continues to grow. By 2027, the BIM software market’s global value will reach USD 15 billion, almost tripling from USD 5.2 billion in 2019. Even though BIM can already celebrate over 40 years of disrupting construction, many architects are only starting to tap into its full potential, and also the history of BIM is only just beginning.

Software leader Autodesk describes BIM as “an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.”

As of 2020, there are hundreds of BIM tools available to cater to different design needs of all kinds of teams. But how exactly this indispensable tool came to be and dominated the markets? Here’s a brief look at the history of BIM, the evolution of which is constantly changing architecture as we know it.

The 1970s: A Tool to Revolutionize Architecture

Technologies behind BIM have been evolving for more than 50 years, parallel to computer science research. The 1970s and 1980s were breakthrough decades in computing and software development. Hence, it’s no surprise that the history of BIM got a head-start in these years.

In 1975, US Professor Charles M. Eastman published a paper entitled “The Use of Computers Instead of Drawings in Design”. Prof. Eastman argued how revolutionary it’d be to have a tool where information about maps, facades, perspectives, and sections are combined in the same document — and one alteration changed everything.

As the name of this publication suggests, before BIM had a mainstream acceptance by the construction and design circles, the norm was two-dimensional computer drawings, and even hand-drawn models.

Developed during the 1970s and 1980s, RUCAPS (Riyadh University Computer-Aided Production System) is commonly accepted as the software that kickstarted the history of BIM by the academic circles.

Nevertheless, it’s not possible to credit BIM’s development to a single researcher or a nation. Throughout these decades, the tool evolved due to the competition between Western nations and the Soviet Bloc to create the perfect architectural software solution to disrupt two-Dimensional Computer-Aided Design (CAD) workflows.

The 2000s and present: An Era of Digitally Native Design

As software boomed and started to bleed into all industries in the early 2000s, this led to the maturation and mainstream adaptation of BIM technologies. In these decades, the importance of BIM rose not just as a design tool, but also as a seamless collaboration facilitator.

Particularly since the 2010s, a new paradigm for BIM has been in the making. Thanks to AI and automation advancements, integration with technologies like 3D printing, prefabrication, AR or VR keeps pushing BIM’s boundaries and potentials to a new level.

Today, BIM is an integral part of architectural training. When understood adequately and utilized correctly, BIM allows an entry-level designer to produce more work than a veteran architect who is inexperienced with program interface and concepts. Thus, the architects and construction professionals of the future are already ushering their industry into an era of new possibilities with BIM.

Future: What Comes Next

While early prototypes of BIM focused on its functions as a computer-aided design (CAD) tool, BIM in the 21st century is far more than a drawing software. Indeed, the building community is just beginning to reckon its countless benefits in stages of construction other than design — such as field operations, research, and even facility management.

In the future, BIM is poised to keep evolving as a one-in-all collaboration tool to optimize all phases of a building’s lifecycle, aided by its rising interoperability with other tools of automation.

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