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Centre for Digital Built Britain

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The 2019 BIM4Heritage Annual Conference attracted speakers and delegates from a wide range of organisations interested in the role of BIM to preserve the historic built environment. Edonis Jesus, BIM Leader at Lendlease and founder of BIM4Heritage, reflects on why historic buildings need BIM.

Edonis Jesus

The application of Building Information Modelling (BIM) within the historic environment is a developing concept with the potential to transform the way we understand and preserve structures.

BIM4Heritage is a specialist group launched in 2017 to champion this growing sector.

Established within BIM4 Communities (the various groups of advocates promoting BIM adoption across different AEC industry specialists), BIM4Heritage provides a forum to share knowledge and lessons learnt on the application of BIM within the heritage sector. Involving a range of disciplines and conservators who currently have stewardship of the existing building stock, our group aims to enable industry to better understand the importance of information relating to conservation requirements.

Why is BIM important to heritage assets? There is so much more to our historic buildings than bricks and mortar. Not only are these buildings some of our most treasured pieces of architecture, they are also cultural assets that provide us with a physical connection to our past. They are cherished landmarks, keeping our history alive in towns and cities around the country. That said, the challenge of both preserving this heritage and making these buildings relevant to today’s generation is significant. While nobody wants to see historic buildings falling into disrepair or lying empty, the task far extends simply maintaining the buildings – it’s also about saving the layers of information they contain about the past and those who lived or worked in these buildings before us. The buildings are themselves a historical text that can be read and preserved.

BIM enables collaboration, improves efficiency and drives up quality but it can also reduce the costs of complex build projects and repair and maintenance programmes. This is crucial to the heritage sector, as many clients are public sector organisations or charities with increasingly limited budgets requiring intense scrutiny of spending.

But perhaps most importantly, BIM enables all information to be kept in a single model or environment. Heritage information is the basis for the understanding and preservation of the historic environment, but often when I ask clients on refurbishment projects for information on specific parts of a building it has either been lost or was never recorded. The ability to capture building data and information and store it in a central database is hugely valuable.

Recognition of the benefits of BIM for heritage assets is growing and the 2019 BIM4Heritage Annual Conference, sponsored by Autodesk, Middlesex University, Graitec and Zutec, which was held at Middlesex University, London, in June, reflected a dynamic field. The programme covered a wide range of topics including: recording; documentation; information management; disaster planning; reconstruction; and asset management. A number of expert speakers and researchers brought focus to how BIM technologies and processes bring many benefits to conservation, restoration, rehabilitation, repair and maintenance activities and showcased successful case studies demonstrating how we can ‘learn from the past to preserve the future.

Speakers included Fiona Moore, BIM Change Consultant for the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) who set out the opportunity for digital to transform the construction/infrastructure sectors, explaining how BIM provides a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of an asset to support reliable decision making and management of information during its life-cycle. Speakers highlighted BIM heritage projects from home and abroad: from reconstructing the Houses of Parliament’s historic ventilation system and digitising the Palace of Westminster conservation management plan to inform decision making, to Autodesk’s journeys in BIM4Heritage and how they have worked with others to preserve the past, referencing three projects – the Glen Canyon Dam, the Smithsonian Institute’s X3D Object recording project and the USS Arizona. All of the presentations will be available to view at the BIM4Heritage website.

There is no doubt that applying BIM to the heritage sector has enormous potential: it will ensure complex programmes of improvements, repairs and maintenance are delivered efficiently and it will help preserve the layers of information and the living history of our treasured heritage buildings. I do urge you to join BIM4Heritage and help us realise this potential.