In recent years, BIM has risen to be considered the building and construction industry’s best practice and gold standard. BIM broke the mold and transformed the way many of us run our businesses. But if we don’t keep pushing the envelope and advancing the conversation, in 30 years BIM will be our ONLY innovation.

For this industry to continue pushing forward we need a renewed focus on data, connectivity, and virtual design and construction (VDC).  

Today’s BIM models are built in silos. They’re created for specific projects and then, when the project is done, they are shelved.  There’s very little thought given to how the models could connect to the broader systems of a city or a community.  And taken alone, each model’s data does have very little post-construction value.

But when those models are connected and viewed in the context of the city, a collage of information emerges that could fundamentally change not only how we build, but also how we operate and live in the built environment.  

To achieve such connection will take a collaborative approach to data management. And we, as industry practitioners, must come to the table to pool our data and create visual, information-driven ways to manage, plan and build our future cities.

If we do this right, the information that we compile will become greater than the sum of its parts. But where do we begin?

We start with a change in thinking. We must begin to think of BIM models less as project guides, and more as data-driven, 3D operating systems connecting multiple information sources—including geospatial, building development, facilities operations and human behavior—at a city, state or national level. By supplementing our models with such data, we will have a better understanding of how the buildings we’re creating impact the broader ecosystem.

For example, before a new office building’s design is complete, we can ask, will it cause a dramatic increase in the pedestrian traffic? Will new traffic patterns need to be introduced? There are, of course, far more complex examples, but we have never before been able to layer such multi-disciplinary considerations into our models.  

I used the term VDC at the start of this piece.  While VDC is not a new term, it captures the coming together of the multi-disciplinary elements that we need to achieve if we are to design into the broader eco-system of a city. VDC requires a deeper understanding of the built world that is already in place, as well as the desired outcomes for a city or its citizens—the public’s objectives.

This definition of VDC aligns closely with the definition of VDC that Stanford University’s CIFE institute coined in 2001. But to take it one step further, I’d also like to explore what it means when we not only bring disparate data sources together, but then make that data live and publically available.

For our operating systems to remain current, we should all work towards continually sharing live data that informs future development and creates a scalable system that can be built upon or “plugged into” by developers, designers, makers and citizens.