by Radu Dicher, LFA, ASLA
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a project execution and delivery process articulated entirely around data. Taking a step back to gain perspective, it’s hard to underestimate how critical data is in the world at large at this point in time. Truly, what is reality anymore?…Within the architecture, engineering, construction, operation, and facility management (AECO-FM) industry, a process having accelerated during the past couple of decades renders the current status of the field essentially scaffolding around a data-centric framework. I like to frame the issue by explaining that the 3D geometry—the most conspicuous exhibit of BIM product, the “model” everyone’s thinking of when thinking of BIM—is just one of the byproducts of the data embedded in the digital project.
Entering the landscape architecture practice: in a sense, our trade is one of the last to join the paradigmatic shift. A pertinent point to be made is that a certain understanding of the “BIM” acronym—where “building” is not understood as a process (the latter being the preferred interpretation today) but as the noun—explicitly all but excludes our trade entirely. This is also the reason why some professionals in the field, including myself, petition for replacing the word “building” with “project,” such as in using the “digital project” concept. But essentially all current projects are BIM—which sets their underlying structure, articulates the deliverables of most trades, and, most frequently, delivers a comprehensive normative standards framework to the project.
But along this “assimilation” process, one of the typical expectations from the rest of the trades in absorbing us as full participants is the actual informational contribution, we, as landscape architects, can pitch into the project data pool. It’s the question I’ve been asked most as a landscape architecture practice BIM manager.
Typically, this contribution is articulated along BIM Uses. For a comprehensive inventory of these uses, and a mapping of resources, competencies, and other requirements for each one of them, please refer to the BIM Project Execution Planning Guide (John Messner et al, Penn State). These practical deliverables can guide the practitioner in understanding what data can usefully be attached to the major tracks that assemble a project. A telling example is maintenance information, which is invaluable data for the building/project lifecycle and specifically for the teams involved past commissioning. This maintenance information can instrumentally support, for instance, BIM Use B-1 (“Building (Preventative) Maintenance Scheduling”), or B-3 (“Assets Management”). For our scope, certainly, maintenance is core to the thriving of our (living) project assets.
Another possible articulating system for the data taxonomy and organization—and, arguably, sourcing—is its classification system. From this perspective, it is important to understand the underlying differences between a “system-based” classification system (such as UniFormat or OmniClass), and a “materials-based” system such as MasterFormat. Though both are very useful in cataloging and organizing the project objects, the first type of classification is articulated in a manner more compatible with the BIM environment (which is essentially system-, or “type of object-” based). This doesn’t mean a BIM project cannot integrate MasterFormat specs—it can, and it typically does—but this point may offer a useful perspective on the variety of data frameworks as they operate in the AECO-FM ecosystem.
What is a course of action for us as landscape architects? Here are a few possible action items:
- Extend your willingness to collaborate and to help ASLA’s BIM Working Group. This core team of professionals affiliated with ASLA’s Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) has embarked upon tackling on multiple fronts the challenges of integrating our trade into the larger BIM exigencies of digital projects delivery. One such front is accruing distinct data points pertinent to our project objects in typical landscape architecture scope, articulated along either of the two mappings above.
- Be an active participant in the lifecycle of your projects, as they exhibit opportunities for data delivery. Check in with your irrigation sub; talk to the facilities management team; ask ownership what they’d find most valuable in what you can provide in this framework.
- Execute more BIM projects. It is as simple as that. Being part of a BIM project will undoubtedly present you with these “data delivery” opportunities, and all the project partners will appreciate your product more just because of this added benefit to them.
And, if you’ll be in San Francisco for the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, be sure to check out the conference’s BIM-focused sessions and events:
- FRI-D09: Updating Workflows: Pragmatic Perspectives on New(ish) Technologies
- SAT-C11: Assessment of Environmental Aspects of Landscape Projects Using Parametric Design
- How have you BIM? An Open Discussion with the Digital Technology PPN
- MON-DD-002: Data Driven Design: Insights from the ASLA BIM Working Group
Interested in joining ASLA’s BIM Working Group? Sign up now to join the Digital Technology PPN’s leadership team to get involved.
Radu Dicher, LFA, ASLA, is the Firmwide BIM Manager for SWA Group and is based in Laguna Beach, California. A physicist and historian by background, Radu started in the AEC industry as a field engineer for an architectural office in Chicago 20 years ago. After a stint at the MLA program of IIT in Chicago in 2008, he took a deep dive in MEP BIM Management, acquiring a wide breadth of projects experience. Radu has been the firmwide BIM Manager for SWA Group since 2020, and is part of ASLA’s BIM Working Group and the Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN).