Heritage BIM – the importance of a BIM-ready survey

Over the last three years, we’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a number of high-profile heritage projects, ranging from a dilapidated 17th century barn through to the major refurbishment of the former War Office in central London (see Latest News).  And with all of these buildings we have had to overcome various problems – and discovered more than a few surprises along the way.

Although BIM on heritage projects is still relatively new, and take up has been more gradual than on new-builds, it is slowly but surely beginning to gather pace.

The industry has already seen the benefits of 3D laser scanning: rapid, accurate at height or in low level light, and much less invasive.  Surveys can also be carried out safely in difficult conditions or on dangerous sites, such as unstable or fire-damaged structures.

But heritage BIM is a specialist field with many challenges.  To start with, interpreting the results of such surveys requires high levels of skill and expertise on the part of the modellers.  On older buildings, floors and walls may be uneven, and there can be an array of decorative detailing, both on the interior and exterior of the building.

The software used to produce the 3D models is not yet able to cope with such highly ornate details or misaligned walls, etc.  Constructing models to any level of detail takes time and precision.  Buildings which have had many uses over the years (dwellings, retail or offices) could be hiding any number of unknown features: areas blocked off for services, false walls, storage spaces hidden in ceiling voids …  we’ve dealt with all of these and more on heritage refurbishment projects!

For clients, too, there are many challenges with heritage BIM.  Large amounts of data are collected through the scanning process, and it’s easy for clients unfamiliar with BIM to err on the side of caution and “over-specify”.  However, too much information is as much of a problem as too little.

At Digital Inc. we pride ourselves on working with our clients, helping them to understand the process, and the deliverables.  This means assisting in developing a clear scope of work, clarifying exactly the data they need, and showing them how to make the best possible use of all the information gathered.  We know from experience that clients who take the time to fully understand BIM are far more likely to realise its full potential, and see a significant return on investment.

Despite the initial slow take up, it won’t be long before the heritage industry sees the full potential of Building Information Modelling.  Historic England have recently published ‘BIM for Heritage: Developing a Historic Building Information Model’, which offers advice and guidance on best practice.  This publication outlines the benefits of BIM, and sets out what heritage professionals need to know, including the collaborative nature of BIM, and its use in maintenance, safety and security.  It also shows how  visitor management can benefit from the process, with a single BIM file representing an accurate 3D model of an entire building, how it can be updated and other information gradually added (e.g., when new archaeological data is gathered) to become a true record of the original site, complete with photos, drawings and reconstructions.

If you are thinking about BIM for your heritage project and would like more information or advice, please contact us to discuss further.  We would be delighted to hear from you.

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