Early BIM beginnings
To trace the history of BIM and BIM systems, we have to go back to the early days of computing and dig through the conceptual underpinnings. Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (then machining) developed as two separate technologies roughly at the same time going into the 60s. At the time, no one foresaw that both CAM and CAD would eventually intertwine and emerge as powerful forces in the industrial world (American Machinist, 1999).
In 1957, Pronto, the first commercial software computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) was developed by Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty. It was a numerical control machining technology that later grew into computer-aided manufacturing. A short time after that, he dabbled into computer-generated graphics and in 1961 developed DAC (Design Automated by Computer) which became the first CAM/CAD system that used interactive graphics and was used for General Motors’ complex die molds. After a few failures that were basically caused by an unpopular programming language, Hanratty had this to say:
“Never generate anything closely coupled to a specific architecture. And make sure you keep things open to communicate with other systems, even your competitors.”
In 1962, Douglas C. Englebart wrote a paper entitled, “Augmenting Human Intellect”. In it, he posited the idea of the future architect, suggested object-based design, parametric manipulation, and relational database (Bergin, 2011):
“The architect next begins to enter a series of specifications and data–a six-inch slab floor, twelve-inch concrete walls eight feet high within the excavation, and so on. When he has finished, the revised scene appears on the screen. A structure is taking shape. He examines it, adjusts it… These lists grow into an evermore-detailed, interlinked structure, which represents the maturing thought behind the actual design.”
During that time, several design researchers were working on a technology equivalent to Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Among these researchers, Christopher Alexander’s work was notable as it influenced a group of early computer scientists to work on object-oriented programming. However, without a graphical interface, the conceptual frameworks could not be realized at the time.
Dream building the model
In 1963, the first computer-aided design (CAD) with a graphical user interface, “Sketchpad”, was developed at the MIT Lincoln Labs by Ivan Sutherland. Overall, it pioneered the way for human-computer interaction and was a major breakthrough in the development of computer graphics (Sutherland, 2003).
In terms of construction tech, Sketchpad gave way to solid modelling programs — computational representation of geometry was further developed which allowed the ability to display and record shape information. In the 70s and 80s, the two main methods born out of this were constructive solid geometry (CSG) and boundary representation (brep). The whole design process for this necessitated an intuitive connection to the design medium and presented the challenge of commanding the computer in a simple way.
Assembling the database
In 1975, Charles Eastman published a paper describing a prototype called Building Description System (BDS). It discussed ideas of parametric design, high quality computable 3D representations, with a “single integrated database for visual and quantitative analyses”. Eastman’s paper basically described BIM as we know it now.
Eastman designed a program that gave the user access to a sortable database — information can be retrieved categorically by attributes (including material and supplier); it also used a graphical user interface, orthographic and perspective views. The BDS was one of the first projects in BIM history to successfully create this building database; it described individual library elements which can be retrieved and added to a model (Bergin, 2011).
Eastman concluded that BDS would improve drafting and analysis efficiencies and cut the cost of design by more than fifty percent. BDS was the experiment that identified the most fundamental problems in architectural design for the next five decades. In 1977, Charles Eastman created GLIDE (Graphical Language for Interactive Design) in the CMU Lab and it exhibited most of the characteristics of the modern BIM platform.
The 80s came and several systems were being developed everywhere. They quite gained popularity within the industry and some were even applied to construction projects. It was in 1986 when RUCAPS (Really Universal Computer-Aided Production System) was used to assist the renovation of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3. It was the first CAD program in the history of BIM to be used in prefab construction (or temporal phase construction, if you want to be technical). It is regarded as a forerunner to today’s BIM software (Eastman et al, 2008).
Towards virtual design and construction
While developments were speedily taking place in the United States and in England, in communist Hungary, one computational and programming genius was illegally smuggling Apple computers through the Iron Curtain to develop a software that would later on change the course of history of both the BIM concept and the BIM market to what we know it today (Arnold, 2002). In 1982, Gábor Bojár started developing ArchiCAD; he had to pawn his wife’s jewelry to smuggle Apple computers. With similar technology as the BDS, Bojár released Graphisoft’s Radar CH in 1984 for the Apple Lisa OS.
This was later relaunched in 1987 as ArchiCAD, making ArchiCAD the first BIM software available on a personal computer (Bergin, 2011). As ArchiCAD was being implemented under the virtual building concept in 1987, just about 2000 km up north, Tekla completed its combined graphics and relational database for their early system version of a BIM.
Backtrack to 1985, in the US, Diehl Graphsoft was developing Vectorworks, one of the first CAD programs, one of the first 3D modelling software programs, and the first cross-platform CAD application. Vectorworks was one of the first to introduce BIM capabilities. At the same time (1985), Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) was founded in 1985 and they released Pro/ENGINEER in 1988, considered to be the first ever marketed parametric modelling design software in BIM history. Splitting from PTC, Irwin Jungreis and Leonid Raiz went to form their own software company, Charles River Software.
The duo wanted to develop an architectural version of Pro/ENGINEER that could handle more complex projects than ArchiCAD. By 2000, they had a program called Revit, a made-up word that’s supposed to connote revision and speed (one article comment said it was a portmanteau of “Revise it!”). Revit revolutionized BIM by using a parametric change engine made possible through object-oriented programming, and by creating a platform that allowed time attribute to be added.
Some important things to note in the history of BIM would be the development of the Building Design Advisor at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in 1993. It was a software that performed simulations and suggested solutions based on a model. In Australia, Mapsoft was formed by 1994 and was designing the affordable survey CAD software. This paved the way for miniCAD, the first survey CAD software to run on a handheld computer — the DOS-based HP100LX. It’s still in use today for Windows, Palms, and other old school pocket PCs.
Evolution of BIM terms and definitions
Robert Aish first documented the use of the term “Building Modelling” in a published paper in 1986. In this paper, he argued for what we now know as BIM and the technology to implement it. A few years after that, the first documented use of the term “Building Information Model” appeared in a paper by G.A. Van Nederveen and F. Tolman in the December 1992 Automation in Construction.
Cultivating a collaborative culture
Modern architecture, engineering, and construction practices have been moving towards a trend of collaboration. In the past decade, architectural files are being integrated with those of the engineers’ systems. This culture of collaboration has been impacting the larger industry — it’s been slowly moving away bid contracts towards an integrated project delivery system where everyone works on a mutually accessible set of BIM models.
In 1995, the International Foundation Class (IFC) file format was developed to allow data to flow across platforms — basically making a file compatible with different BIM programs. In 1997, ArchiCAD released its first file exchange based Teamwork solution. This revolutionized team collaborations and allowed more architects to work on a building model simultaneously.
Updates on Teamwork later on allowed remote access to the same project over the Internet and allowed project collaboration and coordination on a larger scale. In 1999 in Japan, Onuma allowed virtual teams to work on BIM through the Internet and created a database-driven BIM planning system that paved the way for future seamless cross-platform integration of BIM software and parametric technologies.
In 2001, NavisWorks developed and marketed JetStream, a 3D design review software that offered a set of tools to 3D CAD navigation, collaboration, and coordination. JetStream basically coordinated varying file format data and allowed construction simulation and problem detection. When Revit released its update, Revit 6, in 2004, this set the stage for larger teams of architects and engineers to collaborate in one integrated model software.
As Autodesk raced to be on top of the BIM game, it acquired Revit in 2002, NavisWorks in 2007, among other “smaller” BIM systems. In late 2012, Autodesk developed formit. Formit is an application that enables the conception of a BIM model on a mobile device.
Timeline of BIM history
1957 — Pronto, first commercial computer-aided machining (CAM) software
1963 — Sketchpad, CAD with graphical user interface
1975 — Building Description System (BDS)
1977 — Graphical Language for Interactive Design (GLIDE)
1984 — Radar CH
1985 — Vectorworks
1986 — Really Universal Computer-Aided Production System (RUCAPS)
1987 — ArchiCAD
1988 — Pro/ENGINEER
1992 — Building Information Model as official term
1993 — Building Design Advisor
1994 — miniCAD
1995 — International Foundation Class (IFC) file format
1997 — ArchiCAD’s Teamwork
1999 — Onuma
2000 — Revit
2001 — NavisWorks
2002 — Autodesk buys Revit
2003 — Generative Components
2004 — Revit 6 update
2006 — Digital Project
2007 — Autodesk buys NavisWorks
2008 — Parametricist Manifesto
2012 — formit