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How to Design and Build Future Sustainable Cities Using BIM

What if it was possible to take a typical city and use technology to evaluate existing and future conditions so that it can be transformed it into a truly sustainable city? Imagine a place in which all corners of the city -- from hospitals, universities and businesses, to utility and transportation infrastructure and public spaces - were created, renovated and operated to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible. Is it possible today to plan, create or rebuild and manage that sustainable city of tomorrow?

It is possible, and we're already witnessing a global push to build or transform communities into models of sustainability. Taking sustainability from a vague concept to reality requires that the correct decisions are being made at the earliest phases of planning and designing at a city-wide or even regional scope.

With the influx of infrastructure stimulus funding, environmental pressures and economic turmoil around the world, governments, businesses, industry, academia and the public have an unprecedented opportunity, and obligation, to collaborate and work toward the goal of making our cities environmentally, socially and financially sustainable. Today's crumbling infrastructure is a clear indication that past practices must be replaced by collective action to create, maintain and sustain a holistic city model plan that delivers resilient infrastructure that meets the needs of future generations.

As we renovate, retrofit and rehabilitate existing cities, we must adopt a more thoughtful, practical and strategic approach to managing them. We must identify and preserve practices that work and contribute to sustainable goals, balance man-made systems with natural systems while seeking new approaches, technologies and practices to advance the needs of all stakeholders and citizens.

Today we face a $41-trillion-dollar problem to resolve infrastructure problems around the world. We can bandage the wounds or we can heal them and prevent reoccurrence. The answer lies in applying collaborative workflow processes with advanced design software. A workflow process called Building Information Modeling (BIM) is enabling today's civic planners to better understand, evaluate, simulate and solve complex problems associated with sustainable transportation, utilities and buildings projects. BIM is transforming and improving government policy and contracts, and reshaping the way we are planning, designing, constructing and operating our cities while also bringing man-made infrastructure into harmony with natural infrastructure.

BIM has its origins in the architecture and construction industries. Ask an architect, building systems engineer, construction professional or a civil engineer what BIM is and you'll hear that it is an integrated process for exploring a project's key physical and functional characteristics digitally before it's built. They'll note that BIM helps deliver projects faster and more economically, while minimizing environmental impact to provide better working and living conditions for inhabitants. Coordinated, consistent information is used throughout the process to design innovative projects, better visualize and simulate real-world appearance, performance and cost, and create more accurate documentation.

Throughout the world today there are cities where design software combined with a BIM process are in use to create and manage consistent spatial and attribute information about any civic project across its lifecycle. Digital technologies are used to create, design and construct accurate city-level, 3D models containing objects, assets, quantities, cost, schedule, energy, fabrication, operations, maintenance data and more. These models can be analyzed for energy performance and then used to simulate heat island effect, carbon footprint, water consumption and flood plain and runoff analysis-all keys to better environmental stewardship. At every step we can visualize the models from any point-of-view or stage in the project lifecycle. BIM allows everyone to experience the project before it is real. This enables stakeholders to evaluate changes or improvements, correcting issues or design challenges on the computer first, before having to change them later-at much greater cost--during a project's construction.

In the past, city, infrastructure, utility and building projects were error-prone and lacked effective coordination through their use of 2D maps, drawings and disconnected databases. For instance, planners using a 2D drawing or map needed to explain their design intent. In contrast, a BIM approach provides a more accurate, holistic and realistic 3D model representation of existing conditions and proposed changes both above and below ground. BIM allows technical and non technical stakeholders to see and understand things more clearly, which is critical to understanding and buy-in. On the city scale, a BIM process applied across multiple projects provides an unprecedented level of understanding, efficiency, accuracy and accountability by providing a base model of information upon which all infrastructure projects and improvements can be made. Using a 3D model significantly improves the speed of understanding and quality of communication.

BIM drives better collaboration and decision-making by allowing people involved in the project to test and share ideas and assumptions, to see how things could be and to get them right. The application of a BIM process--with its foundation being an intelligent parametric 3D model-based approach--and skillful use of software for BIM--is radically changing civic planning, offering a better path for civic planning professionals, agencies, politicians and the public at large.

At Autodesk, Paul McRoberts is responsible for providing technology in the infrastructure industry through the evolution to model-based workflows across the project lifecycle of the Transportation, Land & Environmental, Water, and Power industry segments. The infrastructure modeling lifecycle (planning, design and records management) has been underserved by traditional GIS and CAD vendors and it is his mission to respond to the modern needs of these industries by providing fully integrated BIM workflows. McRoberts has over 15 years in the AEC software industry. He holds a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Management.

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