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Why historic buildings need BIM

BIM4Heritage has been set up to promote the immense usefulness of the technology in the conservation and preservation of our historic buildings

There is so much more to our historic buildings than bricks and mortar. Not only are they some of our most loved pieces of architecture, they are also cultural assets that provide us with a physical connection to our past. They are treasured landmarks, keeping our history alive in towns and cities around the country.

The challenge of both preserving this heritage and making these buildings relevant to today’s generation is sizeable. Nobody wants to see historic buildings falling into disrepair or lying empty. But the task is not just about maintaining the buildings – it’s also about saving the layers of information they contain about the past and those who lived or worked in them buildings before us. The buildings themselves are a historical text that can be read and preserved.

This is why building information modelling (BIM) is so vital to the heritage sector. For most, BIM is associated with the construction of new buildings, but for the historic built environment sector, it also has huge potential.

Not only does BIM enable collaboration, improve efficiency and drive up quality, it can also reduce the costs of complex build projects and repair and maintenance programmes. This is important in the heritage sector, as so many clients are public sector organisations or charities for whom budgets are tighter than ever and scrutiny of spending is intense.

Building data required during refurbishment has of often either been lost or was never recorded. The ability to capture building data and information and store it in a central database would solve this

But perhaps most importantly, BIM enables all information to be kept in a single model or environment. Heritage information is the basis for the understanding and preservation of the historic environment, but often when I ask clients on refurbishment projects for information on specific parts of a building it has either been lost or was never recorded. The ability to capture building data and information and store it in a central database would solve this problem.

Yet despite the obvious advantages, BIM methodologies and technologies remain little understood and underused in the heritage sector. That is why the cross-industry BIM4Heritage Group has been set up. Launched in September 2017, it comprises a range of organisations spanning the built environment that have experience of working in the sector. It has been formed within the BIM4Communities Group in order to provide a forum for organisations and industry professionals to share knowledge and lessons learnt on BIM as it is applied to historic structures.

We welcome architects, consultants, contractors and anyone from the industry who would like to contribute to the group. In the initial phase, we will identify the problems that emerge when BIM technology and processes are applied to historic structures – for example modelling ancient walls which are full of kinks and idiosyncrasies and lack the clean straight lines of modern construction.

BIM4Heritage Group comprises a range of organisations spanning the built environment that have experience of working in the sector

We will also be researching how BIM technology via analysis and simulations can support conservation, repair and maintenance activities. There are already some fantastic projects to learn from. At Lendlease, for example, we have been working with the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Academy and the Imperial War Museum to develop the application of BIM technology. Museums in particular are taking great strides, with the Natural History Museum and the British Museum also implementing BIM for maintenance and refurbishment.

Applying BIM to the heritage sector has enormous potential: it will ensure that complex programmes of improvements, repairs and maintenance are delivered effectively and efficiently, and it will help preserve the layers of information and the ‘living history’ of our much-loved heritage buildings. Please get involved and help us lead the way in realising this potential.


Edonis Jesus, is BIM leader at Lendlease Consulting Europe and chair of BIM4Heritage

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