Technology Manifesto for the 3D Built Environment

(Editor Note – The first two parts of the Technology Manifesto were published on the Lidar News In the Scan blog during July. Those have been included here along with a third and final portion making this the complete article.)


It’s quite a long title that has evolved over the years. I guess you could say I have been thinking about this general idea since the early 1980’s when CAD and GIS were just starting to go mainstream, thanks in large part to the development of the PC. So what is a manifesto?

From Wikipedia:

“A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance.”

The Communist Manifesto is of course the most famous of the manifesto’s. This Built Environment Technology Manifesto is not political. This one is in the category of “a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made.”

Construction Productivity is Stalled

Since the introduction of the PC virtually all industries have seen significant gains in productivity with one major exception – construction. There are many reasons for this, but near the top of the list is the lack of standards. Whether it is the automotive, computer, music – you name it, these industries have realized that they can increase productivity by adhering to industry standards and putting aside proprietary pursuits.

So in a condensed version this Technology Manifesto is a demand for the key players in the industry, led by the owners, to join forces to develop the standards, processes and cooperation that will lead to significant, increased productivity on construction projects.

What would these standards include? At the very least a unified 3D data model with data interoperability standards is needed. Some of this work is being done in BIM and CAD, but the overall industry-wide commitment is not there.

Good friend, John Russo, the founder of Architectural Resource Consultants and the USIBD noted that the Built Environment is different from the music or automotive industry in that each project is essentially one of a kind.

There is truth in that, but there are also a number of building types that change very little, such as “big box” stores and in general if more building components were standardized there could be a lot more efficiency in design, construction and maintenance. Even the truly unique buildings could make use of standard components if they were more commonly available.

The two workhorses of the old school AEC industries – CAD and GIS are beginning to take a leadership role as they replace their 2D legacy code bases with apps that support BIM, 3D cities, IoT, Big Data and more. At the same time what used to be a barrier to entry is now providing opportunity for many Built Environment start-ups who can start from scratch with 3D databases and functionality.

In the GIS world there is a de facto set of standards as a result of the monopoly that Esri has established in this marketplace. It would be interesting to try to determine the costs vs. benefits of this unique situation,  but that is for another time.

Owners Need to Place Their Demands

Why do Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) result in greater overall project efficiency? It’s because all of the interests of the key stakeholders, especially the owners are aligned before the project begins.

The UK is taking the lead with such projects as Cross Rail where they are requiring that all design and construction documentation be transferred  to the owner/operators at the end of the construction phase.  The British government has enacted legislation that requires BIM Level 2 be used on all government projects beginning in 2016, but a year later this report indicated they were not enforcing it.

It’s the owners who need to create the Technology Manifesto with the help of a group of foresighted architects, engineers, contractors and vendors. They are the ones who are paying the price in the end for the inefficiency of the process, not just in design and construction, but more importantly during the operation of the project when 70% of the expenses are realized.

The purpose of this “3D Built Environment Technology Manifesto” is to highlight the need for a vision of the future that will guide the transformation from 2D to 3D and produce the kind of software and process environments that truly reflect the best interests of customers – not technology, as the first priority. The goal of this process would be to establish the core elements of the Manifesto with the support of the vendor community and then involve the Built Environment customer groups in an ongoing open dialogue that provides the vendors with the input they need to continually improve their product offerings over the long term.

The key to the success of this effort is to focus on where we want to be in ten years, not on where we are today. This powerful visioning technique is much more likely to produce ideas that we can all agree on rather than attempting to start with the situation today and map out the transition of existing products and strategies. There are too many reasons why that level of near term change will not be seen as feasible.

The term manifesto has a certain edge to it. That is intentional. The owners, perhaps through established organizations like the Urban Land Institute, the buildingSmartalliance and Fiatech, or an entirely new group need to place their demands on the vendors without regard to what is feasible and profitable today. This is meant to be a vision of the future. The owners should be a catalyst for change with rewards for those who can produce the needed innovation and penalties for those who can’t.

I could go on, but for now here are a few suggestions for the demands:

  1. True 3D, 4D and 5D modeling
  2. System architecture designed to support the entire facility lifecycle
  3. Cross-disciplinary collaboration in the construction process – owners, planners, designers, contractors, facilities managers, operations
  4. Intelligent graphics linked to object oriented spatial databases
  5. Unified, integrated 3D data model
  6. From the “globe to your desk” scale support

These are just a few suggestions, but I think you get the idea. Let me know if you have some of your own.

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  • Thanks for the article, Gene. From a standards perspective, there are two initiatives underway that are working to better enable interoperability between the GIS and BIM domains (this is as much as an user-education problem as it is a technology and standards problem). The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and buildingSMART International (bSI) have a joint Integrated Digital Built Environment committee; ISO / TC 211 (Geographic Information/Geomatics) and ISO / TC 59 / SC 13 (Organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works…) have also established a joint working group. And of course, all four organizations have liaison agreements with each other. I would say that unified data models are great where they can be developed, but we also make great gains if we can make semantically-interoperable models that leverage the best of each discipline.

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