GIS + openBIM: A More Productive AEC Future

This blog was written by Marc Goldman, director of AEC industry solutions at Esri.

The image above demonstrates architects and landscape architects conducting BIM collaboration and geospatial verification via IFC files in this web scene using Esri's ArcGIS.

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Geographic information system (GIS) technology and openBIM are leading a shift within the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Amid increased expectations of systems that easily work together and the growing need for smarter infrastructure, the interaction between form, function, design, and standardized data becomes ever more necessary. Industry-leading technology providers, national infrastructure think tanks, and global bodies like buildingSMART and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) are not merely sitting at the drawing board; rather, they're actively pushing the blend of GIS and BIM with the goal of defining best practices and integrations that deliver better infrastructure. This isn't just about creating a bridge between modern technologies — it's about unlocking a potential that promises to improve how we conceptualize, deliver, and manage AEC projects.

Why the Interaction of GIS and BIM Matters

BIM is renowned for its strength in providing detailed information for projects typically limited to a single building or portions of an infrastructure project, covering everything from aesthetic design to operations and maintenance. GIS has evolved to be unique in delivering spatial context and expertly combines the concerns of geographic and environmental data around the built and natural world. Alone, each one stands as a necessary tool of modern AEC practice, but when their strengths are combined, the resulting solution elevates the value of the other, enabling visualization at a greater scale and boosting analysis to an unprecedented level. This combining of GIS and BIM, and particularly openBIM, creates an offering greater than the sum of its parts.

GIS Expands the Reach of BIM

RaeburnFarquharBowen Image

Geodesign is a strategy which helps landscape architecture and planning firm, RaeburnFarquharBowen, bring larger context decision-making to site design. Images courtesy of RaeburnFarquharBowen.

Broadening the Scope of Early Project Phases

From early conceptual design to schematic development, the value of GIS in delivering environmental information within BIM applications becomes clear. It's not just about importing map data for the sake of visual impressions — it's about embedding environmental intelligence into the early design process. With GIS data providing a real-world backdrop, openBIM workflows consider the physical constraints and the socioeconomic and environmental concerns of the location. This leads to smarter design choices that resonate with the local climate, culture, and community expectations, ensuring designs are viable, vibrant, and valued.

Expanding on Large-Scale Development

When applied to large-scale developments, the broader scope enabled by GIS combined with the details delivered via BIM expands designers' thoughts beyond the block or corridor's traditional boundaries. The combination allows professionals to envision an interconnected ecosystem where infrastructure is understood harmoniously with its natural and manufactured location. For example, detailed simulations of foot traffic, water flow, energy consumption, wind patterns, and even the migration patterns of local wildlife combine to enable concepts of geodesign. 

GIS technology's spatial analysis incorporated with BIM allows stakeholders to collaboratively analyze data, simulate potential impacts, and visualize the consequences of proposed changes. Sharing designs with interoperable data helps the entire team experience a greater level of communication, and the large-scale project benefits from enhanced decision-making. The value of the collaboration that enables geodesign is particularly useful in campus planning, urban design, environmental conservation, and resource management. Wherever spatial data and human interactions may influence outcomes, GIS + BIM is the key to delivering the best project. 

BIM Delivers the Details in GIS

IFC Import with initial added landscape

Georeferenced IFC files enable accurately positioned and scaled collaboration between architects, civil engineers and landscape architects in the same environment.

Enriching Design Development

openBIM brings detailed information based on industry-adopted, graphical, and nongraphical standards that enhance the GIS-based workflow. Here, BIM enriches context, ensuring that every object of the project is finely detailed and creates clarity regarding the design's purpose and place. When brought into GIS, BIM allows AEC professionals to design a vision that acknowledges the details.

On the one hand, BIM data visualized as features in GIS ensures that all physical objects and spaces are accurately represented, and that the relationship between different building systems is understood. On the other hand, GIS data provides a macrolevel view, focusing on spatial relationships and geographical context. When BIM models are added as a data layer in GIS, the project enjoys a comprehensive perspective that includes the structure itself and its relationship with the surrounding environment. 

This integration enables professionals to understand how a site's topography, climate, existing infrastructure, and even legal boundaries might impact or enhance the details of the building's design. When GIS includes openBIM among its many layers, designers can make informed decisions about site selection, orientation, and the broader impact of their projects, including environmental considerations like flood plains, sun path, and vegetation. This kind of situational awareness is pivotal for sustainable design practices, helping to minimize negative environmental impacts and align with local regulations and community needs.

The Evolution of a Digital Project Life cycle

The greatest potential benefit of a GIS-BIM collaboration is evident in the rapidly growing topic of digital as-builts, models as a legal document, and digital twins. These increasingly standard practices consider the entire project life cycle of construction and data analytics. A combined GIS + BIM digital twin of the physical structure is grounded in the real world yet infinitely explorable and set up for virtual analysis. As these models composing openBIM content and GIS context become more comprehensive and interconnected, they'll not just serve as records but as dynamic resources for maintenance, refurbishment, and even disaster response planning. 

By harnessing the power of GIS and openBIM together, we're not just combining datasets; we're creating a rich, interactive, and informative offering that listens to the context of the space we inhabit. This union is proof of our growing understanding that the places we build are not merely locations but extensions of our society. 

Enabled by the combination of GIS and BIM, we stand to gain both efficiency and sustainability and a deeper connection with the important principles of placemaking and community-building.

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Topics: Buildings, Landscapes


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