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building information modeling (BIM)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Building information modeling (BIM) is an approach to design engineering that combines traditional computer aided design (CAD) with 3D modeling. BIM software integrates visual information with data about specifications, materials, functionality and maintenance to provide all project participants with a unified view of the project and all its components.

At its core, BIM relies on 3D CAD models, but adds metadata to files in a standardized way. The additional information the metadata provides can help with planning and budgeting as well as project workflow. If kept up to date, BIM renderings provide an accurate picture of a project's progress, ensuring that all changes are compatible with the original design.

In addition to buildings, BIM software is used for designing many types of infrastructure, utilities and systems including:

  • Civil and structural engineering
  • Energy and utilities
  • Highway and road engineering
  • Surveying
  • Offshore and marine architecture
  • Rail and metro transportation engineering
  • Tunneling and subway architecture
  • Urban master-planning and smart city design

Building information modeling (BIM) was introduced as a term in a 1962 paper, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework" by Douglas C. Engelbart, a computer and internet pioneer and also the inventor of the computer mouse. However, the term was not popularized until 3D software giant Autodesk's 2002 white paper, "Building Information Modeling." 

The NBS National BIM Library provides an introductory video to BIM.

This was last updated in January 2017

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