unveiled today, but it wasn't in Apple's headquarters city of Cupertino, California. No, it was erected in Budapest, Hungary - and with good reason. In Budapest you'll find the headquarters of a company called GRAPHISOFT, early innovators in a fascinating field called BIM.The world's first statue of Steve Jobs was
BIM stands for Building Information Modeling. The field has the potential to give the Apple-like treatment of high-design, efficiency and pleasing user experience not to our mobile devices, but to all the buildings we live and work in. Statue patron GRAPHISOFT had its own important connection with Jobs, but the field in general is one to look at if you're interested in what Jobs did to mobile devices and computing. BIM is trying to do similar things to the whole civilized world.
BIM is a relatively new field, having emerged over just the last 30 years. It's an architectural practice of designing, co-ordinating between all the parties involved (design, builders, client and others) and monitoring the creation and lives of buildings. It's four-dimensional when you include time. It's a beautiful concept, and Steve Jobs was moved enough by it that he provided early support to GRAPHISOFT after seeing the company demo at the world's biggest electronics show, CEBIT in Germany, in 1984.
In 2008, Anthony Frausto-Robledo, the Editor in Chief of Mac-loving CAD pro publication Architosh, argued that Apple should acquire the German company Nemetschek that had just acquired GRAPHISOFT a year earlier so that the two companies could combine forces and challenge design giant Autodesk. (If you're not familiar with Autodesk and how huge it is, consider that Yahoo's most recent CEO Carol Bartz came from a position leading Autodesk prior to taking that huge job.)
Update: You should read the company's own blog post about this, the story is way more epic than I grasped, involving writing their software in Communist Hungary, after sneaking Apple computers by plane into the country when owning personal computers was illegal.
GRAPHISOFT is today like the Mac to Autodesk's Revit, the leading BIM tool for Windows machines. It should be no surprise that it was a Jobs-aided BIM company that put up the world's first memorial for the man. The field of BIM is likely to feel Jobs' influence far into the future. We'll feel it too when a number of factors come together: increasing computing power, the cloud and mobile - all enabling BIM to make the construction and use of built space a more Apple-like experience.
Right: GRAPHISOFT's BIMx for iOS.
Half the construction work in the US is now said to use BIM and the UK government has mandated that all government construction meet sophisticated BIM standards within 5 years. BIM companies are pushing the cloud and mobile is expected to become an important part of this work as well. (See, though, this summer's Debunking the Myths About BIM in the "Cloud" by GRAPHISOFT CEO Viktor Várkonyi.)
"If we think how we work now, when we finish a project, we have a big box of drawings, a big box of specifications and we give it to a client and it sits in the corner and it is dead," Rob Charlton, chief executive officer of Space Group, said at a London BIM event last month.
What will be happening in the future is we will be giving clients access to an iPad or similar device.
They will be able to view it, update it - client information on buildings, asset data will be kept dynamic, it will be constantly updated - and very importantly you will be able to do reports, to see how well your building is performing.
The fluid nature of a construction project, as well as a building's performance over its life, are something that can be perilous to ignore. As Building Information Modeling expands in adoption and capabilities, while dropping in price and effort required, inefficiencies in energy consumption, user (inhabitant) productivity and Total Cost of Ownership of a building may no longer be taken for granted someday but may become as clearly troubling as a bad phone is today next to an iPhone.
The Culture of BIM
High-quality design for elements on BIM canvases is already entering a space of commoditization, accessibility, creativity and global online community. There are, for example, places to buy and sell creative 3D furniture for BIM and CAD projects for cheap.
GRAPHISOFT's leading competitor, Autodesk's Revit, even has a prolific but anonymous Twitter account (@RevitFacts) set up to post mocking critiques of its shortcomings for practicing architects.
UK-based BIMJournal reports that the first legal dispute over BIM has already hit the presses.
The first American dispute involving BIM related to the construction of a life-sciences building at a major university [name undisclosed].
The Architect and its Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Engineer used BIM to design the MEP systems which were to be installed into the ceiling void. However, the design team failed to tell the Contractor that the extremely tight fit of the components depended on a very specific installation sequence. The work was approximately 70% complete when the Contractor ran out of space, and all parties involved blamed each other for the problem. The Client sued the Architect, the Contractor sued the Client, and the insurance company sued the MEP Engineer. It seems that a resolution was reached. The parties involved, and the value of the settlement, remain confidential. However, the Architect, the MEP Engineer, and the Contractor were reported to have shared costs amounting to several millions of dollars.
By making each little step, each component and each block of time quantifiable, trackable and thus manageable, BIM aims to reduce friction between all the creative professionals involved in creating a physical space today.
That reduction of friction through collaborative design tools benefits the designers, but it may benefit contractors and clients far more. Stephen Hamil, Director of Design and Innovation and Head of BIM at RIBA Enterprises, said earlier this month, "research indicates that client:contractor:designer benefits of #BIM are of ratio 60:20:1"
User/consumer/inhabitant benefits of a well-designed world would presumably be even bigger.
That joy you feel when you hold and use the iPhone or iPad, imagine if you, your work, your play, your ecological footprint and your physical and mental social space as you walked through the world all felt that way because they were designed with the aid of beautiful machines.
That's the idea behind BIM. That's why it makes sense that this ambitious young industry, so dedicated to user experience, would be the first to celebrate the life of Steve Jobs.