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History of BIM

A brief history of Building Information Modeling, the software that has disrupted traditional methods of representation and collaboration in architecture.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a term that has become ubiquitous in the design and construction fields over the past 20 years, but where did it come from? The story is rich and complex with players from the United States, Western Europe and the Soviet Block competing to create the perfect architectural software solution to disrupt 2-Dimensional CAD workflows. The benefits of an architectural design model tied to a relational database have proven to be incredibly valuable, with contractors becoming the primary drivers of BIM technology for the first time in 2012.

What exactly is BIM?
The question often arises, for the purposes of this article, BIM software must be capable of representing both the physical and intrinsic properties of a building as an object-oriented model tied to a database . In addition most BIM software now features rendering engines, an optimized feature specific taxonomy and a programming environment to create model components. The user can view and interact with the model in three-dimensional views as well as orthographic two-dimensional plan, sections and elevation views of the model. As the model is developed, all other drawings within the project will be correspondingly adjusted. A Building Information Model could be designed in a software that is not strictly speaking, ‘parametric’ and where all information and geometry is explicitly defined but this would be cumbersome.

A parametric building modeler will allow the user to create constraints such as the height of a horizontal level, which can be tied to the height of specified set of walls and adjusted parametrically, creating a dynamic database model which is tied to geometry. This development answered a need in the architectural industry to be able to change drawings at multiple scales and across fragmented drawing sheets. The amount of hours that are necessary for the production of drawings has decreased steadily over time with the general trend of non-farm labor in the United States since 1964. The improvement in productivity has risen in concert with computer technology which has automated tedious tasks in all disciplines. Although some of the earliest programs for architectural representation used a BIM metaphor, limitations in computer power and awkward user interfaces for BIM platforms contributed to a growth in two-dimensional line drawing programs such as AutoCAD and Bentley Microstation.

The Beginnings
The conceptual underpinnings of the BIM system go back to the earliest days of computing. As early as 1962, Douglas C. Englebart gives us an uncanny vision of the future architect in his paper Augmenting Human Intellect.

the architect next begins to enter a series of specifications and data–a six-inch slab floor, twelve-inch concrete walls eight feet high within the excavation, and so on. When he has finished, the revised scene appears on the screen. A structure is taking shape. He examines it, adjusts it… These lists grow into an evermore-detailed, interlinked structure, which represents the maturing thought behind the actual design.

Englebart suggests object based design, parametric manipulation and a relational database; dreams that would become reality several years later. There is a long list of design researchers whose influence is considerable including Herbert Simon, Nicholas Negroponte and Ian McHarg who was developing a parallel track with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The work of Christopher Alexander would certainly have had an impact as it influenced an early school of object oriented programming computer scientists with Notes on the Synthesis of Form. As thoughtful and robust as these systems were, the conceptual frameworks could not be realized without a graphical interface through which to interact with such a Building Model.

Visualizing the Model
From the roots of the SAGE graphical interface and Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad program in 1963, solid modeling programs began to appear building on developments in the computational representation of geometry. The two main methods of displaying and recording shape information that began to appear in the 1970s and 1980s were constructive solid geometry (CSG) and boundary representation (brep). The CSG system uses a series of primitive shapes that can be either solids or voids, so that the shapes can combine and intersect, subtract or combine to create the appearance of more complex shapes. This development is especially important in representing architecture as penetrations and subtractions are common procedures in design, (windows, doors).
The process of design requires a visceral connection to the medium that the designer is working in. This posed another challenge as architects required a way to tell the computer what to do that was less tedious than the punch cards that were used on early computers. The development of light pens, head-mounted displays and various contraptions in the early days of human-computer interaction (HCI) are well documented elsewhere. A rigorous history of HCI from an architectural perspective can be found in Nicholas DeMonchaux’s book, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo. The text carves a narrative of the precursors to BIM and CAD technology as they were entwined in the Space Race and Cold War.

Database Building Design
Seeing buildings through the lens of the database contributed to the breakdown of architecture into its constituent components, necessitating a literal taxonomy of a buildings constituent parts. One of the first projects to successfully create a building database was the Building Description System (BDS) which was the first software to describe individual library elements which can be retrieved and added to a model. This program uses a graphical user interface, orthographic and perspective views and a sortable database that allows the user to retrieve information categorically by attributes including material type and supplier. The project was designed by Charles Eastman who was trained as an architect at Berkeley and went on to work in computer science at Carnegie Melon University. Eastman continues as expert in BIM technology and Professor at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture.

Eastman claims that drawings for construction are inefficient and cause redundancies of one object that is represented at several scales. He also criticizes hardcopy drawings for their tendency to decay over time and fail to represent the building as renovations occur and drawings are not updated. In a moment of prophecy, the notion of automated model review emerges to “check for design regularity” in a 1974 paper.

Eastman concluded that BDS would reduce the cost of design, through ‘drafting and analysis efficiencies’ by more than fifty percent. Eastman’s project was funded by DARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency and was written before the age of personal computers, on a PDP-10 computer. Very few architects were ever able to work on the BDS system and its unclear whether any projects were realized using the software. BDS was an experiment that would identify some of the most fundamental problems to be tackled in architectural design over the next fifty years. Eastman’s next project, GLIDE (Graphical Language for Interactive Design) created in 1977 at CMU, exhibited most of the characteristics of a modern BIM platform.

In the early 1980’s there were several systems developed in England that gained traction and were applied to constructed projects. These include GDS, EdCAAD, Cedar, RUCAPS, Sonata and Reflex. The RUCAPS software System developed by GMW Computers in 1986 was the first program to use the concept of temporal phasing of construction processes and was used to assist in the phased construction of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal three (Laiserin – History of BIM). The founding of the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford in 1988 by Paul Teicholz marks another landmark in the development of BIM as this created a wellspring of PhD students and industry collaborations to further the development of ‘four-dimensional’ building models with time attributes for construction. This marks an important point where two trends in the development of BIM technology would split and develop over the next two decades. On one side, the development of specialized tools for multiple disciplines to serve the construction industry and improve efficiency in construction. On the other side is the treatment of the BIM model as a prototype that could be tested and simulated against performance criteria.

A later but prominent example of a simulation tool that gave feedback and ‘suggested’ solutions based on a model is the Building Design Advisor, developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab beginning in 1993. This software utilizes an object model of a building and its context to perform simulations. This program was one of the first to integrate graphical analysis and simulations to provide information about how the project might perform given alternative conditions regarding the projects orientation, geometry, material properties and building systems. The program also includes basic optimization assistants to make decisions based on a range of criteria which are stored in sets called ‘Solutions’.

Virtual Building
While the developments were happening rapidly in the United States, the Soviet Block had two programming geniuses who would end up defining the BIM market as it is known today. Leonid Raiz and Gábor Bojár would go on to be the respective co-founder and founder of Revit and ArchiCAD. ArchiCAD developed in 1982 in Budapest, Hungary by Gábor Bojár, a physicist who rebelled against the communist government and began a private company. Gábor wrote the initial lines of code by pawning his wife’s jewelry and smuggling Apple Computers through the Iron Curtain (Story). Using similar technology as the Building Description System, the software Radar CH was released in 1984 for the Apple Lisa Operating System. This later became ArchiCAD, which makes ArchiCAD the first BIM software that was made available on a personal computer.

The software was slow to start as Bojár had to struggle with a unfriendly business climate and the limitations of personal computer software, so ArchiCAD was not used on large scale projects until much later. ArchiCAD has made substantial gains in user base from 2007-2011, mainly as a tool for developing residential and small commercial projects in Europe. Recent improvements have made ArchiCAD a major player in the market though fundamental issues such as a lack of a phasing component and a complicated (but flexible) programming environment for its family components using GDL (Geometric Description Language) remain. To date, Graphisoft claims that more than 1,000,000 projects worldwide have been designed using ArchiCAD.

Not long after Graphisoft began to sell the first seats of Radar CH, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) was founded in 1985 and released the first version of Pro/ENGINEER in 1988. This is a mechanical CAD program that utilizes a constraint based parametric modeling engine. Equipped with the knowledge of working on Pro/ENGINEER, Irwin Jungreis and Leonid Raiz split from PTC and started their own software company called Charles River Software in Cambridge, MA.

The two wanted to create an architectural version of the software that could handle more complex projects than ArchiCAD. They hired David Conant as their first employee, who is a trained architect and designed the initial interface which lasted for nine releases. By 2000 the company had developed a program called ‘Revit’, a made up word that is meant to imply revision and speed, which was written in C++ and utilized a parametric change engine, made possible through object oriented programming. In 2002, Autodesk purchased the company and began to heavily promote the software in competition with its own object-based software ‘Architectural Desktop’.

Revit revolutionized the world of Building Information Modeling by creating a platform that utilized a visual programming environment for creating parametric families and allowing for a time attribute to be added to a component to allow a fourth-dimension of time to be associated with the building model. This enables contractors to generate construction schedules based on the BIM models and simulate the construction process. One of the earliest projects to use Revit for design and construction scheduling was the Freedom Tower project in Manhattan. This project was completed in a series of separated but linked BIM models which were tied to schedules to provide real-time cost estimation and material quantities. Though the construction schedule of the Freedom Tower has been racked with political issues, improvements in coordination and efficiency on the construction site catalyzed the development of integrated software that could be used to view and interact with architects, engineers and contractors models in overlay simultaneously.

Towards a Collaborative Architecture
There has been a trend towards the compositing of architectural files with those of engineers who create the systems to support them which has become more prevalent within the past seven years as Autodesk has released versions of Revit specifically for Structural and Mechanical engineers. This increased collaboration has had impacts on the larger industry including a movement away from design-bid-build contracts towards integrated project delivery where many disciplines typically work on a mutually accessible set of BIM models that are updated in varying degrees of frequency. A central file takes an object and applies an attribute of ownership so that a user who is working on a given project can view all objects but can only change those that they have checked out of a ‘workset’. This feature released in Revit 6 in 2004, enables large teams of architects and engineers to work on one integrated model, a form of collaborative software. There are now several firms working towards visualization of BIM models in the field using augmented reality

A broad variety of programs used by architects and engineers makes collaboration difficult. Varying file formats lose fidelity as they move across platforms, especially BIM models as the information is hierarchical and specific. To combat this inefficiency the International Foundation Class (IFC) file format was developed in 1995 and has continued to adapt to allow the exchange of data from one BIM program to another. This effort has been augmented by the development of viewing software such as Navisworks which is solely designed to coordinate across varying file formats. Navisworks allows for data collection, construction simulation and clash detection and is used by most major contractors in the US today.

Following in the footsteps of the Building Design Advisor, simulation programs such as Ecotect, Energy Plus, IES and Green Building Studio allow the BIM model to be imported directly and results to be gathered from simulations. In some cases there are simulations that are built directly into the base software, this method of visualization for design iteration has been introduced to Autodesk’s Vasari, a stand alone beta program similar to the Revit Conceptual Modeling Environment where solar studies and insolation levels can be calculated using weather data similar to the Ecotect package. Autodesk, through their growth and acquisition of a broad variety of software related to BIM have contributed to the expansion of what is possible from analysis of a model. In late November 2012, the development of formit, an application that allows the conceptual beginnings of a BIM model to be started on a mobile device is a leap for the company.

Contemporary Practice and Design Academics
Some have taken a negative stance on BIM and parametrics as they assume so much about the design process and limit any work produced to the user’s knowledge of the program. This can enable a novice designer who has learned how to perform basic commands to become an incredibly prolific producer while a highly educated and experienced architect can be crippled from inexperience with a programs interface or underlying concepts. This creates a potential for a generational break line that becomes more harsh as a new technology gains market parity.

Some BIM platforms that have a small market share but have made big impacts on the world of design include Generative Components (GC), developed by Bentley Systems in 2003, and Digital Project (DP). The GC system is focused on parametric flexibility and sculpting geometry and supports NURBS surfaces. The interface hinges on a node-based scripting environment that is similar to Grasshopper to generate forms. Digital Project is a similar program was developed by Gehry Technologies around 2006 based on CATIA, a design program (and one of the first CAD programs) that was developed as an in house project by Dessault systems, a French airplane manufacturer. These two platforms have spawned something of a revolution in design as the power to iterate and transform has resulted in especially complex and provocative architectural forms.

Patrick Schumacher has coined the movement of parametric building models in architecture, specifically those which allow for NURBS surfaces and scripting environments as ‘parametricism’ in his 2008 ‘Parametricist Manifesto’.

“The current stage of advancement within parametricism relates as much to the continuous advancement of the attendant computational design technologies as it is due to the designer’s realization of the unique formal and organizational opportunities that are afforded. Parametricism can only exist via sophisticated parametric techniques. Finally, computationally advanced design techniques like scripting (in Mel-script or Rhino-script) and parametric modeling (with tools like GC or DP) are becoming a pervasive reality. Today it is impossible to compete within the contemporary avant-garde scene without mastering these techniques.”

Since these techniques have become increasingly complex there has become a component of architectural schools which is specified to train in specific software. A student with knowledge of only one type of software platform may well be trained to design according to the biases of the programs that they are using to represent their ideas. Software performs useful tasks by breaking down a procedure into a set of actions that have been explicitly designed by a programmer. The programmer takes an idea of what is commonsense (Sack 14) and simulates a workflow using tools available to them to create an idealized goal. In the case of BIM tools, the building is represented as components including walls, roofs, floors, windows, columns, etc. These components have pre-defined rules or constraints which help them perform their respective tasks.

BIM platforms typically represent walls as objects with layers, these layers are defined in terms of the depth and height of a wall and are extruded along the length of a line. The program then has the ability to calculate the volume of material contained within the wall assembly and to create wall sections and details easily. This type of workflow is based on the existing building stock and common industry standards and therefore a project which is produced in a BIM platform which emphasizes these tools is likely to reinforce existing paradigms rather than develop new ones. Additionally, the programmers who worked on the early BIM platforms often did not have a background in architecture but employed hybrid architect/programmers who contributed to the development of the programs. One notable exception I have found to this is the work of Charles Eastman who received a Masters of Architecture from Berkeley before working on the Building Description System. The roots of the major BIM platforms that are in use today have been developed by programmers with the peripheral input of hybrid programmer/architects and a global user base who contributes to the development of the software via ‘wish lists’ or online forums where grievances can be aired about a product workflow. The grievances typically result in new features and build upon the existing interface.

Though the general concept and technology behind BIM is approaching its thirtieth anniversary, the industry has only begun to realize the potential benefits of Building Information Models. As we reach a point where a majority of buildings are being crafted digitally, an existing building marketplace where building materials and structural components can be bought and sold locally will emerge. Sustainable design practices reinforce an attitude of designing for disassembly and a marketplace of these parts is essential. Trends in Human Computer Interaction, Augmented Reality, Cloud Computing, Generative Design and Virtual Design and Construction continue to rapidly influence the development of BIM. Looking back at the past it is easier to realize that the present moment is an exciting time for designers and programmers in this evolving industry.

Michael S Bergin is a Researcher at Architecture Research Lab.

* This paper is in progress. Check back for updates and please leave a comment if have a source, primary information or factual dispute.

Chuck Eastman, Paul Teicholz, Rafael Sacks, Kathleen Liston – The BIM Handbook
Malek S. – CAD/BIM Timeline
Charles Eastman – What is BIM?
Various at AUGI – The Origins of Revit
Lachmi Khemlani – AEC Bytes / Revit 6
Marian Bozdoc – The History of CAD
Jeremy Tammik – The History of Revit and its API

33 Responses to History of BIM

  1. prashant says:


  2. Mario Guttman says:

    Many of the ideas of BIM are not as new as the software vendors might like us to believe. Take a look at this paper by Douglas Englbart written in 1962: Douglas C. Engelbart. Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework”

    I started working on the AEC software industry around 1989 with a compay called Vertex that was doing early work with the kinds of objects that ultimately became families in Revit. This compay was merged with ASG Software that made AEC add-ons for AutoCAD, and included many BIM-like features.

    You shoudl also take a good look at the Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM) and Graphic Information System (GIS)software that has been doing BIM (just not called that) for several decades.

    Let me know if you’d like more detail. I’m happy to talk but woudl prefer to get out of this chat format.


  3. ashraf shafik says:

    Dear sir

    I like to have more detail


    Ashraf Shafik

  4. Victor Silva says:


    Excellent document for all who seek to understand the history of BIM and why is: “NOT THE FUTURE BUT THE PRESENT!”
    Congratulations and thanks for sharing.
    I share here too, another article on the same subject published in ArchiMAG at the beginning of 2012
    or in

    Victor Silva from Lisbon, Portugal, Europe

  5. Not one mention of Teamwork 1.0 or 2.0, or 64 bit technology within Archicad. That is a very monumental aspect which has clearly set these platforms apart in recent history. These advancements have revolutionized the way teams collaborate, allowing almost unimaginable possibilities for architects, engineers and designers to work together regardless of distance, scale, scope, or complexity.

    This article leaves out key players like Tekla who have provided the industry with some revolutionary solutions, and briefly mentions CATIA.

    Though all of this is still missing the fact that BIM isn’t just one platform like REVIT but a combination of various different platforms like Navisworks, Solibri, Vico, Tekla, ECO Designer, ECOTECH, Onuma Planning System, and a bunch of other things. It’s not just about objects, but it is more about creating a building virtually as detailed as possible, then understanding all the variables that are required for the duration of the projects life.

    This is nearing the 13th anniversary of Autodesk coining the term BIM, but the technology, and various platforms have been doing this years prior to the REVIT product. Let’s not kid ourselves here people Archicad is and has been the technological leader in this industry for a long time. It has provide time and time again that it is more agile and able to handle for more complex projects. Archicad was IFC certified light years before REVIT. Archicad also communicates effectively with almost every single platform in it’s native language, seamlessly. REVIT has been chasing Archicad for years, but because of its dominance with regards to market share, people have started to believe that they are using the most prolific software, because everyone else is using it or talking about it. This is not the case. Revit was purchased by Autodesk, to fullfil a emerging market they had not developed any solutions for. Autodesk had nothing that would directly compete in this emerging market that Graphisoft had existed in since it’s inception. Graphisoft and Archicad have been disrupting the industry year after year with new and forward thinking solutions.

    That aside, I believe Kimon Onuma and his Onuma Planning System need a little research as well. The Onuma and Kimon Onuma have really taken BIM to the next level with their software and technological advancements. His system integrates seamlessly with various platforms, multiple people in a synergistic method and has been doing crazy things with parametric technology since the early 90’s.

    Overall it’s a great start to wonderful and important topic. The evolution of building and design is critical to everyone even those not tide to the industry directly. This sort of technological revolution has not been seen in the industry since the development of steel structure within buildings, then the elevator. We are lucky to be able to witness such an amazing evolution the industry through the advancement of technology. Now we all need to be able to work together without drawing sides based on software preferences, and build better, smarter, and faster.

  6. NIcolai Steinø says:

    Although Hungary was part of what was colloquially referred to as the “East block” up until 1989, it was never formally part the Sovjet Union. Referring to “Budapest, Hungary within the USSR” is therefore erroneous. In extension, claiming that “the Soviet Union had two programming geniuses…”, listing the Hungarian Gábor Bojár as one of them is also wrong.

  7. archresearchlab says:

    I would love to know more about early Tekla history, I know the company was founded in 1966 but don’t have a good resource for when it began parametric database modeling and became a BIM tool, looking into this.
    I have seen the Onuma system in action and seen his presentations a few times. I believe the significance with his work that I’m familiar with is mainly in the parallel track of CAFM systems. I am working on an addition that incorporates these products.
    Thank you Nicolai, for your observation. I have corrected my terminology.

  8. For some more depth on very early uses of computation in architecture, you should check out Sean Keller’s doctoral thesis at MIT, as well as his Grey Room article “Fenland Tech” (link below).

    The more I read articles like this the more convinced I am that the controversies surrounding computational methods in architecture have not really changed in the last forty years.

  9. Pingback: Architectural Technologist - A History of BIM - Konstrukshon CPD Weblog

  10. Pingback: The History of BIM | BIM i praksis

  11. Pingback: » History of BIM Project Support Centre

  12. Pingback: Socrates & Associates | A Brief History of BIM / Michael S. Bergin

  13. Nice article. I updated our page on BIM some time ago to try and capture the history of BIM.

    I’d like to update again pointing to some of the info gleaned from this page!

    BIM has been around for a long time, so what have been the ‘Barriers to BIM’?
    And from those barriers, which ones remain and which ones can we break down!

    Richard V.

  14. R e: S w a r m v e r s u s S u p e r c o m p u t e r

    Hi all,

    I saw Michael’s item on the BIM Expert LinkedIn group just now. Marek’s time line (in the references above), is very interesting to me. To reiterate Nick Nesbit’s observations (on the BIM Expert group), about Britain and CAD, I have worked with people who started out on GDS in Britain in the 1980s (used on train line upgrades, jubilee line upgrade to Canary Wharf). I also worked with men who had used CADDs systems in the auto industry in Canada way back in the 1970s. Anything that I could show either of the GDS or CADDs fellows, about new wares in the early 2000s, was nothing new to them. They had really seen it all before.

    To build a little upon Willard’s contribution overhead, and a little on Marek’s timeline, I thought that Randal S. Newton’s article from 2010, Supercomputer on the Desktop, tickles my fancy a bit, in terms of establishing benchmarks in desktop computing capabilities and CAD. But to be honest about it, it is hard sometimes to find the line between where desktop FEA computation starts and ‘computer aided design’ ends. A publication such as ‘Desktop Engineer’ is about computer aided design for sure – but it is also about the heavier number crunching opportunities that one has – when one has input a model, and then wanting to put that model through various simulations.

    He is talking about virtualisation. “Until the Nehalem workstations arrived, it wasn’t feasible to run dual operating systems on one workstation using virtualization technology; the result was just too slow”.

    What I thought was very interesting in Willard’s comment overhead, is his mention of the word collaboration. I would echo the same in relation to Mario’s contribution overhead also, and the Englebart, Stanford AI Lab vein. That collaboration was at the centre of that effort. Mini-Computers by their very nature lent themselves to grouping and collaboration. Because essentially they were like a gaming console is today. A gaming console lives in the living room of one’s home, and is was designed always to be used by two people in a communal setting. Unlike personal computer gaming, which was never really in the living room, and even when we got massive on line multi-player on the personal computer gaming platform, the PC still stayed out of the living room.

    Even the humble laptop, has issues by being in a living room – where the tablet and handheld pc, is trying to be more living room friendly. But if one reads a history of SAIL, such as that by John Markoff, it always comes out in photos etc, that the SAIL system was about communes of folk, doing stuff together.

    I don’t know what occurred later at Xerox Parc exactly, but it feels to me like they did develop ethernet, Lans, shared printers perhaps, and rather than speed a lot of money buying PDP’s off of DEC – they had the ability to ‘roll their own’ so to speak. But I don’t know if that same communal working thing transferred over from SAIL to Xerox Parc. And after Xerox, we got that very private, individual oriented personal computer paradigm, which crept in, and CAD systems on the early Mac’s, Amiga’s etc were standalone systems.

    This is also the point, I think, where we might be able to draw a line between the CAD number-cruncher, and the CAD collaborative idea. With things like Lightwave, and that whole Amiga CG content creation phase, maybe it was still about the standalone number cruncher, rather than the group work notion. As I said, the ultimate number cruncher – the supercomputer on the desktop – announced by Randal in 2010, is the ultimate development in having a powerful, standalone system.

    Kevin Kelly at Wired, would note often, that PC’s were pretty dumb. It took until 1200 baud modems etc, before PC’s started to become more intelligent. I.e. The combination of communications technology with computing technology. What I think is, that in order to do a history of BIM, one may have to trace some of the roots of this ‘swarm of small weak-ish systems’ lineage – as opposed to the other lineage, which is about the work horses which could stand alone and submit models to brute force testing and analysis. But it is going to be difficult at best, to separate out one of those streams from the other.

    I’ll end with one simple example. I am attending on line training at the moment on statistical analysis software, MS Excel and SPSS from IBM. It is like comparing chalk and cheese. MS Excel, has a few basic data analysis add-on’s, which really do the business sometimes. But there is no comparison between it and SPSS, for doing real brute force crunching. On the other hand, so many folk have Excel or something that reads Excel format (you can get excel type apps on phones now), that it has he ‘swarm’ advantage going for it, which SPSS doesn’t.

  15. Molly Wright Steenson, gave a talk about early years with Nick Negroponte in 1960s here.

  16. Molly’s piece about Cedric Price, the British architect, at the IxDA Interaction Design conference, may be of interest to some historians, on the history of cybernetic systems design and so on.

    The reason, I am giving these two video references, to Nick Negroponte and Cedric Price, is I think that Nick Nisbet at the BIM Experts, LinkedIn group hinted at this particular vein of history in CAD/BIM etc, and the vocabulary that Molly uses as a historian (extracted no doubt from original texts and publications of the time), is interesting from our point of view. I.e. We will certainly recognize some memes or themes.

    I have long been curious myself about the Interaction Design communities, fascination with Christopher Alexander, and Molly applies some archaeological skills to investigation of Alexander and Peter Eisenmann architect in this sort piece.

  17. Brian–

    If you’re interested in Alexander & Eisenmann, in addition to the article I linked to above, the following debate transcript should be fascinating:

    Marks a critical turning point in architectural discourse, as well as being a great early exchange between two architects well versed in computation.

  18. Benjamin, will take a look with interest. Thanks. I know that Christopher Alexander has a new book on the way. I think, one of the things that Alexander argues, is that post WWII, we took off on a very bad direction in construction. I am sure many readers out there, and designers will look forward to reading his latest.
    The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle between Two World-Systems
    Christopher Alexander, Hans Joachim Neis, Maggie Moore Alexander

  19. Alexander Koutamanis, at Delft, Netherlands had this paper on his list from a while back.

    A biased history of CADD.

  20. On the Chris Alexander theme, and a piece influenced by Alexander’s writing, has anyone come across Big Balls of Mud? Foote and Yoder authors. One of the guys in Howard Rheingold’s circle pointed it out to me. It is attached to PLoP, Pattern Language in Program Design conferences that occured in the 90s.

    Some quite nice writing in it. I liked the part about Gulliver’s Travels, and him being held down by lots of little strings. The authors also go into how Stewart Brand adapted Frank’s shearing layers idea, and inserted it into ‘How Buildings Learn’.

  21. There are a number of early ’80s commercial architectural design systems that are not mentioned here that meet the definition of BIM as described above. A few are:

    -Eastman’s own “Formative Technology” system, based on UNIX workstations;
    -Hector Holguin’s Accugraph systems (also sold by HP and Bruning);
    -The South African SKOK (later DrawBase) system;

    In addition, my company, Nemetschek, as well as being the current owner of Graphisoft, has other divisions that produce BIM software today: Nemetschek Vectorworks, Nemetschek Allplan, and Nemetschek Scia, to name three.

    I also would say that the history of BIM as we see it today (and this echoes somewhat Willard’s comments above) is a process of moving from the concept of “software technology” to “industrial process technology”. This has at its foundation the concept of transparent interoperability. The dedicated work by many engineers at many companies to support IFC and OpenBIM will pave the way to a true process-architecture to support the many players in the construction industry.

  22. Robert,

    I like your observation about the industrial process technology. I struggle a little myself, because I keep an eye on two different conversations – computer aided design and Interaction Design. The later field is one that has accelerated much, much faster than anything on the construction side in recent decades.

    There is a growing volume of literature about Interaction Design, and a growing awareness about it. I put together a little essay lately, to help myself to understand it somewhat. I find it useful to view what is happening in BIM, in the larger context of what might be happening in Interaction Design.

    If nothing else, there are a couple of publications in the bibliography at the end of this document, which may prove of interest.

  23. Bob Waddell says:

    Is “old-Timers” setting in? Because I remember beta testing “REVIT” in 96-97. Am I wrong? Revise It=REV IT

    OK Autodesk has taken over the market share. But let us not forget the apps that brought us to this point. Archicad-1984; ustation 1988; Vectorworks/MiniCAD-1990-1996.

    I have 30 years architecture with Virtual Design and Construction. Kimon, Igor, Mitch, John, “The bentleys” are a few of the people who have made history. But with OpenBIM, IFC, and some newer technology, we can all make history by opening the workflow to all apps

  24. Thanks to all for their contribution to an interesting recount an interesting story. Brian thanks for the link to my blog. My history began with the McDonnell Douglas GDS software in the mid 1980’s. It’s ability to tie both data and graphical object stores together in a way that could be driven from either the graphical or data centric position was and is still unique. We were paying around with AI issues and how AI languages could shape the form and content of buildings until in the end, MDC sold out the code. I think, if memory serves, some of that code eventually ended up in Tekla. Certainly their interface and operations look a lot like GDS did. But while that is interesting, the important point is GDS tried, and ultimately failed to bridge the chasm between GIS and Building / Infrastructure design based on a data-driven solution. Something we still grapple with today.

    When I first saw Revit in 1998 and finally adopted it in 2000 I saw some of the same mathematics working as was in the old GDS software in the methods of graphics storage. I counseled the guys to separate their database from the graphics early on and they refused to do so. Now AD is paying the price for that decision. Revit is so bound up with it’s own data handling methods that the overall tool suffers. In fact, the entire process of design suffers from not having a separate data store accessible as a business process. For design is not an “ivory tower” effort of the lonely designer, but a collaborative effort from many stakeholders. The internalized data is simplistic from the designer’s POV, but very problematic from a business process POV.

    I expect someone else other than AD will solve this problem again. GDS solved it back in the mid 1980’s and it will be up to someone else to solve it once again to create a new BIM2 level product which opens the platform to high performance computing as a distributed process. We did this on VAX and Prime machines before, now we will likely do it in a cloud clustered environment across secure networks. I know AD and GSoft will claim to do this already, but they haven’t for the above reason of not atomizing the data for ubiquitous access.

    Of course all this technology expansion will destroy the current methods of practice and business models we work with today. IPD will be child’s play when this enabling technology hits. Silos of Design, Construction, Finance, Insurance, Manufacturing, Operations, Management and Maintenance will need to be destroyed and replaced with new relationships, agreement tools and logistics solutions.

    Today I’m working to lay the groundwork for that brave new world to come about, by showing companies how to break down the silos of separation they have accepted as “the order of the day” when they need to be open to new and competitive solutions which remove waste and error. Some are awakening. We hope more will join in soon.
    Andrew Abernathy

  25. Andrew,

    The distinct impression I got over ten years ago, when I worked with people (in their early forties ten, which would make them fifty something today), who had worked in the United Kingdom and used the GDS cad system – was that nothing we had on offer in the early 2000s – was quite as good as what they remember from their experiences using GDS from McDonnell Douglas.

    They were using McDonnell Douglas GDS, because they were working on rapid construction of underground tunnelling and railway infrastructure projects in London in the 80s and the 90s. I was engaged with one such ex. GDS user for about two years in the early 2000s, where we tested out MicroStation Triforma J, an early BIM software on a number of project.

    Unfortunately, I did not get to complete that roll out of BIM in the early 2000s. But I did learn a few things from that experience. The positive thing I took away with me, was of the ex. GDS user’s ability to work with geographical surveys and bringing them into CAD, and maximize the use of those digital surveys. I later extended that training myself, using AutoCAD 2000/04/06 with facilities management of old industrial sites in Ireland.

    But the part I do recall, from the early 2000s Bentley MSJ experiment, was the resistance on the part of my architectural colleagues to use the tool for anything like 4D or 5D. They just did not want their software to produce anything that a cost planner, or scheduler might use or benefit from. That is when it struck me, that technology was one thing, but human beings are quite another.

    A few further related items, in relation to your to the database industry (and the construction industry’s failure to embrace what the wider database community are doing).

    Larry Ellison gave a quite useful analysis of computing at D10, where he remarked how strange the PC was. He compared to other networks like water, electricity etc. The PC was strange, in that it gave to the consumer an enormously complex device, with which to access the network.

    Marc Andreesen’s D9 talk was fairly good also, I thought.

    One event I liked also, was recorded at Berkeley iSchool, which I like features David Clark, talking about ‘The Internets We Did Not Build’. An MIT veteran of communications technological development and research.
    Speaker: David Clark, MIT

  26. Daniel Lindahl says:


    I have just read HISTORY OF BIM AND would like to commend you on a very well written paper.
    You invite comments and state that the paper is in progress, so I will weigh in here.

    I am well aware that biases towards a particular software are inevitable, I have them myself as you might possibly have noticed on some of the LinkedIn discussion threads. However, your bias towards Revit is showing in a few places, in ways that can distort the balance of what is otherwise a very objective paper.

    Your lead-in to the origins of Virtual building states:
    “Leonid Raiz and Gábor Bojár would go on to be the respective co-founder and founder of Revit and ArchiCAD.”

    You then describe the origins of ArchiCAD and go on to outline what you perceive as limitations of that software, incorrectly suggesting it is still only suitable for residential or small commercial projects. (Check out this: 975ft high Eureka Tower built 2001, fully designed, documented and scheduled in ArchiCAD – there are many other examples of similarly complex projects, this is just one I happen to know of.)

    After this you follow up with:
    Not long after Graphisoft began to sell the first seats of Radar CH, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) was founded in 1985 …..
    ….Irwin Jungreis and Leonid Raiz split from PTC and started their own software company called Charles River Software in Cambridge, MA.

    This gives the erroneous impression that ArchiCAD and Revit were developed roughly simultaneously, though Charles River Software was in fact founded in October 1997, some 15 years after Graphisoft, at a time when ArchiCAD was already a mature product used for quite major projects around the world. In fact, at that time I was using ArchiCAD exclusively to design and document a $7.5M project (that would be the equivalent of $11M in today’s money).

    Another misleading statement:
    The two wanted to create an architectural version of the software that could handle more complex projects than ArchiCAD.
    To date that objective has not been achieved.

  27. Daniel,

    I think the above kind of feedback is extremely useful from a researchers point of view. I know, in my own work at the moment, I have a natural bias in designing my own questions, drafts etc . . . to use sentences like, ‘construction of new buildings’, in relation to BIM . . . and it really demonstrates my view on it. I.e. I should use sentences like construction, operation and maintenance of buildings, infrastructure, facilities and critical services.

    But a lot of the time, when I am busy writing, my natural bias, coming from architecture school training, is to only think about construction of buildings. Like, as if, that is the entire world.

    Also, there is the distinction between professionals and trades, is something that has also come up several times now, in feedback I am getting to some questions I have asked about BIM to people in industry. Again, getting back to my natural bias, the architecture school training perspective etc . . . I didn’t spend much time, in a real construction environment, to understand how much time, expense and resources are consumed in the process of coordination of different elements, that are needed in a completed project.

    I would almost go so far as to suggest, that BIM isn’t really about professions driving better efficiency amongst the trades and skills in construction. But BIM, is more like the trades guys and skilled people, giving back feedback to the professionals in the industry, and saying,

    “Heh guys, can you stop doing this all of the time. It’s wasting our time. You could solve it upstream at your end, if you wanted to”.

    That is counter intuitive to many of us, on the professional side, who may have gotten used to a culture, where we assume that we know more, on our end.

  28. Pingback: A Brief History of BIM / Michael S. Bergin (en Traduction) | Architecture Béta, une conception Open Source

  29. Tim Waldock says:

    Very interesting article. I just want to fill in a few gaps in early BIM history:
    In 1980 I worked on a student “Passive Solar House” project, and used an early BIM software called “Scribe” to build a 3D model of the house, visualise it (only wireframe!), input the materials used with their thermal properties, and then used the program to run a thermal analysis. Scribe ran on an Apple II (pre-Mac) – so this makes it the first BIM software to run on a personal computer. Scribe was written by my tutor Cedric Green, at Sheffield University in the UK, and was subsequently made commercially available (see below).

    Subsequent to that I worked on RUCAPS (as mentioned in the BIM history) in the mid 1980s.
    During the 1990s I worked with really good Australian 3D CAD software called “Caddsman” – although technically not BIM, it certainly worked in 3d using modular components to build the model. It ran on PCs and was streets ahead of other software available at the time, although it lacked ability to do anything with the model information aside from creating drawings and visualisations (which it was very good at).

    1981-91 SCRIBE – Space, Cost, Resources & Integrated Building Evaluation; computer-aided architectural design modelling system for personal computer; approx .2000 users to January 1989. (“Affordable 3-D Graphic Modelling”, Ted Stevens, RIBAJ, June 1982, Vol 89, No 6 p77. Solar Age, November 1983 Architects Journal, December 1984)

  30. Something I scribbled today, which is related to this history of BIM project I thought. First, some theoretical background.

    Industry is actually too high a level of perspective to use to think about BIM technology in a useful way. Industries are hard to move. Usually they don’t move or manage to overcome their own inertia. Normally, what has happened when ‘movement’ finally happens, is that some foreign body has arrived into the environment that creates havoc on some level.

    I.e. Like a virus, a mutation, an un-welcomed species or cultural wave (British punk rock??).

    (Quammen, 2012) is a highly recommended read to expand one’s thoughts on this. The text looks at how modern pandemics really operate, and how the various strands of viruses etc exist dormant in certain species for a long, long time until they somehow ‘spill over’ to a new accelerator host.

    What (Quammen, 2012) describes is the destruction an existing intact habitat by human beings, which leads to the pandemic jumping from the thousands of years old host, to some intermediary, and then to the much larger host, of the human population. (Quammen, 2012) compares it to the pandemic having ‘won the host sweepstakes’, in terms of opportunity for expansion, mutation and multiplication.

    In terms of construction professions, the pandemic of collaboration (and from there, to greater adoption of BIM), will probably be found in one of those ancient rainforests, where it has lied dormant for centuries. When one of those environments becomes disrupted (one of the major professions), the species will spill over and expand outward to the rest of the industry.

    This is essentially what we saw with Lean manufacture, from its emergence of the rubble of the post-WWII Japanese host environment, to its spread into the north American continent (via intermediaries, a few book translations and individual carriers), followed by its spread into mainstream 21st century management culture.

    It jumped from manufacture to construction, and today Lean is now jumping from ‘Construction’ into ‘Design’ in a latest mutation.

    Works Cited
    Quammen, D. (2012). Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic . New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

  31. One interesting pandemic, that had spread outward from construction and the architectural profession from the late 1960s onwards, can be traced back now to international meetings and conferences, such as the one documented in (Moore, 1970).

    The pandemic began in the rainforest environment of the construction industry which was being ripped apart in post WWII America, and it later spread outward finding an intermediary host in the new software industry that was being born in the 1970s. New ideas about how to use programming language, latched on to thinking which had been nurtured in the architectural profession.

    Nowadays, we are likely to see architects who were original hosts of the pandemic, such as Christopher Alexander, Stewart Brand or Nicholas Negroponte, being cited in modern academic writing about software or social networking, and not so much in anything construction related. The ideas and contributions to that ground breaking 1968 conference in Massachusetts, by Frank Duffy, John Chris Jones, Chuck Eastman, Horst Rittel and so on, found the most fertile soil outside of the construction industry.

    What we are witnessing with BIM, is that same pandemic which started in construction in the post war years, and which spent so much of its life outside, is being re-introduced back into construction gradually, in the 2010s.

    The idea I am getting at, is that the pandemic could not sustain itself within construction in the later half of the 20th century. It had to find a better host to survive for those intervening decades. But it is essentially the same set of ideas that were incubated in architecture and construction many years ago, which are now coming back home.

    The same is witnessed with Lean manufacture in Japan nowadays, where plants which became under productive in the last few decades, are re-introducing ideas about Lean organisation (from north America to Japan, rather than the other way around).

    Work cited:
    Moore, G. T. (1970). Emerging Methods in Environmental Design and Planning. Proceedings of the Design Methods group, First International Conference, Cambridge, MA, June 1968. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  32. Pingback: BIM + Ingeniería de Estructuras | Blog

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