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Who is in the BIM? AECO meet AECOU

I couldn’t fit this graph in the previous post on social BIG BIM, so it gets its own post. Which is good because I also want to ruminate on the acronym AECOU.

Once we reach Social BIG BIM, IV-IV (augmented reality), the time line of the building/BIM and who is using it might look something like this:

Who is in the integrated BIM

Blue is 100% in the model, Gray 0% in the model.

Note 1: Sorry the chart is so small. Click on the image and it’ll get bigger.

Note 2: There are no hard trade-offs. Primary ownership of the BIM is a gentle transition. One team member increases their involvement while another decreases theirs. There are no gaps.

Note 3: Instead of deconstruction, the last segment could be renovation. In that scenario there would be a more or less repeat of who’s in the model during design, documentation, and construction. There is the added possibility of owners and users also still operating and inhabiting the building (and model) during this phase, which opens up opportunities for all sorts of great feedback loops.

Note 4: Architects, engineers, contractors could maintain a base level of involvement in the model throughout the life of the building. Beyond making required repairs, I imagine the AEC team watching the function of the project and making improvement suggestions. Perhaps a new product appears that could improve the energy use of the building. Or maybe the architect notices that a certain area of the building isn’t being utilized well and provides alternatives to improve this area. What would an architecture firm’s revenues look like if they offered various levels of design maintenance subscriptions to their clients? Subscriptions that could be transferred to the next owners of the building. We all like to think that our designs never need alterations after the project is complete. But we also all know that that’s bullshit. We have all seen the statistics about how many buildings will be remodeled in the coming years. And having survived the last half-decade, we all know how much of our work is already renovations. What if we maintained an active relationship, a contractual income generation relationship, with all our projects? Not just ten years of liability, but ten or more years of profit? More on that in a future post.

The U might be the most important part of the Acronym

As we move down the path of BIM and make it to the integration of building and model, interesting things start to happen. First off with the shift to Augmented Reality, one needs to change the AECO acronym to AECOU. I know AECOO is used right now, but the second O is too nebulous for me. Occupant, Operator? One feels too passive, the other too mechanical. Regardless of my disinterest in the double O, I think U for User makes more sense. Even more so than now, people will be active participants of all aspects of the building. With Augmented Reality, they will be accessing the Information the BIM provides to enhance their experiences. They will not be passive operators running some predefined machine; they will be using the virtual aspects of the building to dynamically expand physical functions and activities. Perhaps having doors unlock as the right people approach, getting live feedback on energy usage as it relates to climate control, querying the number of chairs or desks available, checking for off-gassing or materials they are allergic too, or merely asking for directions or room sizes. Furthermore the users will feed additional information back into the model. This might be teaching the BIM (which could be viewed as the brain/digital identity of the building) when rooms are used, who are using the spaces, whether users like or dislike the rooms at certain times of day, whether glare is bad from lights or windows, or what materials (furniture, equipment, finishes) have been added or removed from the building. The potential lists go on and on. Just pause for a moment and reread that. We already give likes and +1’s to articles (cough, cough, this post); image that extended to all aspects of our built environment. We think we know our audience as designers. But what if you could return to a school you designed and see that a particular stairwell or office has lots of +1’s. Digestible metrics that you can feed back into future designs… trackable data that goes beyond the traditional four dimensions.

This interaction between building intelligence and user is happening now without a digital model attached. The Nest Learning Thermostat (which I’m totally installing in the next house I own after we sell our current house in a few months) already learns your behavior, is checkable via the web, is wi-fi enabled, etc. Now imagine that technology but in addition to basic sensors, tracking, and automated controls, it can also read the performance of your building by understanding the materials involved, by communicating with doors and windows, etc. What if the thermostat (or BIM) could open windows? What if the insulation in the walls could share information about itself with the rest of the building? What if the users of the building could interact with all that and warn the building of an upcoming event or need? What if the user of the building could ask which room would be most pleasant to have a meeting in or I’m at the store, what’s the paint color on the walls? I want to match it.

Sharks Underneath Us

Some of this talk might sound a bit bizarre and outlandish. That’s okay. Just wait for the next post. I’ll return to more grounded discussions of BIM, but we need to look far down the path towards possible futures. Maybe none of this will come to pass. Maybe it all will. Or more likely perhaps we are underestimating the future. It’s important to remember that coasting and standing still are polite terms for decline and loss of value.

What do you think? Will BIM and physical buildings merge into One Thing? While the BIM be the interface between the User and the Internet of Things that are housed within a building? If so, what might that look like? Or will buildings become smart enough and self-aware enough that an attached digital model is redundant and unnecessary? What would that mean for our work? At that point could we return to paper and pencil because the stuff that the building is made of will be so digitally enhanced that the final BIM will be created as a result of the construction process?


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  • February 20, 2013

    Patrick May

    Nice use of gradients! In our line of residential projects the owner/user definitely have some heavy input in the design end, then fall off on the documentation and get picked back up late in construction for selections.

      • November 25, 2013


        WhY redo it? ArchiCAD is quite capable of doing this stuff 😉

        I would agree with Patrick. The Client’s input is essential in the design phase, and, while the Client might just be an observer of the various stages of the BIM development, the actual influence on the outcome is the greatest of all the stakeholders.

  • August 3, 2014

    Agree with the thoughts on “user”. I think it’s easy to forget that it’s those poor folks that thrive and suffer in our buildings every day who will be most affected by our life’s work.

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