Building Better BIM Libraries

This Post is by Jon Buerg.

In my particular area of practice, we build libraries of FFE content. Lots and lots and lots of libraries of FFE content. I mean like thousands of pieces; it’s kind of nuts. These BIM libraries are essential to our particular line of work, which is interior architecture for clients that fill spaces with a ton of fixtures, furniture and equipment. I’ve started to look back on these efforts recently and I’ve found there are some important insights to be had—so it’s time to share what I’ve learned.

It’s More Efficient to Build a Library All at Once

This is the most important insight of them all. If you can actually afford to invest the labor and time into producing a complete library all in one shot without interruption, you’ll be rewarded with a lower overall investment cost and time frame. I’ve had the experience of build libraries both continuously and piece by piece now, and the evidence is clear that it’s far more efficient to get it all done at once—perhaps more than twice as efficient. The repetition inherent in creating library elements is what’s driving this efficiency: you get in the rhythm and then it’s a zen-like state of production.

Use the Interwebs

There are loads of websites out there that are dedicated to the free distribution of FFE stuff and building elements in a variety of file formats. I regularly visit 3D Warehouse (, BIMcomponents (, BIMobject (, NBS National BIM Library (, Revit City (, KCL CADalog (, and SmartBIM Library ( You’ll need to do some work on these files to get them to your standards, LOD, and general functionality, but it’s a huge time saver to go out and gather all you can that is already modeled. There’s also a ton of resources on the web for texture files to make the library content look good in 3D.

Make Sure Embedded Data Can Get to IFC

Future-proof your library as much as possible. You never know who or what software is going to need data from this stuff, and the best way to be prepared is to follow IFC protocols for embedding data, like manufacturer and model number, into your library element. Do this from the start; it’s a lot easier than changing it later on and then having to change all the smart schedules that read those parameters too.

Do Your Consulting Engineers a Solid

When it comes to interior architecture in particular, the architect loads up the BIM with a ton of FFE elements. Many of these elements require data, electrical, plumbing and/or mechanical connections. The consulting engineers end up swapping out the library elements you made for their own simply to be able to get the proper classification on the element and the proper set of scheduling parameters in order to be able to populate their construction drawings. It’s a worthwhile effort to meet with the engineers you’ll be working with and determine what kinds of data and classifications they need from your library content and then implement that in a collaborative fashion as you build the library together—of course, keeping all of that parametric data in IFC.

This is a Great Way to Train

I’ve used the library-building process to train staff in my firm. They get to learn not only the BIM authoring software in a very practical way, but they also get to learn content management skills that can be put to work maintaining that library for the duration of time it’s used to serve our clients. People who are new to BIM learn faster doing this then they do getting thrown into a project, even if they have someone by their side to walk them through that project. There’s something about the repetitive nature of the workflows involved in building a library that really drives home essential modeling and organizational skills that stick with a person.

Just Because You Can, Should You?

Many components of the libraries we build stay as 2D elements. Sure, we could model them, but that would not be a good use of our time and money for things that don’t appear in 3D views, as all they need to do is show up in a plan view and a schedule, or even just show up in the schedule and nowhere else. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate what really needs to be modeled and what can remain 2D, but still be “smart” with parametric data before you begin building your library. See also the section above on collaborating with consulting engineers on library content, as this is an essential factor in deciding what content will stay 2D.

On this same topic I’d also like to mention that adding accurate texture/color to your modeled elements is really about whether or not you plan to use that same content for visualization with the client. I’ve built libraries that are completely devoid of finish textures and colors because all of the library content was for construction documentation, where it wasn’t necessary to visualize any finishes. I’ve also built libraries with richly detailed finish textures that can be parametrically adjusted and look great in renderings because that was what the deliverables for the client needed to have. Think through this part of the process with an eye on the future, as it can save a lot of labor to avoid adding finishes to your library content.

Retirement Planning

Once your library of content is up and running you’ll no doubt get to a point where something you made gets phased out or is no longer needed. Maybe the client changes something in the design, or perhaps a manufacturer discontinues a product. Who knows, but this stuff happens. Our firm developed a system for retiring old library content so that it’s archived and easy to relink retired content to legacy project files that need to be reopened in the future. This system means nothing is ever deleted. That’s the most important part to remember, no matter what kind of library content retirement system you put into place.

In Conclusion

Some days I envy architects whose work is such that they can primarily use the default built-in library content that ships with their BIM authoring software, as they don’t have to get into these management issues. But other times, I find it really satisfying to get a library in place that my firm gets to own and control. At my firm, we now have enough libraries built that we have a rich resource of manufacturer-specific BIM content. That’s a real advantage for the new work that will come our way in the future, as the more we develop these libraries, the less intense each of those development efforts has to be.

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  1. Gary L. McGavin, AIA October 9, 2015
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  4. Robert Wilkanowski February 20, 2016
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