Constructing Communities: The benefits of BIM


Homs City Centre re-imagined by Ammar Azzouz and Ayla Shawish. Credit: Azzouz/Shawish


While projects such as Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge and Rome Reborn exemplify the fascinating perspective and useful applications of reverse engineering virtual worlds, and are certainly worth exploring, I would like to use this blog post to focus on how digital architecture is, or could, shape the cities we live in.

The aim of this blog post is to explore much more than the cost effectiveness of Building Information Modelling (BIM). Projects such as Digital Built Britain are more than willing to extol the financial virtues of the process for those interested. Instead I am more interested in the movement beyond the traditional scale model towards the digital city. According to Bernstein modern consensus suggests that the cost of renovation will ‘outstrip’ new building as constructed cities fill to the brim with apartments, offices and leisure zones (Bernstein). The result of this process will be a heightened emphasis on sustainability, reliability and higher levels of performance and it is digital architecture which is making this achievable. Rather than constructing singular models architects are utilizing BIM software to reproduce digital versions of growing cities. The digitisation of these physical landscapes allows the modern architect to move beyond the one dimensional approach of building design and facilitates the incorporation of a singular building design into a connected city network of combined infrastructure. This move will maximise the capabilities of buildings and increase their productivity as well as their lifespan.  


The Shanghai Tower’s torqueing design based on urban wind flow simulations. Image courtesy of Shanghai Tower Construction and Development Co., Ltd. Rendering by Gensler.

 Taking this process one step further Ammar Azzouz is researching how BIM technology can be used to redesign cities destroyed by conflict. Azzouz’s aim is not to use the existing technology to recreate a lost city marred or lost to conflict, but to design a new one that respects the city’s past by incorporating destroyed sites as memorials within the surrounding multi-functional buildings for ‘Homsians to gather with a collective sense of belonging’ (Azzouz). Initially, after reading the title of Azzouz’s piece, ‘Digital architecture can help rebuild ancient Syrian cities’, I was skeptical of his intentions. Fearing his article would suggest replicating a pre-war version of Homs I had already conceived the idea that Azzouz was an advocate for bypassing the painful yet necessary redesign of a ravaged city. My assumptions led me to believe that he was simply trying to erase the country’s recent past through an uncontrolled expression of technological fetishism, following the Palmyra arch vein of thinking. However, I was delighted to find that Azzouz’s thesis is actually the antithesis of this “sweep it under the rug” assumption. Combining economic reasoning with utility Azzouz explores the multi-functional capacity of BIM. His proposed plans for the reconstruction of Homs which essentially incorporates the financial concerns of construction, particularly costly postwar reconstruction, and the desire for utility and memorialisation, which can facilitate a safe and equal space for all the residents of Homs, highlights the true advantages of BIM.

In conclusion, the true advantage of BIM is not its cost effectiveness or a progressive technological form of planning. While these are two great additional characteristics, in my opinion, the true advantage of BIM is the ability to incorporate the existing and surrounding landscape into architectural design. BIM  facilitates the construction of a community through building and reconstruction. It goes beyond the singular and sees the wider field. The resulting effect of this is to highlight that physical spaces are not just places of utility but significant spaces which have the ability to shape, impact and inform our lives. If Azzouz’s research shows us anything it is that BIM allows us in the present to respect the past while planning for our future.



Rome Reborn. University of Virginia et al. 1997. Web. 10 December 2016.

Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge. Maynooth University. 2015. Web. 10 December 2016.

Azzouz, Amar, ‘Digital architecture can help rebuild ancient Syrian cities.’ PhysOrg. Web. 10 December 2016.

Bernstein, Phil, ‘Why Today’s Architects Build Digital Cities Instead of Scale Models.’ Gizmodo. Web. 10 December 2016.

Turner, Lauren, ‘Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph recreated in London’, BBC News. Web. 10 December 2016.

Seeing What The Eye Can’t See: Computational Analysis versus Curatorial Expertise

New imaging system can beat human eye

Often when a new or growing technology is released we are confronted with questions; traditional or modern, book or computer, digital or analogue? In part these questions result from fear, fear of the new and fear of losing the old, the known. However, in reality, these questions are a milestone, a marker of a technology which has not yet been fully incorporated into practice. One day these technologies will cease to be a question and simply transition to a method, as their predecessors did before them. Computational analysis is such a technology. With the ever enhancing capabilities of computers, followed quickly by mechanical limitations, we are asked to assess the value of two separate methodologies, the known and the new, computational analysis or curatorial expertise. I reject this choice.

Despite the rapid advance in technology and its increasing innovation there is no doubt that a computer cannot do everything a human can do. When it comes to curating images the human eye sees an image and categorises it based on a number of influential factors such as culture, social conditioning and experience. However, humans can also recognise a multiplicity of term, that one word can be synonymous or interchangeable with another is a given of human language. Therefore, for argument’s sake sometimes curatorial expertise is necessary in order to generate a comprehensive catalogue.

However, just as computers can’t do everything a human can do, humans can’t do everything a computer can do. For example, in Oxford Dr  Christoffer Nellaker and his team are developing computer vision algorithms which will analyse photographs of faces for disease-relevant phenotypes (Oxford University Innovation). Categorised under the field of eHealth Dr Nellaker’s project will use these algorithms to help medical professionals make easier and more accurate diagnoses of rare genetic diseases. The programme uses machine learning to create a multidimensional space shaped to account for deceptive variations such as lighting, pose, occlusions, and image quality. Similarly, computational imaging techniques have been applied to patients in order to provide automated decision support for experts when trying to grade the severity of pathologies such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration (Dessauer & Dua 39). Such technologies allow these experts to create pattern recognition which enhance their ability to make informed case decisions based on common characteristics and previous cases in a much more efficient way.

Therefore, both curatorial expertise and computational analysis have their benefits. Just as a computer cannot interpret the various interpretations associated with one image, an optometrist cannot perform fifty eye exams and accurately diagnose the severity of a pathology. This is why I don’t believe it is a choice between one or the other, it is a compromise, it is a discussion but most of all it revolves around implementation. One method does not supercede the other, both have their merits and both have their pitfalls. The real question is how do we or can ever perfectly combine the two?


Dessauer, Michael & Dua, Sumeet, ‘Computational Methods for  Feature Detection in Optical Images.’ Computational Analysis of the Human Eye with Applications. Ed. Duan Semeet et al. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2011. 39 – 88.

Nellaker, Christoffer, ‘Diagnosis of rare diseases with computational analysis of photographs.’ Oxford University Innovation ( Web. 09 December 2016.

Knowledge Vs. Action: Respecting the Transdiscipline

In a recent post on the established presence and practice of digital archaeology Andre Costopoulos laments what he sees as an over-analyzed and excessively theorized field. For Costopoulos the established presence of digital archaeology as a practice has earned the discipline the right to forego the typical extensive discussions which accompany methodologies within the humanities (Costopoulos). While I can appreciate Costopoulos’ restlessness his lament is in many ways a reflection of an old argument, science versus humanities, practice versus theory, knowledge for action versus knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Perhaps this conundrum is a reflectance of Costopoulos’ position in a transdiscipline, one which seeks knowledge through action, however, I believe his desire to simply do digital archaeology in the absence of discussion is to do an injustice to the properties of both fields.

historiographyAs any student of the humanities could probably tell you the study of their subject is never simplistic and always incorporates the theory of that discipline. As a history student I took at least three modules on interpreting history and historiography over the course of my four year degree, this doesn’t even account for the hours spent on the same subject within other modules. Therefore, the humanities is pervaded by its ambition to fully understand itself, it is a discipline which is increasingly self aware and seeks to analyse the methodology and interpretation of every community member in order to understand the practice and results. As a member of this community archaeology, digital or not, will likely always be a contributor to these discussions. Many archaeologists have sought to confirm archaeology as the epitome of transdiscipline, a study which incorporates both scientific methodology and the humanities even before the digital is applied (Huggett 87). However, Costopoulos’ desire to remove this theoretical component, or to at least move on from it, is to ignore a fundamental characteristic of the humanities element of his discipline, and, therefore, will not improve his field but work towards changing it in such a way that it no longer represents its original self.

The first Cornell Electronic Analog Computer (COREAC), circa 1960s
The first Cornell Electronic Analog Computer (COREAC), circa 1960s

Similarly, Costopoulos’ desire to forego the usual discussions which accompany the practice of digital archaeology seems to omit the necessity of these discussions due to the rapid acceleration of technical abilities. While demonstrating himself that multiple technologies have been applied to the field over time Costopoulos fails to acknowledge that with each new technology there are new issues discuss and applications to be decided. Similarly, has Huggett has argued, while all archaeologists may be digital archaeologists the degree to which they incorporate the technology varies across the field. Just as not all archaeologist specialise in bone not all archaeologist specialise in software or digital capturing (Huggett). Therefore, in order for the field to progress and strengthen each specialist must reveal the advantages and complications of their respective specialty so that progress can be made as a whole. As Robert Groves has argued this theorising, gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake allows the formulation of principles in which specialists will seek to push concepts further and students will strive to comprehend and manipulate to the field.

In conclusion, while sitting, discussing, debating and theorising may not feel like the kind of action that Costopoulos seems to think the field of archaeology deserves it is part of the process. It is simply not enough to do digital archaeology. To do so would undermine the field it originates from and the one which it has long since incorporated.


Costopoulos, Andre, ‘Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’ Frontiers in Digital Archaeology 3 (2016). Web. 01 December 2016.


Huggett, Jeremy, ‘A manifesto for an introspective digital archaeology’. Open Archaeology, 1/1 (2015): 86-95. Web. 01 December 2016.

Hugget, Jeremy, ‘Let’s talk about digital archaeology’ INTROSPECTIVE DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY. Web. 01 December 2016.