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.  

 

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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.

 

Bibliography:

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.