In recent years, thanks to the BIM (Building Information Modelling) technology, architecture and engineering projects have been increasingly using IT. This digital representation process is also being used in large urban development projects. BIM technology provides technicians full control of the project that would have been unthinkable until now. Just as computer-aided drawing (CAD) revolutionised architectural practice in the 1990s, when blueprints were drawn manually with a square and triangle, the new era of project representation now rests on BIM.
This new type of software allows to create accurate, 3D models of all elements in a project, beyond the mere drawing, and includes information on construction materials, structures, facilities, budgets, and much more. The possibilities are endless. One of the greatest strengths of this system is the ability to allow all teams working on a complex project to network on the same model in real time, using a virtual representation that includes all details, from topography to construction finishes. This ensures seamless coordination. Should any problem be found or correction need to be made, it would be shown in the virtual model rather than the actual construction work, thus saving costs, time and resources. This technology provides a much better controlled, standardised and higher quality construction.
BIM is gradually being rolled out in the European construction sector. Scandinavian countries have been firmly committed to this technology from the outset. All public projects in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark are implemented using BIM. The United Kingdom is also spearheading the implementation of this software. Other countries such as France, Ireland, Germany and Italy have joined the ranks with different institutional initiatives, although at differing degrees of penetration. In Spain, the Madrid City Council is no stranger to this new technological scenario. It has been working for several years, together with the Madrid Association of Real Estate Developers (Asprima), to develop an urban planning license processing system for new, BIM-based buildings. This system, which is still at the pilot phase, will minimise the processing times and provide high reliability when automatically running checks on architecture projects to ensure compliance with all legal construction requirements.
Although BIM is being implemented by many architecture and engineering studios around the world, and is being used in increasingly larger projects, its application in large urban planning projects involves an additional layer of complexity, given the need to integrate multiple large-scale, engineering and architecture works that require careful planning. There are very few examples yet of this seamless integration of a new neighbourhood in a single BIM model. Porta Nuova, the most iconic urban development in Milan is one of the most notable. Another example is Madrid Nuevo Norte, the large urban regeneration project in Madrid, which has used this technology from the outset and aims to maximise the potential of this digital modelling software.
The advantages of BIM technology for urban development include better coordination amongst design teams, improved control of the construction process and new possibilities for management and maintenance of new neighbourhoods. The integration of all information in a single virtual BIM model could help optimise the management of energy, irrigation and waste treatment infrastructures, public utilities, transport systems and other smart city features upon project completion.
The complexity and level of detail of these models is such that it opens new possibilities in all phases of the urban project. The so-called “zero model” represents the land as it is before building starts. It is modified and updated in real time as the works progress, until the final “as-built” stage that renders a detailed representation of the new streets, parks and infrastructures, as well as other urban elements. The unified model created with BIM technology allows geotracking of different architectural projects. This creates the so-called “digital twin” of the city, a virtual duplicate identical to the real project. This tool has immense potential for urban management by Public Administrations and maintenance companies.