Thoughts about 3D GIS requirements for buildings

As you may know, we have been doing a lot of work over the past few years to bring the power of GIS inside the building footprint.  We worked closely with ESRI to help launch the newly published GIS data model for buildings

We have also been working hard to develop a suite of data collection and delivery products for in-building data.  We believe that there is great potential in leveraging the power of GIS to 'spatially enable' existing enterprise systems for facilities management, real estate capital planning, portfolio management, work order management, environmental monitoring and many other types of systems related to buildings.

GIS brings the great power of spatial analysis to buildings and facilities problems and is capable of doing this in a real-world spatial reference so that the buildings can be understood as proper participants in the surrounding landscape.  GIS brings us the power to do very practical queries such as "show me all of the vacant offices within 500 ft. of a parking lot", or "show me which portions of my library are not within 75ft. of a fire extinguisher" or find me the shortest path between Room 315 in Barrows Hall and my dorm room if I am wheel chair bound.  GIS also represents great value as a technology to spatially enable Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) systems, Work Order Management systems, and other enterprise applications.

One challenge for GIS for buildings, however, is representing the vertical nature of buildings.  Buildings are often complex spaces in three dimensions and urban environments are especially so.

New York City is a very vertical place New York City is a very vertical place

In order to really understand how the space within our buildings relates to the surrounding environment, we really need to be able to analyze and visualize buildings in 3D.  Lately, many of the conversations I have been having with customers and partners about geospatial representations of buildings seem to migrate very quickly to discussions about the desire to represent the building in 3D.  Often these conversations quickly deteriorate into evangelistic diatribes about whether CAD, GIS, or BIM (and your particular flavor of each) are the one basket into which we should put all our eggs.

I think a more healthy approach is to try to more clearly describe the various reasons that would want to represent a building in 3D in the first place, what particular analysis do we want to perform, and how much value that representation would have to us (how much are you willing to pay for 3D?).  Perhaps then we will be better able to choose the combination of technical tools and platforms that can best deliver what we need.

As I see it, there are a number of different kinds of users that are driving 3D requirements:

Space Managers: These are folks that are responsible for large inventories of floor space and ensuring that the space under their management has a occupancy rate of appropriate uses.  They may work for

Campus symbolized by space use type Campus symbolized by space use type

government, educational institutions, large commercial businesses or property management firms.  Their primary interest is in how space is being used across their holdings.  For this type of person, a simple "jello cube" visualization analysis and some GIS Analysis can offer good value.  The space manager can symbolize space by various criteria and view the results across the campus (or the region, or the world).  This type of visualization can be very effective for re-stack analysis, space planning, and understanding the potential impact of proposed construction.

Real Estate Property Managers: Real estate property managers have many of the concerns of space managers, but they have the added requirement of providing the ability to see the internal view of the space as a way of enticing new customers to invest in new properties or to move to new rental spaces.  Building very realistic 3D visualizations of the insides of buildings can be an expensive proposition.  There are companies like FatWax that are really defining the high end of this kind of visualization.  This approach is  particularly good for buildings that are in the midst of the design/construction process.  Often new projects require that a certain number of units must be sold before financing can be obtained.  These virtual renderings can be a good way to generate demand and are particularly well suited to new buildings or buildings that have not even been built yet.  These animations are not particularly suitable for analysis, however, and would not scale to an entire building much less for a city neighborhood.  An alternative to this approach for buildings that HAVE already been built is to move through the space with a 3D camera such as those from Immersive Media or GigaPan.  The media captured from these cameras can then be linked to a specific location in your floor plan in your BIM or GIS viewer so that a user can see a high quality view of the space at the time the imagery was captured.

Facility Managers: Facility Managers are the folks that do all the hard work to keep our buildings operating effeciently.  They are responsible for the 80% of the costs of a building's life cycle related to operations and maintenance (O&M).    These folks have some pretty detailed requirements related to the buildings under their stewardship.  They need to be able to measure roof area for instance to plan for their replacement in their capital plans.  They need to be able to locate all significant pieces of equipment (air handlers, pumps, fire suppression systems, security systems, etc.) that will require active maintenance along with enough relevant information to tie back to their Work Order Management system.  They would like to be able to measure the area of walls to price wall covering or painting contracts.  They would like to be able to select all south facing glazing on a building and calculate its area for instance to calculate the cost efficiency of installing low-e glazing.  In theory, this is the kind of problem that BIM was designed to help with, and for new construction it can be a big help.  In reality, the VAST majority of our current buildings inventory is older than three years (an age when we might expect to have a BIM for a new building).  It is highly unlikely that we are going to invest in developing BIMs for many of our existing buildings.  A much simpler approach leveraging GIS would be an attractive alternative but as of this writing GIS does not offer any practical support for vertical objects (lines or polygons) so we are left with a frustrating lack of cost-effective alternatives.

Architects: Architects, particularly those designing renovations to existing buildings have a wide range of requirements.  In the early stages of a project, they have a need for rough planning-level data to allow them to work through design alternatives.

GIS Floor Plan with linked media, CAD, and BIM GIS Floor Plan with linked media, CAD, and BIM

Photos and video located to a specific point on the floor plan can also be very useful in evaluating building systems dependencies.  Eventually they may need to create a full BIM of the project to resolve all the construction details.  We have developed some new automated data capture capabilities that dramatically shorten the time required to collect in-building data.  We generally use free GIS tools and web applications to deliver the combination of GIS, CAD, and BIM data along with a variety of media formats.  This combination of formats can give an architect an important head start in developing their project BIM.

Landscape Planners: For landscape planners, whether at the campus, municipal, or regional level, an understanding of how proposed building development activities will impact the visual aesthetic of a neighborhood is a critical requirement.

3D College Campus rendered in Sketchup 3D College Campus rendered in Sketchup

This is an area where huge progress is being made in the ability to collect, manage, distribute and visualize 3D buildings.  Google brought this concept into our mainstream conciousness recently with their 3D Buildings project promoting the use of their Sketchup tool.  KML has since become a common exchange format for this type of visualization.  Paul Cote, professor at the Harvard School of Design has done some very interesting work with the CityGML group to take this concept and expand it to the rendering of larger geographic areas allowing for the ability to provide scalability, performance, and a greater degree of intelligence to the representations at a city-wide scale.

So, what have I forgotten or mis-stated?  How are you using CAD, GIS, or BIM in your world?  What do you see as the future of these capabilities?