Standards for the Built Environment

Recently, one of our international partners asked for some advice about which standards might be appropriate for one of their upcoming projects.  The question of standards related to the built environment can be a confusing one, so I tried to summarize my sense of the most important standards below.

The selection and use of appropriate standards can be an interesting debate.  There are lots of standards out there, some competing – some complimentary.  The selection of the appropriate standard usually depends on the type of organization your customer is and the type of problem they are managing.  A list of some of the more common standards would include: 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) Data Exchange Standards – There is really only one dominant standard here and that it the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standard being developed by the BuildingSMART Alliance.  This is intended to be a data interchange standard that allows for BIM information to be exchanged between different BIM software providers.  While elegant in theory, the concept suffers from inconsistent implementation by the various software vendors.  There is a LOT of disinformation floating around about IFC and what it is really capable of. 

Space Measurement Standards – These standards describe how individual floor spaces will be measured for space use reporting and space accounting needs.  The leading standards here are BOMA and IFMA.  There are a number of differences between the standards describing details like whether spaces are measured to the centerline or surface of walls and to the window glazing in some circumstances. 

Space Use Classification Standards – These standards describe the different types of space use that will be recognized by an organization for space accounting and reporting needs.  The most common standards here are OSCRE and OmniClass although in practice many organizations make up their own lists of space use types. 

Building Systems Information Standards – Another type of standard describes the systems and building components that will require ongoing maintenance within a building.  This is particularly helpful when transitioning a building from Design and Construction to Operations and Maintenance.  The COBIE standard is focused on this problem space.

It is important to point out that other than BIM, none of the other standards have the ability to describe geometry other than by reference.  Therefore, GIS should be viewed as complimentary to all of the approaches listed above that attempt to standardize the way information about buildings is passed between the various interested parties related to the built environment.  GIS really serves to collate and aggregate all available information related to place in the built environment just as it does in the natural environment.  And unlike CAD or BIM, it can do this in a real-world coordinate space which means that you can visualize and analyze the built environment in a global to hyper-local geographical context.