So what exactly is BIMx and how can it be used? Graphisoft BIMx is an interactive 3D presentation tool that allows all the stakeholders in a project to have access to the building model, without requiring any specialized BIM skills. BIMx is a game changer that allows for innovation with the types of models created and the presentation/utility of these models.
In 2009, Graphisoft released Virtual Building Explorer (VBE) for ArchiCAD 12. The core engine for VBE was developed by Zermatt Virtual Reality Software, which was subsequently bought by Graphisoft in 2010. For the release of ArchiCAD 15 in 2011, VBE was rebranded as Building Information Model Explorer (BIMx). And that’s when things got really interesting. Originally a standalone viewer for PC and Mac, BIMx is now also available on iOS and Android devices. While the add-on to ArchiCAD required to produce the BIMx models must be purchased, the viewers on mobile devices are free (you can download them from the Mac App Store or Google Play Store). Viewing the models on a PC or Mac requires either a free desktop viewer or the self-executing .exe or .app model file.
The difference between BIMx and a traditional standalone rotatable 3D model (a 3D PDF for instance) is quickly visible after just a few minutes of use. Not limited to simple orbit and pan, BIMx allows navigation in a similar manner to a FPS–now a well-defined and understood 3D navigation trope. This means that not only are you walking through the model with gravity, but you cannot travel through solid elements like walls, railings, etc. Orbit and point and click navigation are also available. Multiple shading options and stereoscopic 3D settings allow for various ways of viewing the project. Viewing on a PC or Mac also allows basic measurements to be taken from the model. With the newest release viewers of the model (on any supported device) can retrieve basic model data. For instance data about the pitch of a roof, the ID tags of a window, the surface area of a flooring material, the thickness of a wall, etc can be accessed. While the current retrievable data can feel limited (once you can get one piece of information, the desire for more is huge), it is extremely liberating to be able to query the model. Once users get a taste of what it is like to check the basic information on a door, window, or chair, viewing a model without this ability will feel lacking. To get the most utility out of the information available will take a little forethought and planning; much like most new options associated with BIM, it requires a slight tweaking to your standard workflow. For instance the ability to get element IDs in BIMx is extremely useful, if the original ArchiCAD model has been created with a purposeful naming convention for those IDs.
Looking at the end user highlights the opportunities BIMx presents.
Current Clients- While orthographic projects are easily read by any AEC practitioner, clients often lack the experienced eye to understand plans, sections, and elevations, especially as the complexity of the information displayed increases. And with BIM programs it becomes ever easier to design more complex spaces and fill the documentation with additional information and minutia. Being able to virtually walk through the building on a large flat screen monitor in a conference room is very nice. Turning over the controls to the client so that she can explore the design at her pace and focus on the locations she finds interesting is even better. Furthermore, the refinement of the BIMx model can vary depending on the stage of the project. While the final BIMx model might be highly polished, walk-throughs can be prepared and shared as soon as 3D elements are created. Clients can virtually navigate schematic environments while the architect describes his vision much like they will later share a similar experience while physically walking through a construction site. The 3rd Maze in Graphisoft’s BIMx Competition from last October provides a good example of one of these non-traditional models.
Prospective Clients- BIMx models make it easier for prospective clients to understand an architect’s body of work. As with current clients, an architect can sit down in a room with them and walk through models together. Short of inviting clients out to built projects (which aren’t always accessible), it’s a great way to help clients move beyond static photos and drawings in an architect’s portfolio. Beyond that, links can be provided from a firm’s website to downloadable models that are public, hidden, or private via the BIMx Community or the BIMx Premium Account. Visitors to the website can not only see images and read text; they can also explore the work at their own leisure, in privacy and comfort. Beyond downloadable links, firms continue to innovate with BIMx files. One firm puts a BIMx model on a USB drive. They decorate the drive with their company logo and put it in nice, homemade packaging. The firm then presents this object to prospective clients.
Contractors and Architects away from their desks- When sending out documents to bid, a link to a BIMx model can be provided. The model, as a supplement to the drawings, provides additional context for those bidding. Materials, spaces, and context can all be better understood. Many firms have been experimenting with QR codes on construction sets, obviating the need for a separate link to be e-mailed. Using a QR reader on either an Android or iOS device, the BIMx file can be downloaded and viewed directly, whether in the office or at the job site. Some of the QR codes lead not to the full building model, but just portions with higher detail: a kitchen, medical suite, or perhaps a fully-modeled detail of a particularly complex structural intersection. QR codes linked to BIMx models in a set of documents become a great supplement to traditional details. Beyond the construction site, BIMx models loaded onto tablets are great assets at zoning meetings.
Management- As technology progresses and evolves at ever quickening paces, those not in the trenches can get lost and overwhelmed with all the digital tools we now have. Twenty or thirty years ago any architect, regardless of their position in the firm, could pull an all-nighter to help get the drawings done. This is no longer the case as many senior staff members are incapable of helping with production during crunch time and often struggle to navigate the basics of the major software packages. BIMx helps bridge this gap. With easy to use, intuitive controls, anyone can quickly start exploring the models on whatever platform they are most comfortable with. And that platform is quickly becoming mobile devices, such as the iPad, other tablets, or smart phones. With BIMx, less technologically savvy coworkers can navigate the ever present models in any meeting.
Your Parents- This is perhaps my favorite category of BIMx users. Parents aren’t typically near the work you are doing. If you’re like me, you’ve spent years sharing drawings, physical models, renderings, photos and 3D models on your laptop. Much like a regular client, parents don’t always understand the classic methods of representation; there is a disconnect between the architect’s reading of the drawings and theirs. The first time I sent my parents a link to a BIMx model, everything changed. More questions were asked. More time was spent looking and discussing the qualities of the design. More time was spent talking about what I do for a living.