Building information modeling (BIM) is a process supported by various tools and technologies involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. Building information models (BIMs) are files (often but not always in proprietary formats and containing proprietary data) which can be extracted, exchanged or networked to support decision-making regarding a built asset. Current BIM software is used by individuals, businesses and government agencies who plan, design, construct, operate and maintain diverse physical infrastructures, such as water, refuse, electricity, gas, communication utilities, roads, railways, bridges, ports and tunnels.
The US National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee has the following definition:
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.
Traditional building design was largely reliant upon two-dimensional technical drawings (plans, elevations, sections, etc). Building information modeling extends this beyond 3D, augmenting the three primary spatial dimensions (width, height and depth) with time as the fourth dimension (4D) and cost as the fifth (5D). More recently there are also references to a sixth dimension (6D) representing building environmental and sustainability analysis, and a seventh dimension (7D) for life-cycle facility management aspect, although there are conflicting definitions (6D BIM).
BIM, therefore, covers more than just geometry. It also covers spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, and quantities and properties of building components (for example, manufacturers' details).
BIM involves representing a design as combinations of "objects" – vague and undefined, generic or product-specific, solid shapes or void-space oriented (like the shape of a room), that carry their geometry, relations, and attributes. BIM design tools allow extraction of different views from a building model for drawing production and other uses. These different views are automatically consistent, being based on a single definition of each object instance. BIM software also defines objects parametrically; that is, the objects are defined as parameters and relations to other objects so that if a related object is amended, dependent ones will automatically also change. Each model element can carry attributes for selecting and ordering them automatically, providing cost estimates as well as material tracking and ordering.
For the professionals involved in a project, BIM enables a virtual information model to be handed from the design team (architects, landscape architects, surveyors, civil, structural and building services engineers, etc.) to the main contractor and subcontractors and then on to the owner/operator; each professional adds discipline-specific data to the single shared model. This reduces information losses that traditionally occurred when a new team takes 'ownership' of the project, and provides more extensive information to owners of complex structures.