What if history had BIM?
Mathematics & modelling
The computing options of today provide a clear advantage; simply performing ratio-based calculations is a near-instantaneous function. With BIM, today’s architects, designers and engineers have the opportunity to take principles like a theoretical ‘perfect ratio’ as used in the Parthenon and easily experiment with scenarios in collaboration with one another. While the design stage still requires a great deal of creative input to identify and refine direction, the calculation and modelling of plans is quick and highly collaborative in the online Common Data Environment (CDE).
Both the overall structure of the Parthenon and the numerous, detailed embellishments situated on and within it are situated to interact with viewers along carefully considered sightlines. The regular visitor to the Parthenon was not intended to enter the structure, but to move along the outside of it, experiencing it from below. Both the placement of embellishments, as well as structural design elements had to carefully consider that sightline. For example, some columns were built with slightly larger diameters than their fellows to counteract the optical illusion of narrowing when seen against the blue sky. With BIM 3D rendering, the fallible imaginative work of identifying the correct sightlines at any given point is transformed with access to a fully developed digital model to test – and adjust – the design from every angle well before the first stone is laid.
The tightness of team coordination available through BIM is unmatched. Far from hand-making multiple potentially contradictory or out-of- date sets of paper plans to be sent out to partners on the design, engineering and building teams for review, refinement or implementation, BIM’s CDE offers an accessible shared workspace with the latest plans, data and communications always available for real-time collaboration and reference. It’s truly astonishing what the Greeks were able to design and construct over two millennia ago, with slow and limited processes, resources and communication. We can only speculate about how much frustration and re-work must have gone into the astonishing achievement that is the Parthenon.
4D BIM refers to the additional component of scheduling integration with the CDE design, planning and construction. Linking scheduling information to every phase of the project not only helps catch potential missteps before a costly and unprofessional mistake is made – say, heavy outdoor construction during the rainy season, or booking the sculptors before the lintel is ready to go – but it supports better estimating and resourcing. Maintaining the schedule as the project develops allows quick, informed and flexible adjustments when needed, intelligently manages the budget and facilitates efficiencies for suppliers, team members and the client. The Parthenon took over a decade to complete, including all ornamentation. Perhaps a 4D BIM implementation could have offered the chance to consolidate the schedule – at the very least, it would have let the client and team know up front what kind of duration to expect.
Constructing the Parthenon was undoubtedly a massively expensive undertaking. While it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact currency conversion rate, the Parthenon was said to have cost 469 silver talents, nearly half the gross annual income of the city of Athens. With BIM 5D, the detailed plans of the CDE can be associated to cost projections, allowing accurate and adjustable estimating prior to and during development. Not only that, but the detailed modelling, 3D rendering, CDE plans to ensure the most accurate, up-to- date documentation is in place, and 4D schedule management have the potential to represent significant cost savings over a traditional – or in this case, classical – development. With BIM, the Parthenon would have benefited from accurate cost- projections and, almost certainly, a financially tighter production cost.
Could a skilled team today produce a more beautiful, more complex version of the Parthenon with Building Information Modelling? Philosophy of art and mathematics aside, they could certainly have an easier time collaborating and refining their ideas than the Greeks of the 4 th Century BC. Materials and labour costs aside, BIM absolutely offers an advantage when it comes to maintaining and sharing documentation, modelling and rendering plans, scheduling and managing costs. Hats off to the brilliant minds, painstaking work and unrelenting spirit that produced this amazing cultural triumph the old-fashioned way!