Tocci’s Take on Scaling BIM Down


The question of scalability (that is, the idea that there are lower limits for budget and size beyond which the cost of BIM outweighs its benefit) is a recurring theme in the BIM discourse.

While Indiana University’s BIM standard applies only to projects over $5mil, Tocci’s recent work with Harvard University identified a $2mil minimum budget. 10,000 sf is another typical cutoff point. This size tends to accompany residential, wood frame, renovation, or other projects that can seem misaligned with software tools traditionally oriented to commercial, steel/concrete, and ground-up construction.

There are essentially two problems with this question.

First, it is quickly becoming irrelevant. Every year as more practices adopt BIM and BIM-based resources become more available, the question shifts from “why?” to “why not?” Not long ago, the industry considered CAD a cutting-edge investment. Today, CAD is how we document buildings. In other words, we will need to annually reconsider any size limit we put on BIM.

Second – and less speculative – BIM is not (and therefore shouldn’t be seen as) a “one size fits all” approach. There are options for BIM Uses and levels of implementation, just as there are optimal levels of detail/development for each building system during each project phase. Some examples:

  • We recently created a rough model of a 10,000 sf office layout to support a programming exercise.
  • For a $1M window replacement project, we created a highly detailed model (flashing included!) of one window to support design analysis.

The point is that most projects will not need the level of modeling used for Gehry Partner’s Beekman Tower.

With a bit of experience and ingenuity, BIM can be as flexible, with vastly more downstream potential, than CAD can. Anything worth drafting in CAD is worth modeling. It would be wonderful to see all the effort put into figuring out how to avoid BIM refocused into faster, smaller, smarter processes.