A lecture at the Technical Chamber of Greece,
Athens, 19th Feb 2020.
As we look into architecture, nature, and the world around us, we get an aesthetic pleasure from it, directly on observation, but there is a rhythm and a pattern between the phenomena of the built environment and of that of nature, which isn’t apparent to the common eye, but only to the eye of analysis.
Over the next few minutes, I’m planning to talk about the general characteristics of Geospatial Data, where they came from, where to find them and how to use them in your existing BIM workflow.
This is to make a reality out of something which will otherwise be too abstract, and my intention here today is to spark ideas and start a dialogue on how we can improve our methodologies.
Geographic data and information are defined in the ISO, as data and information having an implicit or explicit association with a location relative to Earth, and approximately 90% of government sourced data has a location component, that is why my focus is on public governmental data.
So, lets start from the beginning.
I’m skipping a few centuries of hard work here from important scholars, and thousands of maps, but I’ve selected a few of great moments in time, from the first conception of the Coordinate System from Eratosthenis, to the famous Mercator’s earth projection and to the father of ‘GIS’ , Dr. Tomlinson, that was the first to collect data and create a GIS system for the Agriculture Agency in Canada.
What’s important here is that the coordinate system, maps, computers and satellites never failed to improve, to reach what we use today on our phones to go to work.
It all became accessible and useful to a wider audience when this data is mapped using the coordinate system with accurate and traceable locations.
This start was brought by the development and launch of the Global Positioning System, ‘GPS’ in 1978.
Looking back on the development, there are three main parameters that in my opinion a GIS layer must have in order to be meaningful. First, it’s the projection classification that the globe is conceptually projected onto. Secondly, the coordinates, longitude and latitude, that indicate the exact location on earth, and the third parameter is the inclusion of any information that enriches the GIS layer and adds value for the user.
Types of GIS data
So, what types of GIS Data are there? GIS data can be separated into two categories: spatially referenced data which is represented by vector and raster forms, and attribute tables which is represented in tabular format. Within the first data group, you find two different types: vector and raster. Most GIS software applications mainly focus on the usage and manipulation of vector geodatabases, and that’s what I’ll show today.
In the case of vector types, they can be compared to the ones we use when we design in our CAD software with the difference that the GIS vector data are referenced in a global reference system , meaning earth coordinates, whereas in a CAD software are referenced in a local reference system, x,y,z coordinates.
Where does this data come from?
Well, there’s the traditional and the modern approach, depending if the data existed in other formats or there must come from a new survey. Some of these options like the Heads up Digitising requires the physical tracing of maps on a digitising table, with a puck, that transforms table coordinates to world coordinates using an algorithm, or scanning the document and doing the same with a mouse.
In other cases like the Coordinate Geometry, they enter survey coordinates into the database, by using for example the Global Positioning Systems (GPS), that’s the most accurate way. Geocoding is using addresses to extract the coordinates, those are usually centerline data such as street centerlines or water. Now, the Image processing from satellites or other types of surveys, the modeller selects a pixel that he knows the type, land use for example and according to the classification the algorithm maps the data into categories.
I want to highlight that, It takes a large effort to gather, digitise and map accurate information from different sources and I believe it's worth informing our architectural designs that end up being real-life projects, however big, or small.
The most common question I get is: Where can I find this data? And are these available and open for me to download and use?
With a simple search, you can find thousands of data for any country or city. In my experience, the most reliable data, although sometimes slowly updated, come from governmental sources. There are, of course a number of open-source-data initiatives that are doing a great job in sourcing data from public submissions and contributions. Those are ideal for concept design and in understanding the spatial complexity that surrounds your project.
Studio Open Data
This is an example of government data websites available around the world we are constantly updating at Parametricos to help our users find those data easily. I will show a few examples of data platforms in Cyprus and Greece, later in the presentation.
Geographical systems and geospatial data are a large part of our lives even if it’s not so visible to everyone. The aggregation, and use of such data, make sure that everything is tracked, synchronised, safe and doesn’t conflict with each other.
I want you to imagine three things in the following examples. What are the parameters for each use, what will happen if we remove GIS data from the equation and lastly, think about how we can use these in our industries.
I think this one is pretty obvious. Not only are the planes guided towards their destinations with GPS and GIS data but they are also aware where all other planes are at any given moment. I can’t even imagine what will happen when we remove that functionality.
Seeing a crisis in the healthcare sector such as Coronavirus is of course devastating, and we have to find ways to deal with it. This map calculates the risk of the virus spreading in other countries and cities by looking at the traveling frequency from the core of the virus first symptoms.
Targeting issues such as the homeless population, by combining data from their location in relation to where housing and services are located. Without using and overlapping such data, our chances of coming with a really effective solution is very limited.
A city in the state of Tennessee has an online platform that shows the Sewers system and the pipe network in case of a storm or flood. This gives the opportunity for the city to keep track of the piping system condition and schedule maintenance but also for the homeowner to report any incident using this map and their location on their phones.
Earthquake simulations help predict routes to follow and create evacuation plans in such events. The more we know the more prepared we are to design better and more optimised solutions.
With that in mind, let’s move on, closer to our industry and look at examples that utilise GIS data effectively to provide information to anyone that needs them. I’m also happy at the end to demo any of these solutions.
This is the Lands and Surveys Platform in Cyprus, it has more than 150 environmental and property layers. What’s important here it’s to look at the property and real estate information that is available to the public, from Plot Real Boundary to Property Values.
These data are attached to the specific plot in those boundary coordinates. When there is an update to the plot, it’s divided for example, then the new data is uploaded again and it updates the platform in real time. All these are available for download including the GIS layer that can be imported for use in your architectural design.
I came across a similar initiative from TEE (As was presented today) the One Click Land Information System, that aims to digitise more than 70% of the governmental building process in Greece; is exactly the kind of digitisation that brings everyone on the same page.
Professionals will be able to track the Building Construction Permit process and Business Operations License. This proposed workflow, frees up the designer, the investor and operator from going to each department independently to find and utilise this kind of data.
Now, before I show a few design examples, I want to mention that, I never suggest which software or means to use to do your job well, but rather I’m here to illustrate a few possible workflows that I developed, and I saw others use as well.
What’s also important, and it was said today many times, is that technology should be applied with the correct policies.
So then, when that's said, we arrive at the bigger question. How can we use this data and solutions in our industry, to help us in all phases of a project?
First I would start by visualising and understanding the attributes of this Geospatial Data. Practically, this can be done by downloading a layer from any of the data websites and then drag and dropping them in a ‘GIS’ software.
A powerful one I use is QGIS, an open software that allows users to analyse and edit spatial information, and compose maps. One of the great things in QGIS is the wide range of import and export options that give you the ability to use the same geospatial file in other applications.
In our case, for the web, we export in ‘geojson’ where our users can upload it with their BIM Building.
Moving towards a complete implementation of Geospatial Data in our design and execution processes ensures that our projects are no longer isolated from their surrounding environment, but they can be closely observed in a virtual environment on how they fit and interact with the rest of the ecosystem.
There are numerous approaches you can take depending on the software selection you use to stream data into your BIM workflow. We tested locating BIM IFC projects on our platform with the use of IFC Site parameter, that gives you the chance to map the Point of Origin, Survey Point, Rotation and Elevation of the project. When that is done, then we can exchange between different software and minimise the risk of losing information and reference wrong locations.
There are of course different schools of thought on which formats to convert to; others, want to create their own formats, and a lot dream that one day we will all be working on a single format. My school of thought is ‘whatever you do, make sure that you follow guidelines and policies and that you haven’t invented a new schema that nobody else is using.
This is a case study from one of our users locating their project on the correct place on 3D Maps and bringing as many geospatial layers as needed to simulate a better design, and then operate the building after handover.
I specialise in Rhino 3D and Grasshopper with a lot of plugins such as VisualARQ for BIM, Heron for bringing geospatial layers and other for simulations.
The goal is to optimise and shape your 3D BIM design based on the GIS data.
I will show just one example in the design case and mention others as well.
In this example, in Cyprus, my aim was to fight desertification on an island that often lacks water throughout the year, by gathering water from the roof structure in the winter, storing it and making it reusable to all inhabitants inside a large housing masterplan.
The use of Geospatial data was integrated from day-1 in the design process and it was automated to find the most optimised location of such masterplan (Slide 31) based on parameters such as ‘High Rainwater Gathering, ‘Desertification Levels’, ‘Housing Needs’, ‘Bioclimatic Zones’, and others. All of which are available data from the Lands and Surveys Department in Cyprus.
When the location was found, the structure including the roof was adapted to the geomorphology and environmental habits of the specific location. The last thing was to create a feedback loop and bring more data back into the design.
I used the environmental layers to run simulations of a Structurally Stable Roof based on minimum housing units, square meters for each inhabitant, amount of greenery on the roof and how much sun was penetrating inside each house through the roof throughout the day. This is all Geospatial layers that guide this design.
Everything was done in Grasshopper and throughout the design of this masterplan, all the elements were designed as BIM elements using VisualARQ. Some of you that use Revit for BIM, now there’s the option to run Rhino and Grasshopper inside Revit, so all this is now possible and can be aligned with your current workflow.
Visualising and simulating Geospatial Data and environmental conditions along with BIM Models and Elements.
Game Engines and Computer-Based Solutions
When it comes to bringing a lot of different information from different sources into one solution, CAD Software are having a difficult time in holding a huge amount of geometry in one file, especially when those are city-scale projects.
There are solutions such as ArcGIS from Esri that bring about a solution through the importing of IFC formats and visualise them within a GIS environment. Some other cases are game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine that can hold such geometry and not only render amazing materials but also create your own interactive solutions.
But before we use them, we have to ask ourselves, are these solutions complimenting our workflow, or are they making it more complicated and does it reduce the ability to exchange information correctly?
In this case, Plehat, a Finish landscape architecture studio, developed an interactive model of the city of Helsinki.
With this kind of experience, Helsinki residents can walk throughout their city in a visual way and choose different planning options.
When I asked them how did you create this solution so quickly and efficiently?
Apparently the municipality of Helsinki already surveyed developed a complete 3D CityGml model of the city that’s open and accessible to anyone.
There’s a couple of important takeaways here. First, having an accessible 3D City model to all professionals, sparks creativity, that generates meaningful solutions, and in the end it benefits all stakeholders.
Secondly, errors and mistakes are limited, since all professionals base their designs on the same 3D City Layer and not an interpretation of how they believe the city is constructed.
A small example of a solution that empowers the collaboration between industry professionals, municipalities and the inhabitants themselves.
Following on with the same logic, the GIS implementation in the BIM framework emphasises the coordination logic that we could have for our future cities. Imagine for a minute the ability for the construction manager on-site and off-site to be able to see, not only what’s above the ground, but also what’s also below; to be able to track construction material as they come on site and the safety of the staff.
There’s so many things you can do when you bring data in one centralised system and start overlaying them. This centralised system shouldn’t be a specific product, rather the interoperability between data sources is what empowers professionals with the ability to communicate and make better and faster decisions.
Facility & Asset Management Applications
Managing digital assets
Powerful data management and analysis brings value to your work. With the use of BIM and GIS technology you can populate Information to facilities management database, including specific elements from a BIM file or connect any device such as CCTV systems, and Crowd Moving sensors to find where each element, equipment and crowd is at any moment.
The same goes for investments, GIS data such as population information on a specific area, pedestrian flows, transportation and market values, can really narrow down and predict which investment is viable.
Now we are beginning to see data from real world projects that offer evidence for the benefits of an integrated BIM+GIS lifecycle approach for construction projects. Moving on in observing two main case studies we’ll start with a Metro in Nagpur, India.
The Nagpur Metro in India, is one of the first projects in Asia, that implemented BIM and GIS asset and information management, right from the design phase.
Their goal is to eliminate the loss of information that usually happens between the project cycles and subcontracting. This is possible by bringing all the information, from financial to scheduling and all design assets, in one Common Data Environment from different software.
The Nagpur metro follows the British PAS 1192 guidelines and they used a naming convention to link all their 500’000 digital assets and 3D models, and make it possible to track information at any given moment, from design to construction and facility management.
Now, the benefits of a 3D BIM+GIS approach have been projected based on a 25 year lifetime for the project. It saved them US$400,000 during plan, design and build, a reduction in operating manpower requirements by 20%, and increased availability and reliability.
The really big payoff is an estimated savings of US$225 million over the lifetime of the project.
Another critical project with benefits through BIM and GIS integration is the Crossrail in London with the Elizabeth Line.
It will run from Reading to Heathrow in the west through 42km of new tunnels under London, and it will be fully integrated with the existing London’s transport network.
Crossrail has created a centralised system that any employee can click on a station or a space and get all the information they need. If they haven’t done that, they would have to go through a lot of architectural drawings and archived manuals in order to find what they want, now they can find it in seconds.
Overall they created and approved more than 1 million CAD files, integrated within a centralised information model.
What are the benefits of such a centralised system?
First comes the safety in construction with the ability to review in a virtual environment, then as with the Nagpur Metro information loss is reduced in all phases and contracts, that means you get an improved maintenance system, delivery system and operations.
This project is not a luxury, but it’s based on issues such as social equity, and the need for public transportation by people. With data such as these, you arrive in smarter decisions to make the public’s wellbeing a priority.
By gathering data from different sources, such as governmental and open source, we can simulate real-life situations of designs and BIM models, before they move to the construction phase. At any given moment, we must document and gather more and more useful data to be used in the whole lifecycle of a project. Only then we can create a meaningful feedback loop.
True innovation is always driven by constant feedback and open-data. When we become more transparent, share information and ultimately give people a reason to care, then we all have a purpose to collaborate and create a sustainable place to live.
All this data is accessible to us and we must utilise them as much as we can. I want to finish my presentation with a different title than I began since I strongly believe that all we are discussing today is leading to Smarter Cities with the aim to design in more sustainable ways, that contribute back to the community and the environment.
Useful Resource: Metro Rail Nagpur, Source: http://www.metrorailnagpur.com/projectprofile.aspx
Geospatial World: BIM and Geospatial for Facilities Management is Penetrating Construction Source: https://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2019/09/bim-and-geospatial-for-facilities-management-is-penetrating-construction.html
3D BIM + geospatial full lifecycle metro rail project aims at eliminating data loss, Geoff Zeiss, 02.04.2019, Accessed: 10.12.19, Source: https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/3d-bim-geospatial-full-lifecycle-metro-rail-project/
Web Tee, http://web.tee.gr/eidisis/oneclicklis-enieos-psifiakos-chartis-lysi-gia-kathe-idous-ependysi-sti-chora-i-nea-psifiaki-platforma-pou-protini-o-g-stasinos/
GIS and Data, Source: gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
Chattanooga Government Website, Government Web Portal Source: https://pwgis.chattanooga.gov/portal/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=632e9ad9d1014ee185ed020760ad990e
Bit Focus, GIS technology - Helping homeless, Source: https://bitfocus.com/data-analysis/gis-technology-helping-homeless/#iLightbox[gallery14435]/0
ArcGIS, Earthquakes, Source: www.arcgis.com/apps/PublicInformation/index.html?appid=de7c7b077c0144149fe5f9dd7857361d
Epirisk CoronaVirus Map, Source: epirisk.net