By combining Building Information Modelling (BIM) with geospatial technologies, Ordnance Survey (OS) is breaking down barriers in Singapore.
OS has spent two years in the South East Asian nation championing the use of BIM data and its potential to transform urban planning.
Britain’s mapping agency lent its expertise to a project with the University of Singapore and the Singaporean government that aims to make Singapore a world leader in smart technology.
OS’s role was to develop data processing and 3D data modelling to help Singapore plan its future city more effectively. It contributed knowledge about the CityGML data model, an exchange compatible with BIM that stores digital 3D models and cities, so data can be automated.
This comes at a vital time for Singapore. The densely populated country, roughly the size of London, has ambitions to grow from 5.5 million to 7 million people. But space is limited. Housing is high rise, with people living in 30 to 40 storey buildings. At the same time Singapore has a height restriction on new developments because of airports at one end of the city.
OS Senior Technical Product Manager, James Crawford, said: “There is a real premium on space, and a real premium on space for people. They have got ambitions to grow their population, but they have constraints from their geography, and all the different demands they are trying to manage as a city nation.
“Not just where buildings fit it in, but what it looks like and how. They have a real need for managing construction design and development, because how do you meet those challenges?
“The investment they have chosen to make is in digital copies of their buildings. This essentially is where BIM models could provide an ongoing resource for them to use.”
For the construction industry, using BIM data is a step forward because it pulls together every element of the building process into one place, from each domain, using an exchangeable data format. Historically, for example, design teams, or electrical teams, stored their individual data in different formats and places. Working together in BIM gives a clearer and more rounded vision for everyone involved.
“You cannot imagine the complexity involved in making a building come to life,” said James.
“You’ve got all the engineers, designers, plumbers, electricians, they’ve all got their own data formats.
“But with BIM, it is like having Lego for buildings. It is to a level of detail where they specify what type of light bulbs, what the material is, and what the size of the columns are. It is everything that the construction, planning and engineering teams use to put the building together. It is insanely complex, but BIM gives you a road map for getting there easier. All parties can comprehend it.”
Singapore’s geospatial industry and urban planning departments are responsible for deciding what the city will look like in 20-30 years’ time. Having more data, such as BIM, enables them to plan and design areas with specific groups in mind, such as the young, the elderly, and community groups. Construction can take two or three years, so if urban planners can access information at the earliest stages, before a new high-rise building is built, it affords time to make changes and plan the outdoors environment around it.
James said: “Both the urban planning and geospatial teams have access to new information that they didn’t have access to before. They can now improve the depth of analysis they can do, by extracting the information they need from BIM models.
“For example, if you are going to introduce a new type of sensor technology, where are the locations that will maximise your available budget or resources to achieve the best result? How do you figure out where those places are? You need a digital model of a city to do those types of analysis.”
He added that OS had made important steps towards helping Singapore’s construction and geospatial industries, by encouraging the use of Open Geospatial Consortium’s City GML data standard. This was having a galvanising effect on getting both sectors to collaborate.
James said: “We have been busy building trust and relationships between the construction and geospatial industries.
“The construction industry knows what is going to be built, so the geospatial industry can think about planning. And the geospatial planners, who knows how the geography of the area is going to look like in the future, they have some requirements that can influence what gets built in the first place. There is kind of an iterative circle.”
OS hopes the learnings discovered from the research project in Singapore can be transferred back home. Despite Singapore’s adoption of technology being two or three years ahead of where the UK is right now, and the obvious differences in geography between both nations, James believed some aspects from the project could be implemented in the domestic market quickly.
He said: “The use cases that were developed, and the requirements for information that planning departments need, is applicable here, because we have urban planning departments in local authorities that are all looking at how to manage space more effectively and so on.
“The key thing to get across is to remove the technical complexity so people can have a conversation. The world is becoming more complicated at a speedy trajectory that is hard to keep up with.
“When you have senior decision makers that don’t understand the technical detail, it’s our job to simplify this right down and explain why it is worth investing in technologies that improve collaboration and how beneficial this can be when planning cities in the future.”