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Using CIM, Ignite is able to model the placement of buildings and access ways at Huapai, but can also see where roading and public transport corridors need to be added to accommodate future growth

CIM cities – the future of construction – By Olivia Pearson

Almost everyone in the construction industry knows about BIM (building information modelling), which allows anyone throughout the construction process to collaborate on a live 3D model. CIM (city information modelling) takes that to the next level.

Much like the popular ‘90s computer game Sim City, which allowed players to design, build and control their own virtual metropolis, real urban planners now have access to a tool that allows them to map out entire cities in incredible detail.

As urban populations around the world explode, we need to be quicker and better at building cities that can adapt to fast-changing demands, and CIM will allow us to do this. While it remains virtually unknown in New Zealand, CIM is going to transform the way tomorrow’s places are constructed. Not only architecture firms like Ignite, but the entire New Zealand construction industry needs to be prepared.

What is CIM?

CIM allows planners and engineers to create a 3D model of a city or urban development. In the design stages, it can take into account the topography of the land, existing infrastructure, traffic movements and planning zones, so planners and architects can test various designs or structure placements on the site. CIM allows designers and planners to drag and drop BIM models into an interactive landscape, and experiment with different building sizes, configurations, locations and designs.

The software immediately lets them know the exact built area, projected population and car parking numbers generated from the placement of a building form, notes any conflicts based on local planning regulations like sight lines, provides high-level costings, and allows planners to work out the best use of resources or space at the touch of a button.

Because CIM provides accurate up-to-date information in one fully integrated platform, it saves time on creating individual drawings and renders for every stage. If structures are later moved around the site, all stakeholders can see at a glance what the ramifications are in terms of costs or materials, and how the end product will look.

Almost every person who works in construction will have heard stories about clients not fully understanding what they’re getting. Being able to actually see planned developments in 3D, rather than on a page, allows everyone involved in the process to understand what’s going on every step of the way. While BIM allows this at an individual building level, CIM could potentially self-generate hundreds of 3D options for the planned area, streamlining the entire decision-making process.

CIM in New Zealand

Ignite has started using CIM to design and plan a retirement village northwest of Auckland. The Country Club, Huapai, will have more than 40 buildings across a 6 ha site, including apartments, commercial-grade facilities, parking, villas and wide paths that link the whole development.

A large-scale development is where CIM is most effective. Building placement has been changed to suit the roads and footpaths that need to be included on the site, and we’ve also used CIM to determine which buildings work best given the topography of the site, which has a gentle slope. As structures are moved around, we’re able to run simulations to ensure that traffic still flows around the buildings and there is room for footpaths wide enough to accommodate mobility scooters.

Creating a large new development requires a lot of infrastructure, and CIM allows planners and clients to see what’s required at every point of the location. At Huapai, we’re able to model the placement of buildings and access ways, but we can also use CIM to see where water and sewage lines, roading and public transport corridors would need to be added to accommodate future growth.

We could easily expand the projections to include a wide range of buildings for a much bigger population, such as townhouses, 20-storey apartments and commercial and retail areas, and instantly receive information on all the amenities, from infrastructure and parks to parking spaces, this would require.

Smart cities

The real potential of CIM can already be seen in Perth and Helsinki. When it came to turning Perth’s southern local authorities, Melville and South Perth, into large centres, CIM was used in tandem with existing geographic information system (GIS) software to turn the vision into a working design.

While working at GHD, I was involved in developing a project that contained multiple layers of information, with each layer holding particular information such as land form, infrastructure, traffic movements, buildings and public spaces. Using CIM to model the growth of both cities over the next 50 years meant that any new design could be tested and amended to create the best overall outcome.

Because CIM provides a three-dimensional visual representation of every change, plans are easily shared with stakeholders and the local community, allowing feedback to be gathered and incorporated much more easily. Through CIM, the construction of new neighbourhoods could potentially become more of a collaborative process, with construction professionals and the general public having more say in the design and planning stages.

Helsinki is the world leader in CIM, using open-source CityGML software to create 3D models of the city overlaid with more than 50,000 Google Maps-style photos and GPS to create a highly accurate virtual city. As well as providing a platform for public feedback on new projects, Helsinki’s CIM models show where energy wastage is occurring in particular buildings via infrared photography and also track carbon emissions.

Helsinki’s model has been so successful that it has been invited to collaborate with other cities such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, Vienna and Singapore.

CIM in the future

CIM has not yet been developed into one user-friendly tool that can be used across the industry, but it could well be the industry standard within 10 years. In New Zealand, it has the potential to allow builders and clients to immediately see and locate geographical hazards on their sites, such as fault lines, underground water or even cultural features such as middens, and suggest alternatives to avoid or mitigate these factors before a cent is spent.

Many people fear that new technologies will make their jobs obsolete. However, CIM could potentially create more jobs for Kiwis. Global collaboration on innovative projects, such as those we’re already seeing in Europe, could allow Kiwi innovators to influence world design and construction practices if we adopt the new technologies quickly enough.

While CIM will inevitably change our jobs, any project would still require a human touch to input the correct data and make the final decisions.

It’s my hope that within the next five years, CIM will become a widely-used industry tool that will make the planning and construction of new developments much more efficient and collaborative. Adopting these technologies now will help to futureproof our construction sector and build our much-needed homes much faster than before.

Olivia Pearson is an associate at Ignite, a leading commercial and residential architecture firm with offices across New Zealand and in Australia ignitearchitects.com

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