Utilizing Building Information Modeling in Historical Structures

Utilizing Building Information Modeling in Historical Structures

Each historical structure is unique in its own way. The material, the location, the people who designed or built it, and even the people who have walked its halls. For these reasons and more, we aim to capture that piece of history or restore it to a time long past. This brings pride to a community while also creating a sustainable building approach by saving an existing structure. These bespoke buildings differ widely in their detail and execution. As we aim to preserve these buildings and update their life safety features, our approach doesn’t need to differ when it comes to finding the best solution to save and cherish them for years to come. No two historical projects will be exactly alike, but as someone who is dedicated to historical preservation, you can use the same approach and adapt to each unique challenge as it presents itself.

With building information modeling (BIM), you can tour a historical structure and walk its halls, view it from all angles, and ultimately make changes to modernize safety features while maintaining its historical signature. This real time manipulation is important when determining the placement of new safety implements such as sprinkler heads or modification of windows for egress. Visualizing the affects that these changes create is important when attempting to save the integrity of the building. BIM allows us to exhaust all options and view the subtle or not so subtle affects that each change creates. You can view it from all angles and determine how occupants or visitors will perceive the new changes and ultimately if you were successful in preserving the integrity of the building. Using a pragmatic approach and incorporating a BIM software from the beginning of the project allows control of the smallest details, and the more details saved, no matter the size, accumulate to a building’s identity.

 An unattended affect of the progression of BIM and the ability to view or make changes in the cloud is a shared responsibility to preserve a historical building. Teams can view and discuss changes in real-time before ever starting construction. Charging each project group, committee, or specialist with being an advocate for the building and even for specific features gives the building a voice. It may seem counterintuitive but creating the conflict and advocating for each little feature ultimately results in a better final product. Successful change is about striking a balance with needed updates and creative solutions to minimize their affect on the overall appearance of the building. Two groups charged with their desire to have the best of both and sharing a mutual desire to finish the project on time and on budget will create a fulfilling and lasting piece of history. The BIM model can be shared with as many people as needed and generate the creative ideas needed to be successful. Gone are the days of individuals making these important historical decisions on sight. As we work with more and more historical buildings in this way, we add to our “rolodex” of creative solutions to building upgrades that can be shared throughout an organization. The iterations of changes and even failed changes add to our overall knowledge as builders and historians.

As each change is made and documented, it becomes part of our new history. As anyone who has ever been part of a historical project can tell you, there is not always a detailed plan for what the building was or how it has changed over the years. Currently, it is best to contact the local historical society, the state historical preservation officer, and federal preservation officer depending on the category your building falls in. Another resource is to gather information like old photos, written accounts of people who interacted with the building, people who lived in the area, or any documents that may be stored within the building. The resources to gather information on historic buildings are as varied as the buildings themselves. This information establishes character defining features of a building and is important to know when making decisions about necessary improvements that may interact, interfere, or cause contractors to remove features. As we work on these historic structures and incorporate BIM software, we are leaving a digital legacy for future generations. They can reference what we have done and read our documentation to understand why we made our choices. This gives outside viewers a window into our process and helps them understand what we thought was important and worth taking the time to preserve. A well utilized and integrated BIM model is a snapshot of this historical building during a time in its life. When it is no longer useable or even worse, destroyed, we leave a digital copy for people to remember what once was or study the way the building was made and how it had changed over its life. There may be uses we aren’t currently capable of, but the more information we document and preserve, the more we leave to future historical builders. BIM can be invaluable to planning our approach to and execution of upgrading a historical building. As historical builders and advocates for history, we should leverage the capabilities of this technology to preserve all the information we can for the renovations we face today and those yet to come.