GIS for the building sector

This Issue This is a part of the Innovation and the future feature

By - , Build 109

Going way beyond dots on a map, the still emerging technology of GIS is a powerful tool that is proving to have many valuable applications in the building sector.

Over the past 15 years, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has grown dramatically. This once specialist software is now being applied in virtually every profession, including civil engineering, surveying and landscape architecture. This is because it provides an IT framework for integrating knowledge about our surroundings into decision-making processes.

GIS is far beyond the traditional ‘dots on a map’ approach of simple mapping systems. It enables spatial relationships to be represented, analysed and visualised across many types of data.

Of particular relevance to the building sector is the ability to bring computer-aided design (CAD) data into a broader spatial context. It is this desire to increase efficiencies by integrating industry best practices, including CAD-GIS workflows, that is one of the drivers behind GIS innovation in the building sector.

GIS aids project management

Project management, be it for single or multiple projects, can be the basis for success or failure. Public projects often have added levels of complexity, such as needing to be scheduled around the daily activities of those most affected by their construction. It is therefore no surprise that GIS use is becoming commonplace in the construction of new buildings, roads, dams, bridges, public utilities and other forms of civil infrastructure.

GIS can assist government departments by tracking multiple construction projects and providing internet-based notification of road closures. North Shore City Council demonstrated this with their road opening notice (RON) system. Water and wastewater organisations, including local and regional councils, are often responsible for overseeing the development of new facilities to replace the old ones. GIS can aid in tracking information related to projects, planning permits, construction work order management, inspections, as-builts and so on.

GIS is a powerful tool, well suited to the complexity of large-scale construction projects. Integrating information such as project schedules, CAD drawings and project documents allows a visual understanding of the construction process. GIS can also inter-operate with the major CAD programmes to create the most effective workflow possible.

Local projects on the go

Currently in New Zealand, over 400 private and public organisations use GIS. In 2007, BRANZ began its initial implementation of GIS for a number of projects curently being developed, including national-scale corrosion zone mapping and mobile GIS for site surveys. More applications are sure to emerge.

A recent award-winning innovation is the dynamic urban fire spread model developed by GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington (Centre for Building Performance Research). This model contains building material property and valuation data, which, when run with various parameters, demonstrates the potential spread of post-earthquake fire in an urban setting. It takes into account the effects of earthquake damage on building flammability and other crucial factors.

Building interior space data model

Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc (ESRI), a privately held company based in California, is a world leader in GIS software. Represented in New Zealand by Eagle Technology, it has been developing a common framework for GIS in the building sector. In late 2007, ESRI brought together a group of construction industry representatives, standards organisations, GIS users and software vendors to construct a specific data model for buildings and interior spaces.

The result was the building interior space data model (BISDM). The model encompasses a collection of best practices, case studies and templates that individuals or organisations could adopt or adapt to their specific project needs. The two main goals were to provide a:

  • GIS-based data model that managed and reported on interior spaces
  • basic data structure to support a number of different perspectives on buildings – architecture, construction, landscape-level planning, facilities management, environmental management and security/emergency preparedness.

The model provides templates for what are known as GIS ‘feature classes’ and tables that represent building information. Although the primary focus is on interior space planning and management, ESRI also wants to provide a foundation for additional data related to buildings and structures that can be used in other applications.

Without adequate information about space resources held by an organisation, assessment of whether sufficient space resources exist or are being used efficiently is not possible. A rigorous information model for space resources facilitates important questions such as:

  • How much and what type of space is available?
  • To whom are the spaces assigned?
  • What assets are contained within these spaces?
  • How efficiently are spaces being used?
  • What spaces are within 500 m of this proposed road alignment?
  • What is the best exit route in an emergency?

Even though the building interior space data model was created to US industry standards, this methodology could be applied under any standards framework in New Zealand.

Using GIS = better decisions

Modelling of geographic building information supports smarter, faster decisions. Professionals in the building industry can use GIS to discover and characterise geographic patterns that were not immediately obvious. They can model and analyse all sources of geographic information. Networks and resource allocations can be optimised whilst they automate workflows through a visual modelling environment.

GIS can be seen as an established yet emerging technology. For the building sector, GIS is just beginning to demonstrate its potential to help us maximise returns and efficiencies by facilitating a better understanding of the world around us.

For more

GIS is a computer-based tool for mapping and analysing things that exist and events that happen on earth. It integrates common database operations with the visual and geographic analysis benefits of maps.

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