Simulation and Architecture: Mapping Building Information Modeling

  • Nathalie BredellaEmail author


In the 1990s, Building Information Modeling (BIM) software significantly altered architectural approaches to planning and building. Based on parametric methods, BIM technologies sought to simulate the construction process prior to a building’s realisation. These computer simulations challenged the existing practice of representing a building through plan, section and elevation, proposing that one computational model could create a more efficient way of building. The history of BIM explorations and applications, while hardly linear, can be traced back to developments in computing since the post-war period. This article maps some of these histories by examining how the computational model became an organisational infrastructure, collecting data about design and building parameters, and facilitating knowledge transfer across industries. Special attention will be given to the foundational role of Charles Eastman’s work on a Building Description System (BDS) in the 1970s, as well as Robert Aish’s contribution to RUCAPS, one of the earliest applications of Building Modeling for the design of parametric structures. I will further address research on interface technologies and computational curve modelling as well as the popularisation of Building Information systems through the office of Gehry Partners. By highlighting the interrelated nature of technology and cultural shifts in the making of BIM, this contribution sheds light on the epistemic status of computer simulations in architecture, and the dynamics of the design and building processes in which they are used.


Architecture Building Information Modeling (BIM) Computer Aided Design (CAD) Communication Representation Simulation 

Simulation und Architektur: Modellieren von Gebäudedaten


Seit den 90er Jahren verändern Ansätze des digitalen information modelling architektonische Entwurfs- und Bauprozesse. Unter dem Begriff Building Information Modeling (BIM) lassen sich vernetzte Planungsmethoden zusammenfassen, die, basierend auf parametrischen Modellen, Bauprozesse vor der Realisierung eines Gebäudes simulieren. In den Architekturdebatten wird diskutiert, inwieweit Computersimulationen (BIM Technologien) bestehende Visualisierungstechniken der Architektur – die Darstellung eines Gebäudes durch Plan, Schnitt und Ansicht – ablösen werden. Verbunden mit diesen Entwicklungen ist das Versprechen, dass ein digitales Modell, in das alle Daten integriert werden können, eine effizientere Form des Entwerfens und Bauens eröffnet. Die Idee bzw. Geschichte von BIM-Technologien ist jedoch weder linear, noch lässt sich der Begriff ausschließlich auf die Architektur zurückführen. Die Entwicklungen von BIM Technologien gewinnen bereits in der Nachkriegszeit an Bedeutung, im Rahmen von Forschungen zu Computertechnologien. Anhand historischer Quellen, oral histories und Fallstudien sucht der Artikel einige der Vorgeschichten, die an der Entwicklung von BIM Technologien teilhatten, zu erfassen und sie historisch zu verorten. Mit Blick auf die Rolle der Computersimulation und -modellierung als epistemisches Werkzeug wird thematisiert, inwieweit BIM-Technologien Teil von transdisziplinären Diskursen sind und in welchem Wechselverhältnis sie zum architektonischen Denken und Handeln stehen.


Architektur Building Information Modeling (BIM) Computer Aided Design (CAD) Kommunikation Repräsentation Simulation 



I would like to thank Sibylle Anderl, Arianna Borrelli, Liesbeth De Mol, Rudi Seising and Janina Wellmann for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper, and Daniela Petrosino for her insights and assistance. Thanks also to Robert Aish for generously sharing his expertise.


This paper is to some extent determined by some of the ideas elaborated in the DFG funded project “Architecture and New Media” (DFG-Grant BR 4578/1‑2) as well as during my fellowship at the DFG-funded Institute for Advanced Study on “Media Cultures of Computer Simulation”, Leuphana University Lüneburg.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Architekturgeschichte u. -theorie, Institut für Geschichte und Theorie der GestaltungUniversität der Künste BerlinBerlinGermany

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