The Case for a City Information Model

Five years ago, when I joined the Smart City bandwagon, I was told that cities are far too complex and dynamic to model in their entirety. Every city is different, and the data is too heterogeneous (if available at all). They said my ambition to build a City Information Modeling tool was like building castles in the air - But I knew a city information model could bring dramatic improvements in time and costs of city planning and development.


Then I met a group of researchers at the University of Melbourne. The team shared a common vision backed by few years of experience in that space. A project became a relationship, which started a long journey that continues today with great progress. We agreed that the precinct is the level at which a city's interrelationships emerge, and thus a precinct information model was the best way forward.


The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry spends nearly $5 trillion every year on buildings and infrastructure. In recent years, the buzz has been about Building Information Modeling (BIM), which delivers a comprehensive data model and promises to solve the problem of interoperability between the fields.


Detailed understanding of building information and structure is critical for improving design, construction and management over their lifecycle - But the same problems persist beyond the buildings when planning and designing precincts, integrating those buildings with complex infrastructure and amenities, the natural environment, and taking into consideration external factors like weather patterns, demographics, markets and consumer demands. BIM alone cannot do justice to the complexity of precincts, let alone the cities they compose.


A Precinct Information Model (PIM) integrates all these datasets under one unified schema to enable planners, designers, architects, regulators, developers and even citizens to interact with the same models. PIM supports the planning, design, development, construction, and continuous operations and management of urban precincts by enabling more complete analysis and comparison of critical decisions.


This does not diminish the need for BIM and other existing tools. Instead it creates efficiency by dividing the value chain into upstream (planning) and downstream (architecture, engineering and construction) activities. BIM yields great efficiency improvements through the design, construction and maintenance of buildings. Similarly, PIM spans the full precinct lifecycle and enables more informed, effective and efficient decision-making at the planning and concept design stages.


Cities will be the home to many of the world's future problems, as well as their solutions. PIM is the catalyst for green, smart and connected urban environments of the future.