/ Paul Sutton / Creative Workspace

For those who remember the film Towering Inferno, it describes the gallant architect in the guise of Paul Newman opening up a building services cupboard and realising that something has been missed out of the electrics thereby endangering the whole tower. For most architects then, it probably crossed their minds that an architect wouldn't have known that, before reassuring themselves that it is an imaginary tower and in real life that is not really how buildings are built. No one person knows everything about one building, a whole host of people contribute.

And therein lies the problem, all these different contributors with their own ways of thinking and communicating can lead to information being duplicated, incorrectly cross referenced and missed. In that respect Paul Newman's discovery is not impossible to imagine, only he wouldn't have been the individual to have found it. Hence the government edict that advantage has to be taken of the digital communication revolution to bring all these potentially divergent contributions into line in the form of an imaginary digital model common to all the various contributors. This idea is known as building information modeling or BIM for short.

Eminently sensible you might think given the immense success of city building games like Sim City or Mindcraft, where almost effortlessly imaginary worlds can be created. Surely it is reasonable to expect the planning of real city building to be the same.

There are a number of challenges. The first is to wean the industry off thinking in flat plans and sections or abstract snapshots of aspects of the building. It is like doing a whisky tasting, just a snapshot, not a guarantee that all bottles in the distillery taste the same. Yet is should be said the flat plan or 2D approach has sufficed for many great buildings of the world to date.

The jump to working in 3D like our parallel games colleagues gives us the problem that each contributor should be working on the same digital model. While this is indeed the objective, there are many challenges. As in computer programming, there are multiple softwares to build these models and at the moment they are not fully compatible with each other.

It is a bit like the early railroads where different companies had different track widths preventing the use of rail stock on different lines. Banging heads together created the rail network of today but we are still in the early days of building a common programme and hence language of model building. Add to that the need for technical bandwidths and speeds to facilitate interconnectivity between the different locations of collaborators if they are to work on the same model and the challenges multiply.

Irrespective, the Government has set targets for various degrees of collaboration to come together, and looking beyond the particular and immediate challenges, what we are witnessing are the first steps towards an integrated industry. It might indeed be possible for Paul Newman architect to open up a virtual model of the tower and be advised of the problem as well as how to fix it.