Category: Architecture on film

BIM – A New Hope?

BIM – A New Hope?



“A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…. “ BIM was invented.

To be more specific, approaching forty years ago, in a different constellation of stars (Holywood), the production design team of Star Wars needed a futuristic representation of the plans of the Death Star, Darth Vader’s menacing space station. These “plans” had been stolen by Princess Leia, and the safe transfer of these plans into the rebel hands, and their analysis to identify weaknesses in the death star’s defences, became the central story arc of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New hope”. BIM was the eponymous hero, since a BIM model was the new hope.

As the opening scenes were critical for the success of the film, the plot would have stuttered to a halt, if Leia was caught stuffing a roll of dye-line blueprints inside R2D2. Therefore what the production team conceived, was a digital model, which could be transferred electronically on a solid state drive, and visualised in an embryonic wireframe Virtual reality. This was the inadvertent birth of BIM and planted the seed for the future of computer graphical output and visual representation, in the minds of a generation.

BIM is an acronym of Building Information Management or Building Information Model, and this visual database of construction information, is currently revolutionising the construction industry. However back in 1977 this vision was remarkable, as it was years before 2D Computer Aided Design or even floppy disks were mainstream, let alone any software as intelligent as BIM.

In the 1970’s Computer Aided Design (CAD) was a nascent industry which had evolved from the computational developments in the aerospace sector. In the construction industry it was a niche specialism, used more for infrastructure and engineering projects than architecture, where the scale and costs could support the investment, with little emphasis on graphical rendering and output, due to the limitations of computer processing power. Pioneers were building databases with graphical interfaces, such as Charles Eastman, who in 1977 launched GLIDE (Graphical Language for Interactive Design) whilst at Carnegie Mellon University, and early take-up of the software was for purposes such as terrain modelling for flight simulators.

To put it in context, 1977 was the year that Apple launched the Apple II, the first colour home computer, powered by 1MHz CPU and a hefty 4K of RAM (for reference current iphones have a chip that runs at 1.85GHz with 2GB of RAM). The first commercial BIM software, developed behind the Iron Curtain by Gabor Bojar, called Radar CH (a precursor of ArchiCad) wasn’t to be released until 1984, with Revit following in 2000.

To appreciate the quality of Computer graphics and processing in 1977, you need to revisit the scene in Episode IV where the rebels present their analysis of the Death Star’s weaknesses to the assembled rebel fighters. This expository scene is revealing as it could be cited as the first BIM presentation, complete with VR flythrough.

“An analysis of the plans provided by Princes Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the Battle Station- the approach will not be easy…”


“The target area is only 2m wide, it is a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port, the shaft leads directly to the reactor system, a precise hit will start a chain reaction, which should destroy the station.”

For those not indoctrinated in the virtues of BIM, this scene succinctly explains its potential. The BIM model of the Death Star, is a visual representation of all the data for its design, construction and maintenance, which can be analysed and studied to educate all parties about the project. This whole scene (and the plot of the film) was enabled by a paper published by Eastman in 1974 which predicted the potential of an “automated model review, to “check for design regularity”.

BIM is now commonly used for innovations such as clash detection, or thermal analysis, to identify weaknesses in the construction, in the film this was exploited to dramatic effect.

The possession of the model, and its ability to be interpreted and exploited, not just by collaborators who have been invited to access the data, but also by others with more nefarious motives, has triggered a significant contractual revolution in the construction industry. These are some of the fundamental issues now widely debated, as the world has finally caught up with this technological innovation, and BIM is becoming more mainstream- indeed projects at BIM Level 2 are becoming increasingly mandated.

Standards are now being developed to enhance cyber-security and in particular the access and management of this data in a common data environment (potentially stored on the cloud). We will need to wait for the release of the BIM back-story “Rogue one: A Star Wars Story” to see how Holywood has dramatized the theft of this data.


These Star Wars films emphasise the truism, that knowledge is power, and those in possession of that knowledge will have the upper hand. As all parties involved are on a steep learning curve, new standards and processes are currently being written, trying desperately to catch up with the pace of the development of the technology.

However for designers and clients the challenge is to be able to step back and consider this in a measured way. Not to fetishize and obsess about BIM as the final product… it needs to be firmly remembered that it is a tool, the assist in the design and to streamline the construction of a complex structure.

BIM is the journey, not the destination.

Star Wars Identities – ‘The Force’ as an allegory for good design!

Star Wars Identities – ‘The Force’ as an allegory for good design!


Star Wars is not simply a film franchise, or as a cynic might state an effective marketing machine for a merchandise industry (which is doubtlessly why the rights were acquired by Disney), it is a phenomena that has left a deep impression in the cultural landscape. It is inaccurate to simply dismiss it as a cult for geeks, although I accept it is a stretch too far to classify “Jedi” as a new religion.

I must confess that I was a massive fan as a child, and the story, themes, ideas and characters, were a source of happy memories and points of reference, which I have since been able to indulge with my own children. So where did this source of inspiration come from?

This is attributable to the ideas, of George Lucas (Director), Ralph McQuarrie & Joe Johnson (the visual artists) and John Barry (production designer), working with a large team of visual and effects artists, that executed this vision through their attention to craft and detail, right down to the special effects team of model makers and film technicians.

It is no accident that this shared vision, led not only to industry plaudits, huge box office returns and fantastic commercial spin-off’s but also led to commercial offshoots such as Lucas’ company “Industrial Light and Magic” who pioneered film effects and indeed computer technology for years (more of which in future posts).

My greatest fascination however lies in the extraordinary achievements that Star Wars created in the field of design- not only in costumes, technology, structures, transport and urban design, but in the design of new environments and even genetic species.


I was transfixed by the considered attention to detail in every aspect of the concept. To support the plot and drama, rounded characters had to be developed with not only a personality and interesting back story, but often from a whole new species and planet.  This is where the designers flourished, developing an entire fictional natural history, evolving the new species in response to their environment, showing a consideration of how the natural selection in that eco-system would “design”  not only the physical characteristics of the species, but also their behaviours and traits.


img_8031It is perhaps telling that the richness of detail that led to the creation of this alternative organic world, continues to be an exceedingly valuable intellectual property, which is still being mined for new commercial opportunities. This is where the inspiration of the exhibition “Star Wars: Identities” at the O2 begins. They have an enviable collection of the usual memorabilia, from costumes, props and numerous models of the spacecraft, which are supplemented with concept art and development sketches for different planets or characters. What is unusual is that they have constructed an interactive exhibition, where the subject matter is broken down into thematic exhibits, to provide an inspiration for creating your own character. You interact with the exhibits to input data such as background, genetic and evolutionary traits, environmental influences even personality types into your smart wristband, to generate your own character’s identity.

Through this interaction, there is a quasi-educational process which runs parallel to the investigation and learning experience, gained through close examination of the artefacts.

Star Wars had been a massive influence on not only the pop-cultural reference points, but I believe the design approach and design philosophy of generations. It has taught us how to create, how to use our imagination and craft ideas into a vision for how things should be.

Star Wars has taught us how to use this force of creativity for good.

‘The Force’ is an allegory for good design. 

Star Wars Identities- The Exhibition- What forces shape you?

At the O2 until November 2017. @swidentities