Building for the future: Pilot program integrates BIM & GIS to improve urban management

By Ron Exler, Bart De Lathouwer

In 1930, only 30 percent of the world’s people lived in urban areas. By 2014 the percentage had increased to 54 percent. The United Nations now projects that by 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will be urban. Urban growth creates tremendous demands for housing, services, natural resources and work space. Cities increasingly rely on digital resources to keep up with these demands.

Yet integrating and communicating information about buildings and major capital projects typically fails to make full use of modern digital technologies. There is a continued reliance on paper, especially on construction sites. Sometimes changes made to plans at construction sites fail to go back into CAD systems. Building design information is usually file-based and often remains isolated, not integrated with digital geographic information such as city models and underground utilities plans. Standards for sharing digital building information are few and underused. Interoperability scenarios, when they exist, are static. When development of urban environments — both outdoor and indoor — does result in leave-behind digital models, these are soon outdated.

Outdated and incomplete building information leads to higher costs and inefficiencies that impact both public and private sectors. Ultimately, urban planning, development and management — and urban living — require building information models that interact dynamically with each other and that interact dynamically with GIS and other spatial technologies.

BIM and GIS intersect at all four main stages of a facility lifecycle:

  • Stage 1: Planning and conceptual design
  • Stage 2: Detailed design and construction
  • Stage 3: Operate and manage
  • Stage 4: Renovate and repurpose

The mid-lifecycle stage, Operate and manage, which involves by far the most people, the most organizations and the most time, will increasingly require that BIM and geospatial seamlessly intersect with augmented reality systems and systems for energy management, wayfinding, security and location services of many different kinds. These are all different technologies that have evolved through the efforts of different companies working to address different spatial information management problems at different spatial scales. Building design software companies have done useful integration work within their product families, but widespread integration and interoperability throughout the building lifecycle requires consensus development of open standards, and widespread implementation of those standards by the design software companies and others.

Much important work has been done in developing these standards, but little has been done to demonstrate how standards from different spatial standards organizations can work together in delivering practical urban information technology solutions.

The Solution: FutureCities Pilot

To show what’s possible, the Open Geospatial Consortium is collaborating with buildingSMART International to bring together cities and technology providers in an innovative pilot program. The FutureCities Pilot will demonstrate and enhance the ability of cities to use diverse, interoperating spatial technologies to deliver improved quality of life, civic initiatives and resilience. The technology foundation for the pilot will be an open, vendor-neutral standards platform for communicating spatial and temporal data.

The interoperability focus will be on the integration of building and geospatial information representing indoor, outdoor, underground and atmospheric systems. Cities that improve standards-based sharing of location information can provide improved services and opportunities for residents, visitors and businesses. Technology providers participating in the FutureCities Pilot will learn city requirements, show the providers' interoperability capabilities and have the opportunity to influence standards development.

One specific element of the pilot involves linking near-real-time sensor data to OGC®CityGML models. More and more cities are developing 3D city models using the open CityGML standard. Once created, the models provide a basis for dynamic applications that may involve sensors. The FutureCities Pilot will test a new dynamic property feature that supports this capability. For example, new rooftop solar panels can feed data into city models when switched on to help energy providers, users and planners have current information.

Another element of the pilot will be improved integration of civil engineering information with geospatial data for locations where structures exist. For example, because much land is below sea level in Holland, the homes sit on poles installed below the foundation, deep enough to reach stable earth. Integrating known subsurface information with the building information means the pole requirements can be determined without digging, which saves time and money.

One geospatial standard applicable to civil engineering is OGC GeoSciML, an XML–based data transfer standard for the exchange of digital geoscientific information. GeoSciML accommodates the representation and description of geologic features, such as the depth of bedrock. Other applications in which civil engineering and geospatial information overlap include terrain modeling, road design, and greenfield and brownfield developments that need to integrate hydrology and soils information with digital building information.

Integration of civil engineering information with geospatial data benefits from the OGC InfraGMLEncoding Standard. InfraGML serves some of the same purposes as the familiar LandXML. InfraGML, however, unlike LandXML, is based on the same abstract model as OGC’s Geography Markup Language, so it enables easy integration with CityGML and the whole suite of OGC standards. The goal of InfraGML is a more complete integration of the data stored in CAD and GIS databases and drawings — data that is critical to the overall management of the built environment in general and to the management of specific projects.

Industry Foundation Classes represent the buildingSMART data model specification, an open international standard for BIM data. IFC data will be exchanged and shared among the various FutureCities Pilot participants in building construction or facility management projects. Semantic enablement will occur via an abstract model that is common across the IFC and OGC CityGML encodings. The two standards organizations are also tackling bidirectional translation between IFC and CityGML, which will further improve BIM and GIS integration.

Relevance of OGC Testbed 11 to the FutureCities Pilot

The FutureCities Pilot will demonstrate some of the results of the Testbed 11 project that used OGC standards to simulate response to a serious flood/climate change scenario. In that scenario, building information is critical to public safety, for example in resilience planning, evacuation routing and handling hazardous materials storage locations. FutureCities scenarios may also address improved energy management, Internet of Things sensor webs, and environmental contaminant analysis.


Integrating spatial information systems of all kinds is critical for cities working to support growing populations. Many integration and interoperability scenarios are enabled by currently available standards, but these are too seldom demonstrated and too little known. In their FutureCities Pilot, OGC and buildingSMART International provide an unprecedented opportunity for cities and providers to see and show the value of standards-based data exchange.

Participating in the FutureCities Pilot is a great way to reduce technology risk, expand the market and improve choice, and deploy new technologies. For technology providers, participation also provides a cost-effective method to share expertise and development while gaining early marketplace insight and advantage. For more information, please contact OGC’s Bart De Lathouwer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Published Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Written by Ron Exler, Bart De Lathouwer

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