Speaking a common language

In order for BIM (Building Information Modelling) to be adopted across our industry it is important that we all understand clearly the terminology and language we use to communicate with each other. Collaboration is far more straightforward where we are all have the same understanding of the language we are using to communicate with. The idea of common and open standards is something we are passionate about but this extends beyond file formats and into all aspects of collaborative working.


Many of the documents developed within the UK to date cover definitions of different BIM terminology. This is a great starting point but they are disparate in their locations and so we amassed these terms into a single document in order to provide a single point of reference for our staff. This forms what we refer to as our ‘BIM Dictionary’.

In addition, over the past 18 months we have been amassing ‘BIM Acronyms’. Again, these are used throughout the UK documentation and we have ‘collected’ others from articles, seminars, the web and from social media. Again having a common understanding with regard to these acronyms is key to collaboration. 

Both the BIM Dictionary and BIM Acronyms are made available publicly today for download from our Documents resources page.

All sources for the dictionary definitions are included for reference and a list of contributors is also included. Note the documents do include the definitions and acronyms covered in the recently released draft of PAS 1192-3 but these are highlighted in red and are provided for information only at this stage. These will be updated and the documents republished when the final version of PAS 1192-3 is made available in early 2014. Other definitions and acronyms will also be added as new documentation is made publicly available.

BIM alphabet

National standard?

In an ideal world I would love to see the concept of these documents absorbed into a single national standard. For me, the creation of BS 1192-0 would be a logical step in creating a common understanding across our industry. We could then lighten the other documentation accordingly, simplifying and rationalising the useful information that has been created over the past 12 months in the UK.

Software agnostic

It should be noted that the documents deliberately exclude software specific terminology. There are many terms used that are software specific, for example Autodesk Revit users often use terms like “Families” and “Worksets”. These are specific to Revit and as such mean very little to a user of other authoring software.

Equally as a Graphisoft ARCHICAD user it would be very easy for me to talk about “Viewsets” or “Hotlinks” but most non-ARCHICAD users would look at me confused as to what I was talking about. So for me, it is important we develop a common industry language, one that is not dictated by our chosen authoring platforms.

Common language

Use of language is something I am on somewhat of a personal crusade to make consistent, even within my own chosen authoring platform. So to give you an example, ARCHICAD has for years had a tool called the ‘Zone Tool’. Now on the face of it this doesn’t sound like much of an issue, but when we work on collaborative projects and particularly where data is important, this language is important.

IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) and COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange) both support the concept of Zones and BS1192:2007 also covers Zones (although these are called Volumes in PAS 1192-2:2013 just for confusion!). However in ARCHICAD when we use the ‘Zone Tool’ we are in fact modelling Spaces. Spaces are also covered by IFC and COBie and any ARCHICAD Zone will appear as an IfcSpace in ARCHICAD’s IFC Manager. So having to explain to a user they are modelling Spaces with a Zone Tool and then creating Zones within the IFC Manager, from these Spaces is to say the least confusing! (if you had to read that twice or more then that proves my point!) All of this could be simplified for the user in my opinion. Simplification will encourage adoption of BIM and not make us sound like we are practising some kind of dark art.

Leading on from this, COBie and the Uniclass2 classification system (currently a Development Release) use the language of Spaces and for me this concept should also be common across the wider project terminology. So I would suggest that for consistency we should refer to what we have traditionally called ‘Room Data Sheets’ or RDS, as ‘Space Data Sheets’ or SDS. Rooms (a term incidentally used by Revit) is fine when we are modelling Spaces bounded by walls but what if we are modelling an external Space or a Corridor. These aren’t strictly ‘Rooms’ in my opinion. This isn’t a dig at Revit, but a plea for consistency from all software vendors and from our industry as a whole to use the same language to communicate.

Unique language

There are of course times where a common language is not important. Where software companies produce features that do not affect collaboration then the naming of these elements is less crucial. For example, ARCHICAD has a ‘Shell’ and ‘Morph’ tool. These are just tools within the authoring software to create geometry and don’t fundamentally affect wider collaboration. For me, this still allows software companies to produce unique features that play a part in marketing and promotion, but where collaboration is at play, commonality of language is key.

Final thoughts

Having common terminology and standard definitions for the same thing across the industry is surely a logical step to greater collaboration? Creating a common language will ultimately make the adoption of BIM simpler and less confusing for all. Hopefully our BIM Acronyms and BIM Dictionary show our commitment to this cause.

Rob Jackson, Associate, Bond Bryan Architects


One thought on “Speaking a common language

  1. And just for fun Revit Architecture has “Spaces” also which are probably “Zones” really and Revit MEP has “Zones” which are areas served by an HVAC system…

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