Enhancing Collaboration with the Buildings and Habitats object Model (BHoM) in AEC Workflows

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Increasingly geometrically complex designs employ larger teams which deploy increasingly complex workflows for data exchange across multiple disciplines. However, not all workflows are equally effective at handling data. A new approach to tackling interoperability is crucial for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Industry.

Using Buildings and Habitats object Model (BHoM) in our workflows can help avoid critical data loss and allow the seamless flow of data. In this article, we will explore BHoM scripts for interoperability and share our conclusions about the effectiveness of the BHoM in the industry so far.

What is BHoM? 

BHoM is a free, open-source collaborative project that allows software-agnostic representations of designs and their constituent elements. It is supported by a network of architects, engineers and software developers who have contributed code to it. BHoM seeks to resolve the interoperability challenge of tools used across the AEC industry.

How it works?

  • It acts as an extendable data dictionary having a shared mapping process through identifiers, providing a good foundation for data exchange.
  • The core functionality of the BHoM adapter is centralized, meaning that new adapters for BHoM can work from a well-established framework to connect to the software in question. The developer only needs to solve the nuances of the new software to gain access to other adapters within BHoM.

Flow of Data from the BHoM definition



  • This decentralization allows BHoM to be both scalable and manageable as the adapters are managed by users of different software.
  • Through its central object model, BHoM provides a common platform for everyone to write scripts in a scalable way. A common language means that the output of a script created by one person can easily be used as the input for another script.
  • BHoM offers data structure and data manipulation strategies which are compatible with both visual flow-based programming and text based imperative code.


What all it comprises of?

  • BHoM– A collection of object definitions, such as list of properties (beam, column, slab etc.)
  • Engine – A Collection of custom tools and algorithms for data exploration and manipulation.
  • Adapters – A Collection of translators to map and translate the object definitions between BHoM and external software packages.
  • User Interface (UI) – A connector to expose BHoM functionality through tools such as Grasshopper, Dynamo and Excel.


Structure of the BHoM
Image courtesy of "The Buildings and Habitats object Model"



Why BHoM?

The AEC industry's digitalization, along with growing project complexity and market competition has forced AEC professionals to look for smarter ways to manage data and streamline collaboration across projects—no matter what design tools they use.

Various AEC organizations have been independently developing their own in-house customized tools, including plugins and spreadsheets, for design workflows. Sharing large 3D models and metadata is now commonplace. These workflows are challenging for coordination and create unnecessarily large data payloads that cause problems in tracking changes during the design life cycle of the project. This produces inefficiencies in design communication across multiple disciplines.

The industry needs solutions that are flexible, brings design teams together and ease the sharing of data to deliver high quality designs insights. We need to transition from centralized, file-based processes to a decentralized design workflow where different software applications are connected.

How Can BHoM be used for Enhanced collaboration? 

BHoM can be implemented to meet industry needs, as it provides a single common language between multiple design tools. The BHoM uses a code base primarily written in C#. It defines a set of classes and objects for a common language that can be used to transfer data into any application and only requires one translator (adapter) per software application.

Comparison of traditional approach against Central Object Model of the BHoM
Image courtesy of "The Buildings and Habitats object Model"



Another notable factor of the BHoM is that it’s completely open source.The code base is improved and maintained by the community which ensures long term interoperability and leads to enhanced collaboration.

Interested in being part of it?  You can join the community of contributors here.

Case Study

During the design life cycle of a typical AEC project, data is created in the form of building information modeling (BIM) models, finite element (FE) models, and shared back and forth across multiple disciplines for coordination and design communication. However, due to lack of a central object model-based workflow, every discipline creates their own set of data for their specific software. This is inefficient, as efforts to create models are-

  •  Duplicated
  • Time consuming
  • Unsustainable

Use Cases of the BHoM
Image courtesy of "The Buildings and Habitats object Model"



Steel Virendeel Truss Footbridge by BuroHappold[1]

The proposed steel bridge is 10 m wide, spans 56m, and lightly touches an existing bridge. The form was created to compliment the landscape of the existing bridge. The design team decided to use BHoM to parametrically control analysis models for structural materials, properties and loading— as it was destined to change due to challenging site conditions.

They created construction model to give due consideration to size and location of the foundation amongst the railway platform structure. As a central model was used, all the modifications in the construction model were done via BHoM objects, which resulted in cascading various analysis model vis-à-vis.

Design Workflow of Steel Virendeel Truss Footbridge using the BHoM
Image courtesy of Peter Nugent


After completion of the project, the design team believed BHoM proved beneficial throughout the design lifecycle of the project. It also resulted in reduction of redundant work,and all the changes made to the central model were cascaded down to the construction and local models.

Impact of BHoM Implementation

BHoM can have a far-reaching impact in the AEC industry by supporting and improving business practices compared to traditional practices. Its use can shorten the project duration, produce market-ready facilities, and optimize management and maintenance.

Other benefits include:

  • Accessibility– The data-driven framework is highly accessible since BHoM is a free software licensed under GNU Lesser General Public License v3.
  • Quality– BHoM enables projects[2]to be completed within tight timeframes without compromising on quality of deliverables.
  • Promptness–BHoM expedites the design processes with seamless data exchange across multiple software packages.
  • Collaboration–BHoM fosters enhanced collaboration across multiple disciplines and stakeholders such as architect & engineers, specifically for projects in the urban landscape.
  • Data efficiency–BHoM avoids the loss of critical data in AEC workflows as it contains a rich information model with real time integration across different disciplines.  
  • Flexibility– Dynamic definition of data allows greater flexibility throughout the design lifecycle of a project.
  • Opportunity–BHoM has a robust definition for construction objects, data management and data transfers between software. It allows users to build upon it and explore the integration of new workflows —like machine learning, positive feedback loops and generative design.


Challenges to BHoM Implementation

Will BHoM be a technology that is adopted overnight by the AEC Industry? No, it was open sourced in December 2019 and the digital revolution in construction is just beginning.There’s a long road ahead before open-source software packages like BHoM become the norm in design. BHoM in the AEC industry still has some obstacles to overcome, such as:

  • Limited integration capabilities— Being a community-based initiative BHoM offers limited integration capabilities. Community input is required for development of adapters for different software packages.
  • Maintenance—As it’s publicly available for contributors, regular maintenance is required for affected GitHub repositories and for rewriting specific object models.
  • Scepticism—Even the most tech-savvy design consultant might be hesitant to adopt BHoM into their day-to-day operations.
  • Culture—BHoM is a non-traditional approach for interoperability. It isn’t easy to adapt, even for the organizations that are now digitized. It takes time, effort, and training to accomplish.
  • Lack of resources—In order to implement BHoM into everyday operations, a variety of complex workflows need to be created. This carries a cost—for the systems, and for hiring people to create and implement them.
  • Cost and efficiency—While BHoM is quite good at cost reduction (it’s open-source after all) it still faces specific challenges implementing legacy systems. Setting up the initial BHoM infrastructure can get expensive.


The Bottom Line

Application of BHoM in the AEC industry is emerging as a potential solution to the prevailing interoperability problem of multidisciplinary designs. When implemented, it can also assist design decisions through reasoning and enhanced collaboration. But the implementation still has a long way to go given the cultural and economic barriers associated with it. BHoM itself has its own limitations which need to be investigated. A collaborative effort from the AEC community is what’s needed to overcome challenges associated with BHoM implementation.


A special thanks to Peter Nugent, Senior Computational Bridge Engineer, BuroHappold Ltd, London, for extending tremendous support to the article and providing valuable insights and guidance throughout the process.

About the Authors

Paras Taneja, a practicing Structural Engineer based out of Haryana, India striving to contribute to the AEC community through engineering sustainable solutions powered by data and technology. He comes with multitude of experience as a Structural Engineer and Computational BIM Technologist in Bridge Engineering.

Muskan Khan is currently an MBA student at Indian Institute of Management-Kozhikode, India. She's a technology enthusiast who likes to explore different industries and perspectives. Previously, she has worked with Economic Times Prime as Business Correspondent where her work involved highlighting issues in different domains. She is a graduate in commerce from Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), Delhi University, India.