BIM data harmonization unifies Hong Kong’s smart city goals

As Hong Kong strives to become the world’s preeminent smart city, BIM data harmonization brings agencies and processes together to meet unified goals.

image of harmonizing various BIM and GIS data horizontally

Mark de Wolf

August 30, 2022

min read
The first-phase development of the Kwun Tung North and Fanling North development areas
The first-phase development of the Kwun Tung North and Fanling North development areas.

Governments around the world need to invest $57 trillion in infrastructure through 2030 to keep up with global GDP growth, according to McKinsey. That’s a massive incentive for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry to improve productivity and speed up project delivery. Construction is ripe for disruption, and two of the technologies playing a central role in its transformation are building information modeling (BIM) and geographic information systems (GIS).

Evidence has been mounting for years that BIM-driven 3D modeling and data visualization are essential for major urban construction projects. Yet before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum estimated that only about a third (PDF, p. 4) of infrastructure and public works firms had fully integrated BIM tools into their operating models.

The rest are missing out on better collaboration between project partners, cost and resource savings, shorter project lifecycles, improved building management, and safer construction sites.

Today, clients are in the driver’s seat, demanding an integrated full-lifecycle approach for those projects with BIM and GIS as the digital hubs for design, construction, project management, collaboration, and operation.

Talking the same language

common data environment is mapped with the elements in the 3D visualization platform of the BIM data repository
The common data environment is mapped with the elements in the 3D visualization platform of the BIM data repository.

In Hong Kong’s push to become the world’s preeminent smart city, government departments responsible for roadworks, water services, maintenance, and power distribution began using BIM technology back in 2016. However, individual departments applied the tech independently, establishing their own data standards and creating separate object libraries for their stand-alone applications.

Unsurprisingly, this disconnection limited the value BIM could deliver. Infrastructure projects require all relevant city agencies to work together, but lack of common data standards meant disparate systems couldn’t talk to each other. BIM was delivering at the departmental level, but the wider benefits of information sharing with clients and digital collaboration between project stakeholders remained out of reach.

To eliminate those barriers, Hong Kong’s Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) launched a multiyear initiative to establish a single, harmonized BIM data standard that every agency involved in public works in Hong Kong would have to abide by.

Called Horizontal Harmonization for BIM/GIS Integration, the project is replacing in-house data siloes and a patchwork of different BIM approaches that have built up over years with a single shared platform. Integrating BIM and GIS allows users to visualize a digitally designed project in the context of its geographic location, thus reducing the risks and uncertainties associated with complex infrastructure projects.

The program falls under the First Phase development of the Kwun Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas in Hong Kong. Infrastructure is being built to address the city’s long-term housing demand and provide employment opportunities as part of the Hong Kong 2030: Planning Vision and Strategy program.

“To showcase the value, we had to show that it was possible for every spatial data object in Hong Kong’s library of public works projects to be housed under one BIM standard,” says Thomson Lai, Asia digital leader at global engineering company AECOM, which led the project. “We then had to create a standard for exchanging BIM data from [Autodesk] Revit and Civil 3D to IFC and CityGML.”

Key stakeholders include Hong Kong’s Development Bureau (DEVB); Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD); Lands Department (LandsD); Other Works Department, which oversees all public works projects in the city state; and the Hong Kong Lands Department, which manages all of Hong Kong’s land matters and territory-wide 2D and 3D maps.

The Lands Department played a key role. As the body responsible for mapping Hong Kong’s landholding and the major provider of spatial data provider for Hong Kong, the agency is the only source of the 1:1,000-or-smaller-scale topographical maps that designers, engineers, and construction contractors rely on to make projects happen. In the past, it created 2D maps for paper output or basic digital display, but today it’s increasingly called on to generate 3D data visualizations to accommodate digital project management.

That made the project’s third objective—a single repository for all BIM data managed by the Lands Department—mission-critical. “An IT infrastructure product to house all BIM data is the final project deliverable,” Lai says. “It’s being hosted in the Hong Kong Government Cloud Infrastructure Services [GCIS]. It will be the digital platform for all government infrastructure projects in the future, allowing every stakeholder to create BIM models to the same standard and share them as needed.”

Triggers for change

The development of the conversion engine and the BIM data repository generate data in open formats that allow exchange of information between software applications, maintaining the model’s integrity with minimal data loss
The development of the conversion engine and the BIM data repository generate data in open formats that allow exchange of information between software applications, maintaining the model’s integrity with minimal data loss.

Of all the drivers behind Hong Kong’s BIM data harmonization initiative, eliminating complexity topped the list.

Managing any infrastructure project is a balancing act to meet the requirements of multiple stakeholders: project owners, government departments, regulators, designers, engineers, consultants, the lead construction contractor, and subcontractors handling specialist tasks.

Advancing a public works project in Hong Kong is a complex undertaking. Belowground dependencies include extensive utilities infrastructure. Aboveground, navigating zoning rules for the city’s public markets comes into play, along with the demands of the Special Administrative Region’s 250 islands and densely populated built environment.

“When design and construction firms enter into a project, they need to find ways to work together and navigate a complicated project and regulatory environment,” Lai says. “BIM was offering a way to cut through it, but without an agreed-upon data standard, you had the challenge of deciding whose standard to follow. Now we have one version of the truth.”

Seamless handovers

With the harmonization project concluding in April 2022 and the BIM standard and data repository now in rollout, Hong Kong’s infrastructure agencies are already seeing significant benefits.

A major plus is that using common data platforms has sped up the handover of building information to the client—which also increases the business value of the data.

The use of BIM and GIS introduces a spatial element to this innovative smart cities project with a clear goal in mind: to increase the efficiency of the entire design and construction process.

“In the old days, much of the information at handover was useless to the asset owner,” Lai says. “If they wanted to take advantage of the data for analytics or build their own 3D model, they had to start from scratch due to incompatible data standards and formats. Now, all a client needs to do is upload the building data into the new BIM data repository using Autodesk Vault Professional. The conversion engine we’ve built for bring the native format to open IFC and open GIS formats.”

Mark de Wolf

About Mark de Wolf

Mark de Wolf is a freelance journalist and award-winning copywriter specializing in technology stories. Born in Toronto. Made in London. Based in Zürich. Reach him at markdewolf.com.

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