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Microscale BIM meets macroscale vision

AEC Excellence Awards // 2018

Planners use BIM to improve neighborhood safety in landslide-prone areas

Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín, is located in the Andes Mountains roughly 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) above sea level, and much of the city’s development extends up the sides of the area’s many mountains. Some of that development took place with little or no planning, with neighborhoods forming as people built small dwellings on available pieces of land. However, many of these vibrant communities are located on land at high risk of dangerous landslides. A public entity, the Empresa Desarrollo Urbano de Medellín (EDU) used BIM (Building Information Modeling) tools in the Architecture, Engineering & Construction Collection to plan safer communities for people living in these areas.


Called MIB, which is a micro-scale urban-planning methodology, EDU’s approach on the project makes it a priority to consider micro-scale planning in relation to the macro scale of the city as a whole. The goal is to ensure that people in affected communities gain access to much more than just safer housing. Improved transportation, sanitation, and parks—plus residents’ ability to contribute to the planning process—are all part of MIB and to help win community support.

The EDU team wanted to start the project with a whole-city view showing the affected communities in relationship to transportation, city services, and parks. But they lacked the funds to undertake a manual survey. Just as importantly, the team recognized the need to turn any planning and design outputs into materials that people in affected communities could easily review.

“MIB takes place at the city level, or macro scale, and the neighborhood level, or micro scale,” says Nicolás Rivillas Hincapié, assistant director of design and innovation at EDU. “We want to make neighborhoods safer for people and also take their opinions into account. Community communication is critical with MIB. We saw BIM technology as a vehicle for technical design and as a way to easily create visually clear communications of a complex project.”

Image courtesy of Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano

Image courtesy of Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano


To start the project, EDU gathered information from several GIS (geographic information system) databases in the city, including those for utilities, transportation, and the city overall. The team brought that information, along with orthographic photos, into InfraWorks infrastructure-design software and used it to create a 3D city map. Using Civil 3D engineering-design software, the team created preliminary models of slopes, cuts, fills, and other engineering information for the affected areas.

By bringing this data into InfraWorks, team members created a 3D model that included both existing conditions and proposed site changes. They generated concept models for new parks and transit enhancements in Civil 3D and turned to Revit building-design software to create new housing concepts for the communities.

The intelligence of the Revit models let the team evaluate basic construction and material requirements, providing early visibility into potential costs and helping keep designs aligned to budget. To improve the energy performance for the new housing, the team used Insight to explore the energy implications of design choices in the earliest design stages. For instance, Insight helped the team choose an energy-efficient orientation for the buildings with respect to the sun.

“For public planning at any scale, 3D visualization can play an important role in communicating with people. It provides a clear basis to share ideas and to gather feedback. Decision making becomes more collaborative.”

—Nicolás Rivillas Hincapié, Assistant Director of Design and Innovation, Empresa Desarrollo Urbano de Medellín



When the initial planning was ready to share with the community, EDU created a 3D model representing the entire city, with a detailed project planning area of more than 40,000 square feet. The team also used InfraWorks to communicate the project’s city-scale implications. City leaders and community members could see the project in the context of the entire city and its infrastructure.

For more detailed reviews of proposed housing, EDU used Navisworks project-review software to create 3D fly-throughs of the Revit design models. EDU also used Autodesk Rendering, a cloud-based service, to create photorealistic images of the proposed building and other changes. These renderings captured high-resolution views of what the plan would look like when complete.

EDU shared these visualizations—3D maps, fly-throughs, and renderings—with the community and used them to gather input and comments at events. To maximize information availability, EDU posted project information that included QR codes so community members with smartphones could then scan the codes and easily access project visualizations.

Image courtesy of Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano


As MIB advances, EDU expects work to begin in the near future on new housing in the affected neighborhood with the most pressing need. EDU credits its BIM-powered planning process with helping the project move forward more quickly. The team estimates that the planning process took 45% less time thanks to BIM tools within the AEC Collection, including Civil 3D, InfraWorks, Revit, Navisworks, and Insight software. A model-based approach improved quality as well, with the team estimating that the new housing will be 28% more efficient and constructible.

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