Interoperability and Sustainable Design

In the recent wake of Autodesk’s acquisition of Ecotect and Green Building Studio, and events such as the cooperative agreement announced between Autodesk and Bentley Systems, this article takes a look at how interoperability relates to green building design, and how innovation in the way we communicate as building design professionals will help us all design more sustainable buildings.


3 thoughts on “Interoperability and Sustainable Design

  1. Sid Thoo presents a fair and balanced view of the current situation with regard to interoperability solutions to linking a BIM with energy analysis software. He highlights the limitations of using IFCs and other interoperability approaches to capture the required data needed for energy analysis and how these might be addressed in the future.

    I wish he had discussed the building and life cycle cost aspects of building simulation. These are just as significant as the energy simulation results and require additional data (and cost databases) to support. Without accurate cost data, sustainability evaulation is incomplete. There are a number of existing software tools that do calculate building cost, but not life cycle costs. Are there more complete solutions to sustainability and cost analysis? Perhaps a future article in AECBytes can discuss this aspect of the problem.

  2. Very good article indeed.

    I have my concerns about Autodesk and interoperability, though:

    As an Archicad user, I have used the gbxml plugin for Archicad, that has been available from Green Building Studio’s website along with one for Revit users. Since Autodesk took over, the plugin hasn’t been available. A message about changing servers has been displayed, as if that can take more than one night’s work.

    The fact is that a plugin is available for Revit users, but not for Archicad users. See for yourself here:

    As an architect, I want to be free to chose the tools and methods that works best for me and my way of practising architecture. That requires interoperability between software applications. I don’t see Autodesk supporting this.

    Best regards,
    Sara Asmussen, Danish architect MAA

  3. An interesting take about BIM and interoperability in the service of sustainable design. I have a couple of concerns, also.

    First, Sid’s description of the Digitial Project Ecotect exchange suggests that energy analysis is, or should be, a “round-trip” (a.k.a. bi-directional) model exchange between the BIM authoring application and the building performance and energy analysis (BPEA) application. I beg to differ. The power of the BPEA app is in the analysis of geometry and data without the burden of creating or manipulating the same complex data structures that a BIM authoring app creates. It only needs to look at a limited subset of the geometry and data to do a relevant simulation and analysis. Let the analysis results inform the designer, who can best judge how to best implement changes, to improve BPEA results in the BIM. The designer with the BIM authoring app can, and should, take many more factors into account than the analysis app can, in changing the model. In fact, the more the designer can streamline/simplify a results-based “feedback loop”, the better.

    Secondly, Sid states, “…while the IFC schema provides for a space boundary definition, it does not yet allow for doors, windows and other openings to be mapped in relation to the space boundary.”

    On the contrary. In fact, the IFC schema provides many mechanisms (via a thorough family of “ifcRel” entities) to establish these relationships and many, many more. An ifcSpace can be defined by multiple space boundaries (like ifcWall or other ifcSpaces), any of which can have related ifcElements (such as ifcDoor and ifcWindow). It can also relate objects within itself like ifcStair or a piece of HVAC equipment via ifcFlowTerminalType, for example.

    These complex relationships were not initially mandated in the first IFC Coordination View, which has been the predominant Model View Definition to date. Technically, IFC has an enormous capacity and potential. As time goes on and users (including architects, owners, governments and their regulatory agencies) demand, even require, true vendor-neutral, open standards and formats for the exchange of BIM data, IFC implementation will mature and continue to prove itself more and more adept and useful. But this will take effort on everyone’s part.

    It is precisely to address this current lack of mandated standards and relevant data structures for appropriate information exchanges that groups such as the Open Geospatial Consortium and the buildingSMART alliance (as well as the International Code Council for code checking, GSA for spatial validation and the US Army Corp of Engineers for facility data [COBIE]) have undertaken efforts to develop IFC-based, vendor-neutral, open standards for the exchange of BIM data between applications.

    Nemetschek North America, in conjunction with other vendors, is taking part in the OGC’s AECOO Testbed-1 [], an effort to standardize Model View Definitions for for the exchange of relevant data and geometry between BIM authoring applications (like VectorWorks Architect) and Building Performance and Energy Analysis applications (like EnergyPlus, Ecotect or DesignBuilder). This is a
    significant step forward in the implementation of open standards and IFC to
    promote true interoperability for BIM.

    Efforts such as this, by organizations like the OGC and bSa, are important to the future of BIM and true interoperability for the whole industry, internationally.

    Best regards,
    Jeffrey W. Ouellette, Assoc. AIA
    Integrated Products Group
    VectorWorks Architect
    Nemetschek North America

Comments are closed.