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buildingSMART Data Dictionary: an interview with Artur Tomczak

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

The buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD) is a crucial component of the Building Information Modelling (BIM) process. It serves as a standardised and structured repository of information that defines the meaning, properties, and relationships of various data elements used in BIM models. The bSDD provides a common language and vocabulary that allows different stakeholders to effectively communicate and exchange information throughout the lifecycle of a construction project.

By establishing a consistent and standardised set of terms and definitions, the bSDD ensures clarity and accuracy in the representation of data, promoting interoperability and reducing misunderstandings or errors. It enables the seamless integration of data from different sources, software applications, and disciplines, facilitating collaboration and coordination among project teams.

In this post, I invited Artur Tomczak, the bSDD product manager, to discuss the functionalities of the bSDD service and how it can support the different industry professionals to ensure data quality and information consistency in their BIM projects. bSDD is a free online service for publishing classifications and their properties, allowed values, units and translations. You can find more information here:

Artur is a structural engineer experienced in BIM on various international projects. He has worked as a computational engineer and consultant, developing and implementing tools. He is pursuing a PhD in Norway and supporting the industry as a product manager of the bSDD in the buildingSMART International team.

Could you please share with us your background and experience in Building Information Modelling (BIM) and how it has prepared you to be an expert in the development and implementation of the bSDD?

Artur: In the first semester of civil engineering studies, we had a compulsory hand-drawing course. Soon after, most university assignments required the delivery of CAD drawings. I first heard of BIM in 2013 on an exchange to Tampere in Finland. As a person raised with 3D video games, I was not surprised but rather intrigued: Why is it not a common approach to document building design? When I returned to Poland, I knew I didn't want to spend time updating and coordinating CAD drawings any more. Together with friends, we quickly learnt how to use Revit and started giving free courses to other students. You learn a lot when trying to explain concepts to others. At some point, the software became a limit, so I dived into visual programming to extend its capabilities.

In 2016 I joined Buro Happold, where I quickly realised the real power of BIM. On multidisciplinary projects, with designers spread across the world, BIM provides not just the means of data exchange but also standardised processes and quality assurance. I had the opportunity to work on many projects, from mid-size office buildings to stadiums and skyscrapers, from Poland and UK to the Middle East. Among them was my favourite - the Sinfonia Varsovia concert hall in Warsaw. That project told me that BIM is the necessary foundation for further improvement and automation of the building design. My role was mostly to develop parametric models of the irregular building and automate the coordination and generation of FEM models and documentation. At some point, since I started to work more on developing tools for designers, I changed position from senior BIM technician to computational engineer.

In the meantime, I also worked for a brief time in Capgemini as an IT consultant implementing a Facility Management platform integrated with BIM. Looking at BIM from that perspective widened my understanding of industry interoperability. I was also a freelance consultant providing training, developing tools and implementing BIM standards and procedures.

In 2020 I had a turning point after looking into the environmental impact of our industry. Designers are taught to satisfy minimum requirements at a minimum price, but back then, sustainability was out of the scope. I'm glad to see it's changing, but still, there is a long way to become truly sustainable. That is why I decided to begin my PhD in Norway on how BIM can help make our buildings more circular.

How does bSDD integrate with existing Building Information Modelling (BIM) workflows and software platforms?

Artur: bSDD is a service supporting the openBIM standards. As you already introduced, it is a platform to share and reuse common vocabulary. Thanks to bSDD, you can select a dictionary and tell your project team: "This is how we want to call and describe objects in our model". You might say that it is exactly what IFC was meant to do... and you are right! Types and properties in IFC are just one of the possible classification systems, and as the IFC name suggests - the foundational one. But the world speaks many languages, especially the world of domain experts. There will always be some terms missing in basic IFC. Thanks to bSDD, we can extend IFC with additional classifications and attributes. Side note: we don't need bSDD for that; anyone can enrich IFC with custom definitions, but bSDD provides a free, standardised way of sharing it, making it easier to implement in existing software solutions.

bSDD also fits well into IDS specifications. Instead of inventing a parameter name, choose from existing terms in bSDD or add new there so that others don't have to.

What are the key features and functionalities of the bSDD, and how do they contribute to enhancing information management in BIM projects?

Artur: The idea behind bSDD is simple - share the meaning of concepts to prevent misunderstandings and errors. After all, understanding the data being exchanged is at the heart of interoperability. When you reference particular resources from a data dictionary, you prevent typos and incorrect values. Of course, mistakes can still happen, but with openBIM solutions like bSDD, IDS and Validation Service, it is easier to spot them and ensure data quality at each stage of the lifecycle.

How does bSDD facilitate collaboration and data exchange between different stakeholders in a BIM project, such as architects, engineers, and contractors?

Artur: When every project has its unique way of naming parameters, it's harder to automate processes or use such data, for example, in asset management. In bSDD, we encourage sharing and reusing definitions. A simple 'area' parameter might mean a 'usable floor area' for an architect or a load takedown area for the structural engineer. But the two are calculated differently, so you need to know the context of such parameters. Thanks to bSDD, you can provide that context by referencing a page with an adequate description, related standards, allowed units, values and so on.

What's more, you can also show how two concepts relate. In this example, you might define that those two areas are or aren't equal. It's also helpful on international projects, where each team uses regional classification systems. bSDD can help translate between systems and languages. Finally, bSDD saves you time since you can reuse data specifications on all projects.

What steps do you take to stay up-to-date with the latest industry standards and regulations related to BIM, and how do these updates influence the development and improvement of the bSDD?

Artur: At bSDD, we integrate with international standards and support various users and implementers. For example, this month, we attended the Linked Building Data conference (LDAC2023) to meet with experts who provided us with inputs on improving bSDD and solving some of the industry challenges.

Our industry is quite scattered; each project is unique, designs rarely repeat, and most stakeholders are SMEs. It is difficult to share good practices and develop standards in such conditions. Luckily, there are many BIM-related conferences, podcasts, forums and blogs helping to build networks and team up to work things out collectively. I had the opportunity to get involved in the OSArch community building open-source tools for designers, which showed me that a lot is happening outside of my vendor-specific bubble.

If you want to stay up-to-date, subscribe to the buildingSMART newsletter, get involved in a local chapter and join us at bi-yearly Summits. The next buildingSMART Summit will be in September in Lillestrøm, next to Oslo.

Interview by Nicoleta Panagiotidou

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