WebBIM? hmmm .. Bing BIM?

BIM or Building Information Modeling isn’t exactly news. I guess I tend to think of it as a part of AEC, starting back in the early generations of CAD, as a way to manage a facility in the aftermath of design and construction. BIM is after all about Buildings, and Buildings have been CAD turf all these many years. Since those early days of FM, CAD has expanded into the current BIM trend with building lifecycle management that is swallowing up larger swathes of surrounding environments.

BIM models are virtual worlds, ‘mirror lands’ of a single building or campus. As BIM grows the isolated BIM models start to aggregate and bump up against the floor of web mapping, the big ‘Mirror Land’. One perspective is to look at a BIM model as a massively detailed Bill of Material (BIM<=>BOM . . bing) in which every component fitted into the model is linked to additional data for specification, design, material, history, approval chains, warranties, and on and on. BIM potentially becomes one massively connected network of hyperlinks with a top level 3D model that mimics the real world.

Sound familiar? – BIM is a sub-internet on the scale of a single building with an interface that has much in common with web mapping. Could this really be yet another reincarnation of Ted Nelson’s epic Xanadu Project, the quixotic precursor of today’s internet?

Although of relatively recent origins, BIM has already spawned its own bureaucratic industry with the likes of NBIMS replete with committees, charters, and governance capable of seriously publishing paragraphs like this:

“NBIM standards will merge data interoperability standards, content values and taxonomies, and process definitions to create standards which define “business views” of information needed to accomplish a particular set of functions as well as the information exchange standards between stakeholders.”

No kidding, “taxonomies”? I’m tempted to believe that ‘Information’ was cleverly inserted to avoid the embarrassing eventuality of an unadorned “Building Model.” Interesting how Claude Shannon seems to crop up in a lot of acronyms these days: BIM, GIS, NBIMS, ICT, even IT?

BIM has more recently appeared on the GIS radar with a flurry of discussion applying GIS methods to BIM. Here, for example are a couple of posts with interesting discussion: SpatialSustain, GeoExpressions, and Vector One. Perhaps this is just another turf battle arising in the CAD versus GIS wars. I leave that for the GISCIers and NBIMSers to decide.

My interest is less in definition and more an observation that buildings too are a part of the rapidly growing “Mirror Land” we call web maps. Competing web maps have driven resolution down to the region of diminishing returns. After all, with 30cm commonly available, is 15cm that much more compelling? However, until recently, Mirror Land has been all about maps and the wide outside world. Even building models ushered in with SketchUp are all about exteriors.

The new frontier of web mapping is interior spaces, “WebBIM,” “Bing BIM” ( Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the impulse). Before committing to national standards, certifications, and governance taxonomies perhaps we need to just play with this a bit.

We have Bing Maps Local introducing restaurant photoscapes. Here’s an example of a restaurant in Boston with a series of arrow connected panoramas for virtual exploration of the interior.

And another recent Bing Maps introduction, mall maps. Who wants to be lost in a mall, or are we lost without our malls?

And then in the Google World Art Projects explore museums. Cool, Streetside Inside!

It’s not obvious how far these interior space additions will go in the future, but these seem to be trial balloons floated for generating feedback on interior extensions to the web map mirror world. At least they are not introduced with full fledged coverage.

“Real” BIM moves up the dimension chain from 2D to 3D and on to 4 – 5D, adding time and cost along the way. Mirror Land is still caught in 2-3D. The upcoming Silverlight 5 release will boost things toward the 3-4D. Multi-verse theories aside (now here’s a taxonomy to ponder – the Tegmark cosmological taxonomy of universes), in the 3-4D range full WebBIM can hit the streets. In the meantime the essential element of spatially hyperlinked data is already here for the curious to play with.

So what’s a newbie Web BIMMER to do? The answer is obvious, get a building plan and start trying a few things. Starting out in 2D, here is an approach: get a building floorplan, add it to a Bing Maps interface, and then do something simple with it.

Step 1 – Model a building

CAD is the place to start for buildings. AEC generates floorplans by the boatload and there are even some available on line, but lacking DWG files the next possibility is using CAD as a capture tool. I tried both approaches. My local grocery store has a nice interior directory that is easily captured in AutoCAD by tracing over the image:

King Soopers Store Directory
Fig 5 – King Soopers Store Directory (foldout brochure)

As an alternative example of a more typical DWG source, the
University of Alaska
has kindly published their floor plans on the internet.

In both scenarios the key is getting the DWG into something that can readily be used in a web map application. Since I’m fond of Bing Silverlight Map Control, the goal is DWG to XAML. Similar things can be done with SVG, and will be as HTML5 increases its reach, and probably even in KML for the Googler minded. At first I thought this would be as easy as starting up Safe Software’s FME, but XAML is not in their writers list, perhaps soon. Next, I fell back to the venerable DXF text export with some C# code to turn it into XAML. This was actually fairly easy with the DXF capture of my local grocery store. I had kept the DWG limited to simple closed polylines and text, separated by layer names.

Here is the result:

Now on to more typical sources, DWG files which are outside of my control. Dealing with arcs and blocks was more than I wanted, so I took an alternative path. FME does have an SVG writer. SVG is hauntingly similar to XAML (especially haunting to W3C), and writing a simple SVG to XAML translator in C# was easier than any other approach I could think of. There are some XSLT files for SVG to XAML, but instead I took the quick and dirty route of translating SVG text to XAML text in my own translator giving me some more control.

Here is the result:

Step 2 – Embed XAML into a Bing Map Control interface

First I wrote a small webapp that allows me to zoom Bing maps aerial to a desired building and draw a polyline around its footprint. This polyline is turned into a polygon XAML snippet added to a TextBox suitable for cut/paste as a map link in my Web BIM experiment.

 <m:MapPolygon Tag="KingSoopers2" x:Name="footprint_1"
 Fill="#FFfdd173" Stroke="Black" StrokeThickness="1" Opacity="0.5"

As a demonstration, it was sufficient to simply add this snippet to a map control. The more general method would be to create a SQL table of buildings that includes a geography column of the footprint suitable for geography STIntersects queries. Using a typical MainMap. ViewChangeEnd event would then let the UI send a WCF query to the table, retrieving footprints falling into the current viewport as a user navigates in map space. However, the real goal is playing with interior plans and I left the data connector feature for a future enhancement.

In order to find buildings easily, I added some Geocode Service calls for an Address finder. The footprint polygon with its MouseLeftButtonUp event leads to a NavigationService that moves to the desired floor plan page. Again generalizing this would involve keeping these XAML floor plans in a SQL Azure Building table for reference as needed. A XAML canvas containing the floor plans would be stored in a BLOB column for easy query and import to the UI. Supporting other export formats such as XAML, SVG, and KML might best be served by using a GeometryCollection in the SQL table with translation on the query response.

Step 3 – Do something simple with the floorplans

Some useful utilities included nesting my floorplan XAML inside a <local:DragZoomPanel> which is coded to implement some normal pan and zoom functions: pan with left mouse, double click zoom in, and mouse wheel zoom +/-. Mouse over text labeling helps identify features as well. In addition, I was thinking about PlaneProjections for stacking multiple floors so I added some slider binding controls for PlaneProjection attributes, just for experimentation in a debug panel.

Since my original King Soopers image is a store directory an obvious addition is making the plan view into a store directory finder.

I added the store items along with aisles and shelf polygon id to a table accessed through a WCF query. When the floorplan is initialized a request is made to a SQL Server table with this directory item information used to populate a ListBox. You could use binding, but I needed to add some events so ListBoxItems are added in code behind.

Mouse events connect directory entries to position polygons in the store shelves. Finally a MouseLeftButtonUp event illustrates opening a shelf photo view which is overlaid with a sample link geometry to a Crest product website. Clicks are also associated with Camera Icons to connect to some sample Photosynthes and Panoramas of store interior. Silverlight 5 due out in 2011 promises to have Silverlight integration of Photosynthe controls as well as 3D.

Instead of a store directory the UAA example includes a simple room finder which moves to the corresponding floor and zooms to the room selected. My attempts at using PlaneProjection as a multi floor stack were thwarted by lack of control over camera position. I had hoped to show a stack of floor plans at an oblique view with an animation for the selected floor plan sliding it out of the stack and rotating to planar view. Eventually I’ll have a chance to revisit this in SL5 with its full 3D scene graph support.

Where are we going?

You can see where these primitive experiments are going: Move from a Bing Map to a Map of interior spaces and now simple Locators can reach into asset databases where we have information about all our stuff. The stuff in this case is not roads, addresses, and shops, but smaller stuff, human scale stuff that we use in our everyday consumer and corporate lives. Unlike rural cultures, modern western culture is much more about inside than outside. We spend many more hours inside the cube than out, so a Mirror Land where we live is certainly a plausible extension, whether we call it CAD, GIS, BIM, FM, or BINGBIM matters little.

It’s also noteworthy that this gives vendors a chance to purchase more ad opportunities. After all, our technology is here to serve a consumer driven culture and so is Mirror Land.

Interior spaces are a predictable part of Mirror Land and we are already seeing minor extensions. The proprietary and private nature of many interior spaces is likely to leave much out of public mapping. However, retail incentives will be a driving force extending ad opportunities into personal scale mapping. Eventually Mobile will close the loop on interior retail space, providing both consumer location as well as local asset views. Add some mobile camera apps, and augmented reality will combine product databases, individualized coupon links, nutritional content, etc to the shelf in front of you.

On the enterprise side, behind locked BIM doors, Silverlight with its rich authentication framework, but more limited mobile reach, will play a part in proprietary asset management which is a big part of FM, BM, BIM ….. Location of assets is a major part of the drive to efficiency and covers a lot of ground from inventory, to medical equipment, to people.


This small exercise will likely irk true NBIMSers who will not see much “real” BIM in a few floor plans. So I hasten to add this disclaimer, I’m not really a Web BIMer or even a Bing BIMer, but I am looking forward to the extension of Mirror Land to the interior spaces I generally occupy.

Whether GIS analysis reaches into web mapped interiors is an open question. I’m old enough to remember when there were “CAD Maps” and “Real GIS”, and then “Web Maps” and “Real GIS.” Although GIS (real, virtual, or otherwise) is slowly reaching deeper into Mirror Land, we are still a long way from NBIMS sanctioned “Real” WebBIM with GIS analysis. But then that means it’s still fun, right?