Can Augmented Reality bridge the gaps between BIM and GIS?

BIM (Building Information Modelling) and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) are two globally adopted methodologies for making construction industry decisions. While BIM is focused on the individual structures, GIS looks at the positioning of structures in relation to their surroundings. Together, they provide crucial information for guiding planning, construction and maintenance. But while their roles are fully complementary to each other, there is currently no means of consolidating what BIM and GIS deliver.

At TWNKLS, however, we believe Augmented Reality might be the answer. To explain why, we first need to look at the differences between BIM and GIS that form the basis of our challenge.

What is BIM?

BIM, which stands for Building Information Modelling, is a very broad term describing the process of creating and managing digital information about a construction asset such as a building, bridge, highway, tunnel and so on. The Dutch Central Government Real Estate Agency defines BIM as a digital 3D building model which integrates all data related to the design, build and management processes.

All constructions are built based on detailed architectural designs. Before the actual building phase begins, the construction is first built virtually during the design phase. BIM plays an essential role in this, as it contains records of all the building elements involved, complete with their properties, relationships and dependencies, as seen from an architectural mindset. BIM is used to create and assemble all these elements into a virtual building.

Long-term use of BIM

BIM is maintained throughout the construction project and beyond, with all relevant parties being able to work with it and contribute to its evolution, during all the building phases and during the construction’s life cycle.

A growing number of building firms, design agencies and other construction-sector enterprises work with BIM in various structural, mechanical and civil works. In order to facilitate long-term access to BIM, the Dutch government has defined a set of BIM standards, known as RVB BIM Norms [1] for building and maintenance providers. The most common BIM file formats are DWG and RVT from Autodesk and the Industrial Foundation Classes (IFC), which is an open data format for facilitating the interoperability of BIM.

Current BIM servers are quite capable of creating and handling 3D geometric models. However, despite a high level of interest and huge efforts to adapt BIM throughout the lifecycle of a built asset, in practice the coverage of all aspects of construction and operation to end-of-life is still immature. Data validation is among the main challenges [2], as this requires extra tasks. A piece of information which is introduced by a party has to be checked against the reality. The current common practice is to update BIM by adding as-built measurements.

What is GIS?

GIS, which stands for Geographic Information System, is a framework for gathering, managing and analyzing geo-spatial data. So while BIM is best suited for managing data related to the buildings themselves, GIS is more applicable for everything outside of and around the buildings.

GIS is widely used for integrating, visualizing and analyzing information about real-world assets, such as buildings (in their completed form) and transportation infrastructure, with surrounding context that may include environmental, demographic, structural, and scientific information. All civic tasks, new constructions, renovations, real estate management, infrastructure maintenance and environmental plans are based on GIS.

GIS products

GIS products are provided and maintained based on a geomatics mindset with high consistency. A GIS starts with accurate measurements of worldwide dimensions and scales down to individual building level. GIS thereby ensures the connection of geo-located objects in a globally accepted coordinate system.

GIS-ready products are the files that can be incorporated into a GIS platform, for presentation in various formats. Current GIS systems are quite mature for 2D analysis. De Basisregistrate Grootschalige Topogafie (BGT) is the Netherlands’ national GIS product, which is accurate to 20cm [2]. However, 3D GIS is still on the to-do list [3], [4]. CityGML is an open data model and XML-based format intended for future use in 3D GIS mapping [5], [6].

The gap between BIM and GIS

BIM servers are mainly concerned with a structure’s existence, attributes and relationships between its own objects. These objects are physical with tangible attributes such as dimensions, material and texture. Adding more detailed objects increases both the accuracy and the complexity of the structure. The amount of detail thereby depends on the both required accuracy level and the platform’s capacity for handling the data. A BIM server can retrieve physical objects and their relationships to one another to answer user queries.

BIM and the building lifesycle. Source: Autodesk

In contrast, GIS is concerned with space rather than objects. Here, the objects are points, polylines, areas or spaces which are not necessarily physical, but represent meaningful concepts such as location, borders, parcels or volumes. These objects are integrated and unified within a single coordinate system. The objects are consistently connected, but the visibility of details depends on the level of representation. BIM objects and GIS objects are therefore very different. Yet they are also highly overlapped. The so-far-unsolved challenge is how to make the connection between the two different types of objects.

Why Augmented Reality could be the missing link between BIM and GIS

Augmented Reality (AR) is a way of communication between a model and reality. AR provides a user-friendly means of zooming in and out while looking at these two aspects in unison, making it really easy to observe any mismatches between model and reality. In theory, this could provide the missing link between BIM models and GIS reality.

BIM+GIS+Augmented Reality+TWNKLS

TWNKLS is actively exploring the possibility of creating an AR app that will visualize BIM data in the context of the user and enable users to introduce any missing objects, correct errors in the model or address the mismatches for further investigation. We believe all this is achievable and will result in the benefits outlined below:

Significantly more efficient updating of BIM

When BIM for already built constructions needs to be updated to reflect the current situation, this normally requires visiting and surveying the site. This is a costly task, especially for large scale developments. Yet the changes which need to be recorded are typically quite minor and, with the aid of a good AR app, will be possible through simple actions which even an inexpert user will be able to perform. Using AR to update BIM will thereby save a great deal of time, effort and expense.

Major cost savings for upgrading GIS products

In the Netherlands, there is a nationwide plan to upgrade the existing GIS infrastructure to the higher level of detail (LOD3) [7]. If this can be done using the BIM already created for existing structures, the huge costs of nationwide surveying can be avoided.

Achieving this requires the establishment of a reliable bridge between BIM and GIS. While recent research shows the ability to fully automate this is still a long way off [8], AR can play an essential role in facilitating a semi-automatic solution.

Because AR enables the visualization of BIM and GIS together, just a little interaction with a good backend development will provide a (semi) automatic translation between the two worlds. At the same time, users will also be able to verify the correctness and the accuracy of the automatic solution by comparing it to reality.

Exploring Augmented reality together

If this, or any of our other articles have got you curious about the possibilities Augmented Reality can realize for your business, feel free to give us a shout. We’ll be delighted to welcome you to our office for an orientation meeting where we’ll fully explain the 4 pillars of a successful AR tool. Please contact the TWNKLS team at [email protected]

[1] Rijksgebouwendienst, “Rgd BIM Standard,” no. July, pp. 1–29, 2012.
[2] National Building Specification, “NBS National BIM Report 2014,” RIBA Enterp. Ltd, p. 36, 2014.
[3] Jantien Stoter, “3D BGT: waarom, wat en,” 2017.
[4] J. Stoter, “Towards a National 3D Spatial Data Infrastructure: Case of The Netherlands 1I ntroduction,” 2011.
[5] “3D Omgevingsinformatie | Geonovum.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 18-Jan-2019].
[6] “CityGML | OGC.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 18-Jan-2019].
[7] J. Stoter, J. Beetz, H. Ledoux, M. Reuver, R. Klooster, P. Janssen, F. Penninga, S. Zlatanova, L. van den brink, and T. Delft, “Implementation of a national 3D standard: case of The Netherlands.”
[8] “GeoBIM: Bridging the gap between Geo and BIM.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 18-Jan-2019].