Local Government Magazine

See-through city

Wellington City Council’s digital building models

Using the latest technology to model buildings in 3D is helping Wellington City Council save time and money, and mitigate risk.


• Building Information Management (BIM) technology used to record all of Wellington City Council buildings in an industry-standard 3D format.
• Standardised Property Information Guides containing building plans and data are available to staff in hard copy and electronically via the council’s internal systems.
• The building models provide a standardised format for facility and asset management and planning, supporting decision-making and tender processes, and making it easier to match buildings with tenants.
• The building models are useful for valuations, tenancy advisors, data analysts, facility managers, asset managers, designers, contractors, emergency management staff, planners, and renewals.
• BIM digital models have been supplied to consultants undertaking preliminary design work on building alterations, saving money and speeding up the process by removing the need for consultants to source the information and create plans themselves.

Wellington City Council has recently digitised its entire portfolio of 1800 housing units and 650 other buildings. It is now about to embark on phase two of a project that has already brought big benefits. Council’s renewals project manager Tane Dunne says the first phase of the project saw the council enlist leading building data consultancy SMRT Consulting to map its property portfolio in 3D using a process called Building Information Modelling (BIM).

This process uses smart technology to digitise scanned plans, CAD files and existing building models or create building models in 3D format. It provides an accurate representation of a building, floor by floor, which can be overlaid with data, such as building materials, the location of fire alarms and extinguishers, and the make and model of any chattels.

Phase two includes the overlay of more data on its digital building models, making them even richer sources of information for council staff managing them. This includes the addition of emergency features like water shut-off valves and power installation control point numbers, along with useful information like the locations of washing lines, rubbish chutes, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning infrastructure.

Prior to digitising its building assets, Wellington City Council’s facility and asset management information was sometimes incomplete, dated or spread across multiple documents. These fragmented records made it difficult for staff to quickly identify important details, such as building layouts, floor areas and the presence or absence of features important to tenants, maintenance and facility managers and contractors.

“You couldn’t easily pick up a spreadsheet or database printout and understand what a building looked like,” Tane says. “That was problematic when it came to identifying the locations of issues or communicating them to others.”

The council initially planned to have a representative sample of its buildings modelled, but through software development conducted on-site alongside the council’s team, SMRT Consulting was able to model all of the council’s portfolio, within the original budget.

SMRT Consulting combined data from existing archival plans and databases, 2D CAD drawings, and 3D building models created by building designers for recent builds or upgrades. In instances where data was missing, SMRT Consulting and the council arranged for physical surveys and measurements to assist with the modelling process. The result was a map of every building with its associated key information.

Once completed, the information was made available to council staff in digital format via the council’s TROVE document management system and OneCouncil asset, finance and HR management system. The building maps, known as Property Information Guides, or PIGs, can also be printed as booklets for individual buildings or groups of buildings depending on the user’s requirements.

The City Housing team produced five hardcopy sets comprising 21 booklets which encompass all of the council’s housing units. With the completion of building work on two further major housing developments, books 22 and 23 are now available. The 650 non-housing buildings have been combined into separate booklets for different business units, such as the venues or library teams.

A digital master copy for housing and facilities was also produced showing a complete set of all the PIGs in comprehensive PDF documents. This allows staff to quickly find the plans, floor areas and other details for any building the council owns. A copy of this master booklet for the housing portfolio was provided to the council’s external housing maintenance service provider to ensure they have the same building layout and floor plan information as council staff, making communication easier.

The Kotuku Apartments were one of the many social housing blocks modelled in 3D.

“We were modelling our roading and water infrastructure in 2D using GIS technology,” Tane says.

“But in the building space, you really need a vertical 3D aspect. When we began the project, nobody else was really visualising their assets in 3D.”

Staff working in the council’s City Housing team are now able to quickly check the layout of a social housing unit to ensure it is suitable for different tenants, including those with specific needs (eg, mobility impairments). They can also review and develop fit-out proposals for any building using the data on the plans.

The centralised digital building models are reducing the need for time-consuming archival searches or physical inspections of buildings, and the hard copy Property Information Guides are often brought to meetings so that everyone present can see a building’s layout.

Council housing assets operations manager, Ivan Burton says the council has saved tens of thousands of dollars of ratepayer money by having a better understanding of the layout and dimensions of its buildings. This knowledge improves decision-making and allows staff to check if quotes provided by contractors are fair, based on a unit’s size and the quantities of carpet, vinyl, paint or other materials for which a contractor has quoted.

“The Property Information Guides are the single source of truth for council buildings. They allow us to quickly view the plan and layout of every unit in our portfolio,” Ivan says.

The models have also provided some unforeseen benefits. After Wellington suffered damage in the Kaikoura earthquake of November 2016, the council arranged an urgent audit of many of its buildings. The BIM models made it easy for staff and contractors conducting the audit to quickly access building information and layouts, speeding up the audit significantly.

They also made it possible to determine the optimum locations for accelerometer vibration sensors that were installed in 10 of the council’s most important buildings for risk management purposes post-earthquake.

Tane says the council is pleased with the outcome of the project and made considerable cost savings by modelling all of its buildings in one go, rather than modelling them one at a time.

He says SMRT Consulting stood out due to its innovative approach, its expertise using BIM software, and director, Matt Cantwell’s extensive architectural background.

New buildings are easy to add to the council’s database as they are created. Earlier this year the council added Wellington’s Arlington Apartments and Kotuku Apartments to the database.

Tane says the ability to easily add new buildings and additional layers of information, as the council is doing in phase two of the project, has made the models a living, breathing resource.

“There’s benefit to New Zealand as a whole from BIM modelling. Not just councils, but building managers, government agencies like the Defence Force, and many others.”

Matt says the Wellington City Council project highlights a growing demand for digitisation of built assets. While SMRT Consulting embraces virtual reality, cloud computing and the latest collaboration tools, it’s the digitisation of simple floor plans that often proves to be the most versatile and widely used feature of any BIM modelling project, he says.

This article was first published in the October 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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