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BIM Basics: Possible Elements of a 3D BIM Model

When creating a 3D BIM model of a structure, the elements to be included in the model can vary depending on the end-users needs. A BIM model can be as simple or as complex as the user needs. The LOA and LOD apply directly to the structure and the elements of the structure being modeled. So before starting the model, knowing the elements that need modeling is crucial. There are four categories that these elements can fall into. They are Architectural, Structural, Mechanical, and Exterior.


Architectural elements are those elements of the structure that are most easily changed. These elements are not crucial to structural stability. Most often, these are the elements in which the end-user will be thinking about moving around, changing, or removing depending upon the scope of the project. Below is a brief list of examples of these types of elements:

  • Floors

  • Walls

  • Ceilings

  • Roof

  • Windows

  • Doors

  • Curtain System

  • Stairs

  • Railings

  • Ramps

  • Cabinetry

  • Lights

As you can see from the list, these elements are fixed to the structure. Tables, chairs, etc, are not included in our standard list of Architectural elements. These un-fixed objects can be modeled, but do add extra time to the modeling project.

Structural Elements

Structural elements of the model are those that pertain to the structural reliability of the building/structure. These elements, if removed, would cause major safety concerns and would be very unwise to remove. It is important to know where these elements are to maintain and work around their location. A few examples of these are:

  • Columns

  • Beams

  • Trusses

Mechanical (MEP) Elements

One way to think of MEP elements is to think about major systems within the structure. Similar to the architectural elements, these elements are often of interest to the end-user and a reason a 3D BIM model is being requested. Understanding how these systems work, what they look like, and the LOD is crucial to understand before taking on a project in which MEP modeling is needed. MEP can get very complicated and some firms specialize in modeling these systems. Some examples of what could be included in these systems are:

  • HVAC

  • Ductworks

  • Plumbing Fixtures

  • Piping System

  • Cable Trays

  • Communication Devices

  • Security Devices

  • Lighting Fixtures

  • Electrical Panels

As you might imagine, the complexity of these MEP systems will vary depending on the type of structure being modeled. As I mentioned before, the LOD and LOA really become important when it comes to modeling these systems. With the varying sizes and materials of pipes and wires, understanding the size limit of what is in scope is very important and will save you a lot of time.

Exterior Elements

When considering the uses of a 3D BIM model, most people think of the interior of the structure. The value of what can be modeled on the exterior of the structure is often forgotten. Along with the exterior of the structure itself, meaning the exterior details of the walls, roof, doors, etc. The area around the structure can also be modeled. Some of these elements include:

  • Parking Spaces

  • Railings

  • Sidewalks

  • Ramps

  • Plantings

  • Lighting

  • Stairs

  • Paths

Having these elements included in the 3D BIM model allows the user to experience and view the structure as it relates to the environment. Also, there is a lot of valuable info that can be gathered for outdoor maintenance and projects.

I hope that this article has been eye-opening to the detail in which these BIM models can be created. The complexity of what can be modeled is so great that it is impossible to touch on all the different elements. I hope this serves as a starting point for discovering what the end-user truly needs in their model and helps you provide time and price estimates accurately!

If you have any questions about how we do things here at Factory Reality, we are happy to help!

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