Be an Excellent Site Modeler

This is a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. about being excellent:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'

At Epic BIM we agree with this sentiment. We want everyone to be great at what they do. That's why from time to time we stop and point out issues in our industry where we are holding ourselves back.

There is one such issue I have been running into on projects that I fail to understand. When I start to discuss the model development with designers, there is one thing that is always done in 2D that makes no sense to me. The site model. On every job, the site or civil model is always delivered as 2D. I can't figure out the reason for it and in today's Epic BIM post I am going to call all site/civil designers to task and present the reasons why there is no excuse for not modeling the site.

First thing's first. You may not know it, but you are already modeling. Those same 2D files that I am promised are full of models. The major softwares (Civil 3D and Power InRoads) cannot be used without creating modeled elements. It's just that no one has taken the time to actually attach data to anything or set utilities to the correct elevations. These models are useless. There are only two reasons why this would happen. Either site/civil designers don't know that they are creating models or they don't see the value in modeling for any reason other than to produce a set of 2D documents. Now I have seen the case where individuals don't realize they are creating models, but the more concerning issue to me are the individuals that willfully decide to produce a substandard product.

I'll address the responses that my last sentence is sure to create. Yes, your product is substandard if you are not modeling to a Level of Development greater than 100. This must be news to so many because the 2D deliverable is so common. But in the building industry, models are becoming the standard of care (This post does not pertain to other industries). When you speak with owners and contractors about models, almost without exception, the first thing they get excited about is the idea that they will understand where the utilities are going to be located on the site. I have had the distinction of regularly seeing that excitement fade from the eyes of my clients and field personnel when I deliver the news that for some reason the one thing they want is the one thing that is not going to be modeled. When they ask me why the only response I have is "They think it's easier not to model it".

Our industry is changing. We have been provided with tools to communicate more effectively. The only reason I have ever been given for not using our tools to their greatest effect, are that the designers don't see the value in doing more than they have done in the past.

Here's a quick fact for you. According to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), over the past 20 years, utility hits have resulted in $1.7 billion in property damage, 1,906 injuries, and 421 deaths. I am telling anyone that is reading this, that some of those issues would have been avoided if our projects had good processes in place; built around the use of a model for the site utilities.

Notice that I highlighted "good processes". A model will not fix anything all by itself. But with no model at all, we have no options. We will all just be doing things the way we always have been. The numbers show that the way we have been doing things is not working. We are not getting any better at avoiding utilities when using 2D documents.

It's time for a change. There are new efforts, tools, and processes being built around the idea that we will have site/civil models created during design. Everyone seems to want this. Except the designers.

Here's the advice from Epic BIM. Stop making site/civil a 2D-only deliverable. There is no excuse for it. Make sure that your product is so good that all the hosts of heaven and earth pause to say "Here lived a great site modeler who did his/her job well."


  1. Yes! Please! I have had incidents where there are retention ponds and it’s hard to make sure you have minimum cover on underground utilities when there is no 3D surface. Add to that as-builts and having a process to record actual installation of U/G utilities (laser scan, survey points, etc.). Include locations of slurry. Great challenge Connor.

  2. Excellent point Connor. It kills me when you have all the vertical trades working to build a collaborative 3D model exchange and then the site is 2D. I have worked on some projects where the site was delivered in 3D and we used that to fully coordinate all the below grade obstructions and it was wonderful. With more and more construction companies using laser and gps positioning systems to precisely layout the below grade construction the work is getting done in the field to match the design intent of the site engineers.

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