The U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD)

A 1.562Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Buildings are an integral part of our everyday lives. They provide us shelter and help sustain life. Buildings are where we work to produce goods and services that allow our societies to prosper and grow. Buildings can even serve as a form of art and identity. I think it is safe to say that without buildings our lives would be completely different.

Since buildings play such an important role in our existence, it is critical that we understand them. Once buildings are designed and built, we need to maintain them. Sometimes the function a building was originally designed for changes creating a need for renovation. When buildings are damaged or destroyed they need to be repaired or re-built. Emergency responders or other building occupants may need a way to quickly understand the layout of a building. The list of needs for building information goes on and on and the need for accurate building documentation becomes very clear.

My role as an architect is somewhat unique in comparison to many of my professional colleagues. I’ve chosen to focus my career not on building design, but rather on building documentation. I’ve discovered I thoroughly enjoy the challenges associated with understanding, documenting and representing an existing structure. To do so, knowing how buildings and building systems work is critical, as is understanding the principles of surveying and measuring. In addition, there are an assortment of new technologies that are continually evolving to make the process of documenting buildings easier and more accurate. Staying up-to-date with these advancements as well as innovating new ways to combine these ever changing technologies with the basic principles of building survey is truly challenging.

To meet this challenge I sought to find a resource that I could turn to for support, education, standards and networking. I found many industry organizations, but none that focused solely on building documentation. I soon discovered I was not alone in my quest for a source of support. In conversations with building owners, architects, contractors and other service providers I learned they were experiencing some of the same frustrations I was.

The idea to form a non-profit membership organization dedicated to supporting all stakeholders with an interest in building documentation first came to me in 2010. But was there truly a need for such an organization? After all, if there was, wouldn’t someone have already founded one? I set out to investigate whether others in the industry would support such an organization. After developing a rough concept of what this organization would be, I was given an opportunity to present the idea publicly at the 2011 SPAR International Conference in Houston, Texas. The response was tremendous. It was then I decided to move forward with founding the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation, or simply the USIBD.

Coming out of the SPAR Conference, a core group of leading professionals from various stakeholder groups came together from across the nation to form our leadership team. In 2012 the USIBD was incorporated as a 501c-6 non-profit membership organization. Our mission is "… dedicated to furthering excellence of building documentation by promoting, educating, guiding and supporting stakeholders with an interest in the built environment in a way that cultivates networking and information sharing." Today, over two years later, we are very excited to see our Standards, Education and Technology Committees providing tangible benefits for our members and the industry alike.

One of the struggles our industry faces is being addressed by our Standards Committee. There is a tremendous need to ensure we all speak a common language when it comes to bidding building documentation services. The USIBD believes standards and education is the place to start.

We know that owners are struggling to describe their building documentation needs in ways that are meaningful to service providers. Creation of standardized bid documents that help owners and other stakeholders specify building documentation services in a clear and concise manner and in ways designed to result in more competitive, applesto-apples bids is where the USIBD has decided to begin.

Carlos Velazquez is the President of Epic Scan and one of the industry pioneers in the use of 3D laser scanning. Carlos chairs our Standards Committee and has been leading the USIBD’s current initiative to publish its first series of bid documents. These documents include the following:
Request for Qualification (RFQ) Template
Request for Proposal (RFP) Template
3D Imaging Specification-based on the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) format
Level of Accuracy (LOA) Specification–designed to work with the AIA/BIM Forum’s Level of Development (LOD) Specification

These documents have been drafted by a cross section of stakeholders and were put out for public review earlier this year. The public review period has concluded and at the writing of this article we are currently testing the documents through a series of real world and mock projects. These projects are being conducted by volunteers from the USIBD membership and non-member practitioners. At the conclusion of the testing period feedback from the test participants and those responding to the public review will be compiled into official Version 1 copies of each of the documents. The documents will then be put before the USIBD membership for a consensus vote prior to our scheduled release to the membership and public at the the start of 2015.

Having standardized documents that help us all speak a common language is a great place to begin. However, the documents themselves will not cure the struggles we face. Education is also needed. After all, to properly specify building documentation services we first need to define what building documentation is. Doing so will form the foundation of a robust educational program that all stakeholders can utilize to overcome the obstacles we face in procuring and providing these services.

The USIBD’s Education Committee is chaired by David Driver of IMMERSIVX–a technology, process and software development firm providing consulting services and solutions that transform isolated business and financial data into useful and actionable insights. The definition of building documentation and its core elements will form the foundation of the USIBD’s educational and certification program.

The educational program will contain an outreach component to help owners and other stakeholders learn about building documentation, what technologies are commonly utilized, how to specify services and ways they can get involved in helping to solve the issues they commonly face in developing and maintaining their building data.

Another goal of the USIBD’s education program is to provide a resource for service providers to get continuing education that will help them further develop the skills they need in their professional practices. A certification program will be developed that allows service providers to obtain a credential that provides evidence they’ve demonstrated their knowledge of the basic skills required to perform building documentation services. This credential will also help those seeking to identify qualified service providers.

Part of the educational process also involves gaining a better understanding of our industry. To do this our Technology Committee has been publishing its Cornerstone Report since 2013. The Cornerstone Report is compiled from a quarterly industrywide survey and is issued to any USIBD member, or nonmember survey participants. This report polls a variety of building documentation industry stakeholders and covers topics such as hardware, software and a general industry overview.

The Cornerstone Report is designed as an unbiased, vendor-neutral source of information providing timely feedback on important industry trends, opinions and metrics.

Ted Mort of Eco3D, a leading national service provider, chairs our Technology Committee. Ted is currently leading the effort for the creation of a new survey and report yet to be released which will be referred to as the FOCUS Group Report. The FOCUS Group Report is a vendor-sponsored report which will poll the industry on topics that may include specific items of interest centering around industry standards, vendorspecific hardware and software, other trade organizations and more.

The more informed we are about how we work and where our industry is heading the better equipped we will be to make good decisions on items that affect our businesses, careers and lives. These industry reports are tremendously valuable resources to help us gain this understanding.

The USIBD is clearly providing tangible benefits to its membership and the industry as is evidenced by the initiatives our Standards, Education and Technology Committees are advancing. If you are one of those people like me who is seeking a place to find support, you may wish to consider becoming a member of the USIBD. Your active participation can have a tremendous impact on advancing your career, your firm and our industry. Regardless of the stakeholder group you belong to, the USIBD welcomes your support and participation. Learn more about membership and download a member application at

John M. Russo, AIA is an experienced architect with more than 30 years of experience in performing building documentation. In 1997 he founded Irvine, California based, Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC),, a firm that specializes in documenting existing building conditions.

A 1.562Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE