3D Design Opens Window on Cities of the Future

They are the incredibly vivid images that make designs leap out from the page into detailed, 3-D reality – and CLP is years ahead of its time in adopting the cutting-edge technology of Building Information Modelling.

3D Design Opens Window on Cities of the Future

Building design used to be a dreary, tedious process. Bespectacled architects and earnest planners would troop into an office, unfolding sheet after sheet of lifeless, black and white technical drawings along with measurements only a mathematician could fathom.


Then, suddenly, something happened that brought the images to life and made the buildings, the streets, and the very cityscapes of tomorrow leap off the page in glorious 3D technicolour. It was like opening a window into the future.


The name Building Information Modelling (BIM) might not sound terribly exciting but the technology certainly is, at least for those in the construction industry. In recent years, it has become widely used by architects, engineers, and construction companies in Europe to plan, design, and manage projects, as well as facilitate working team communication and briefing. 


CLP was one of the first companies in Hong Kong to see the potential and embrace the technology in 2014, five years before the territory’s government made its use mandatory for projects with estimated capital works costs of more than HK$30 million.


It’s easy to see why BIM has become so popular so quickly. It offers high versatility to meet the ever-increasing demands of the industry – from animation to image synthesis and walkthroughs. 


In the video below, the technology is used to create a 3D simulation of an escape route for the Kai Tak Cable Tunnel, which employees can watch to visualise the fire route and find out about potential safety risks. 

Video of Kai Tak Cable Tunnel escape route


“We used 2D drawings for construction for decades,” says CLP Power Civil Design Manager Arras Yeung, who is in charge of the company’s substation building design. “The problem is they are not 100% precise and different interpretations can affect communication. It was also hard to implement immediate changes to designs.”


“BIM, by contrast, acts as a centralised information hub, allowing us to integrate circuit, plant, build, and interface details into one model and visualise the design with just a few clicks.”

One of the clearest technological advantages of BIM is its ability to take you inside a building when it is still in the planning stages. “You can conduct virtual walkthroughs with an accurate sense of space of the building structure before it is even built,” Yeung explains enthusiastically.


“This gives you the opportunity to assess different design options, identify potential hazards, conduct risk mitigation and crash detections – essentially improving design quality while minimising errors.” 


Yeung adds that the cloud-based BIM technologies enable these works to be done with increased efficiency and security, and such benefits have been keenly felt especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BIM visual animation of cable route
With BIM technology, high-level cable route and phase plans can be integrated into the substation design at the inception stage.
BIM visual animation of power transformer installation
BIM visual animation is used to plan the installation of a 70-tonne power transformer in a substation.

It also has a transformative effect on training. “With BIM technology, our colleagues can receive training remotely,” says Yeung. “All they have to do is to put on VR goggles and learn to assemble plant equipment. Questions and alterations can be addressed immediately, which saves a lot of time.”


Advantages of BIM Technology

BIM technology is particularly effective in green building designs, contributing to CLP’s mission for a greener future. “Environmental protection concepts are always built into new substations, and BIM makes it easier for us to judge the sun’s path, wind direction, and ventilation, which helps us optimise green building designs to achieve energy efficiency,” says Yeung. 

BIM visual animation of CLP’s Queen’s Hill Substation
CLP’s Queen’s Hill Substation is a prototype for future green substations, using BIM in enhancing the design and the effectiveness of its solar panels.

At first, CLP outsourced the implementation of BIM in its design process. After realising the software’s potential, however, the company soon decided to invest in training its people to use the programme.


Today, a dedicated team exists to develop the use of BIM, integrating 3D printing and other technologies, and extending its use to projects other than substations, such as cable tunnels, overhead cable terminal structures, and even the external refurbishment of customer service centres.

CLP’s success in adopting BIM has been recognised by the Autodesk Hong Kong BIM Awards for consecutive six years. Moving forward, Yeung and the team plan to continue to find new ways to use this ever-evolving technology. 


“Things move fast with BIM, and keeping up with innovation is the key to success for both CLP and the world we live in,” she says.