19 May 2020

The golden thread is a term used across many business disciplines. In construction, the golden thread of information is used as a shorthand for an accurate and up-to-date record of building data. Although not standard practice yet, it will detail how a building was designed, built and maintained. The golden thread is a live document, held digitally. The record will capture the digital fingerprints of people, recording their decisions, thus giving a clear accountability trail.

That sounds like a digital twin. How does it differ?

The digital twin is the current representation of the building; the golden thread is the record of the building from design to demolition.

Why does it matter?

Information and record-keeping around buildings and construction projects are fragmented, incomplete and often inaccessible. For most buildings, it is unclear if the finished structure is the same as what was designed, potentially impacting on building safety. This also makes it harder for the owner to efficiently and effectively manage the building and complicates renovation/operational maintenance.

It is also difficult to see who made which decision and who authorised what. The golden thread will improve accountability as it will record who signed off at every phase.

How does it work?

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is key: a process of designing, constructing or operating a building using digital information. It uses approaches pioneered in aerospace and automotive manufacturing.

The Building Information Model is critical to the golden thread – a digital model that all people involved in the project can work on, from the architect to the client. It’s the digital description of every aspect of the built asset. The Model draws on information assembled collaboratively and updated at key stages of the project.

In the past, architects would start with a paper sketch or more recently a computer-generated drawing. When using BIM, ‘smart objects’ are put together instead of creating lines on paper or screens. A good analogy is building a house in a video game, such as The Sims, where you simply select items and slot them together. Architectural design computer programmes such as Revit, ArchiCAD and Vectorworks understand what smart objects represent – for example, a door – so it's much more intuitive.


Industry experts share their views on The Golden Thread


Why does this matter?

When using BIM software to design a building, all changes lead to an automatically updated model. This is easier than drawing on paper as a new drawing doesn't need to be made with every change. This saves time and makes repetitive tasks less boring, reducing error rates.

How does it all link together?

While the model is a visual representation of the building, there are other assets linked to it, such as technical specifications Construction and asset management information. This is all hosted in what is called the Common Data Environment (CDE): the place which collects, manages and disseminates documents. It is where the graphical model and all associated written data (such as spec, installation, maintenance information) is stored.

I want to use the golden thread. How can I?

Currently, many projects are using BIM during the design and construction phases; however, there isn’t a single route to whole lifecycle management.

There are currently gaps around handover, running/maintaining, renovating and demolishing the building. There are usually no records at these phases, or if there are, they aren’t joined-up. Since 2016, the BIM mandate has required UK public sector construction projects to use BIM. This has helped speed up the pace and rationale for adopting the process during the design and construction phases.

Government intervention around the golden thread will accelerate things further. The Government has new building safety measures proposed which includes achieving the golden thread, in part through the implementation of BIM.


Panel discussion on The Golden Thread from an NBS Event