17 May 2021

Uniclass 2015 is a classification system 'built for BIM' and used by organisations around the world for construction and asset management projects. It is managed and maintained by an expert team at NBS.

Recently, the Uniclass 2015 team have been working closely with specialists at the Palace of Westminster to develop additional codes that can be applied to historic items within the Houses of Parliament.

Originally built in the mid-19th century after a terrible fire destroyed most of the old palace, the current building is now showing its age. A major repair and development project, the Restoration and Renewal (R&R) Programme, is needed to prevent any further decline of the building and to bring what is still a working environment up to current standards.

Still in its early stages, this programme is beginning with an extensive programme of surveys and inspections to assess the true condition of the building and its contents and, working with internal stakeholders, the Programme Team are compiling detailed records for future consultation.

It’s here that Uniclass 2015 comes in: each item to be recorded is assigned a Uniclass code. This ensures that no matter how an item is described, all similar items are discoverable by a database search and can be logged on drawings and within a BIM environment.

As well as codes applicable to building fabric and services, Uniclass 2015 classification also covers a huge range of furniture, fittings and equipment, much of which was already appropriate for the contents of the Palace of Westminster – there was even a products table code for thrones!

Pr_40_30_29_88 Thrones
Sovereign's throne, designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, manufactured by John Webb and John Hardman & Co. © Historic Furniture and Decorative Arts Collection, UK Parliament, POW 08031

Although no longer used in a modern workplace, the Palace’s Heritage Collections include decorative items such as silver gilt ashtrays, many of which were given as gifts by Commonwealth nations and so are greatly valued, even if they’ll never now be used for their intended purpose.

Pr_40_50_07_04 Ashtrays
Silver gilt ashtray, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, silversmith Blunt & Wray Ltd © Historic Furniture and Decorative Arts Collection, UK Parliament, POW 10830

There are other items of historic value that are even more relics of a bygone age than ashtrays, however, and for which Uniclass 2015 codes did not exist. But the Palace of Westminster team still need to record them and contacted NBS to ask for suitable codes.

The Uniclass team at NBS is always very happy to work with other organizations to develop and expand the tables to match industry needs – despite the high level of specialist expertise within NBS, there will always be areas with very particular requirements and we’re glad to collaborate with external experts to improve Uniclass 2015 for everyone. So, when Catharine Dass, Architect within In-House Services and Estates at the Houses of Parliament, got in touch to ask what they should do, we were eager to find out more!

Catharine says, “There has been a gap in classification for heritage within the Building Information Modelling (BIM) environment. Some organizations had been creating their own strategies to deal with these issues. As the Palace of Westminster uses Uniclass 2015 for classification, it made sense to approach NBS and link in like-minded people, including Dr Mark Collins (Estates Historian), Nigel Robins (Palace Restoration & Renewal Programme), Dr Noha Saleeb (Middlesex University) and Paul Bryan (Historic England), to resolve these issues. It is important for our team, Architecture and Heritage, within In-House Services and Estates, to be able to use Uniclass classifications to identify our priceless assets within the BIM environment to achieve a future digital blueprint.”

The Palace team were able to provide a list of items for which they couldn’t find a code. Working with them, we were able to identify the best existing code for them to use, when there was something suitable available but perhaps using different terminology to what they employ; this included the Woolsack – the seat used by the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords – which is in some ways completely unique but can also be thought of as a large ottoman, so could be classified using that code.

Pr_40_50_12_59 Ottomans
Woolsack, by unknown maker © Historic Furniture and Decorative Arts Collection, UK Parliament, POW 09740

This still left several items for which we didn’t have a code and, after discussing the options, we created new codes that can be used to classify heritage items within the Palace of Westminster but are not so specific that they can’t be used elsewhere; examples of items that would have been in day-to-day use at one time but are now solely of historical interest (we hope!) include ‘Pr_40_50_07_78 Scuttles’, for carrying coal, and ‘Pr_40_50_07_83 Spittoons’. We also expanded our range of clocks to include more mechanical clocks, such as ‘Pr_40_50_13_09 Bracket clocks’ and ‘Pr_40_50_13_48 Longcase clocks’.

Pr_40_50_13_09 Bracket clocks
Bracket clock, by Dutton © Historic Furniture and Decorative Arts Collection, UK Parliament, POW 09550

In addition, other codes added at the Palace team’s suggestion, such as ‘Pr_40_30_25_84 Stanchions and ropes’ or ‘Pr_40_50_84_57 Notice stands’, can be used much more widely than in the heritage sector, in galleries, hotels or offices, for example.

As the Palace of Westminster restoration programme will take years to complete, we will continue to work with the team there to ensure that Uniclass 2015 reflects their needs and so will also be suitable for use in other heritage projects elsewhere as well as the wider industry.

We’re always happy to hear from organizations which would like to see Uniclass 2015 expanded to better meet the needs of their sector – if you think that you would like to work with NBS on the development of new classification codes, please do get in touch at uniclass2015@thenbs.com.

More information

Find out more information about Uniclass 2015.

Uniclass 2015 is the native classification in NBS Chorus, our cloud-based specification platform. Find out more information about Chorus and the benefits of using Uniclass 2015 on your project.