Purpose - The transformation of cities from the industrial age (unsustainable) to the knowledge age (sustainable) is essentially a "whole life cycle" process consisting of planning, development, operation, reuse and renewal. During this transformation, a multi-disciplinary knowledge base, created from studies and research about the built environment aspects is fundamental: historical, architectural, archeologically, environmental, social, economic, etc., and critical. Although there are a growing number of applications of 3D VR modelling applications, some built environment applications such as disaster management, environmental simulations, computer-aided architectural design and planning require more sophisticated models beyond 3D graphical visualization such as multifunctional, interoperable, intelligent, and multi-representational. Advanced digital mapping technologies such as 3D laser scanner technologies can be enablers for effective e-planning, consultation and communication of users' views during the planning, design, construction and lifecycle process of the built environment. These technologies can be used to drive the productivity gains by promoting a free-flow of information between departments, divisions, offices, and sites; and between themselves, their contractors and partners when the data captured via those technologies are processed and modelled into building information modelling (BIM). The use of these technologies is a key enabler to the creation of new approaches to the "Whole Life Cycle" process within the built and human environment for the twenty-first century. This paper aims to look at this subject. Design/methodology/approach - The paper describes the research towards BIM for existing structures via the point cloud data captured by the 3D laser scanner technology. A case study building is used to demonstrate how to produce 3D CAD models and BIM models of existing structures based on designated techniques. Findings - The paper finds that BIM can be achieved for existing structures by modelling the data captured with 3D laser scanner from the existing world. This can be accomplished by adapting appropriate automated data processing and pattern recognition techniques through applied science research. Practical implications - BMI will enable automated and fast data capture and modelling for not only in design and planning, building refurbishment, effective heritage documentation and VR modelling but also disaster management, environmental analysis, assessment and monitoring, GIS implementation, sophisticated simulation environments for different purposes such as climate change, regeneration simulation for complexity and uncertainty and so on. As a result, it will increase the capability for fast production of virtual reality models and comprehensive and sophisticated simulation platforms. Originality/value - The paper provides useful information on BMI for existing structures.