Pushing the Envelope with BIM

Pushing the Envelope with BIM

At the 2011 conference of the Pacific Coast chapter of APPA, “Leadership in Educational Facilities,” one of our designers, Jason Halaby, delivered a presentation on BIM with Warren Jacobs, former university architect for California State University, and Kevin Lew, design manager for McCarthy Building Companies. We spoke with Jason and Kevin about the opportunities and challenges of BIM.

Q: What efficiencies does BIM bring? 
Jason: The efficiency comes from the fact that the whole team—consultants, engineers, contractors—is working on a digital model that has all of the information about the building embedded in its database. We benefit from the coordinated approach that BIM provides, rather than having different documents that describe different parts of the building in a disjointed way. The team can share information much more efficiently and accurately by simulating the building in a 3D model than by representing it with 2D drawings.

Kevin: Also, all of the design models have a high level of detail. When you combine that with the level of detail that subcontractors provide, coupled with their knowledge of what actually happens in the field, you get very rich and constructible solution, a very efficient process. The traditional design-bid-build process, by contrast, limits the interaction between the architect and builder, making for a less efficient process.

Q: What are some of the drawbacks of BIM?
Jason: The biggest drawback I see in the current practice of BIM is that the models are not regularly identified as contract documents. We still have to produce 2D drawings as contract documents and to submit for permitting. Software is getting better at converting our models into 2D drawings for this purpose, but the richest source of project data will always be the model.

Kevin: And although mechanical/electrical/plumbing subcontractors adopted 3D modeling early on, a lot of subcontractors in other disciplines aren’t as sophisticated with the technology yet. So although we want to rely on the digital model for everything, a lot of content is still represented by 2D details from those subcontractors. It’s challenging to integrate the two.

Q: A lot of clients as well as consultants don’t have much experience of BIM. How do you cope with that?
Jason: Almost every project we do begins with a kickoff meeting where the team develops a BIM execution plan. We talk about the goals and establish when each member of the team starts modeling and what level of detail the model will have. Because each project has different requirements and uses for the model, we have to decide these things on a project-by-project basis.  We see client education as an important role of our profession, many of our clients are not aware that our models can be useful to them long after construction has been completed – for operations and maintenance, renovations, and facilities management.

Q: Do you think BIM can still offer efficiencies in the traditional design-bid-build process, even without the upfront coordination between the architect and the contractor?
Kevin: There’s always value in having a BIM , because it’s so visual and rich with information. If we’re in a low-bid situation, it enables us to understand the project a lot more easily. I can look at the model with our field operations team and say, hey, this is a pretty high-quality design, we’re not going to have a lot of requests for information. So we can be more certain about our schedule and more certain about our low-bid price.

Jason: This process of sharing information via the model benefits the design team as well, regardless of the delivery method. We can check our structural engineer’s design against our architectural design and say with confidence, “This ceiling doesn’t work with the beams here” or, “The openings don’t quite fit between the bracing.”  Because we are simulating the building, we can provide our clients with realistic visualizations, allowing them to better understand the design through every design phase.

Q: Because of the advantage of involving the contractor up front, are more clients likely to move away from the low-bid public process to a construction-manager-at-risk method using BIM?
Kevin: In the current low-bid public process, the owner’s selection of the contractor has to be based mostly on the price. But public procurement codes are changing. We’ve seen design-build setups that include a qualitative aspect in the selection process. The General Services Administration is spearheading this.

Q: Have you seen the BIM process used beyond construction and fabrication yet, for such things as facilities management?
Kevin: The GSA is pushing forward with formatting models to take advantage of facilities management software. The information is embedded in the model, so why not leverage it? Locally, the facilities group at the University of California, San Francisco, is taking a look at that.

Q: What are some of the best examples of projects you’ve worked on employing BIM?
Kevin: We’re currently joint venturing with Clark Construction on the new Stanford hospital project with Rafael Viñoly Architects and Lee, Burkhart, Liu. The entire AE team, from the medical planners to the plumbing engineers, is on an all-Revit design platform.

Jason: Recently I worked on the new campus for Adobe in Utah, which WRNS designed, where every consultant – except Landscape and Civil – was modeling in Revit. All of the engineers produced extremely good quality models fairly early in the design process, which allowed for much better coordination and a better building design. The models also enabled our contractor to do constructability reviews of the project before we were done with construction documents, which allowed us to find some of the issues that would have become problematic in construction and deal with them earlier. It gave us a much better understanding of a very complex building and site.

This piece was originally published in April of 2012.