Building Design

An Owner's Perspective of BIM

7 Jun, 2007 By: Kenneth Wong

Crate and Barrel's director of construction ponders the paperless office.


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John Moebes, formerly an associate principal at the Dallas, Texas-based Good Fulton & Farrell Architects, did such a good job as a consultant that he was subsequently hired by one of his clients, the iconic home furnishing and gift store Crate and Barrel. A veteran Autodesk Architectural Desktop user who is currently using the Revit platform, he now serves as Crate and Barrel’s director of construction. At the American Institute of Architects Convention in San Antonio, Texas, several weeks ago, when he found himself seated next to a Cadalyst editor during dinner, he volunteered his insights on BIM (building information modeling). In this interview (edited for length and clarity), drawing from his experience as a consulting architect and an owner, he shares his visions of the paperless office, clarifies the difference between PDF and DWF, and discusses BIM’s current identity crisis.

KW: What is the owners’ perspective on the paperless workflow?

 JM: It’s finally catching on among the owners. They’re historically the last ones to adopt workflow changes. If you’re an owner, your responsibilities can be overwhelming. You’re ultimately responsible for the budget, the schedule, the end user experience … Often, you just don’t have enough hours in the day to be able to step back and think about improved workflow.

Some might argue, because construction is such a litigious industry, you need your physical records. That’s true to some extent, but it’s also just an excuse. In my experience, when we have to go to court or arbitration, attorneys usually ask for the Outlook PST file [the personal data folder where Outlook typically stores the email content]. The legal profession is very aware of the value of digital workflow. What I’ve recently learned is that it’s very difficult to establish a chain of events through paper documents, whereas with electronic documents, it’s fairly easy to establish the sequence of events. We can now resolve a lot of issues just by piecing together the emails.

KW: Any thoughts on digital editing utilities, like Autodesk Design Review? Where do they fit in the paperless office environment?

JM: I bought a few copies of [Autodesk Design Review] for the contractors [when the application was not yet free]. We used that as a way to distribute our BIM data downstream. It’s expensive for all project team members to use full BIM products. Just the cognitive burden -- the need to master the BIM software platform -- can be daunting. So if some people just need to review drawings, it doesn’t make sense for them to learn Revit just so they can mark up drawings. Design Review offers a smaller-scale alternative for them.

KW: You’re a big Acrobat advocate. Is there anything DWF offers that Acrobat doesn’t, or vice versa?

JM: I think the real value of a DWF markup tool is in the round-trip commentaries it facilitates. The ability to import the annotated DWF files back into Revit -- that’s a huge benefit, a great improvement from the traditional redlining process. It’s something that, right now, you can only do [with DWF] in Design Review.

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By importing the steel fabricator’s 3D model (created in Tekla) into Autodesk Architectural Desktop environment as a 3D DWG file, Crate and Barrel’s construction team was able to verify the potential construction problems before on-site work began.

There’s a difference between the DWF and PDF workflows. Everyone knows PDF. People in your team have Acrobat Reader installed on their machines. City officials, accountants, real estate agents and material suppliers -- it’s very rare that I run into someone unfamiliar with PDF. On the other hand, DWF is germane to the architecture and engineering industries primarily. So if I’m just having an exchange with the people in AE, I can use DWF. The file size is smaller and very efficient.

KW: What do you foresee happening to BIM?

JM: Where do we want to take BIM and where will BIM take us? Those are the questions we need to grapple with. You can use BIM to make your building more energy efficient, to manage the construction process, to reduce construction waste or to produce better documentation. A lot of the vendors simply delivered the BIM tools to early adopters, hoping a clear deployment consensus would emerge. Well, the feedbacks are now coming in, and they’re all over the map. Contractors say, “We should use it for collision detection.” Architects say, “No, no, we should use it to produce more coordinated documents.” Now the owners have joined the dialogue, adding more confusion as to the direction we should head.

I think the best BIM use model now is the GSA [U.S. Government’s General Services Administration]. They say, “There’s value all over the place -- not just in one area.” That’s the approach I take at Crate and Barrel.

Editor's note: Declaring its philosophy on BIM, or “3D-4D Building Information Modeling” in its vocabulary, the GSA states, “As a shared knowledge resource, BIM can serve as a reliable basis for decision making and reduce the need for regathering or reformatting information. GSA is currently exploring the use of BIM technology throughout a project’s lifecycle in the following areas: spatial program validation, 4D phasing, laser scanning, energy and sustainability, and circulation and security validation.”


About the Author: Kenneth Wong


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