BIM and Education (1-2-3 Revit Tutorial)

30 Sep, 2007 By: AIA ,Rick Rundell

How building information modeling is being used to teach sustainable design.

One of my early articles for this column looked at how building information modeling (BIM) was being integrated in the architectural curriculums of several universities around the world. At that point in time, BIM was still relatively new to architectural education. Today, there is broad adoption and rapid deployment of BIM in most major architectural schools. Why?

BIM is a useful tool for teaching about building design, because BIM is more like working on a real-world building project. With BIM, students interact with the whole building design and learn the relationships between design and building.

There are still evolving viewpoints regarding where and how best to integrate BIM into curricula. In the classroom or the design studio? Or, as a stand-alone topic or in a broader context such as integrated practice? But, there is general agreement within the building industry that BIM -- in both practice and education -- is essential. This month's column focuses on how BIM is being integrated into today's architectural curriculum, particularly to support the teaching of sustainable design practices.

Benefits of BIM in the Curriculum
Before getting into the specifics of using BIM to teach sustainable design, let's review why BIM has met with such success in the general architectural and architectural engineering curricula. In a nutshell, purpose-built BIM solutions such as Revit help students learn holistic building design. BIM represents buildings as digital simulations rather than just traditional CAD drawings or 3D geometric models. Therefore, students who use BIM learn about the whole building. They learn to think more clearly about their design and are empowered to make informed decisions early in the process.

Revit Architecture lets students quickly develop concepts and schematic design ideas to create complex forms. It also integrates conceptual design thinking with building technology, encouraging students to consider cost, constructability, environmental impact, and so forth. They learn how a broad range of aesthetic, technical, and performance factors influence design decisions. Working with a building information model helps develop a student's ability to think and design more broadly, resulting in creative projects that are well-grounded in material knowledge.

BIM also helps students learn about coordination and collaboration, giving students valuable knowledge regarding how building elements and systems interact, which in turn prepares them to interact with the people designing those systems. One school currently exploring the use of a building information model as the context for this interdisciplinary training is Pennsylvania State University.

Penn State's architecture and architectural engineering students use Revit to learn how to design and simulate a building, such as this academic building design project by fourth-year studio course students Brian Ault, Jeremy Powis, Steve Reichwein, and Chris Shipper.

At Penn State, the architecture and architectural engineering departments are committed to preparing its students for the rigors of a career in design, engineering, and construction. The departments began using Revit Architecture in 2005 and are integrating it throughout its curricula. "One of our goals is the incorporation of Revit MEP and Revit Structure in our curriculum and to include other disciplines and building systems in the building information model," reports John Messner, an associate professor in the architectural engineering department. "By using a building information model to integrate information from a variety of sources and disciplines, we can prepare the students for a holistic approach to building design." The building information model can then be used to instruct students in related design activities such as quantity takeoffs for cost estimating or integration with engineering analysis for sustainable design considerations.

Integrating all these elements in a building information model enables the students to learn the interaction, coordination, and vocabulary for all the building systems. "I see this as a huge benefit of BIM; the ability to teach our students that a building is actually a network of integrated systems -- not isolated disciplines that exist in a vacuum," remarks Messner. "By examining and interacting with the whole building design, students gain a much better appreciation of the constructability -- and indeed the sustainability -- of their design."

By using a building information model to integrate information from a variety of sources and disciplines, Penn State students learn a holistic approach to building design. Images courtesy of students Brian Ault, Jeremy Powis, Steve Reichwein, and Chris Shipper.

Partnership for a Green Curriculum
Climate change and environmental concerns are transforming not only the building industry, but also the architecture and engineering curricula in schools around the world. As architects expand their design practices to encompass sustainable design, the core curriculum for architectural and design students must keep pace by incorporating sustainable design considerations throughout the students' courses and provide methodologies and technologies they will need to design greener structures.

To help the building industry and its educators accelerate the implementation of sustainable design practices, Autodesk joined forces with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in November 2006. The first result of this relationship is the new Autodesk Sustainable Design Curriculum for undergraduate and graduate-level programs, developed in consult with USGBC's Formal Education Committee. The Autodesk educational curriculum is designed for architecture and engineering students, and includes resources for both instructors and students.

The curriculum was designed to guide a multidisciplinary team of business, planning, geography, environmental and social science, architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering students through a semester studio course, using BIM methods and tools to facilitate their collaboration, visualizations, simulations, and analyses.

The program adopts a modular approach, providing instructor lecture notes for professors as well as Revit exercises and datasets for students that are all downloadable so faculty and students can pick and choose material to suit their needs. For example, one of the units focuses on building placement -- sustainable design considerations regarding the size and layout of a building. The unit includes lecture notes that present those concepts, as well as a student workbook that uses BIM in the form of Revit Architecture to actualize the design concepts.

Autodesk developed an educational curriculum for sustainable design that includes resources for both instructors and students, such as these datasets and related exercises for energy analysis (left) and sun study (right).

In the summer and fall of 2007, many universities, including Messner's department at Penn State as well as the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California (USC), reviewed the curriculum for integration into their course offerings.

USC has a rich tradition of weaving sustainable design throughout its school and courses, as evidenced by graduates and faculty who were pioneers in green design concepts. "This is an exciting time for architectural educators," exclaims USC School of Architecture professor Karen Kensek. "Transformative concepts such as BIM, performative architecture, and sustainable design are all converging and are poised to fundamentally alter the practice, and therefore teaching, of architecture."

USC has been using Revit in classrooms and design studios for several years and offers several courses focusing on BIM that use Revit as its central design tool. "I'm pleased that the emphasis of the new Autodesk/USGBC curriculum is not on training students in the prescriptive use of BIM software for sustainable design," remarks Kensek. "Instead its main focus is to provide teaching materials for sustainable design topics and employs BIM to support critical thinking about green design."

Educating Greener Architects
BIM is a driving force not only in the building industry but also in the schools that train its future practitioners. BIM's value in the educational curriculum extends far beyond its appeal as a competitive edge for students in their future careers. It's an excellent vehicle to train architecture students in the increasingly large footprint that represents building design and it can be a bridge between various building design disciplines -- fostering partnerships between design studios and engineering labs that will resonate well in the integrated practice of the future.

Mirroring its success in the commercial world, BIM helps students think about their designs, anticipate how their projects would perform in the real world, understand how their designs might be built, and learn how to minimize their environmental impact. As such, BIM can be used to further sustainable design practice helping to teach future architects and designers how to create high-performance, environmentally responsible buildings.

About the Author: AIA

About the Author: Rick Rundell

Rick Rundell

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