Building Information Modeling in Action

31 Mar, 2004 By: AIA ,Rick Rundell

A CAD manager shares his firm’s experience implementing Autodesk Revit

A little more than a year ago, Autodesk coined the term BIM (building information modeling) to designate the concept of representing a building as a single 3D model that contains both geometric and non-geometric data about the design. An innovative approach to building design, construction, and management, building information modeling delivers high-quality information about project design, scope, schedule, and cost as needed. For architects, engineers, builders, owners, and other industry professionals, this was a powerful new way of thinking about their work and how technology supports that work. Since then, building information modeling has changed how the industry talks about technology, but what about how the industry uses technology? What are IT and CAD managers doing to implement building information modeling in their firms? How are their lives different now than they were a year ago? What's working for them, and what has been difficult? In this new monthly column, I will provide real-world perspectives as well as more general overviews of how firms today are using building information modeling and Autodesk Revit. I'll cover the most successful practices for both businesses and everyday users and managers on the front lines of technology implementation. This first column features Brian Kern, a licensed architect who serves as IT director at Oculus Inc. ( in St. Louis, and Kurt Thompson, an Oculus job captain. Oculus began experimenting with building information modeling several years ago and is now using Autodesk Revit for 80% of its work.

No Pain, Good Gain
Oculus is a small firm with big clients. Kern attributes his firm's competitive edge to its use of technology to deliver exceptional architecture, interior design, and facilities management services. An AutoCAD house from the beginning, Oculus implemented Revit in 2000 for its parametric modeling capabilities and ease of use. Today, Oculus uses the system to create building information models from the start of the design process so that architects and designers can rapidly implement design changes, generate 3D renderings and construction documents, and manage building lifecycle information. This process has required investing time in translating legacy CAD files into Revit, as well as driving the need for higher hardware requirements than AutoCAD, but Oculus believes that has been a wise investment in the firm's future.

Several factors contributed to Oculus's successful Autodesk Revit implementation. Following a simplified network installation and with full support from Oculus executives, Kern provided his firm's designers with access to Autodesk's Web-based tutorials and conducted in-house training. Still, on-the-job training proved most effective for the Revit implementation. Kern points to Revit's intuitive user interface as the primary reason architects learn the program so quickly. "Because Revit was designed around the way architects work, it's a whole lot easier to get people up to speed," he says "Rather than working with lines and arcs, you're working with the walls, doors, and windows. Designers are able to focus on what they're trying to produce rather than learning a new tool."

These features drove broad adoption rates and reduced one-on-one training time. "During the Revit implementation, I spent a lot less time answering technical questions. The program itself is very intuitive," Kern says. Thompson, the Oculus job captain and a Revit end user, concurs: "When I worked with a 2D program, I had perhaps a hundred questions about how things went together and the clearances. With Revit, I had maybe five."

The application's short-learning curve balances the fact that currently there is a shortage of experienced Revit users in the workforce. New educational programs that integrate Revit into the curriculum, such as the one at Tulane University, will eventually make up for the lack of young architects skilled in the software.

Delivering for Mega-Clients
Oculus uses Revit on all work for national, multilocation clients Bank of America and Cingular Wireless. After rolling out most of the 25 retail locations completed last year for Bank of America using AutoCAD, Oculus is looking forward to using Autodesk Revit's parametric technology to implement design changes across all document sets, freeing architects from tedious coordination tasks. "With Revit, when I make a change to the floor plan, it updates my construction plan, my electrical plan, my wall sections -- it updates the entire document set. I've done in one day what would have taken at least two weeks [using AutoCAD]," remarks Thompson. Working on tight deadlines for Bank of America, Oculus relies on Revit not only to produce designs based on the bank's prototype, but for client communication and approval as well (figure 1). "During design development, we quickly produced countless renderings of the site for the bank to review and to comment on," says Thompson. The firm also uses the renderings to speed local review board approval for permit applications.

Bank of America
Figure 1. Autodesk Revit 3D renderings help speed approvals for client Bank of America.

Designing and managing construction for nearly 50 Cingular Wireless retail locations in the past three years (figure 2), Oculus has gained great flexibility in its design processes. "We're able to give the clients more in less time, Thompson comments. "Using Revit, we can provide three versions of a finished design in about two days, including renderings and area calcs. The real time savings come once we get an approval, because we're more than halfway done with our construction documents. In the past, we'd just be starting the documentation phase."

Cingular Wireless
Figure 2. Oculus Inc. has used Autodesk Revit to design and build more than 50 Cingular Wireless retail locations.

Oculus has also witnessed great benefits to its contractors. Revit-produced construction documents have reduced RFIs (requests for information) from the field by 20% to 30% on the Cingular projects. Using Autodesk Revit's scheduling feature benefits contractors as well. Thompson says, "The building information model can populate order forms, schedules, quantity takeoffs, anything -- allowing the contractor to know the quantities are accurate and put together prices quicker."

New Way to Operate
"Revit has become an integral design tool during the last four years, allowing us to spend more time refining our designs while still delivering in the same time frame as our competitors and giving our clients more for their money," says Kern. "Revit's parametric, database-driven application has streamlined technical support required, freeing resources for other business operations. With that success, we've now moved to a subscription AutoCAD Revit Series, gaining full interoperability of the new Revit and the new AutoCAD."

About the Author: AIA

About the Author: Rick Rundell

Rick Rundell

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!