Building Information Modeling Takes Hold Down Under

14 Oct, 2004 By: AIA ,Rick Rundell Cadalyst

Firms embrace technology that gives them a competitive edge

In July's column, we explored how BIM (building information modeling) is sweeping through South African architectural firms. This month we turn our gaze to a different continent and see how Australian designers are adopting Autodesk Revit. As with South Africa, Australia's building industry is characterized by its hands-on, can-do approach to new technology, and some firms Down Under are discovering the competitive advantages of BIM.

Snapshot of Australia's Building Industry
Australia has a prosperous economy. Business and consumer confidence remains strong despite the recent global slump, and the country's building industry is similarly robust. Although Australia is vast -- it's just slightly smaller than the mainland United States -- its population of 20-million is relatively small, approximately 7% of the U.S. population. Most of the country's inhabitants live along its southeastern coast, around Sydney and Melbourne. This population concentration has produced a tightly knit architectural community.

In such close quarters, companies are always on the lookout for techniques, products, and technology that can help distinguish them from their competition. In the case of BIM, early adopters realized the competitive advantage it provided in a tight market, and word quickly spread.

Today, Autodesk Revit' BIM has a strong presence in the region, with some of the most sophisticated, innovative users in the world. Australian firms are currently using Revit for a variety of applications, including building design and documentation, facilities management, tenancy planning, complex project coordination, and even highly detailed construction planning.

Design-led Documentation
With offices throughout the Pacific region, Architectus employs 160 architects, designers, and planners. Handling all types of commercial, industrial, leisure, education, and institutional projects, Architectus has adopted Autodesk Revit as its main platform for building modeling and CAD.

The firm's current Revit-based projects include a 120,000 square-foot office and warehouse development, student housing, apartment buildings (figure 1), and several midrise and high-rise projects in China.

Figure 1. Architectus uses Revit to its competitive advantage on projects such as this 57-unit apartment complex located in College Crescent, Hornsby, New South Wales.

Architectus has always been forward thinking about technology. One of the first firms in Australia to fully implement object-based CAD technology using Autodesk Architectural Desktop, it saw the immediate advantages of moving to the Revit purpose-built BIM platform when it became available. Architectus believes that with Revit, building modeling is now a mature, reliable, and complete technology, suited to all stages of design and documentation.

"Revit allows us to embed design and detailing decisions into the building model, so that the designer's vision is carried through into the construction documents," reports Rodd Perey, CAD manager for Architectus. "With design-led documentation such as this, the changes flow through the whole project -- there is no need to make decisions before the information is fully available, and no penalty for modifications at any time."

Cut Production Time in Half
Charles Glanville Architects, based in Parramatta, is the one of the largest architectural practices in the western Sydney area. Established in 1976, the firm used 2D design technology for decades but realized its technology vision needed to match its architectural vision, so it moved to Revit in one bold step.

The firm's principal, Charles Glanville, says, "Ideally we wanted design changes to only happen once in our new system and thereafter to be reflected throughout the design document, saving time and increasing accuracy."

The actual results were dramatic, with CGA reporting it has cut in half the time required for complicated design processes, including a $32 million mixed-use complex (figure 2).

Figure 2. Charles Glanville Architects used Autodesk Revit to design this proposed $32 million dollar mixed-use complex located in the western Sydney region of Quakers Hill.

And although this productivity gain has boosted CGA's ROI (please refer to "Calculating BIM's Return on Investment"), it's also led to a less tangible but more significant competitive edge.

"Interacting and designing with clients is a vital process for any architect. Revit's building information modeling solution has transformed this process for us, and our client communication has increased to new levels," Glanville reports.

Competitive Advantage
Hayball Leonard Stent Architects is an architectural and interior design firm based in Melbourne, with representative offices in Beijing and Shanghai. The firm undertakes projects of varying sizes, construction

Figure 3. Just two architects from HLS used Revit to produce the documentation for 95% of this six-story student apartment building in Melbourne -- a fast-track project delivered on time and on budget.
types, and budgets, including high-rise residential, corporate, educational, and urban planning projects with project budgets of $350,000 to $175 million.

Focusing on architectural innovation, HLS continuously investigates and implements new technologies to tackle its diverse requirements. It has recently adopted Autodesk Revit (figure 3).

"Revit is the most accurate representation of building information modeling. It is our design tool of choice to achieve competitive advantage," reports Bilal Succar, the firm's CAD development coordinator.

Increasing Project Throughput
Benn Design, located in North Sydney, has been using Revit for almost four years on projects of all sizes, from $200,000 renovations to a $700 million religious center. Building information modeling has allowed the firm to take on more jobs (figure 4), yet produce higher-quality deliverables in less time -- enabling it to grow from a one-person practice to a five-person firm today, with more expansion anticipated.

Figure 4. Just one designer from Benn Design used Revit to draw and document the tall building complex superimposed on this photograph of the existing site in downtown Liverpool, New South Wales.

Principal Wesley Benn reports that the firm recouped its Revit-related capital and retraining costs on its first Revit-based project, adding, "Revit offered us a program that thinks and works the way we do, rather than expecting us to change to work the way it does. It has become, finally, a pleasure to use design software."

More Lessons Planned
The rollout of BIM in South Africa demonstrated that firms worldwide that have been frustrated by model-based architectural design software are being pleasantly surprised by the maturity of the Revit building information modeler. The successes of firms in Australia echo that, and underscore the fact that BIM is more than a competitive edge -- it's a competitive leap. As Charles Glanville of CGA puts it: "Autodesk Revit has shown us benefits I did not expect. It's brilliant!"

About the Author: AIA

About the Author: Rick Rundell

Rick Rundell

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