Event Report: AIA Convention, Part 2

21 Jun, 2006 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Leaders of architectural firms using BIM share advice and lessons learned — and urge others to 'start now'

Sustainable design was the hot topic at the AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2006 National Convention and Design Exposition in Los Angeles on June 8-10. In the seminar line-up and in keynote presentations -- including a welcome address by L.A. Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and a presentation by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- ecological design was said to be the mandate for today's architects.

Although notably absent from these high-profile events, BIM (building information modeling) and other CAD-related technologies were indeed to be found in the Design Expo -- and in Part 1 of this series I reviewed new wares showcased by vendors. Today I'll report on the one seminar this year that focused on BIM, the 3D technology that Cadalyst finds is experiencing an adoption rate of approximately 7-10%.

Design Revolution
The AIA 2006 session "Moving to BIM: A Progress Report" was moderated by Phil Bernstein, vice-president of Autodesk's Building Solutions Division. Bernstein observed that leaders at firms adopting BIM have assumed a revolutionary attitude of sorts, but he said that BIM adoption is not revolutionary, "it's evolutionary" -- requiring a step-by-step approach and often a project-by-project approach. Adoption patterns, he said, are very specific and include visualization, coordination, production, analysis and supply-chain integration. Those adopting say this evolution requires an integrated practice -- remediating relationships and breaking down barriers to make processes compatible.

Change or Else
Patrick MacLeamy, CEO of HOK Group, told attendees why HOK -- with its 2,200 employees in 23 offices -- decided to adopt BIM. He told his firm, "We had to, or we would die," because of the complexity of work and increasing risk environment. I said, 'Change or else.'"

He said he found that younger staff members had to lead more experienced staff in such a major technological move. The size of the firm was the greatest challenge, and the transformation had to start with MacLeamy himself, who said he came to the realization that "you can't adequately describe a design in

BIM and Outsourcing
"I see architecture going in two directions -- BIM and offshoring -- and we can do both," said Michael Jansen in an interview with Cadalyst at AIA 2006. Jansen is president and CEO of Satellier, a Chicago-based provider of outsourcing services that are about 85% CAD.

Satellier positions itself as more than the typical offshoring service; Jansen said he aims to be proactive in helping his architectural clients transition to BIM. "If we can make BIM effective and convenient for our clients, they are more likely to do it. Rather than fight [the change], let's make the rules."

Jansen estimated that 7% of the company's clients are currently using BIM. With a design staff based in India, the company does most of its CAD work using software from Autodesk and Bentley Systems, he said. --NSJ

2D." The board of directors adopted the new approach in 2005, and the company declared BIM as a central component of building smart. HOK's first BIM projects to came to fruition earlier this year, he said.

What's working, what's not. MacLeamy said that younger employees understand the payoffs of adopting BIM. "Older employees either endorse it or must step aside." Within HOK, he said, employees generally have strong acceptance and excitement for using BIM.

"The impatient CEO wants this transition done yesterday," MacLeamy said of himself. The firm has encountered a lack of consultants trained in BIM, and a lack of interoperable software. Also, because BIM requires collaboration throughout the building process, "new management techniques are necessary to make this work," MacLeamy noted. "How do you change people's ways of working so the contractor is your partner?"

Next steps. Now, MacLeamy said, HOK will work toward firmwide implementation, and it will aim to develop a list of select BIM consultants to support its efforts. They also will work to develop legal and insurance support for BIM practices.

Advice. "Start now," MacLeamy advised other firms. Be simple and clear about BIM and its benefits or staff won't understand it, and provide adequate technical support. Take the attitude that "perfection is the enemy of progress," and finally: "Lead, follow or get out of the way."

Lessons Learned
Scott Simpson, president and CEO of The Stubbins Associates, conveyed the lessons his firm has learned through its BIM adoption. The firm now uses BIM for every project, Simpson said.

Simpson echoed the experience that BIM adoption requires more than just a technological change. "It must be approached from the behavioral side, not the technical side, he said, because behavioral changes are more important for BIM to be successful. "It's not about technology. It's about the behavior and the belief system" of users, who must take the perspective that technology is a way to enhance creative skills, he said.

"Demographics is destiny," Simpson said. "If you're over 45 in this field, you're a dinosaur. Your job now is to do what you can to ensure that the next generation can do the best job possible, even if that means just getting out of the way" -- or helping to provide the tools for the young designers to be successful.

How to measure success. Simpson said the unit of progress for BIM is the ability to make better decisions. 3D technology allows clients to finally understand in real time what architects are trying to communicate via their designs. 2D design to the client -- much like a musical score to a nonmusician -- is just notes on paper, Simpson said.

With BIM, Simpson continued, all players, including contractors, get more deeply embedded in the process. BIM brings the expertise and wisdom of the contractor into the process earlier, he added, "which ultimately drives better decision-making. There are dramatic improvements available using better technology and better decisions involving all the brains around the table."

Benefits. BIM has clear dollar-and-cents benefits, according to Simpson. Firms can provide more design for the same fee. For example, an animation that would have cost $55,000 to complete using traditional methods can be done for $18,000 using Autodesk Revit. Last-minute changes also are easier and less costly. What used to take three weeks to rework now requires only two days, resulting in 85% lower cost. Another cost benefit, he said, was the ability to use smaller work teams. BIM also provides a higher degree of predictability, he added.

Advice. "It's all about leadership," Simpson concluded about successful BIM adoption. "That's what this comes down to. Focus this all like a lens to deliver what the client wants. This is saving money and it's improving quality," he added, noting that every Stubbins Associates BIM project to date is an award-winner.

"We have to do this together as architects," Simpson urged seminar attendees. "Hold hands jumping off the cliff. The technology holds tremendous power, and it's up to us, the leaders, to take advantage of that power."

Smarter Approach
"It wasn't that CAD wasn't a help. It was just a pain," said Douglas Palladino, a principal at RTKL Associates, looking back after the firm's transition to BIM. "In our age of post-petroleum, our buildings need to be smarter. It takes better tools to do that."

He adds, "BIM is great for containing costs," and "it allows us to be more comfortable with doing buildings that might not have been comfortable before, because we can see changes more clearly." With BIM, he added, architects can design better buildings with high-performance features.

Five-Year Forecast
HOK's MacLeamy summed up with a prediction about AEC design five years from now: "Design-build will be looked at as a curious process," he said. "Why did we ever do that?" And he added that adopting BIM could actually have a positive effect on the amount of litigation in AEC. "It's harder to sue when [all parties] have been at the same table making decisions together throughout the process."

About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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!