AEC Tech Trends #115

3 Mar, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

A couple of recently released products are interesting and exciting examples of the kinds of things that are being developed to extend the functionality of BIM (building information modeling).

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GeoPraxis of Petaluma, California, has released the beta version of a combination Web service and software utility to be called Green Building Studio. GBS (Green Building Studio) is a free Web service that assists in the energy analysis of buildings in the design stages as well as with the selection of energy-efficient green building products and materials. GBS initially will support Graphisoft's ArchiCAD and Autodesk's BIM tools Architectural Desktop, Building Systems, and Revit.

GBS uses the green building gbXML schema from the International Alliance of Interoperability's aecXML group for data modeling. This schema is being adopted by industry software developers and many product developers such as Trane as the standard for this kind of data. Most of the supported BIM products use separate plug-ins to their software to make it gbXML-compliant, but the latest version of Revit has been programmed to be gbXML compliant out of the box.

The BIM products generate a gbXML data file directly from the 3D CAD geometry information in the building model. The user then logs into the Green Building Studio Web site, where the dbXML data is used in analysis and reporting routines on the server to generate a preliminary energy analysis for the building design. You can use it for what-if scenarios and to test the ramifications of design decisions from the earliest design stages into the final design.

You can also import the gbXML file into other energy analysis and design software that support gbXML, such as the DOE 2.2 and EnergyPlus energy simulation programs. The Green Building Studio Web tools actually use the DOE 2.2 engine internally in their energy simulation runs. GBS can also help to facilitate the energy usage portions of LEED Green Buildings Compliance analysis.

GeoPraxis initially developed Green Building Studio with major funding from the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program and has received funding from numerous other public and private organizations to bring it to the point it is today. GBS is a free Web resource, and the plug-ins necessary are available as free downloads.

GBS is available only as a beta application at this time, but it should be available in finished form in a couple of months. The schedule is to wrap up the beta phase toward the end of March, make any necessary adjustments based on beta feedback, and then finalize the software. You may still be able to take an early look and get involved with beta testing by signing up at the Green Building Studio Web site at Beta program participants are required to provide feedback to the development team.

Another useful and potentially valuable addition to an architect's BIM toolkit is a utility recently released by @Last Software, developers of the SketchUp! 3D architectural modeling software. SketchUp! is a wonderful little application that enables quick and simple 3D mass modeling using a nice interface for a graphics tablet or mouse to manipulate planar and curved surfaces in 3D space. You can create and manipulate 3D architectural models to study preliminary architectural shapes and forms.

One perceived difficulty with SketchUp! for architects has been that it's strictly a stand-alone modeling tool. Any effort invested in creating a SketchUp! model is seen as a dead-end because the model is limited in its additional uses. Any work had to be recreated in 3D CAD or BIM tools when it was time to move on to further phases of the design.

Now @Last has released some free plug-ins and add-ins for 3D CAD and BIM applications from Autodesk and Graphisoft that allow a SketchUp! model to be imported into Architectural Desktop and ArchiCAD. This should help you better use any time invested in the SketchUp! model and provide a good starting point for further refinement and work in subsequent phases of services.

To get these free plug-ins and add-ons, go to the SketchUp! site  and seek out the correct download for your software. Also while you're there, download a demo version of SketchUp!, if you haven't already done so.