Event Report: Build Boston 2007

19 Nov, 2007

Technology, particularly building information modeling, plays a significant part at this 23rd annual AEC event.

Last week I attended Build Boston 2007 at the Seaport World Trade Center, on the waterfront directly across Boston Harbor from Logan International Airport. Build Boston -- this was the 23rd annual event -- "is the premier regional tradeshow and convention for the design and construction industry," according to event organizers. I was invited by Greg Conyngham of Integrated CADD Services and Conyngham Architects to speak in a workshop that was part of the BIM Symposium track. Other symposium tracks were offered as well, such as Women in Design and the Green Revolution.

I took a cab ride from the airport to the conference via one of the famous "Big Dig" tunnels. This was a minor adventure for me. Because I live and work in the Atlanta area, I do not have much occasion to hire a cab or ride through tunnels. I was quickly reminded why Boston is not the best place to drive. Getting around in a car is similar to that children's puzzle where you have only one free square space on a grid and you have to rearrange all the other squares one at a time to get to your destination.

Exhibit Hall
The exhibit hall at Build Boston brought together all sorts of AEC vendors, ranging from water-proofing specialists to a 3D building scanning service. I came across resellers/trainers representing Autodesk, Graphisoft, and Nemetschek products, as well as booths presenting Cadsoft building information modeling (BIM) for small businesses and Newforma project information management software.

I discovered VE (Virtual Environment) building performance modeling tools from IES. Alex MacGregor, project consultant from Glasgow, United Kingdom, gave me a demonstration (with his awesome Scottish accent). This system of integrated building analysis tools currently works with Revit to give you reports on sustainability issues, rights to light, evacuation, natural ventilation, and cost planning. IES may add support for other BIM programs into the VE environment for future releases.

The MicroFlo tool in the VE Sustainability Toolkit performs thermal simulations in a BIM model.
VE's Simulex tool can simulate evacuation drills.

On that topic of sustainability, I was encouraged to see three different companies offering green roof systems. I'm not an extreme environmentalist, but I do feel that green roofing systems such as GreenGrid need to be commonplace in today's building designs.

The 3D building scanning service I mentioned earlier is from Quantapoint. A company representative told me that Quantapoint can scan any existing structure and convert the scanned information to a 3D CAD file. The patented process gives an accurate record of as-built conditions such as deflection, settling, and bent structures. This would be a fabulous resource for owners, contractors, structural engineers, and architects.

BIM Symposium
The BIM Symposium at Build Boston consisted of two days of workshops on differing aspects of building information modeling, sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects' BIM Roundtable. I was a speaker in the workshop "BIM and Project Delivery in Architectural Practice." Other panelists included representatives from an array of firms currently using BIM:

  • Roy Pedersen and Jeff Millet of KlingStubbins (architecture)
  • John Tocci of Tocci Building Corporation (construction)
  • Tony Rinella of Anshen+Allen (architecture)
  • David Odeh of Odeh Engineers (structural engineering).

Each of us described how we are using BIM technology and gave key educational points that we wanted the audience to take home. These points were based on the following topics:

  • Office operations and process changers required with BIM
  • Setting up and managing BIM project teams
  • The effect of BIM on workflow
  • Working collaboratively with BIM

Odeh Engineering has created a war-room style conference room in its office. This room has multiple large-projection screens on the wall that can display four or more drawing views at once. This is one example of how different firms are creating new ways to work with today's technology. Speakers were referring to BIM technology as VDC, or virtual design and contstruction. Personally, I prefer the VDC label. Everyone on the panel was leveraging BIM effectively. I was definitely in good company.

The other workshops in the BIM symposium covered topics such as the business aspect of BIM from an owner's point of view: "BIM and Small Practitioner" and "The Education of Students and Young Professionals."

I came away from the workshops with the general impression that engineers, contractors, and owners are utilizing virtual design and construction technology better than the architecture community. Owners such as Crate & Barrel are easily quantifying savings in time and money with the technology. These companies are producing more each year with the same amount of staff and money. Contractors and engineers are building VDC models from 2D drawings because their architects are not creating 3D models. Perhaps architects are keeping a blind eye to the technology because they are less inclined to learn a new tool and a new process. Many seem more concerned with making their drawings attractive and less concerned with the overall efficiency of the contstruction document process.

Workshop presentations (in PDF format) and audio CD recordings from the Build Boston conference will be available for purchase online through ACTS Conference Products and Services.