Building Model Benefits15 Aug, 2004 By: Arnie Williams
Design team tests Autodesk Revit on large projects.
In the Washington, D.C., division offices of DMJM Design (www.dmjm.com), more than 250 architects, engineers, and other building industry professionals tackle multimillion-dollar megaprojects for the United States government, universities, and other high-profile clients. With the kind of strict regulations, tight deadlines, and change control that such clients demand, DMJM is continually reviewing its resources and planning for the future. Without such careful preparation in the competitive business of megaproject architecture, a company can easily fall behind.
Part of global architectural services firm AECOM Technology Corp., DMJM Design executes large projects with budgets that exceed several million dollars. In such projects, efficient project management means more than just the successful completion of a project within strict time guidelines. It also often leads to repeat business.
Figure 1. By using Revit's rendering capability, DMJM is able to provide clients with a realistic review of what their projects will look like on completion.
For the past four years, one design team in particular at DMJM has focused on BIM (building information modeling). During that time, the team has used Autodesk Revit from v2 through the latest v6.1 (www.autodesk.com). Use has grown from 30% of project CDs to 60% and finally to 100% in the past year. The DMJM team gives Autodesk Revit high marks for its BIM capabilities, but also suggests that the acronym emphasizes another benefit of BIM—building information management. From the very beginning of the pilot projects to test the concept, project management with the building information model proved more efficient, says project design manager Rob Smedley.
SEEING IS UNDERSTANDINGSome key benefits of BIM manifest themselves early on during client briefings, notes Smedley (figure 1). "Especially in government projects, clients are often architects themselves," he says. "When they see a building model, and then suggest changes that we make on-the-fly during the design review, that gets their attention. We've had clients suggest changes, review the results, and grant approval of the next phase, all in one meeting. That's something that rarely, if ever, occurred in meetings before we moved to BIM." Smedley also credits the effectiveness of these client reviews with earning the company repeat business.
Lead technical designer Mike Brainerd, who often has to field questions during client reviews, appreciates the inherent communication power of a building model for clients who don't have architectural training (figure 2).
Figure 2. This night view of a DMJM project is just one example of Revit's rendering capability. Clients appreciate that this is a view of the actual building model.
"It's difficult for some clients to visualize buildings and interpret 2D drawings," he says. "A rendered view makes the design intent clear and gives the clients an immediate sense of the building."
Architectural designer Galen Hoeflinger has been a key hands-on user of Revit for the past four years, ever since joining the firm out of college. He notes that he and most of his university colleagues were self-taught on architectural software, so he was prepared when he joined DMJM to bring himself up to speed on the company's design software of choice without formal training. He was surprised, however, by how quickly he became comfortable with Revit (figure 3).
"It's intuitive," says Hoeflinger. "You spend less time prepping drawings because you're working on the design and your final construction documents in the same model."
John Kizior, DMJM's corporate CAD manager and IT specialist, adds another perspective. He often checks in with architects and other designers regarding their IT needs, which also entails just listening to office chatter. In the BIM pilot projects, Kizior hears team members talking mostly about design issues and modeling and less about drafting. "This approach takes the architect away from mundane drafting tasks," he says.
COLLABORATION NOWSmedley and others on the team are pleased with the built-in collaborative nature of BIM. Large projects are by definition collaborative, he notes. By working from the same building model, team members have a confidence level in the accuracy of what they're doing once it's merged with the work of other team members. More traditional 2D approaches lack this.
Galen Hoeflinger cites the example of a project recently completed. One of his team members was working on furniture layouts at the same time he was working on window placements in the building. As he completed his work, the windows appeared in the model, and the team member was able to adjust the furniture layout accordingly.
Figure 3. DMJM architects find the modeling power of Revit and its relative ease of use help make design studies, such as this one, an intuitive process. They can then focus more on design and less on learning new software technicalities.
So far, pilot projects have used team collaboration among architects working in the Washington, D.C., office. But team members see the advantages of bringing in talent from outlying offices in Orange County, California, and Chicago, Illinois. "We need to look at our IT needs," says Kizior, "and how we need to ramp those up to reap the full benefit of BIM." Kizior notes that this might include dual-processor hardware and broader bandwidth networks.
Smedley envisions having greater interaction with engineering disciplines within the building model. Currently, he says, structural engineers get together with the architectural team to study the building model. Smedley plans to better use the current structural and future engineering modules Autodesk promises for Revit.
Smedley and other team members are also meeting with estimators and schedulers to look at ways to incorporate a 4D element into BIM. Estimators still complete their work by looking at 2D drawings, he says, noting that an estimator might take up to three weeks to do area takeoffs, fixture counts, and the like.
"A lot can happen in three weeks and a BIM model can generate takeoffs automatically, allowing a quicker turnaround of a more accurate estimate," says Smedley. "But once the time element is added into the building model, you're really moving into the area of building information management. That's definitely the future."
MOVING AHEADAfter four years of evaluating BIM, Smedley and his team are excited about the future—and for them, BIM is the future. Smedley says that BIM today is in a phase similar to where CAD was 20 years ago. Some architects were dabbling with it from the very beginning, he says, but most were still tied to hand drawings and drafting boards. CAD took awhile to catch on, even if its merits were readily recognizable.
Smedley predicts that BIM will change not only the way architects and the design team work together on projects, but also the amount of client and owner involvement. From early concept states to building occupation and management, the building model will provide more comprehensive and accurate information to the extended team, he says. And that's a good thing.