Building Information Modeling (BIM)

In the Eye of a BIMStorm

16 Jun, 2010 By: Kenneth Wong

Onuma's online platform facilitates collaboration on recovery and reconstruction projects in Haiti.

A storm is brewing in Haiti. It's been brewing since early February. Unlike the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck the impoverished country on January 12, this storm is expected to last months, perhaps years.

But this is not a natural disaster; this is a manmade storm, driven by building information modeling (BIM) and collaboration technologies, aimed at delivering relief to the quake-ravaged region. Modeled on several successful BIMStorm exercises of the past, Plan Haiti BIMStorm would let emergency responders, planners, architects, government agencies, and citizens view the damage to their cities, coordinate with one another, participate in brainstorming sessions, and help rebuild the country's broken infrastructure.

In This Storm Together

A BIMStorm is a collaborative planning and design session facilitated by Onuma System, a web-based platform conceived and developed by Onuma Inc. founder Kimon Onuma. To borrow a description used by the U.S. Coast Guard, an early adopter of the system, it is a "framework for integrated decision making."

Previous BIMStorms have been lightning-fast, with the bulk of the brainstorming, analyses, discussions, and decisions completed in just a few days.

  • BIMStorm Oslo. Seventy participants from 14 countries took part in a hands-on workshop to design an energy-efficient hospital in Norway.
  • BIMStorm LAX. Some 130 architects and engineers programmed and designed more than 50 Los Angeles city blocks — covering 55 million square feet — in 24 hours.
  • BIMStorm Tokyo. BuildingSMART Japan and Onuma Inc. came together for a 48-hour workshop to design a Tokyo high-rise.

"We have been asked by many of the past BIMStorm participants to start a BIMStorm for Haiti," said Kimon Onuma. But rebuilding Haiti, and doing it in a way that's sustainable, Onuma realized, would take much more than a rapid-fire design workshop. So, unlike previous exercises, the timeframe for Plan Haiti BIMStorm is open-ended to allow both real-time and asynchronous collaboration as long as Haiti needs it.

"There's incredible passion from the design community at large and on a worldwide scale to help out, but there's no channel to do that. There's not even a mechanism to capture the [designs] of those who are willing to donate their work for free," noted Hector Camps, a professor and the founder and CEO of the Miami-based design firm Phi Cubed, a participant in Plan Haiti BIMStorm. He and other participants hope Plan Haiti BIMStorm will become the virtual mechanism to house these ideas and churn out many more.

Camps is also a board member of the , which offers technical, political, and financial support for the use of advanced digital technology in the real property industry.

Unlike typical project management interfaces designed for internal use — comprising Excel grids, pull-down menus, to-do lists, and deadlines, restricted to intranets and internal servers — Onuma System is assembled with web-based, interconnected technologies, accessible to anyone with Internet access. To display site data, for example, it relies on Google Maps and Picasa photo albums. To house project discussions, it uses Google forums. And to announce and track upcoming online meetings and deadlines, it uses Google Calendar. Users may also employ the system's browser-based interface to display and edit site plans and floor plans. Overall, the system has the look and feel of a social networking site.

Onuma System lets users view and edit site and floor plans in a web browser.

Stormfront Rolls In

Within weeks of the Plan Haiti BIMStorm site's launch, nearly 200 people had signed up. A glance at the titles of participants shows real-estate planners, architectural visualization and graphics experts, consultants, architects, civil engineers, academics, and building materials suppliers.

Soon, ideas began rolling in: "Develop a housing typeto suit the quick, inexpensive rebuild of Haiti — perhaps incorporating native materials and sustainable design, design it for local builders," wrote one. "Our firm could donate professional design services for both planning and design," wrote another. "We need housing [plans with] materials [that] are readily available and easy to assemble. Metal storage units, Simpson ridge frames, metal grating, wire fabrics, etc.," wrote another.

In past BIMStorms, participants exchanged rough sketches (scanned paper drawings or 3D models created in Google SketchUp) and BIM documents produced with Revit, ArchiCAD, AutoCAD, and other industry-standard software so energy-analysis experts could verify — on the spot and in real time — heat gain, heat loss, and solar-thermal efficiency of the proposed designs using packages such as IES <VE> and Autodesk Ecotect. A similar workflow is expected for Plan Haiti BIMStorm.

"Ready to participate in any design or analysis for new structures to be designed. This could be detail drawing, cost estimation, or structural analysis," volunteered one participant. "I'm an IT/BIM manager [using] Revit," wrote another. "I can develop with C# and the Revit API."

Timothy Blatner, a BIMStorm participant and senior associate of Chicago-based architectural firm DeStefano and Partners, observed, "In the recovery phase, the temporary structures are such fundamental types that they don't have much complexity to them to apply too much software technology." In this phase, operations on the ground will benefit more from delivery of heavy equipment, such as bulldozers to clear debris, he pointed out.

"But in the reconstruction phase, if we're rebuilding Haiti to be more sustainable, [energy performance software] will be useful for looking at energy usage, [opportunities for] rainwater capture, and [natural] ventilation."

At Plan Haiti BIMStorm's site, Blatner has begun compiling links to Haiti-related resources, including articles on disaster-proof housing, shelter cluster location, maps of damaged buildings, and damage reports from relief agencies.

Design with a Repurpose

Before the earthquake struck Haiti, the Phi Cubed design firm was working with Star Quality, a licensee of the SISMO building technology, to place hurricane- and earthquake-resistant homes in the Santo Domingo region of the Dominican Republic. The disaster in Haiti presents an opportunity to use the same building design for another purpose, to address what is arguably a more urgent need.

Energy-efficient hospitals (top) and dwellings (bottom), modeled in Autodesk Revit, are based on the disaster-resistant SISMO building technology. Originally planned for Santo Domingo, they may serve a purpose in Haiti's reconstruction. (Images courtesy of Phi Cubed)

SISMO is a patent-pending building technology from a Belgium-headquartered firm of the same name. The method uses a set of production machines and 3D software to generate the galvanized steel wire lattice, infill panels, and fillers required to assemble homes.

According to its creators, the modular system is "universal and can be adapted to every project, from foundations and cellars up to roof structures."

"All of a sudden, our conversation [with SISMO] shifted from, 'How can we build buildings in Santo Domingo?' to 'How can we help rebuild Haiti?'" said Phi Cubed's Camps. Because the mechanisms required to produce the buildings are already in the region, he explained, "this could become one of the main solutions for Haiti reconstruction."

Moving Forward

Soon after Plan Haiti BIMStorm was announced, a previous BIMStorm participant from Santiago contacted Kimon Onuma via e-mail. "As you probably saw in the news, a [magnitude] 8.8 earthquake hit Chile two days ago, with a tsunami, destroying villages and towns in the Pacific coast and collapsing structures. I'm trying to propose the use of [Onuma System] in the reconstruction and damage detection in buildings."

Onuma responded promptly by giving the participant access to the Plan Haiti Studio environment. "I think some of the same discussions and tools being used for Haiti would apply to Chile," Onuma pointed out.

In the past, BIMStorms have invariably produced digital deliverables — a series of design plans and programs with cost estimates and energy analysis reports, archived online for the benefit of anyone interested. For Haiti, however, the planning platform itself may be the deliverable. Plan Haiti BIMStorm's site, populated with the information gathered and designs proposed by participants, may serve as a hub for others to identify potential collaborators, harvest ideas, seek funding, and network as they build Haiti's future.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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