Architects Embrace BIM at AIA Convention

28 May, 2008 By: Heather Livingston

Two-day seminar packed with BIM best practices and case studies leaves architects ready to harness BIM and IPD.

On May 13 and 14, I attended a two-day pre-AIA convention conference in Boston titled "Changing the World: Harnessing BIM Technology and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) for Sustainable Design." While a wordy title, it does give an accurate idea of the scope of the seminar. Technology was at the fore of all discussion and it became clear throughout the conference that, although many architects in attendance were new to BIM, they as a profession are finally ready to fully embrace this practice-revolutionizing technology.

Presented by the AIA Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP) knowledge community in coordination with AIA's IPD Group, Committee on the Environment, and Center for Building Science and Performance, the BIM conference yielded a few hundred attendees (AIA hasn't yet provided the exact number) and featured a number of recognized technology experts leading panel discussions and seminars. Four tracks, or focus areas, were laid out for attendees interested in specific areas of knowledge:

  • Toward an integrated academic curriculum and lifelong professional learning
  • Building, analysis, and new materials for green results
  • Processes and tools for a sustainable profession
  • The BIM value proposition

The conference was not a hands-on how-to for aspiring BIM users. It was, in most instances, case studies of successfully managed BIM projects and best practices. The schedule featured six breakout educational sessions and five plenary sessions. Though I don't have room here to convey information on all sessions, here is an overview of what I thought were the highlights.

State of the Technology
At the opening plenary session on May 13, Charles Eastman, director of the College of Architecture Ph.D. program at the Georgia Institute of Technology and vice-chair of the 2008 TAP advisory group, gave a broad overview of building information modeling's current and future potential. He called BIM the "most massive upheaval of design and construction practices in history," and noted that, at present, there are seven key benefits of BIM:

  1. automatic drawing generation from the parametric model
  2. enhanced visualization
  3. clash detection
  4. ease of fabrication
  5. analyses that can be run from data
  6. simulation capabilities
  7. embedded knowledge in the model

Although these capabilities are widely used by BIM practitioners, Eastman pointed out that other significant technologies now are only partially developed but will be coming. Those evolving tools include laser scanning, energy analysis and tracking, cost tracking, and carbon tracking. Eastman called these unfolding technologies "important and exciting initiatives that are changing what is considered standard practice in architecture and construction."

Eastman also noted that, while the BIM applications are expanding rapidly, significant limitations remain because firms are still at an early stage of the technology and uses are being stretched beyond original intent. "One of the challenges is ourselves," he said. "We have to decide what do we want [the BIM programs] to do. We have to be an active consumer [instead of] a participant."

Finally, in response to a question from the audience, Eastman said that although the problem of file sizes getting larger because of the embedded data in the models is currently a critical concern, streaming technologies now coming online will negate file size issues and deliver project information in near-real time. He said that architects need to "step up and embrace the technology," likening waiting for BIM to evolve to waiting for the internet to be complete. Both are in perpetual flux and expanding capacity daily.

The Power of BIM
Phil Bernstein, FAIA, LEED AP, Autodesk, speaking at a session titled "Case Studies that Demonstrate Real Project Benefits through BIM," which evaluated the benefits of Burt Hill Architects' Parkway 22 condominium complex in Philadelphia, said he believes analysis is the most important benefit of BIM today. He relayed that today firms are in a "paper state" where analysis consists of checklists, as with LEED certification. In the transitioning "model state," content will be digital in form, with the systematic generation of automated checklists. Bernstein looks forward to achieving full "process integration" in which interlocked PCs create interlocked information and analyses that don't rely on checklists and can provide a broader, richer, more detailed project view.

In bringing sustainability to the forefront of the discussion, Rick Huijbregts, of CISCO said we "need to start rethinking our environment," citing massive population growth and dwindling natural resources as primary social and civic concerns. He believes that the meteoric growth of connectivity is delivering more value while also increasing performance expectations for businesses and real estate owners. What stakeholders now want and expect from their buildings, he says, is "productivity, experience, new revenue and business models, operational excellence, lifecycle costing, design innovation, security and safety, and sustainability."

Integration = Transformation
According to Huijbregts, building information networks (BINs) such as those used at Parkway 22, which integrate BIM and energy analysis during design and monitor and manage performance throughout a building's lifecycle, are the "platform for transformation." The current technology convergence is, he believes, a catalyst for what he predicts will soon be the fourth utility — information — in addition to the now necessary water, gas, and electricity utilities.

Click for larger image Image courtesy of Vladimir Bazjanac, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California. (Click image for larger version)

Mark Dietrick, AIA, with Burt Hill Architects, added that architects and owners need to start thinking of buildings as "living organisms." At Parkway 22, the BIN strategies addressed expected tenant services such as high-speed internet, wireless, unified communications, interactive media, digital signage, IP telephony, plus, for the building systems, enterprise-wide dashboard applications. Today, he said, vital building systems information is often hidden. "If you can't see it, you can't use it," he explained. Bringing that critical information into focus for owners and residents can dramatically alter user patterns and yield significant energy savings.

In a seminar called "Leap of Faith: How Integrated Practice Facilitates Innovative Design," a team from CO Architects discussed their $690 million Palomar Medical Center West in California as a case study of new project delivery methodologies. Tom Chessum, AIA, began by saying that incorporating sustainable concerns into healthcare design from the outset minimizes construction consumption and waste and improves health, safety, and healing. Because of seismic concerns, the owners of the medical center need to replace their aging buildings by 2020. This new facility was designed to address the revised seismic codes, increase the standard of care, and embrace the tenets of evidence-based design. The facility will bring in natural ventilation wherever possible and maintain a connection to the environment while still responding to the technological needs of a world-class medical center.

Collaboration Is Key
According to Frances T. Moore, AIA, LEED AP, integration of nature was a key design driver, with a one-acre green roof over operating suites and recovery suites framed around courtyards. Integrated project delivery was the other driver. The CO team brought all contractors into the design process early in conceptual design, and together they worked on collaborative solutions such as voluntary code adoption that ultimately saved 800 tons of steel, reduced base shear up to 60 percent, eliminated 1,200 tons of carbon dioxide, and saved $4 million. The team believes that, as a profession, architects must lead the BIM and IPD process and warned architects not to let this fall out of their purview; establish and grow a relationship between technology and nature; and find and celebrate the unique opportunities for sustainability in each project.

In the risk-averse healthcare contracting environment in California, Chessum says that IPD is critical to minimizing contractors' risk so that they will sign on to healthcare projects. He points out that, through integrated project delivery, risk is shared more equitably across the design and construction team. By combining IPD and BIM, client value is increased and time, cost, and risk are minimized. Chessum said that the relational adjustments that need to be well considered before pursuing an IPD project are early design resolutions, altered business and cash flow, shared risk and success, performance-based compensation, and IPD contracts. (The AIA recently released four IPD contract documents: AIA Document A195-2008, A295-2008, B195-2008, and C195-2008. For more information visit

In the "True BIM" session, Vladimir Bazjanac with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, discussed what makes a building information model — and what doesn't. He defined the BIM as containing a data model that holds information from the specific model, with software that populates that model. Models without parametric intelligence are not true building information modeling.

Kimon Onuma, FAIA, Onuma, Inc., and BIMStorm creator, believes that the true potential of BIM lies in open standards (For more on how open standards relate to architecture, read The Wikitecture Revolution in AEC). In his presentation, Onuma related the results of his three BIMStorm open source design charettes (see "The Summer of BIM", Cadalyst Contributing Editor Kenneth Wong's article on the last BIMStorm charette). According to Onuma, "The faster and more accurate we are, the more relevant we are?The currency of the information age is information" and open sourcing design allows that information to be readily available and shared among the design team, as well as others, while still maintaining intellectual property.

Final Thoughts
Although significantly more was discussed at the conference, the overlaid point was that the information gained through using BIM's sustainability and analysis tools is what makes the technology and integrated delivery process relevant and critical. Other breakout sessions covered topics as varied as archiving digital design data, the limitations of multiple BIM solutions on a project, green modeling, emerging curricula, and a technology roadmap for a sustainable capital projects industry. But, aside from the wealth of valuable information presented, and there was plenty, what became abundantly clear is that a great number of architects now are willing to get their feet wet and test the waters of BIM. Given that BIM is already and increasingly changing the architectural landscape, it was obvious that these architects no longer want to wait and see what happens. They are now actively acquiring the necessary knowledge to make the leap that will transform their practice.