Simply put, our Building Information Modeling (or BIM) approach allows us to create a single, quantifiable three-dimensional model of the project during the design and documentation process which we believe offers numerous benefits to our clients, our general contractor and consultant partners, and also ourselves, as we strive to create better design projects, and the myriad drawings, sketches, and construction documents that are basis for any project.
Because the firm participated in complex hospitality commercial work as well as residential design from its inception, standard two dimensional CAD drafting has always been part of our work process. While it has advantages in terms of workflow, electronic communication, and its ability to deal with change during the design and documentation process, at its heart 2D CAD was essentially a replication of manual drafting methods, taking place on a computer monitor, instead of a drafting board.
The BIM model is essentially a single computer file we create, a 3D model of the project made from wall objects, door and window objects, etc., from which we then create floor plans, elevations and building sections, etc. by viewing the single model in different ways, and saving those views as two dimensional drawings. Since we’re always working in the same file, when a door is moved in a plan view, it’s also moved on the elevation views, on the building section views, interior elevation views, etc., any view of the model in which that door occurs. This allows us more consistency, especially where changes are concerned. As a project gets developed, there are obviously more instances where a single building element occurs; if it gets moved late in the process, that change has to get reflected manually in a large number of different locations. Any locations which get missed become a possible source of confusion for the entire project team, and this has been a common challenge with manual drafting, and 2D CAD drawing as well.
While it is becoming more commonplace for architects to use general 3D modeling approaches during design (with programs such as SketchUp, etc.), typically these models are “standalone” entities which are not directly connected to the later, more concrete/precise phases of the work, which generally means their ability to be utilized and leveraged throughout the process gets minimized as the project moves along.
The BIM model allows us to better illustrate the design to our clients, initially as views of the project via emailed picture files, or lately, as 3D environments that clients can download, navigate, and enjoy on their own, be it at home on their computers, or now on tablet devices. We’ve found that the ability to have the model up and running during the course of a design meeting with our clients is a huge help, as it allows us to have much more confidence that the client sees, understands, and concurs with the design direction, since its more clearly evident in this format. While we will always rely on hand sketching to convey the emotional design intent of a project early on, and also through the design process, the BIM model allows a thoroughness in the scope of communication that would be difficult to achieve with other means in an acceptable project timeframe.
These tools also allow us to communicate more effectively with the consulting engineers that work with us on projects to improve our designs and the construction documents needed to realize them in the field. Whether utilizing hand sketched markups of perspective views of the model, or sending the entire model to our engineers (as we do for clients), we are working towards a faster, more complete picture of the design, so that we can arrive at better solutions to the challenges each design presents to the various engineering disciplines we work with. As BIM technology becomes more widespread, we anticipate being able to take the problem seeking/solving aspect of the approach further, using collision detection and other approaches which, while widespread in other industries, are just becoming part of the architecture and construction workflow.
Lastly, the “object oriented” nature of BIM allows us to begin to provide more useful quantitative information to the General Contractors we work with, even in the early stages of the process. Of late we’ve been able to provide detailed “piece by piece” listings of windows and doors, beams, and other items as we wrap up the earliest schematic phases of the design process. Typically these would be done by the General Contractor based on a set of drawings, which due to their preliminary nature, required a fair amount of interpolation and confirmation. Utilizing BIM, we’re able to “ask” the software to provide a list of all the doors, all the windows, etc., which currently exist in the model, their number, sizes, etc., information we can pass along readily, allowing the General Contractor to focus on other more critical tasks in the early estimating phases of the project. Of course, this same functionality is utilized in the construction documents process to fully develop finished documents for construction.
While much of the industry is still in the initial phases of adopting BIM-based approaches to design and documentation, we’re pleased to note that we’ve been utilizing them effectively since 2006, and are one of the few design-centered firms currently doing so in the locations we practice..