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Building Information Modeling......
A Natural Progression Of Technology
By Paul W. Portal, AIA, LEED AP
Project Architect: Strawberry Crest High School

Three years ago, our office launched an initiative to implement a Virtual Design & Construction ( VDC ) Technologies system through the use of Building Information Modeling ( BIM ). Long & Associates is a full-scope Architecture / Engineering firm founded in 1974, and we see the transition to BIM as the industry basis for project design and delivery to be a natural progression of technology similar to the transition from hand drafting to computer-aided design and drafting in the 1980s. Even before CADD technologies became very detailed and sophisticated, and before standardized protocols were instituted by industry associations, our team developed an organized and integrated set of standards and methods for computerized document production. The use of BIM & VDC technologies and processes represent a change in building design, delivery, and management exponentially greater than did the advent of CADD. The corresponding challenge includes rethinking the entire design and documentation sequence, setting appropriate parameters for the volume of information that can or should be integrated into each stage of the work, and redefining what constitutes the “deliverable” for a project.

The model-based process of a Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) Technologies system allows a project to be built in cyberspace before it is translated to the field. Long & Associates of Tampa, Fla. used VDC Technology to design the new 272,000 square foot Strawberry Crest High School in Dover, Fla.The most effective tool for our transition to this new mode of design and documentation was the integration of REVIT®, which had been purchased and developed by AutoDesk®, into our existing AutoCAD® based production processes. The underlying business strategy for this decision was a predicted shortening of the learning curve for our staff, which was already familiar with the operation of AutoCAD. Even so, we knew from experience that any shift in methodologies incurs real production expense in both time and cost. We therefore targeted the most appropriate project available in terms of scale and budget as the vehicle of change, and executed the design of a new 272,000 gsf high school campus consisting of 11 major independent buildings in REVIT.

Because Long & Associates is a multi-disciplinary organization, we probably approach the development of a BIM differently than a typical architect-led team of consultants. We have found that there are great advantages to both coordination and interoperability in building a single shared model rather than linking individual models from each discipline. The single-model process has proven to be more time efficient for collaborative design, but dictates ever growing requirements for the speed and memory storage capacity of hardware systems as the number and size of BIM projects increases.

Since BIM is based on the use of a 3-D design technology platform linked to an interactive database of project information, it provides the basis for a paradigm shift in the way buildings are conceived, designed, documented, constructed, and maintained. The model-based process of VDC allows a project to be built in cyberspace before it is translated to the field, greatly improving coordination of the design intent, communication between the project team members, and efficiency in the construction.

The creation of detailed renderings by Long & Associates from the active model as part of the BIM process proved to be an efficient and effective tool to communicate their design intent to the Owner.In the development of both the design intent and the construction documents for Strawberry Crest High School in Hillsborough County, Florida, the use of REVIT for BIM helped our design team make better decisions based on more detailed and fully coordinated spatial requirements for building systems very early in the process. The level of available information provided the framework for collaboration with the Construction Manager on final systems and material selections, budget verification, scheduling and sequencing. The clarity and content of information, even in the conceptual stages of project development, helped the project team get the greatest possible benefit from true value engineering. We were able to retain significant design elements and energy efficiency features by providing very accurate preliminary design criteria to support reasonable and realistic budget analysis. Early development of the building form with real information on such details as the depth of structural elements and the size and location of ductwork allowed the team to fine tune the design to minimize material use and conditioned air volume. Each decision was interlinked, and the effect of one decision on every other aspect of the project was reviewed live in the model. The creation of detailed renderings from the active model as part of the BIM process proved to be a very efficient and effective tool to clearly communicate our design intent to the Owner. The modeling process helped the Owner better understand the spatial implications of design options and feel like they were more informed participants in decision making.

The parametric information on building systems and components which can be embedded in the model allows us to create an interactive and intelligent model from which the project team can produce a wide range of detailed data sets to support the development of the project, including:

- Cost Estimates
- Quantity Takeoffs
- Construction Scheduling
- Fabrication & Erection Drawings
- Energy Use Analysis & Design Integration
- Functional Simulations
- Structural System Analysis & Design Integration
- Building O & M Tracking
- Life-cycle Facilities Management

Systems design is supported by the sharing of model data between REVIT and the analytical programs for structural (RISA 3D) and mechanical (TRANE Tracer) disciplines. Building envelope design criteria such as glazing data and shading coefficient, insulation and U-value, and component wind load requirements are embedded in the model for later use by both the Construction Manager and Owner. While the institutional programs and methods of VDC are in their infancy with regards to integration, interoperability, and standardization, BIM and related software packages are still powerful tools to increase productivity and quality control.

The construction process and schedule will ultimately be enhanced by the production of fabrication and erection drawings directly from the model for such systems as structural steel, mechanical ductwork and systems piping. Currently, the challenge to bring the promises of BIM to fruition is in the establishment of a fully integrated project team, including the Owner, the builder, and the various subcontractors. A successful partnership will be able to understand and implement the potential of the model as a living tool over the life of a building. Long & Associates is looking clearly to the future of fully-integrated VDC project design, delivery and life-cycle operations in partnership with forward-thinking Owners, Construction Managers, and Suppliers that share our excitement and enthusiasm for quality and innovation in the built environment.

About the author: Paul W. Portal, joined Long & Associates in 2003 and became a Principal with the firm in 2006. Paul is a LEED® Accredited Professional and is a Florida Registered Architect, NCARB member, an active member of the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Paul was the recipient of the Alpha Rho Chi Medal for Scholarship, Leadership & Professionalism. His areas of design expertise include urban planning, daylighting, and acoustics and has over 22 years experience with educational, governmental, institutional and private work. You can visit Long & Associates website at www.longandassociates.com or email Paul at PaulP@longandassociates.com.  

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