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By Clive Shearer
April 9, 2014
Not too many years ago architects and engineers presented designs in ink, drawn on linen. If one made an error, one had to carefully scratch it out with a blade. Two mistakes and a hole appeared in the linen.
Advances led to paper and Mylar, and to computer-aided drafting. Productivity skyrocketed.
Today we are in the midst of a new revolution: three dimensional modeling. I asked four experts to explore this topic.
Jamie Snyder is design technology manager at GGLO, an architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm based in Seattle. Irina Wong is the design applications manager in the Seattle office of Perkins+Will, a global architecture, interior design and master planning firm. David de Yarza is director of innovation at BNBuilders, a general contractor serving the western United States. De Yarza is also president of the Seattle Revit User Group. Chris Duvall is an associate principal with Coughlin Porter Lundeen, a Seattle-based structural, civil and seismic engineering company.
How do you share data across different design and construction disciplines? What works and what doesn't?
Snyder: Many of our outside design consultants still do not use Revit to generate their construction documents, so we export AutoCAD background plans to them from our Revit model. GGLO's in-house disciplines work in live, or linked Revit models to coordinate with the rest of the GGLO team. Having an integrated design team with immediate access to the most current model information helps to optimize both the design and documentation process. When outside consultants do not use Revit — or when they do not continuously update their models — we usually have to model those elements (such as beams, slabs, plumbing fixtures, topography, sidewalks) ourselves. This is a duplication of effort which takes time and is a potential coordination/liability risk.
One thing to note is that while our design consultants do not often generate Building Information Models (BIMs) for design and documentation, we find that many constructors and their subconsultants do. This three-dimensional back check is much more cost effective than requests for information (RFIs) and change orders during construction.
Wong: Communication is always the foundation of data sharing, regardless of format. This step does not involve Revit or even a computer at all. Rather, it's about sharing expectations, confirming deliverables, determining timelines, and bringing to the table those people with a thorough understanding of the practice of the software. It also requires an empathy for the workflow of the other disciplines and an agility to extract needed information from shared data.
De Yarza: Our philosophy is to share data as soon as it is available. During construction coordination for instance, we provide a cloud-based framework for subcontractors to access each others' BIMs in near real-time. The intent is to collaborate closely as issues arise, rather than throw an RFI over the wall and hope it is addressed at the next coordination meeting.
Things get a little more complicated during the design phase, where consultants have a contractual obligation to meet planned milestones by transmitting information. Collaborating across disciplines and utilizing BIM to the fullest does not always occur at these times. Design build, and integrated project delivery (IPD) can be beneficial as these processes allow us to start team collaboration earlier in the process.
Duvall: The vast majority of information is shared electronically with our clients via Newforma, a project management software several firms in our industry use to store, search and send information. During the design phase, we use Revit Structure to create a 3-dimensional structural model for coordination with architects, consultants and contractors. General contractors often take our structural model and use it for coordination with their subcontractors. On fast-track projects, we've hosted the entire team, including steel detailers, working in our office full time for the purpose of shaving valuable time off the design and construction schedule. AutoCAD, and increasingly Civil 3D, is used to share site development, utility and civil design information with the same group. We use Bluebeam, a software used to create and edit PDF files, as a communication tool when sending drawings, letters and reports to all our clients including architects, contractors, developers and owners.
We encounter difficulties in the process with haphazardly built models, delays in inputting information, and untimely model updates. To counter this, the team must decide who is responsible for modeling necessary components, and establish modeling parameters for easy cross-integration. And a schedule for model updates must be communicated and maintained to keep the work flow on track.
What are the hurdles when converting conceptual ideas into a design document?
Wong: The critical hurdle is that most software, that can quickly realize architectural conceptual ideas, is geometry-based, while Revit is information-based. Maintaining formal clarity in drawings while developing model information has always been a challenge. More and more, however, edgewares are bridging the gap between geometry-based programs like SketchUp and those that manage information, like Revit. In fact, there are now a few geometry-based Autodesk programs like Vasari that communicate very well directly with Revit.
De Yarza: The conceptual tools available to designers are not particularly great at producing design documents. There is no one application that excels in this area, and as a consequence, the BIM ecosystem is littered with platforms, all of them having their proprietary file formats and databases. This makes it very difficult to leverage information from one stage to the next without the need for some rework. The IFC file format offers a common language to BIM technology. Hopefully we will see more software vendors embracing this open standard to increase interoperability.
Duvall: Revit Structure is not the best tool for producing 2D drawings if you care deeply about clarity. We continue to extensively customize our software to produce drawings that meet our high quality standards. The same is true for Civil 3D. Both programs have great team collaboration potential, however we rarely experience the full potential.
What about getting laser scanning data points translated into BIM software and construction documents?
Wong: The services delivered to Perkins+Will by laser scanning consultants typically include conversion to native Revit objects. Therefore, in my experience, the deliverables received are already compatible with our Revit projects.
De Yarza: While the dollar costs associated with laser scanning have come down significantly, the management of the datasets produced by the laser scanning process have gone up. Laser scanning is also a line-of-sight technology, meaning that if it's hidden the scan does not pick it up, resulting in incomplete data capture. The majority of the work revolves around interpreting the point cloud data, and translating it to a 3D mesh model. Despite automation tools, this task still requires manual work. With the cost of high performance computing constantly dropping, we have found it more cost effective to leave the scan data in point cloud format and get more powerful machines to deal with it. Tools such as Revit and Navisworks have also evolved to handle point cloud data quite well, negating to some degree, the need to model from the laser scan.
Duvall: Laser scanning has been used in our office for surveying existing building components. The information can be translated into a Revit model for improved accuracy. Understanding the capabilities of the software in order to avoid huge file sizes full of irrelevant point cloud data is key to maximizing value.
What's next? How will people work in a design office in 2024?
Snyder: The obvious next step seems to be cloud-based computing and application support. We are already seeing this trend from Autodesk and other vendors attempting to break into the design technology market. In 10 years, everyone on the team — designers, constructors, fabricators, owners and even perhaps jurisdictions — should have instant access to a current building information model in the cloud, and be able to view, analyze and interact with it in real time throughout the design process. Hopefully this type of collaboration will encourage the design and construction industry to adopt more cooperative and mutually beneficial project delivery approaches along the lines of IPD.
Wong: In 2024, the BIM practice of our industry will likely have advanced so much that all disciplines will be leveraging BIM across the design and construction timelines. I even expect design models and construction models to align more efficiently — perhaps the software will convert from one to the other.
De Yarza: The adoption of BIM has opened the collaboration floodgates. Firstly, idealistic as it may seem, I would hope the design office of 2024 would not be working in a Design-Low-Bid-Build environment. The concept of a lowest bid winning a project that has 100-percent uncertainty will hopefully fade into the past. Designers in 2024 will work in a collaborative environment that will leverage the collective knowledge of all team members. The technology tools will facilitate the collaboration, and make format or location a non issue — the uncertainty of having the right version of the plans will become a thing of the past. Mostly, designers in 2024 will not work towards creating a set of drawings, but rather deliver a completely finished building.
Duvall: The BIM process can be improved with live, cloud-hosted modeling where all team members participate in the real-time creation of the model. A seamless integration of data entry between the BIM software, structural analysis and site engineering software is also on our wish list. And we're intrigued by the idea of technology continuing to replace paper in our office like it has at home, such as desktop-sized tablets enabling mark-ups on full size drawing sheets. Ten years ago, BIM enthusiasts wrote in articles like this that hard-copy drawing sets would be obsolete by now. I bet you'll still find them on jobsites in 2024.
Clive Shearer is a business and communications coach and can be reached at CGB9@yahoo.com