Randy Lyhus

Speaking about Building Information Modeling (BIM), Thom Mayne, FAIA, once declared: “You will not practice architecture if you are not up to speed with this.” That was in 2005. Since then, many other architects have seen the writing on the wall and BIM’s integration into architectural practice has grown.

Since its introduction in the late 1980s, BIM evolved from simple CAD drawings into a sophisticated tool that can help architects, engineers, and contractors construct higher-performing, more cost-effective, and more energy-efficient buildings. “BIM is more than just coordination, documentation, and materials,” says Nicholas Holt, AIA, technical director at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) in New York. “It is a host of 3D analysis tools that, when combined, gives you a fully robust performance model.”

Analysis of BIM models can return information on lighting loads, infiltration, ventilation, electric demand, wind shear, solar heat gain, and water usage, among other things. BIM also facilitates a larger collaborative process that involves the architect, engineer, contractor, client, and consultants. Some refer to this as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), wherein the entire team works together to create the best possible design and meet the client’s goals.

“The model for design used to be architects first, engineers second, and contractors third,” says Sean Quinn, Assoc. AIA, sustainable design specialist at HOK. “But now it involves as many key players as possible, resulting in something that is more refined and less costly overall.”

As sustainable design has become more ingrained in our thinking, clients are targeting certifications such as LEED, the Living Building Challenge, Passivhaus, and even the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code. Underscoring all of these measures is a simple idea: Optimization and refinement early in the design process reduce overall costs and save time along the way.

While there are many strong supporters of BIM, the process and technology still needs to evolve more before it can become the de facto design method. Firms are wary of promising the kind of performance that BIM suggests for fear of litigation if construction or operation does not go according to spec.

Another challenge with employing BIM is keeping current with the software. Larger firms often rely on in-house experts to train their own staff. Smaller firms don’t have this luxury, but there are tools to help. Craig Barbieri, AIA, director of practice technology at KlingStubbins, suggests taking advantage of free resources available through Autodesk, and of online training courses through lynda.com, as well as classes offered through local AIA chapters.

There is also the question of modeling—and monitoring—energy efficiency over the lifetime of the building. BIM works in the design and construction phases, but it also provides a seamless transition to operations. “The ideal situation is when the life-cycle information that the owner or facility manager needs can be included in the design process and maintained over time,” says Jeffrey Ouellette, Assoc. AIA, a BIM specialist for Columbia, Md.–based Nemetschek Vectorworks. Ouellette is also a member of the AIA’s Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP) Knowledge Community, which monitors the effect of computer technology on architectural practice and, importantly, building life cycle. “When you look at the spectrum of BIM adopters, it’s fairly wide,” he reports. One of the things I’m doing with TAP is educating folks on the interoperability of BIM, itself.”

“The model has an amazing inherent value—and it’s a tool we’ll be able to use after construction in order to optimize operations,” says Barbieri, who deems it a way to ensure that changing design standards are met. BIM has evolved rapidly over the last five years, from being a whiz-bang novelty to a critical tool centered on energy efficiency and sustainable results—and there’s still room to grow. BIM’s meteoric rise, however, is about something more fundamental to architectural design—the kind of “duh” moment that the introduction of the vegetable peeler or mechanical pencil once produced. “We live in 3D space; that’s what our product is and our service is,” SOM’s Holt says. “So it’s inevitable: Sooner or later everyone will be working in 3D tools.”

To learn more about BIM, including TAP’s annual BIM Awards recipients, visit aia.org/tap.

To learn more about how IPD can work for you, visit aia.org/contractdocs/aias077630.