Sustainability, Modular Design, and BIM

Incorporating the most up-to-date thinking into an integrated design and construction process yields exciting projects
[ Page 4 of 7 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 next page
Sponsored by Vectorworks, Inc.
Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
This test is no longer available for credit

The Rise of Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Computer technology has shaped much of our modern life, and this is particularly true in the design and construction arena. In fact, it is computer technology that has allowed the rapid evolution of the trends that we have discussed up to this point. The use of computers to create drawings of buildings has gone completely mainstream with computer aided design, or CAD, having become not only commonplace but essential for most design professionals around the world. Following right behind is the use of computers to create much more than drawings and instead produce virtual models of buildings using building information modeling, or BIM. Employing BIM to design is not the same as CAD, just as constructing a 3-D cardboard model is not the same as doing a hand drawing. BIM uses designer-defined information to create buildings electronically in three dimensions, not using just lines or simple objects. As such, an entire building can be constructed first within the virtual computer environment before it is ever committed to on-site construction.

BIM has also emerged as a tool that can tie together and integrate all aspects of not only design, but also the offering of services, the creation of deliverables, and even the process of construction. By allowing the computer to do what it does best (namely organize information), and freeing up the architects and designers to do what they do best (namely create, assess, analyze, and synthesize all aspects of the design), the best of human and computer capabilities come together. This is not a theoretical view of computers and design; instead, it is being successfully practiced around the world today by a growing number of professionals who are indeed transforming themselves and the design professions.

In a building information model, specific 3-D components are used to assemble a virtual building. Those components have definable attributes that match the size, shape, and specifications of the systems or products that they represent. Because of this specificity, using BIM as a design tool means that those working on it need to understand which specific 3-D components are being used in the model and why. The reason for that rests with the way components relate to each other and interact, both in the virtual model and in the constructed version. In practice, the implication is that the task is no longer one of drafting, but of creating, assessing, revising, and re-creating as needed. To be successful, the team members need to understand building construction to be sure that assemblies are appropriate and coordinated properly.

It also means that selecting specific components, not generic ones, will yield better results. The opportunity to look carefully and completely at buildings means that there is also opportunity to explore elements of modularity, sustainability, and general building design simultaneously. A total building can be modeled with better and more accurate visualization, as well as the ability to link to energy modeling or other software that can directly assess performance. It is also possible to assess and analyze individual building components, whether custom, modular, or standardized, and substitute different iterations to determine the best choice. The building information model can allow for distinct pieces or modules to be looked at and tested in terms of how they fit together in different ways or how they interact with other systems to avoid conflicts. If modularity and custom prefabrication techniques are being incorporated, BIM can readily be used to generate different design and construction options.

These three movements of sustainability, manufactured construction, and BIM are converging in significant and exciting ways within design and construction firms across the U.S. and around the world. In the following sections, we will look at three firms and some of the work they are doing by taking advantage of these transformative changes. They are each achieving more and better designs, higher building performance, recognition for their successes, and streamlined workflows, which helps with the sustainability of their own firms.


[ Page 4 of 7 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 next page
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in December 2015