Architects and engineers (structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) have always faced a difficult task in coordinating their many different disciplines during the design of a building project. Each discipline has a different perspective and priorities that must be reflected in the finished building. To make it all work, collaboration between architects and engineers is key.
Thanks to 3D building information modeling (BIM), the stages of design are shifting from document-based project phases such as conceptual, schematic design, design development, and construction documents to a more collaborative, model-based approach. That way, every discipline can make contributions early on in the design process, when important decisions such as building orientation and selection of major building materials need to be made.
HOK CEO Patrick MacLeamy’s familiar front-loaded project curve (see illustration below) stresses that moving decisions up in the process by using BIM controls costs by reducing design changes in the field and, really, reducing litigation. If all disciplines and stakeholders agree on the decisions early on, expensive changes don’t have to happen in the field.
Using design tools such as Revit and collaborative environments available from cloud-based products, collaborative project teams can update 3D models in real time; discuss design iterations; merge structural, MEP, and architectural models; and eliminate clashes—all early in the design stage. Using BIM in the cloud is helping engineers and architects collaborate more easily and in a more timely fashion.
HKS, a large design firm in Dallas, now coordinates and plans most of its projects with the entire project team in the HKS Virtual Theater, an 864-square-foot collaborative space with three workstation computers and a 10×20-foot projection screen. Recent projects such as the $534 million Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center were designed in the virtual theater using Revit and Navisworks, with more than 40 project team members, including subcontractors, lending their expertise in a collaborative and free-flowing design process. BIM CAVEs (computer-aided visual environment) like the HKS Virtual Theater are de rigueur for most federal projects.
By performing MEP, structural, and exterior skin-clash detection with architects, engineers and contractors are solving problems together in the same room when they’re still a part of a 3D model and not in the field, where they are real-life clashes.
“But Jeff,” you say. “We’re not like HKS! My firm isn’t even close to that size. How can I collaborate on BIM projects without buying an expensive BIM CAVE and breaking my budget?”
Cloud services allow similar collaboration over the web, so that even if your project team—which features architects and engineers from five different cities—is working on a project whose owners live in Dubai, you can still collaborate as if all team members are in one office. Design teams are using the cloud to centralize project information and make early design decisions together via web or mobile device. One service, Autodesk A360 Team, allows cloud storage, access, viewing, markup, commenting, version tracking, and sharing from anywhere, to accelerate decision-making and ensure everyone on the team is on the same page. A360 Team also allows rendering in the cloud—so that new rendering you’ve been working on won’t take up half of your compute power for the day.
The A360 Collaboration for Revit service from Autodesk works on top of A360 Team to enable cloud worksharing, in which Revit users in a project team can access central Revit models regardless of their physical location. With Collaboration for Revit, the model becomes your workspace, and there’s no need to co-locate Revit users or invest in complicated IT infrastructure. Users communicate real-time via a chat app within in the model.
As AEC collaboration continues to move from the desktop to the cloud, a great democratization of design delivery will take place, with meetings and flights to the site replaced by online collaboration and being home in time for dinner. BIM will not be the realm of the firm with the greatest tech budget, but the enabler of great design from any size firm.
There are many more benefits to moving collaborative design decisions up earlier in the process, such as prefabricating building components in a safe factory rather than the slipshod environment of the site; ordering structural steel or concrete, so it can sequenced for faster and less expensive delivery; and allowing general contractors to perform more accurate quantity take offs earlier in the process to secure more accurate inventory of building products at better prices.
If you’re curious about how BIM and the cloud can work for you, there’s no better time to learn BIM and really start to work collaboratively with your peers.