Building Information Modelling: A powerful tool for design efficiency

By Scott Chatterton

Today’s building projects are typically delivered on a compressed timeline and a limited budget. Architects, engineers, and construction companies have to use every tool available to provide themselves with the time and space to design and build high-quality buildings. These building have to meet client objectives while also contributing something special to the fabric of their communities.

Building information modelling (BIM) is a tool that can help. It enables the entire design and construction team to collaborate in real time on a digitally based, three-dimensional facility design. By viewing and manipulating the 3D model, architects and their clients can quickly see the results of changes to the physical and functional characteristics of spaces. We can see how hospital departments interact with each other, and analyze the flow of patients and health-care providers through each space — critical tools for designing highly efficient and functional health-care spaces.

Digital design using BIM allows for visualization and imagery, portraying design intent in a way that the public or our client can easily recognize. Tools such as virtual reality and augmented reality continue to evolve, providing designers with tools to visually integrate concepts into real-world settings and explore how their ideas and designs fit into their surroundings.

For example, nurses and doctors are able to virtually explore a new surgical suite for efficiency and workability while still in the design stage. They can offer their feedback and input to help refine the layout long before construction begins. This helps save time and money later on, as there is less need to re-engineer spaces that aren’t functioning well. It is also more efficient than planning the spaces out in actual physical space — though this is still a very valuable method that complements digital engagement with the design.

Energy efficiency and lean design

Building information modelling also helps us analyze the energy performance of a building, and make adjustments to the design to create a more efficient facility. Mechanical and electrical engineers have access to the design, which helps ensure their efforts are complementary and avoid unnecessary duplication.

Architects use the building information model as a source for information and data about the building beyond the sole purpose of design. At any stage during the design process, a contractor is able to access the model’s information to help quantify materials and monitor project costs. By quantifying materials, they are able to minimize waste and sequence construction and even schedule site access for vehicles and staging — all contributors to a project’s overall efficiency.

Building operation

A model’s data enables the design and construction team to manage building assets down to the “micro” level, including furnishings and equipment. Once the building is built and operating, the building information model can be adapted to be used as a facilities maintenance or management model. These models can be used in conjunction with facilities management software, allowing the building operator to maintain HVAC and electrical equipment by scheduling maintenance and even replacement. This reduces the need to repair and replace on demand. It can also provide the building owner with detailed information on building materials to help facilitate proper disposal and recycling during demolition at the end of a building’s life.

Modularization and pre-fabrication

Modularization and pre-fabrication are popular because of the reduced cost through efficient construction. The benefits of pre-fabrication on easily repeatable designs such as apartment buildings and health-care facilities are huge. Building these types of design components such as bathrooms and kitchens in a controlled environment like a factory is far safer and more cost-effective.

Scott Chatterton is the International Building Information Modelling (BIM) Integration Leader for HDR and the leader for BIM Planning and Quality as part of the HDR Digital Design group. 

This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of SICA's Construction Review Magazine. To read the entire magazine click here.

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