Business (Managing Higher Ed)

The Benefits of BIM

Building Information Modeling


Rapidly evolving along a number of paths, technology for Building Information Modeling (BIM) offers new promise for long-lasting, high-performance campus projects. For institutions of higher learning, the latest benefits include ways to leverage the design process in the short-term by making campuses and buildings more sustainable and adaptable, and by better tracking construction projects. But BIM also has long-term promise. The multi-layered information offers a vital tool for facility management, operations and budgeting. Investment in BIM is cost-effective and creates the potential for significant returns, often for unexpected reasons.

There are challenges, too: BIM is not a silver bullet. For one, the technology is complex and rapidly evolving among competing interests, creating confusion among stakeholders, including some design professionals. The primary challenges for institutional and academic clients who want to make use of BIM are twofold: 1) To understand how BIM works, and how it is changing; and 2) to recognize the value proposition behind robust digital models. Grappling with these challenges will give facilities managers and administrators tools to properly evaluate proposals and to align expectations with the project team and the budget.

BIM and the Building Life-Cycle

The latest advances in BIM are exciting and intriguing, such as automated tools for capturing object data directly from components or whole structures. But the most profound impact on campus facilities comes from new ways of leveraging BIM throughout the project life-cycle, from the earliest design stages to long after the ribbon is cut. Energy optimization may be the most important of these, promising significant potential for return on investment throughout a building’s life. Other potential avenues for using a BIM database after the ribbon is cut include developing realistic deferred maintenance strategies or managing facilities investments to strike a balance between new builds and renovations. BIM holds potential for realizing benefits from cradle to grave.

Planning and design. Implementing a detailed BIM database early in the planning stages can help establish budget frameworks for construction and operations, help balance energy goals with construction costs, estimate compliance with standards like LEED — even tracking points toward certification — and power simulations for optimizing critical features. An energy conservation model for optimizing daylighting and illumination can reduce future electrical consumption, while a model for thermal performance can help deliver a building envelope that optimizes heating and cooling requirements by detecting materials clashes and thermal bridges before construction starts.

BIM also facilitates rapid generation of design alternatives for client consideration, and can enable 3D-rendered virtual-reality walkthroughs — an alternative to conventional presentations shown to improve client engagement, reduce timelines and minimize change-orders.

Construction. New web-based applications can connect the BIM model from the architect’s office to the job site, to the field, to a testing lab for mock-ups and anywhere else. Detailed models can even predict possible interactions between the activities of sub-trades, helping prevent structural and thermal issues before they happen, and minimizing time lost to resolving the issue. Some BIM applications track and manage specified components from procurement through installation. Others introduce video game-style 3D rendering as a communication tool: team members use a phone, tablet or a VR headset for “walkthroughs” of the model, suggesting changes and leaving “notes” behind for others to see and respond. The reduced timelines that result from tools like these shift costs in the favor of the built asset.

Operations and management. BIM databases can assist with project tracking, developing strategies to guide investment in renovations, or optimizing maintenance resources. They can also provide the basis for a space management system, or as a utility for obsolescence planning. A truly robust model may also provide a platform for collecting and analyzing Internet-enabled data input from “smart” building systems. This Internet of Things (IoT) application can provide detailed pictures of energy consumption, occupant behavior, traffic and usage, security system data and more.

In sum, effective BIM opens the door for high-value projects that make the most of an institution’s limited endowments funding.

Using BIM Wisely

Ultimately a BIM model is a database, and its usefulness depends on the stakeholders who create and apply it. There are potential pitfalls as well, the biggest of which is the possibility of investing time and resources into building the model without a plan in place for putting it to work. Other mistakes to avoid include using (and paying for) flawed models and databases, and relying on BIM applications as a substitute for spending resources on mock-ups and testing prior to construction.

Input from campus operations and management teams is critical, beginning with pre-planning conversations. Otherwise the database will not effectively reflect the institution’s interests and goals, and a major opportunity — to structure the BIM model as a tool for use throughout the life of the building — will be missed.

Building Information Modeling


Case Studies: BIM on Campus

Compiled properly and applied effectively, BIM puts into reach goals that might otherwise seem unrealistic. Our firm is currently at work on a science and technology building for Arizona State University that is expected to be “triple net-zero,” yielding net-zero waste for landfills and effectively consuming only as much energy and clean water as it produces. Thanks to the client institution’s commitment to these goals, the resources were made available to produce the BIM database that will make the facility a reality.

Our team can be confident of success thanks to this client and others recognizing the value of BIM for earlier projects. Two examples follow for consideration:

Native American Cultural Center, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. For this cultural facility, the client committed to the most environmentally sustainable design possible. We set a goal of delivering a net-zero-ready facility, one that would require only the installation of a solar PV array at a later date to be able to produce as much energy as it uses. The design team engaged consultants for energy and illumination modeling, and also performed our own in-house analyses, to establish energy performance parameters. Considering alternatives with the modeling software we arrived at the inclusion of clerestory windows to optimize daylight penetration. The result is a net-zero-ready facility that uses sunlight almost exclusively for daytime illumination.

Building Information Modeling


It is also worth noting that the 3D simulations and analyses supported by the illumination modeling provided other important design parameters. Because this cultural building project would be located in a desert climate, artifact preservation was a major concern. The illumination model contributed to programming and placement decisions that would keep important items safe from overexposure.

Sun Devil Fitness Center, Arizona State University, Tempe. For this high-performance, sustainably designed athletic facility, the BIM database was used to model myriad design alternatives. The university set a goal for LEED certification, leading the project team to analyze the likely performance of a range of design ideas and elements, with the biggest challenges related to energy performance. The final design emphasized an energy-efficient building envelope, with architectural shading and louvers to reduce solar heat gain and keep cooling costs low.

Building Information Modeling


DESIGNED WITH A VISION. The design of the Native American Cultural Center (NACC, left) on the campus of Northern Arizona University was informed by the “Indigenous Planning Process,” a value-based, participatory process invested in understanding the world view of diverse communities. Focus groups were conducted early on in the project to gain a better understanding of how people envisioned the proposed NACC and how it would be used. A common vision among participants was of a center that would reinforce a sense of community and build respect for tribal identity and culture.

The BIM model influenced window placement also, resulting in a unique exterior façade and a comfortable interior environment that makes use of natural daylight while minimizing glare. The project stayed on budget and the building ultimately was awarded LEED Platinum certification. The use of BIM also helped establish operations and maintenance costs appropriate for the university.

Future Planning

By embracing BIM, higher-education institutions can lead the way to a future of high-performing, more resilient buildings and to more effective campuses, while realizing critical construction and operations cost savings in the process.

There continue to be challenges associated with BIM: the lack of integrated software suites means that creating a separate model for each individual analytical purpose is still necessary, unfortunately, and progress will be slow without government acceptance of BIM and faster improvements in software development. But campus administrators and facilities and operations teams can do themselves and the industry a favor by striving to become savvy about BIM, and about how to work with knowledgeable design firms and consultants to make the most of a promising technology.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

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