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Expert Viewpoint: The New Face of Design

Aug 10, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jon Melchin

What Building Information Modeling means for the AV industry.

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Building Information Modeling is changing the way architects design buildings and increasing the importance of AV systems integrators.

Building Information Modeling is changing the way architects design buildings and increasing the importance of AV systems integrators.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a 3D design, modeling, and simulation technology for the architectural, engineering, and construction industries. While it's not exactly new—elements of BIM have been around for several years—it is an important initiative that is changing what is considered standard practice in architecture. Charles Eastman, a professor in the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the school's former doctoral program director, has called BIM "the most massive upheaval of design practice in the history of the construction industry."

That's heady stuff. The building industry has embraced the evolution of 2D drawings and analog text to digital electronic imagery and information. However, BIM is more than just a 3D representation of the physical (products) and functional characteristics of a structure. BIM is a knowledge resource shared between everybody involved in the design process—architects, engineers, interiors people, general contractors, and other contractors—and used for information about a facility and the building materials incorporated into it.

Other beneficiaries of BIM include facility owners, planners, appraisers, estimators, environmentalists, real estate agents, lawyers, code officials, and ultimately, the building occupants. BIM is changing the way structures are designed because it provides a much better interpretation of what the building is going to look like and how the building will perform over its life cycle.

BIM is Information

While the definition of BIM begins with the 3D modeling of an entire building, each design phase includes the architecture, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and every component of the project that requires physical coordination. But it's the "I" in BIM that is the most beneficial. The building elements are represented in both graphical and data-rich text so that information or data embedded behind each object is available. Features such as size, shape, color, fire rating, warranty, raw materials, manufacturer's specifications, and other documentation can be included for each product in the building model.

The 3D renderings are generic, but the object remains dynamic. Change the size of the object, a bathroom stall for example, and the number of stalls required to fill the space will automatically change as well. Today's projects are larger and more complex than ever, and they're being built on tighter schedules and budgets, requiring a greater degree of communication and coordination. BIM fosters collaboration by allowing simultaneous coordination of multiple team members working on the project.

With all of this information at the fingertips of everyone involved in the design process, conflicts reveal themselves as they're created and projects are delivered on time, on budget, and often at a tremendous cost savings.

The Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco was completely designed with BIM. During the various design phases and despite numerous changes, more than 200 design and construction conflicts were identified, most before construction even began. The project was delivered on time and below budget, resulting in an estimated savings of $10 million in change orders.

More and more high-profile projects are using BIM. The New York Yankees' new stadium was designed with BIM, for instance. In a move of interest to the AV industry, the General Service Administration (GSA) has recently mandated that all new public service projects will be designed with BIM. Large construction companies, such as Turner Construction, are using BIM to identify building design conflicts and collision points during the construction phase.

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